The Civic Center Complex, which sits on the west side of downtown, is home to City Hall, Civic Center Music Hall, the Oklahoma County Courthouse and OKC’s police station.
All four buildings were constructed in the 1930s through a voter-approved municipal bond and a matching grant from the U.S. government.
As the city celebrated its 125th birthday last week, residents were invited for tours of Civic Center Music Hall and historical exhibits at City Hall, two buildings that have been witnesses to decades of history.
Voters approved the project in 1927, and work began removing several railroad tracks that were located on the site. However, the Great Depression hit, and the project was put on hold.
“The Great Depression came along at about the same time, and economic issues doubtlessly caused some delays,” wrote Doug Loudenback, who published an article on the project’s history on his Doug Dawgz historical blog.
“As it developed, a substantial part of the Civic Center was funded by the federal government via its recovery programs. Local controversies, though, also contributed to slowness in moving forward with dispatch,” he said.
OKC citizens eventually approved a $1.8 million bond to cover half of the Civic Center project, while another $2 million came from the New Deal recovery program that the federal government had offered as a way to help the nation recover from the Great Depression.
According to Jennifer Day, Oklahoma City’s archivist, the federal funds were part of a program that helped construct other large projects like the Hoover Dam.
Construction began in 1932 and lasted five years.
The music hall could hold more than 6,000 guests when it first opened, and it quickly became the primary event space in the city. Concerts, religious services and basketball games were held at the hall, which saw some of its events leave in the 1960s when a 7,000-seat arena was built at the Oklahoma State Fair Park.
It was at this time that the music hall was reconfigured for smaller events and made to be a dedicated performing arts facility with half of its original seating capacity in the main hall. In 1993, voters approved another round of renovations as part of MAPS and the music hall was reconfigured to hold 2,800 seats.
City Hall and Civic Center Music Hall were opened to the public last week as part of the city’s 125th birthday celebration. In addition to this week’s event, the latest installment of Oklahoma City! Sooner or Later... will be on display at City Hall until June 13. Guests can visit the exhibit to view artifacts from the city’s history and learn about the first governing body that was elected in 1889.