Artifacts of the Prairie Palaces
Photos by M.J. Alexander
The stone carving is frozen in mid-snarl, a trophy head bolted to a wooden plaque above a door on the second floor of the Municipal Building. Below, a hopeful slogan etched onto the brass plate reads: TOWARDS A FINER OKLAHOMA CITY, 1971.
The artifact, said to have been chiseled off the original city hall, today guards the doors to the City Council chambers. It was in this room half a century ago that nine men approved a bold and risky plan: save Oklahoma City by destroying its historic downtown.
That decision led to a 12-year spree that flattened 40 percent of downtown in anticipation of creating a “City of Tomorrow” under the flag of Urban Renewal.
The dust that swirls and eddies in the Oklahoma wind may still contain remnants of what was lost: 530 buildings, and the collective memories of a city. Only a few shards of what vanished remain.
The push to change the core of downtown came in the wake of the 50th anniversary of statehood, when old patterns were being challenged in Oklahoma City.
Clara Luper began her first sit-in protest against segregation at Katz Drug Store in 1958. Oklahomans voted to repeal Prohibition in 1959, more than a quarter-century after the rest of the nation.
With the loss of downtown streetcars after World War II, and increasing reliance on automobiles, development had crept outward from the city center. On March 3, 1960, thousands attended the opening of the 46-store Penn Square shopping center – featuring 4,200 free parking spaces, a welcome contrast to downtown’s parking meters. By 1961, the city limits had expanded from 80 square miles to 475 square miles.
To keep up with the times, city officials pondered their options and power brokers – led by Dean A. McGee, president and CEO of Kerr-McGee Oil Industries, and Edward K. Gaylord, owner and publisher of the state’s largest newspaper – formed the private Urban Action Foundation, which paid renowned architect I.M. Pei $200,000 to come up with a master plan to revitalize the downtown area.
Pei unveiled his concept of a futuristic Oklahoma City, as it would look in 1989, at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in the Persian Room of the Skirvin Hotel on Dec. 11, 1964.
News coverage carried on page 15 in the next day’s Daily Oklahoman noted, “The redevelopment project would transform Oklahoma City into one of the most beautiful cities in the Western Hemisphere.” The article avoided mention of demolition, instead using terms such as revamp, face-lift, transformation and redevelopment. The report also noted, “An estimated 600 persons ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ as Pei discussed his ideas.”
After much discussion and eventual approval by the City Council, wide-scale demolition of Oklahoma City’s historic core began in 1967. The goal: create a clear canvas to transform the downtown – which had been staked out helter-skelter in a single day during the Land Run of 1889 – into a modern city with dazzling high-rises and planned open spaces.
Armed with federal funds, the right of eminent domain and the knowledge that they would have to break a few eggs to make an omelette, planners targeted not only dozens of nondescript structures, but the city’s equivalent of Fabergé: the French-inspired Criterion Theater, the Venetian-themed Baum Building, the ornate Mercantile and Pioneer buildings, the dramatic Patterson Building, the limestone-and-marble Hales Building.
Sturdy, ornate edifices designed to stand for centuries were scheduled for demolition. In Born Again, a documentary released in 1977, James B. White Jr., executive director of the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority from 1967-80, dismissed the idea that any structure in Oklahoma could be considered historic enough to escape the wrecking ball.
“We are a new country. We are a new state. When you’re talking about one generation almost from its beginning, I get myself a little lost with the terminology of being historical. I may be right, I may be wrong. I think most of what we have revolves around the terminology of nostalgia. I don’t think that we can really call it historical at this particular time in our particular programs that we have, any of the buildings that we have encountered.”
As the destruction gathered steam, landmark hotels such as the Lee-Huckins and the Biltmore – neither of which had been on Pei’s original hit list – ended in rubble, as did acres of thick granite, fine-grained Indiana limestone, quarter-sewn white oak and marble from the quarries of Vermont and Tennessee. In the rush to the future, vestiges of the past – elaborate stonework, art tiles, fireplace mantels and statues – were crushed and discarded.
In their 1982 book The Vanished Splendor, authors Jim Edwards and Hal Ottaway tell of the razing of the Biltmore five years earlier: “Thousands of citizens turned out to watch as the massive structure was dynamited on October 16, 1977. Many cried openly, knowing that they were witnessing a singular episode of the destruction of historic Oklahoma City.”
