Kenyon Morgan was a graduate architecture student at the University of Oklahoma in 1973 when he began working with Sam Bowman at the Neighborhood Services Organization to assemble a plan for the Riverside Neighborhood Association.
As part of that plan, and in preparing a proposal for Mesta Park, Morgan became interested in how the city was using money from the federal 312 loan program. It was then he learned about the city’s plans to tear down dozens of buildings to make way for what civic leaders hoped would be a downtown “Galleria” shopping mall.
The mall was part of an ambitious downtown urban renewal plan developed by architect I.M. Pei.
The clearance plan required demolition of the Warner Theater, the Midwest Theater, Beverly’s restaurant, the Globe Life Insurance headquarters, the YWCA, Local Federal Bank, John A. Brown’s Department Store, and the heart of downtown’s Main Street retail corridor.
Morgan surveyed the targeted area, capturing images of the buildings on Kodachrome film just months before their demise. Morgan attended a city council meeting to share his photos and concerns. He recalls being told by Ward 8 City Councilman Merle McCollum that his effort was in vain, adding “young man, you’re delaying progress.”
The images Morgan hoped would sway the city in its plans serve as a reminder of what was lost when leaders attempted to implement the Pei Plan.
Morgan was not alone in voicing concerns about the continued implementation of the Pei Plan. But such protests failed to sway city leaders who continued with the demolition of hundreds of downtown structures through the late 1970s. The site for the mall was cleared by 1978. Two office towers were built on the northeast corner of the project area. Efforts to develop the mall continued, unsuccessfully, through the late 1980s at which time the plan was officially abandoned. The site remained a parking lot for 30 years.
Much of the clearance site, including the former home of the Warner Theater, was developed into a new, 50-story Devon Energy Center headquarters starting in 2008.
To learn more about Morgan, visit www.kenyonmorganarchitects.com. To learn more about the Pei Plan, visit www.impeiokc.com, a site developed by Retro Metro OKC in cooperation with the Oklahoma City/County Historical Society and the Oklahoma Historical Society.
— Steve Lackmeyer
Scanning by the RetroMetro OKC Resources Committee