From its earliest days, Tulsans have shown pride in their history, architecture, and residential neighborhoods. The downtown has retained a strong sense of its past with many examples of commercial styles, including its famous Art Deco treasures. Residential styles display architectural diversity, and range from cozy hand-crafted bungalows to oil-money mansions.
Citizen concern with Tulsa’s architectural heritage heightened with the loss of a number of significant landmarks in the 1960s and 1970s, including the Majestic Theater, the Hotel Tulsa, the Akdar Shrine Temple, and the Page Warehouse. Entire neighborhoods were swallowed up by highway-building and other large-scale projects.
In 1971, at an urban design seminar, a Tulsa Landmarks Committee was organized by the University of Tulsa. The Committee recommended that a coalition of interested groups and individuals explore the creation of a landmarks commission for Tulsa, and that the coalition conduct research of specific buildings. The Tulsa Chapter of the American Institute of Architects took a leadership role in the Landmarks Committee and building research. The Tulsa County Historical Society developed an oral history program and acted to preserve local landmarks, including the Creek Council Tree Site.
The Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa recognized the potentially rich architectural, cultural, and historic heritage that the city possessed. It initiated efforts to preserve those elements that could become “living symbols” of the past and essential links to the present and future of the community. The Council sponsored a series of meetings that included diverse groups and individuals who sought an active role for preservation in Tulsa. Several committees of the Junior League of Tulsa were active participants in this process.
The study period culminated with the submission of grant applications to the City of Tulsa and the Oklahoma Historical Society for a year-long survey of architecturally, historically and archaeologically significant sites and buildings in Tulsa. Grants were received from Community Development Block Grant Funds, disbursed through the City, and from the Oklahoma Historical Society.
With this funding and with the Arts Commission of the City of Tulsa as an additional sponsor, the Tulsa Historic Preservation Office opened in August of 1977. This office tackled the job of surveying Tulsa’s historic and architectural heritage, and planning for its preservation. The result was the Tulsa Historic Preservation Plan Report prepared in September of 1980. This plan identified historically significant areas within the City of Tulsa, outlined preservation goals and policies, and presented tools for implementing those preservation goals and policies.
In 1985, the Board of City Commissioners of the City of Tulsa created the Neighborhood Conservation Commission to help stabilize, revitalize, and conserve property within a limited Neighborhood Conservation Area. In many ways this commission was the predecessor of the Tulsa Preservation Commission.
On July 12, 1988, after several years of hard work by concerned citizens throughout the community, City Commissioners passed a preservation ordinance which created the Tulsa Preservation Commission and established Historic Preservation Supplemental Zoning. A few years later, Tulsa qualified for Certified Local Government (CLG) status through the State Historic Preservation Office and the United States Department of the Interior. Participating in the CLG program has allowed the Tulsa Preservation Commission to pursue grant money to provide services such as architectural surveys, National Register nominations, and education and outreach programs.
Today, the Tulsa Preservation Commission continues its mission to safeguard Tulsa’s architectural and cultural heritage, recognizing the important link between where we’ve been and where we’re going.