But it was not an isolated event. Crowds turned out to watch the implosion of places including the eight-story Mercantile Building and the city’s first skyscaper, the 12-story Hales Building, razed to make way for the Pei Plan’s Galleria shopping center.
A spectator on hand to witness the Hales’ demise noted, “I was here when it was built, and that sure was a while ago. … It sure makes you wonder what we’re doing, a fine old building like that.”
It was not the first or the last time the question would be asked. The Galleria failed to materialize and much of the area stood as a parking lot for 35 years.
When the dust cleared after more than a decade of destruction, many retail shops had gone out of business or relocated, and shoppers had established new patterns away from the downtown orbit. There were four new malls to choose from: Crossroads, Shepherd, Penn Square and Quail Springs. Even with some projects completed – the Broadway Extension, Santa Fe parking garage, Mummers Theater, the convention center and the new headquarters for Kerr-McGee, Liberty Bank and Fidelity Bank – there were fewer reasons to venture downtown.
Visions of Pei’s dazzling metropolis flickered and faded. The City of Tomorrow became a dream deferred.
In 1988, city council members admitted the plan had not worked out as they’d hoped. “Downtown is dead,” councilman I.G. Purser said. “And we helped kill it.” Not until the first MAPS initiative in 1993 and the rebuilding following the Murrah Building bombing in 1995 would Oklahoma City begin to resurrect itself.
In 2015, a half-century after Urban Renewal was approved, a few remnants of the destroyed prairie palaces survive in Oklahoma City.
Chandeliers salvaged from an old movie palace hang in a rehabilitation center. Perpetually angry gargoyles guard a driveway in Heritage Hills. Stone spires squat as median garden ornaments near Mesta Park.
The surviving shards of downtown palaces are a tribute to the city’s original builders and to the visionaries who leapt in ahead of the wrecking ball to save a piece of the past.
The artifacts stand as totems from the first generation of builders to envision a finer Oklahoma City … and as reminders of what their grandchildren destroyed while in pursuit of the same dream.
Pei on Display
I.M. Pei was considered a master of modern architecture, with a clean, cubist, simple aesthetic, when he was commissioned to design a master plan that would help Oklahoma City transition from the cheek-by-jowl lots claimed in the Land Run to a more open design with parks, plazas and better traffic flow.
Born April 26, 1917, Pei – who celebrated his 98th birthday this year – became best known for his 1998 renovation and reimagining of the Louvre and his now-iconic, illuminated, glass-and-steel pyramids outside the museum, a design that fuses the old and new. He told an interviewer in 2000 that he was acutely aware “the history of Paris was embedded in the stones of the Louvre.”
His approach with Oklahoma City 35 years earlier was less nuanced. He called for the destruction of 40 percent of the downtown to create a canvas from which to work.
He illustrated his concept with a 10-by-15-foot model, which was constructed at a cost of $60,000 and a scale of 1 inch equaling 50 feet. It outlines the area from NW Eighth to SW Fourth, from one block east of the Santa Fe tracks west to just past Western Avenue. The newly restored model, rescued from a storage basement by Oklahoma History Center archivist Rachel Mosman, was reintroduced to a crowd of history buffs on Aug. 27 in the restored Hart Building, 726 W Sheridan Ave, on Film Row.
The Pei model is on display, in conjunction with Mosman’s curated collection of pre-Urban Renewal photographs by Z.P. Meyers, through late 2016. The Oklahoma City/County Historical Society is sponsoring free guest lectures on Oklahoma City history from 6-7 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month while the exhibit is on display. For details, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Biltmore Hotel
Mike Shubin was one of the last people to tread the hallways of the storied Biltmore Hotel. Days before its destruction in the fall of 1977, he and his brother helped remove a marble fireplace mantel and the ballroom’s brass doors, and installed them in a house being built near 104th and S Pennsylvania Avenue.
The place is now owned by Mike and Marcy Woodson. They had known the story about the mantel, but had no idea that the brass doors that had caught their eye while house shopping had also come from the Biltmore.
The doors, which once folded accordion-style but had been fused together before the Woodsons arrived, have become part of their family history. In September 2010, three weeks before their second son was due, Mrs. Woodson was up in the middle of the night, monitoring contractions on her new iPad. At 4:59 a.m., she realized she was in labor and awakened her husband, who called 911. On the floor of the breakfast nook, beneath the brass doors that had witnessed banquets and weddings and balls, she delivered 6-pound, 2-ounce Graham to join brother Griffin.
