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Next Stage

Could the playful nature of Stage Center be well-suited for a children’s museum?

Clifton Adcock February 15th, 2012

The best neutral term to describe the design of downtown Oklahoma City’s Stage Center is “unique.” The building tends to elicit extreme responses.

What perhaps doesn’t appeal to some sensibilities, however, might attract an entirely different audience: children.

Tracey Zeeck, an Oklahoma City public relations professional, said she and others have banded together in an attempt to repurpose the building, located at 400 W. Sheridan, as a children’s museum.

Designed by John Johansen, Stage Center opened in 1970 as the home of the Mummers Theatre, and the building’s design won awards and architectural accolades. In 1992 the performance venue underwent a $2 million renovation headed by local architect Rand Elliott.

By 2010, Stage Center was being operated by the Arts Council of Oklahoma City and the city. That same year, however, the building’s basement flooded and the contents of the affected area were lost.

The following year, the Arts Council turned the building over to the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, owner of the land on which the building sits. The construction of the Devon tower across the street has renewed interest in what to do with the beleaguered building.

The local chapter of the American Institute of Architects issued a request for proposals — due Feb. 29 — for the purchase or lease and redevelopment of the iconic building.

Zeeck said the RFP motivated her to put forth the idea of a children’s museum.

Although Oklahoma City has some museums that focus on kids, such as Science Museum Oklahoma, Zeeck said there is not a true children’s museum that allows for open-ended play. She added that Stage Center’s unique design and location — near the newly renovated Myriad Gardens, Devon tower and the future downtown elementary school — make for a perfect fit.

“This is really the last chance to save that space,” Zeeck said. “We’re not thinking small at any level.” Paired with architects and designers from Rees Associates in Oklahoma City, Zeeck said she and others who share a similar concept for the building have received the blessing of Johansen and his son, who is also an architect.

The group is expected to unveil its design for the building today, and is still actively seeking funding. Zeeck said she also is working to get a nonprofit organization established for the project.

“We’re trying to tell a story on that street corner, where we’re saying we can’t keep taking pages out of Oklahoma City’s book to write new chapters, because you will never be able to read the story again,” Zeeck said.

But even if Zeeck’s proposal for Stage Center isn’t accepted, she said she hopes to establish a children’s museum elsewhere in Oklahoma City.

“I don’t want it to die [if] Stage Center dies,” she said.

Photo by Mark Hancock

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