Boulder Avenue bridge opens, complete with artwork
BY ZACK STOYCOFF World Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 05, 2013
2/05/13 at 7:32 AM
Debbie Sellers, Barbie King and their art students at Tulsa Technology Center figured that bridging the city's past and future was the only way to complement a bridge linking the burgeoning Brady District with the rest of downtown.
"I was told that (the city) wanted something to visually tie the downtown area with the Brady District," Sellers said. "My thought was we could visually represent the rich culture of the Tulsa area."
The design they chose - a steel mural with dozens of plates representing Tulsa's history from buffaloes to airplanes - will span both sides of the 290-foot Boulder Avenue bridge, which opened Monday after a yearlong, $8.3 million construction project.
Officials installed an unfinished version of the plates for a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday in advance of crews who plan to paint, polish and secure them to the bridge's side railings within two weeks.
"We wanted to give people a preview of what they would look like," city Field Engineering Manager Terry Ball said.
The bridge, hailed by city officials as the new gateway to the Brady District, represents "a major step in the revitalization of our downtown," Mayor Dewey Bartlett said during the ribbon-cutting.
The two-way, four-lane span over the railroad tracks between First and Archer streets satisfies years of increasing demand to reconnect downtown's business core with the growing arts district north of the tracks, said City Councilor Blake Ewing, who represents the area.
The previous bridge, built in 1929, was closed to traffic more than a decade ago because it was structurally unstable and was demolished in 2009. Construction of its replacement, funded by the 2008 Fix Our Streets initiative and the 2006 third-penny sales tax, began in January 2012.
"Five years ago ... this bridge was a crumbling piece of concrete that nobody even seemed to care wasn't active," Ewing said. "As downtown started to come to life more and more every year, you started having people saying, 'Man, I wish the Boulder bridge was there.' "
Fittingly for a bridge serving the city's fastest-growing arts district, the structure is loaded with artwork, he said.
The city spent $360,000 to manufacture the steel plates envisioned by the advanced visual graphics design class led by Sellers and King.
The plates will be painted black, covered by metal screens and lit by LED lights on the outward sides of the bridge, creating a silhouette at night for motorists and pedestrians on the bridge.
At the bridge's southern end, a painted pavement mural by artist Josh Butts depicts Brady District landmarks such as the Brady Theater.
"Art is important," Ewing said. "I think this is an excellent example of what happens when we don't just build a bridge but we art it up a little bit."
Sellers previously designed murals for libraries in Tulsa and Owasso.
She said an engineering company working for the city asked her and her class in 2010 to design artwork for the bridge. After taking the students on a tour of downtown for inspiration, she asked them to brainstorm subjects that would reflect the city's culture.
The history angle won over city officials, and Sellers and King spent months refining students' drawings of various Tulsa icons: the Creek Council Oak Tree, trains, oil rigs, the Blue Dome, a Route 66 emblem and the 1957 Plymouth Belvedere that city officials unearthed as part of a Tulsa centennial time capsule in 2007.
Each was made into a plate and placed in a loose chronological order, with a space scene - representing Tulsa's future - near the end.
"It's designed so people can kind of pick out what means something to them," King said. "Hopefully this is something for everybody. It's supposed to represent all of Tulsa."
Sellers said most of the students from that 2010 class have graduated, but one - Tony Lyons - attended Monday's ribbon-cutting.
"It's hard to put words on being able to leave your mark on Tulsa," he said after the ceremony.
Original Print Headline: Spanning history
Zack Stoycoff 918-581-8486
Artists Barbie King (left) and Debbie Sellers look over the art elements designed by their class on the new Boulder Avenue bridge Monday, when the downtown span was opened to traffic. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
A mural of the Brady District covers the Boulder Avenue bridge as City Councilor Blake Ewing talks to a crowd gathered for the span's opening Monday. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World