The delivery made national news when – as media outlets from Time magazine to CNN to the Apple Style Blog reported – while speeding to the hospital with paramedics, “Woodson used the trip to share on Facebook about her unusual delivery. ‘Posting to Facebook from the ambulance. I think that we definitely made use of all the technology, didn’t we, bud?’” As images of the EMTs loading her onto a gurney were shared, the brass doors from the Biltmore could be seen in the background.
And Then There Was One
The Saga of Centre Theater
At the stroke of noon on Christmas Day 1947, the Center Theater opened its doors with the double feature of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, with Danny Kaye, and Magic Town, starring Jimmy Stewart and Jane Wyman.
The Center was the last of Oklahoma City’s great downtown movie palaces, joining a long parade of elaborate theaters that had entertained for decades: the Criterion, Warner, Midwest, State, Cooper, Palace, Capitol, Majestic, Rialto, The Folly and The Empress.
Unlike its predecessors, which fell to Urban Renewal, it would become the only downtown theater to survive into the 21st century, thanks to a change of attitudes that kept the building standing long enough to be rediscovered.
Built in the heady days after World War II, the theater’s New Deal-era limestone facades and late deco detailing reflected the style of the surrounding municipal complex. Inside awaited 1,600 seats, a 75-foot proscenium arch stage and full orchestra pit, surrounded by mid-century embellishments including black-light murals of a flying Pegasus amid floating musical instruments and ballet dancers, and an elaborate waterfall contour curtain. An illuminated aluminum-and-Plexiglas staircase led to the balcony.
In its heyday, the Center hosted events such a dog-friendly screening of Old Yeller and an on-stage marriage before a showing of Cinderella.
In the 1960s and ’70s, the venue was sold and its name changed to the British-styled “Centre.” As foot traffic in the decimated downtown slowed, Centre Theater added events such as square dances, closed-circuit broadcasts of heavyweight boxing and the Indy 500 and live theater and opera performances. It eventually resorted to X-rated movies before its manager was arrested and the place shuttered in the mid-1970s.
In May 1997, on the eve of its scheduled demolition and at the urging of the preservationist Project Centre Coalition, officials at the Oklahoma City Art Museum took a serious look at the theater for its new home. The museum had occupied cramped quarters at the state fairgrounds since 1958, and could only display 125 of its 3,000 works at a time.
The theater was a mess, but had a great location and strong bones. The museum was intrigued, and Urban Renewal Authority sold the Centre for $61,586.
Three years and $40 million later, the building that had dodged the wrecking ball for two decades became the heart of the 82,000-square-foot Oklahoma City Museum of Art, featuring 12 galleries, a museum school, cafe, mezzanine library, gift shop … and 250-seat movie theater, which each year hosts 335 screenings of art-house films.
Artifacts From Still-Standing Buildings
Some historic Oklahoma City buildings have lost components over the years.
STAIRCASE FROM THE HOTEL MARION
The wrought-iron spiral staircase that served for more than a century as the fire escape for downtown’s oldest surviving commercial building is now suspended in an alley near the corner of Broadway and 10th. During 2014 renovations to convert the 1904 Classic Revival-style Marion Hotel into luxury apartments, Midwest Renaissance Group partner Chris Fleming collaborated with architect Bryan Fitzsimmons and contractor Stan Lingo to keep the staircase intact, removing the landings and creating a continuous spiral resembling a double-helix strand of DNA. They named the resulting piece “Architectural DNA,” installing it by wire cable between the Buick Building and the 123 Garage, against a patch of ever-changing sky.
CAPITAL FROM THE CAPITOL DOME
Facing NE 23rd Street, just across from the Governor’s Mansion, an ornate Corinthian capital holds court on the grounds of the Oklahoma History Center. It looks well preserved enough to be new, but timeless enough to be old. Turns out it is a little of both: The work is a 21st century casting, a test run for the long-awaited Capitol dome based on Solomon Andrew Layton’s original design, unveiled 80 years after its conception, on Statehood Day 2002.
