Michael Overall: How Fifth Street is becoming downtown Tulsa’s new ‘main street’ | Local News
After building a magnificent Art Deco landmark eight blocks south in 1929, Boston Avenue United Methodist Church sold its former location to oil magnate Waite Phillips.
The original church stood across from Phillips’ new headquarters, the 24-story neo-Gothic Philtower located at Fifth Street and Boston Avenue. And Phillips hired local architect Leon Senter to design a second office building that would complement but not eclipse the first, which was only a year old.
Originally intended to be much smaller, the Philcade eventually grew to 14 floors with a chic 4,550 square foot penthouse apartment for Phillips himself. But the top-floor suite wasn’t added until 1937. What really mattered to Phillips in 1929 was the ground floor of the new building.
By the 1920s, Fifth Street and Boston Avenue had become one of Tulsa’s premier shopping destinations, especially for high-end retailers. Miss Jackson’s, a famously expensive boutique, had been the Philtower’s first tenant, according to Tulsa World records. The store’s grand opening served champagne in crystal flutes while New York models showcased the latest designs from European designers.
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By the late 1920s, however, new developments along Boulder Avenue, including the flashy Pythian Building with its zigzagging Art Deco architecture, threatened to lure buyers away.
The Philcade, with its extravagant two-story “shopping arcade”, was Phillips’ way of protecting his turf. And the interior decor seemed lavish even by Art Deco standards, with custom-made bronze chandeliers and extensive use of gold leaf.
Of course, the real threat to Fifth and Boston turned out to be the suburbs. Even Miss Jackson moved to Utica Square in 1965, a milestone in the downtown’s long decline. And at the end of the 80s, almost all the windows were empty.
Fifth Street, in particular, has become a testament to the blight of downtown. The grand Mayo Hotel, at Fifth and Cheyenne Avenue, sat empty and gutted for 28 years. And the posh Tulsa Club, once a playground for the rich and powerful on Fifth and Cincinnati Avenue, has become a haven for underground raves and homeless encampments.
But today, Fifth Street offers the best illustration of downtown revitalization in the 21st century.
The Mayo Hotel reopened in 2009 after a $42 million renovation. And the Tulsa Club underwent a $33 million reconstruction to become an upscale hotel in 2019.
The Philtower found new life as loft apartments in 2004. The 420 Mayo Building at Fifth and Main Street was also converted from mostly empty offices to completely full apartments in 2010. And the new 111 Lofts at Fifth and Boulder attracts some of the highest rents in Tulsa.
And now the Sinclair Building, one of the last “missing pieces” in the revitalization of downtown historic buildings, will undergo a $15 million redevelopment with help from the Tulsa Authority for Economic Opportunity.
Authorities recently approved a $2 million loan and up to $1.75 million in assistance through tax increment financing to renovate the 103-year-old building into apartments and commercial space .
When it reopens, likely in 2023 or 24, the Sinclair will fill the last significant void remaining in a series of newly constructed, recently renovated, or never-decayed buildings spanning more than seven blocks from the Cox Business Center to Detroit Avenue.
Fifth Street, with four major hotels and several popular restaurants, has become one of the busiest streets downtown, meaning Phillips’ efforts have paid off in the long run. Not as he had expected.