Sunday, January 11, 2009

Jack Frank Keeps It Real

Last night, rather than collapse into bed and fall asleep on the way down, Aaron and I watched the newest show by Jack Frank, Tulsa Deco. 

Rather than bore you with a minute-by-minute rundown of what you've probably already seen of it on local TV, I'd rather list my favorite moments. 

  1. I loved the shots of the praying hands that are part of the Boston Avenue Methodist Church building at 13th and Boston. I didn't know they were there, and I definitely didn't know there were 66 of them. I also didn't know the tower of the church was full of workable office space. You can bet I'll be doing double-takes all over downtown for the next several months.
  2. All the snippets of commentary about the Tulsans of the Art Deco era, who built buildings not because they needed space, "but because they liked to see buildings go up." I love hearing about these people who were "dripping with oil money" and how their buildings were "a record of their aspirations and achievements." You know, back when most buildings were built to last long enough to do that sort of thing. 
  3. Every time I return to look again at Art Deco architecture, I'm amazed all over again at the level of detail in the design, especially in office building lobbies. I was glad Frank found an architect who made a specific point about that. Also, so many details featured in the video were new to me. I'm looking for chances to see in person the ones I've missed.
  4. To hear the Philcade had 28 retail stores on its ground floor during the Art Deco era and that downtown Tulsa was considered a huge shopping draw during that time was encouraging and daunting at the same time. I was happy to see Steven Howard of KoKoa Chocolatier was featured in the film. I only wish Mary Beth Babcock's new Dwelling Spaces mini-boutique had opened a little sooner and could have been featured, too.
  5. The collection of clips of people Frank talked to about the connection between the BOK Center and Tulsa's Art Deco structures were, um, interesting. Several were plainly reaching, saying that the name-brand building brought attention to Tulsa's body of architecture as a whole and that the oil barons would be proud of such an architectural marvel. You mean, the same oil barons who built buildings just to see them go up? Who, as someone in the film said, were always trying to prove to the world that they weren't just a bunch of Okies? An architect at the end of the segment said, "As a sculpture, it [the BOK Center] certainly moves your eyes, and it's very exciting - as are our art deco buildings. So, there is a connection." That was the best guess I heard. I suppose we'll keep trying to convince ourselves there's a connection for as long as we're still trying to convince the world we're not just a bunch of Okies.  
Pretty much every time anyone eluded to the notion that modern buildings aren't built to the same standard of quality or craftsmanship as were older buildings, Aaron would loudly "UH-HUH" or "HMM" or "SEE?!!!" 

The quality of modern buildings is an especially sore subject for him right now. He has spent his entire winter break from school calking drafts in our half-century-old house while mumbling nasty things about industrialization and urban sprawl and its impact on the quality of structures and that we should just pack up and move right now. But, when a woman who had lived in Westhope came on-screen last night and talked about how Frank Lloyd Wright couldn't build a flat roof and that the roof leaked badly in the house, Aaron didn't utter a peep. I guess it's harder to complain when you live in a drafty, mid-priced house that looks exactly like the one three doors down when you know a Frank Lloyd Wright house that had wet floors and watermarks on the ceilings. 

Accessibility is what I liked most about Jack Frank's Art Deco show. Sometimes architecture may seem easier to appreciate than, say, a painting or an abstract photo because it's art we can literally walk through  - it's experiential. But, it's not always that easy. An onlooker stands back from a painting or a photo and experiences it at once, within the confines of a frame. With architecture, that's not possible. A building wraps around whoever enters it, eliminating that ability to stand back to sense and evaluate the piece as we might with images that hang on a wall. 

See? It gets heady. Frank keeps it real. 

The video is available for purchase online at, at Steve's Sundry, Bank of Oklahoma branches, Walgreens and Quiktrip. 

1 comment:

Mos Jef said...

I downloaded an RSS reader for my iPhone and I'm now in the bad habit of reading various blogs while driving -- this one included.

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