FEDERAL RESERVE TORCHIERES
Two lighted globes set on elaborate claw-foot bronze stands flanked the entrance to the Federal Reserve Bank for 50 years, from opening day of May 1, 1923, to the Urban Renewal era when it was decided they impeded the widening of the sidewalk and should be removed. A contractor working on the project appreciated the torchieres, and installed them in front of his modest ranch-style home in Jones, where they remained until his estate sale. The lights, burnished by a patina of more than nine decades in the Oklahoma sun and rain, are now installed on the grounds of a Norman estate.
Artifacts Among Us
Two stone spires from the Baum Building are installed in grassy medians off Shartel in Mesta Park and Heritage Hills. A rose bush blocks the 15th and Shartel spire; the one on 18th is partially obscured by enthusiastic plantings at its base. Although both feature plaques listing donors who contributed to have the stonework installed, only one notes the name of the building or its significance.
When Chuck and Renate Wiggin bought John A. Brown’s original house in Heritage Hills in 1990, two grotesques from the Mercantile Building sat unsecured at the top of the low brick wall marking their yard’s eastern boundary. The salvaged pieces, removed before the building’s demotion 14 years earlier, had been purchased for $100 apiece by the house’s previous owner, Marion Beard Dobberteen. “It’s amazing they were not stolen,” Renate Wiggin says. “And it’s amazing the building was destroyed at all. People did not appreciate history.” The Wiggins incorporated the snarling heads into the wall, where they remain as driveway guardians near the corner of 18th and Harvey.
Artifacts in Museums
A handful of Oklahoma City architectural remnants have made their way into the collections of museums. Some – such as the Oklahoma History Center’s roaring lion-head ornament from the old Lion Building and an ornamental pastel-glazed fragment from the Criterion Theater – are treated like art, labeled and displayed behind glass.
Others, like the three columns saved from the wreckage of the Lee-Huckins Hotel, are obstacles to mow around, left untended and unexplained on the lawn of what used to be the Oklahoma County Historical Society’s Museum of Unassigned Lands, 4300 N Sewell, amid outdoor art installations of the Melton Art Reference Library now at the site.
Originally a set of four measuring 16 feet tall and weighing 4 tons apiece, the pillars supported the portico and second-story balcony above the hotel’s main entrance at Broadway and Main.
It was the Huckins that became the state Capitol for 30 days when, hours after the June 11, 1910, vote approving the relocation of the capital from Guthrie to Oklahoma City, the state seal was transported to the rooms of Gov. Charles Haskell in the middle of the night. It was the Huckins where members of the state House and Senate held 1927 sessions to impeach the state’s seventh governor, Henry S. Johnston.
After Urban Renewal crews leveled the hotel in 1971, the columns were brought to the maintenance yard at Will Rogers World Airport, and remained there for 18 years before being transported to the Museum of the Unassigned Lands. Along the way, one of the columns disappeared, their decorative capitals were stolen and their pedestals went missing.
Bill Welge, president of the Oklahoma City/County Historical Society and director of the Oklahoma Historical Society’s Office of American Indian Culture and Preservation, is hopeful that the columns, the old Baum Building cupola and other artifacts of the city’s history will one day soon be reinstalled downtown, near where the buildings they came from once stood.
In the basement of the Main Street Parking Garage, materials that had come from the Museum of Unassigned Lands remain in storage, awaiting a new home. Amid neat stacks of boxed documents are relics from pre-Urban Renewal days: the original brass plaque from the Kingkade Hotel; Penn Woods’ collection of bricks from historic buildings; a colorful sign from John A. Brown Department Store and a glowering wood-stained carving removed from a structure whose name is now long-forgotten.
“In history, you know, the past is prologue,” says Welge. “Hopefully, we can educate future generations not to make these same mistakes and get them to think ‘Well, this didn’t work – let’s try something else.’ We would love, in the future, for these things to get out of storage, and for people to see and be able to access them. We can’t stop progress. But building bigger buildings was not the answer. We are now building a friendlier downtown. … Oklahoma City used to be a pass-though community. Now they stop.”
Artifacts of Mystery
The origins of the pair of 9-foot bronze statues, glamorously draped and elegantly coiffed, are mysterious. The consensus is that they were installed at the Greek-inspired condo complex on Acropolis Drive in the 1970s, moved uptown from one of the downtown movie palaces before Urban Renewal’s demolition crews moved in. But is it true? None of the residents know the story. None of the accounts of liquidation auctions feature their image. The duo continues to guard the corner of May Avenue at Acropolis, frozen in perpetual silence.
