Tulsa Spotlight Theatre added to "Most Endangered Historic Places" list

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Ask citizens why they value the Tulsa Spotlight Theatre, and they might mention delightful entertainment, opportunities for young performers, a rich and colorful history, contributions to local charities, or deep roots in our community.

All true. But sweep those aside, and something compelling and notable would still remain -- the building itself!

It has been called Tulsa's Taj Mahal, a splendid, unique, globally known architectural treasure. (Compare them side by side.)

Now, however, the nearly 90-year-old building urgently needs a thorough rehabilitation if it is to survive as a Tulsa icon, international tourist attraction, and irreplaceable cultural asset.

Known sometimes by an earlier name -- the "Riverside Studio" -- the structure is revered by architecture enthusiasts around the world. That owes both to its design and its designer, Bruce Goff.

"Goff has been a major influence in my work," says Andrew T. Boyne, an architect in Perth, Western Australia. Boyne has made two trips to Oklahoma to see Goff's buildings, including the Riverside Studio, the Boston Avenue Methodist Church, and the Bavinger House.


Bruce Goff and Frank Lloyd Wright

Another Australian architect, Laurie Virr, calls Goff "a real architect, a person with prodigious talent melded with wonderful ideas." In fact, he declares that "Bruce Goff has a valid claim, that of Frank Lloyd Wright notwithstanding, to be the greatest residential architect of the 20th century."

Christian Landolt of Lausanne, Switzerland says, "A lot of us think, maybe by a vulgar lack of touristical knowledge, that Oklahoma is a primary destination only to peer at and perhaps visit Goff's buildings." Landolt belongs to the Friends of Kebyar, an international society dedicated to promoting and preserving the works of Bruce Goff.

The trouble is, many of Goff's works are NOT being preserved. Take the Bavinger House. Built in 1955 in Norman, it was featured that year in LIFE magazine. It drew so many visitors that the Bavinger family began to charge admission. Those fees reached $50,000 before the family tired of the attention. In 1987 the building was recognized by the American Institute of Architects. Despite fame, accolades, and popularity, the Bavinger House was allowed to deteriorate beyond repair. It's gone.

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Goff's Riverside Studio also would no longer exist if owner Richard Mansfield Dickinson had not sold it to the Tulsa Spotlighters. He turned down a competing offer for twice as much from would-be developers who would have razed the site.

PreservationOK, an organization dedicated to saving historic structures, recently added the building to its 2015 list of "Most Endangered Historic Places." That serves to underscore the need and the importance of the task.

Fritz Baily, Tulsa's leading historic preservation architects, have performed a survey that documents the needs and details the costs. They are the same firm that got the building added to the National Register of Historic Places.


Original interior

A fund has been established with the Tulsa Community Foundation to receive donations. And the timing couldn't be better. An historic rehabilitation project, if funding is obtained soon, could be completed at about the same time as the Gathering Place park a mile downstream. Meanwhile plans are afoot to develop a Route 66 interpretive center a few blocks north of the Riverside Studio.

Reverting to the building's current name, one could say that it's the Spotlight's time to shine. With help from Tulsa's famously generous citizens, that can happen!

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