Utica Square honored with architectural award
BY MICHAEL OVERALL World Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
11/13/12 at 4:13 AM
Walter Helmerich III, the millionaire oilman and philanthropist, kept a pair of hedge trimmers in the trunk of his car, just in case he noticed a stray limb.
"Hands-on? We'd often see him out there, cutting a tree branch if he didn't think it looked right," said property manager Jessica Barr.
"That's how hands-on he was."
Helmerich died in January, but his family has controlled midtown Tulsa's iconic shopping center for nearly five decades. And the next generation is committed to preserving his vision.
"We ask ourselves all the time, 'What would Mr. Helmerich do?' " Barr said. "It was important to him to maintain the integrity of what the architects intended."
Recognizing the significance of both its history and its architecture, Utica Square will receive a Foundation Landmark award Tuesday from the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture.
"It's one of my favorite places," said Lee Anne Zeigler, the foundation's executive director. "There's nothing else like it."
Built on a former golf range, the square opened in 1952 as the city's first suburban shopping center, at what was then the edge of town at Utica Avenue and 21st Street.
Ironically, it was also Tulsa's first "New Urban" development, decades before New Urbanism became a catchphrase.
With shady sidewalks and scenic plazas, the square was designed with pedestrians in mind, not cars. And it has become the antithesis of modern suburban design.
"The architects wanted it to feel like a village," explains Derek Lee, an archivist and historian for the Architecture Foundation.
"And they wanted it to look like it had been here a long time, even when it was all new."
Designed by a local firm, McCune and McCune, Utica Square originally catered to budget shoppers, with tenants that included TG&Y and a Humpty Dumpty grocery store.
But after Helmerich bought the square in 1964, he brought in Miss Jackson's pricey department store to strike a more upscale tone. He also planted more than 300 trees, giving Utica Square an almost park-like atmosphere that shoppers still enjoy today.
The Architecture Foundation will photograph and document the current condition of the site for future use in its archives.
Utica Square will receive a Landmark plaque at the foundation's ninth annual awards presentation at Girouard Vines, a downtown winery at 817 E. Third St.
Blue Rose Cafe will provide hors d'oeuvres starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
A Lifetime Achievement Award will go to George Kravis II, a trustee of the Raymond and Bessie Kravis Foundation. The award honors a "body of work that makes Tulsa a better place to live."
The Leadership Award, recognizing new construction and adaptive re-use of historic structures, will go to the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa for its Schusterman Campus at 41st Street and Yale Avenue.
The award winners were chosen by a committee that included several local architects, designers and engineers.
Utica Square trivia
- The shopping center opened May 22, 1952.
- Developers Dale Carter and Tom Nix bought the land in 1949 for $150,000.
- The Yorktown Alley expansion was built in 1967.
- The entrance clock was made in 1864 and displayed at the New York World's Fair.
- Two original tenants remain, Hicks Brunson and Elephant Trunk.
- In 1957, the Tulsa World described the architecture as a mix of "French provincial, Williamsburg, contemporary, Georgian and New Orleans traditional styles."
Tulsa Foundation for Architecture awards
When: 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Girouard Vines, 817 E. Third St.
Tickets: $25, or $20 for TFA members
More information: 918-583-5550
Original Print Headline: Designed for people
Michael Overall 918-581-8383
Customers drink coffee outside of Starbucks at Utica Square. With shady sidewalks and scenic plazas, the shopping center was designed with pedestrians in mind, not cars. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World
"It's one of my favorite places," Lee Anne Zeigler, executive director of the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture, said of Utica Square. The shopping center will receive a Landmark Award from the group on Tuesday. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World
Opened in 1952, Utica Square was built on a former golf range. Courtesy
Utica Square will receive a Landmark award Tuesday from the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture. The award recognizes the significance of both the shopping center's history and its architecture. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World