Three terra-cotta knights with shields, treated with a creamy white glaze now crackled with age, have made their way through downtown Oklahoma City’s Architectural Antiques store, through three different sources. Measuring 30 inches tall by 15 inches wide, each piece weighs about 80 pounds. The back is rough, from where the ornament was separated from its installation. It is said they were salvaged from the Baum Building before it was destroyed in 1972, but no interior or exterior shots show the knights as part of the design. The question of their origins remains unanswered.
Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building
The best-known building no longer part of Oklahoma City’s downtown became famous only after it was destroyed: the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, attacked April 19, 1995, in what was at the time the deadliest attack of terrorism in the United States.
The bomb and its aftermath killed 168 people, injured more than 680 others and damaged 312 downtown buildings. Total property losses in 1995 dollars: $652 million.
Helen Stiefmiller, collections manager for the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, noted some of the granite salvaged from the blast was incorporated into commemorative plaques and awards given to individuals and agencies assisting in the aftermath.
The Survivor Wall, on the east end of the complex, stands with portions of the south wall as having survived the Murrah Building blast and demolition. Etched onto two large granite panels pulled from the rubble are the names of more than 800 survivors.
Twenty years after the bombing, the Survivor Wall and surrounding memorial and museum complex are part of the National Park System, attracting 350,000 visitors annually.
Oklahoma City’s Architectural Antiques
Over the past three decades, untold numbers of artifacts from bulldozed downtown buildings have crossed the threshold of Jack SmithSchick’s Architectural Antiques warehouse. Today, among the aisles of fireplace mantels, vintage light fixtures, epic doors, salvaged tiles, theater seating, stained glass windows and old columns, few Oklahoma City relics remain.
SmithSchick grew up in Louisiana and worked on salvage and demolition crews in New Orleans, Arkansas and East Texas before settling in Oklahoma City in the mid-1970s. He and his wife, Lynda SmithSchick, opened their retail store in Bricktown’s old Mattress Factory building in 1986, later relocating to a 40,000-square-foot space at 1900 Linwood.
“My count has been lost of the number of old timers – people that grew up here, had a committed interest in those buildings, tried to save them, were there at their destruction – that I had long conversations with about the buildings, often buying bits from them,” says Jack SmithSchick. “I did go to Europe, quite often for 20 years, made many friends with architectural dealers there. They are fascinated, amused, appalled, et cetera at our tendency toward destruction. What it takes to demo something there compared to here … it doesn’t matter how long it takes, I think, even the nails there are saved. Here, I’ve seen the demo job go not to the low bidder, but to the get-it-down-quicker bidder. We are the most wasteful, throw-away society on the planet. Why should buildings be excluded?”
Oklahoma City artifacts in his warehouse include an old neon sign for Harlow Optical and an even older frontier-era wooden sign, advertising Clean Cots for Rent at 308 1/2 W California.
The up lights of the ornate Patterson Building were once a signature feature of the downtown skyline, their beams visible on the approach to the city. There were 12 massive fixtures, illuminating the sky from the top of 320 W Main. At least two of the fixtures survived: one was used as a planter and then ashtray in Clarence Ford Park; SmithSchick acquired the other from the estate of a secretary who worked for Mayor George Shirk.
The lobby directory from the Hales Building at 201 W Main, removed before its 1979 demolition, is mounted on a wall of the warehouse. The names of former office occupants remain frozen in a Pompeii-like snapshot in time.
The warehouse is also home to the largest surviving chunk of the Venetian-inspired Baum Building. Its 13-foot-high octagonal cupola, one of four that marked the corners of Solomon Andrew Layton’s masterpiece, was left behind on the front lawn of 2100 N Lincoln when the Oklahoma Historical Society moved to its new headquarters. The artifact was listed as surplus property by the state, and auctioned online in 2011 for a top bid of $301.40. SmithSchick carefully disassembled the artifact and oversaw its transport to his warehouse, where it awaits installation in the revamped Oklahoma City downtown.
