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Renovated OKC Civic Center earns rave reviews

By: Jeff Elkins//The Journal Record//June 21, 2023

OKLAHOMA CITY – After an extensive two-year renovation project, the historic Civic Center Music Hall is showing off its new look.

The $17 million remodel largely was funded through the 2017 Better Streets, Safer City bond package, which allocated $14.1 million to the project. The remainder was raised privately by the Civic Center Foundation.

The updates include a new addition on the building’s north side, which serves as the entrance and lobby for the Little Theatre. It provides a dedicated bar, new restrooms and balcony seating.

Along with a relocated box office, patrons will notice a complete makeover of the main lobby.

Dee Llanusa, director of marketing and sales for the Civic Center Foundation, said the main goal of the remodel was to maintain the historic art deco-style motif, but also to incorporate a modern touch.

The building was completed in 1937 as a Public Works Administration project, originally named the Municipal Auditorium, Llanusa said. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014 and has remained the crown jewel and anchor of what many consider the arts district.

“It’s always been a beacon of social congregation where people can meet and experience all different kinds of events,” Llanusa said. “It used to host circuses and the Harlem Globetrotters in the very same place that we now attend operas and performing arts.”

Llanusa described the Civic Center’s new look as “a bridge between the old and the new.”

“There’s some features on the walls that were part of the original art deco design that were covered by plaster and they were restored,” Llanusa said. “It’s really beautiful.”

Focal points in the middle of the main lobby are the light fixtures above a pair of blue wrap-around banquettes.

Oklahoma City-based glass artists Rick and Tracey Bewley were commissioned to create two art deco chandelier fixtures, which encase LED lights that change colors.

The $184,000 project was a requirement under the city’s 1% for the arts ordinance. Tracey Bewley said it was the most complex project they’ve ever done. She said the art deco style, which originated in the early 1920s, was still popular during the time the Civic Center was constructed.

“If you think of the old movie posters or travel posters, they had steamships and trains that looked like they were coming straight at you,” Bewley said. “It was futuristic for the time period and all of that is streamline art deco. In our research, that was the style we needed to work with and that’s what led to the design of the chandeliers.”

Bewley said the process required bending glass sheets using custom molds and management of a large amount of components and other material elements. The fixtures took about a year to complete. She said the LED lights are a fun touch.

“When they have a specific show or event and they want to change the light colors to go with the theme, they can do that,” Bewley said. “We already tested out the bright lime green, so when they do Wicked this fall, the chandeliers will glow this evil color.”

Llanusa said renovated restrooms were a key part of the update. One of them is now a family restroom, which includes an adult changing table for patrons who are caregivers.

The Little Theatre’s balcony, previously closed off due to safety concerns, is restored with flexible seating and its own lobby and bar.

Llanusa said the response since the reopening has been overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic.

“One of the really unique things about the Little Theatre is it gives opportunities for local companies to put on a show here in a space that better fits their needs,” Llanusa said.

With a separate box office and lobby, Llanusa said patrons will receive the same experience walking in the east door as the northeast entrance.

The Civic Center is now 86 years old. Llanusa said they hope to usher in another 86 years of memorable arts experiences for the citizens of Oklahoma City.

“We’re really excited about it,” Llanusa said.

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