A Classen Renaissance
Revisiting a Googie-style blast from the past
The original Classen Inn at 820 N Classen Blvd. opened in 1962. Whatever glory days it might have had are lost to history, as evidenced by the only web search result: news of a prostitution and drug sting in the 1990s. Given that it’s one of OKC’s few remaining examples of Googie architecture, that was a sad narrative for a building constructed in an architectural style meant to convey hope for the future.
“I’m a preservationist at heart,” co-owner Steve Mason says. He and Aimee Ahpeatone bought the building in 2018. “I want to save these old buildings, and the Googie style is really beautiful – and because of how art ebbs and flows, Googie is back.”
Googie? No, that’s not Google misspelled. Googie is a post-WWII architectural style that flourished in the 1960s, and then waned shortly after the moon landing. Anyone old enough to remember The Jetsons will at least be accidentally familiar with the look.
Alan Hess is the foremost expert on Googie design, and said that the style was created with average people in mind.
“One of the key things about Googie architecture was that it wasn’t custom houses for wealthy people – it was for coffee shops, gas stations, car washes, banks … the average buildings of everyday life that people of that period used and lived in. And it brought that spirit of the modern age to their daily lives,” Hess told Smithsonian Magazine.
Oklahoma City has had its share of examples, including the now-destroyed Founder’s Bank at 56th Street and May Avenue and the Gold Dome at 23rd Street and Classen Boulevard. The Founder’s Bank and the “wavy bank” on Classen Boulevard were destroyed in 2019. Mason’s affection for old buildings has spared Classen Inn the same fate.
The roadside inn is now open again, featuring Beth Jansen’s execution of Aimee Ahpeatone’s design vision, and Dusty Gilpin’s art in the rooms and on the mural on the building’s north end. A superette – a traditional touch in these roadside motor inns – sells beer, wine and what Mason calls “unique snacks.” It’s open to the public, with a nice patio out front. And in a nod to modern sensibilities, the superette stocks local beers.
Mason said weekends are busy at the 17-room inn, but weekdays probably won’t pick up until COVID abates. “We don’t get a lot of business travel yet,” he says. “We’re getting staycation guests, though, and the 20-30 demographic loves the architecture and design. It’s new to them.”
The rooms are funky, which is appropriate, but they’re also well-appointed and comfortable. Revolucion and Sunnyside Diner are a short walk away, and Red Andrews Park is just over a couple of hills, making the inn much more conveniently located for foot travel than you’d expect. As for the building itself, it’s also the last motor inn in the urban core, so like Googie, it’s hoping to win a new generation of admirers with its whimsical, psychedelic approach to respite for car travelers.