Artifacts in Use
MIDWEST THEATER LIGHTS
When the contents of the opulent Midwest Theater, 16 N Harvey, went on the auction block before its destruction by Urban Renewal in 1975, Jane Buck Thompson went to bid. Her uncle Martin Reinhart, a founding partner in Reinhart & Donovan, had built dozens of Oklahoma City buildings – from the massive Biltmore and the Commerce Exchange to the neighborhood favorite Plaza Court and Sunshine Laundry. The Midwest Theater was among his creations, and she wanted something to remember him by. She purchased three chandeliers and a pair of sconces. They were then rewired and installed in the lobby of the family-run Bellevue Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, located on Portland near Lake Hefner, where they continue to glow today under the watch of her son, Norman Thompson.
CRITERION THEATER WINDOW
The plants in the sun porch of Sandy Casteel’s sprawling house near NW 10th and MacArthur bask in the green-gold glow of a window removed before the destruction of the glorious Criterion Theater. She spotted the stained glass in an antiques store years ago, where it had been placed on consignment, and kept visiting it every now and then. One day, the owner mentioned the man who had placed it for sale had died, and his family was wrapping up the estate. With a huge drop in price, she happily purchased the window and installed it near a framed sepia photograph of its original home.
CARNEGIE LIBRARY CLOCK
The grandfather clock in the Oklahoma Room of the Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library is one of the few surviving relics of the Carnegie Library at NW Third and Robinson. Opened in 1901, the library was expanded in 1909 and was destroyed to make way for a larger building in 1952.
COLCORD MANSION BUFFET
The massive wooden buffet – 8 feet wide and nearly 10 feet tall – now in the Heritage Hills home of Fred and Bethany Neighbors was saved from the nearby Colcord Mansion. The grand 11-bedroom house was built in 1901 at 421 NW 13th Street for Charles Colcord, a frontier sheriff and U.S. deputy marshal who would become an oilman, investor and developer of the Colcord Building and Colcord Hotel. Inspired by the Kentucky plantation home where he was born in 1859, it was bulldozed Jan. 7, 1965, to make way for offices for Standard Life Insurance. The destruction of the Colcord Mansion galvanized the surrounding neighborhood to lobby for historic preservation zoning laws, which were approved by the city council in 1969.
Solomon Andrew Layton
“We Build Forever”
Urban Renewal advocates were not the only men who dreamt of a dazzling future for Oklahoma City. Solomon Andrew Layton, whose life spanned from the Civil War to World War II, devoted four decades to designing and creating timeless neoclassical landmark buildings for his adopted state; including the Capitol, nearly 50 Oklahoma City public schools, 16 courthouses, the Skirvin Hotel and much of the University of Oklahoma campus. He has 22 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, more than any other Oklahoma architect.
Layton admired the poet John Ruskin, who wrote eloquently about the importance of constructing lasting buildings with “walls that have long been washed by passing waves of humanity … hallowed by the deeds of men” as a cultural touchstone for generations to build upon:
When we build, let us think that we build forever.
Let it not be for present delight, nor for present use alone:
Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for,
and let them think, as we lay stone on stone,
that a time is to come when these stones will be held sacred
because our hands have touched them,
and that men will say as they look upon
the labor and wrought substance of them,
‘See! This our fathers did for us.’
The stones of Layton’s iconic Oklahoma City Baum Building, Mercantile Building, Patterson Building and Halliburton Department Store were among those added to the rubble by Urban Renewal.
The Signs on Sheridan
The Lunch Box restaurant, 423 W Sheridan, closed its doors in 2013 after 65 years at the same location. Founded by the Papahronis family in 1948, the eatery fed generations of politicians, executives and construction workers who came back time and time again for the atmosphere, camaraderie and classic dishes such as corned beef, navy-bean soup and coconut pie. Although its landmark sign was saved, the building was destroyed to make way for the new 499 Sheridan complex.
The Union Bus Station sign was disassembled and trucked away from downtown Oklahoma City on July 30, 2015, after 74 years at the corner of Sheridan and Walker. The Union Bus Station, built for $100,000 and unveiled in a formal “Hollywood style” opening on March 22, 1941, became one of nine buildings in the old Main Street commercial district demolished – over the protests of preservationists – to clear space for the new 499 West Sheridan complex, a 27-story office tower and parking garages. Unlike other architectural icons lost to the wrecking ball, the blue-and-white Streamline Moderne sign will be refurbished, relit and encased in glass on the corner, reclaiming its original place as a downtown landmark.
► Want to see more?
This isn’t the end of this particular treasure hunt; see more time-displaced results from M.J.’s explorations in a special online gallery by clicking here