Saturday, July 15, 2006

1st National Center, 75 Years Later

NOTE: This post has been majorly updated by THIS ONE which contains everything here but a lot more. I've left this one here for historical purposes. Also, this article is complemented by a later article which draws upon First National's Archives.

Very few of us, if any, were alive during the "Great Race" (1930-1931) to finish 2 skyscrapers in Oklahoma City, the First National Bank and the Ramsey Tower. The Ramsey Tower (now City Place) won the race by a hair on October 3, 1931.

Until the early 1970's and before, these two structures were the "signature" of downtown Oklahoma City’s skyline.

Following the "Oil Bust" in the early ‘80s and with the resulting July 5,1982, collapse of Penn Square Bank in Oklahoma City, many other "main line" banks fell in harm’s way, including the First National Bank, theretofore the state’s largest bank. Thereafter, notwithstanding its fine art deco grandeur, the First National Center entered into decline.


"The Beacon Club", a prestigious private club which occupied the top 3 stories, moved to the Oklahoma Tower in 1997 ... http://www.beaconclub.com/. The club's history is presented here, http://www.beaconclub.com/history.php. The 1st National Center has languished badly since the 1980's once you higher than the 3rd floor.

News, though, turned bright on May 5, 2006, with a California group’s purchase of the Center which includes more than one million square feet of leasable space. As reported in The Oklahoman and as discussed at OkcTalk.com, according to the agent that handled the transaction, the new owners have great intentions:

"Plans are to bring it back to its former glory as the crown jewel of downtown Oklahoma City. To fill it up – and dress her up and take her to the ball. Have a centennial ball in the Grand Banking Hall."

See http://www.okctalk.com/okc-metro-area-talk/6387-first-national-center-sold-big-plans.html for much more about that.

Wouldn’t that be grand! Hopefully, you’ll be able to attend a Centennial Ball in that Great Banking Hall, dark and unaccessible for years, seen below when the lights were still on.


Go, Oklahoma City, GO!

8 comments:

writerranger said...

Excellent post! I'm anxious to hear the latest on the plans for First National. You just have to LOVE pix of the Grand Banking Hall. I remember going there as a kid (my Grandmother was a switchboard operator at FNB for over 20 years)....I always had to DRESS UP! Going downtown was an event and going downtown meant looking your best. What memories. Love the blog -- good luck!!

Doug Dawg said...

Thanks for the words of encouragement, writerranger, especially in these "baby days" of this infant blog! If there is anything particular you have in mind, let me know. For sure, I've got to include some pieces about the old Beverlys and Toddle House restaurants ... snippets from my past, perhaps yours, too!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update on this beautiful landmark. I became a transplanted "Okie" in 1982, and worked in the arcade of the First National Center. I'm looking forward to the restoration of this fabulous piece of architecture!

Doug Dawg said...

Unfornattely, I've not seen any news about the new owners' plans for quite some time now. Hopefully, soon ...

Anonymous said...

Is any part of this building open to the public now? I remember seeing the barber shop several years ago and would love to get some photos of it before the new owners likely dismantle it in the name of progress. Sad.

Doug Dawg said...

Sure, Anon, the building has never closed. Some few parts, like the former Beacon Club area, are not accessible, and the Great Banking Hall can be seen from the 3rd floor balcony or upon request. I am fairly optimistic that the new owners will do a good job, as they claim that they will.

Anonymous said...

My former neighbor whom I grew up with as a kind of grandparent worked all her career in that building. She started as a secretary and left as a vice president. She invited us down every Christmas to see the tree. I would go down and meet her for lunch to eat in the Beacon Club. I would have to dress up in my Sunday best. She even validated my parking which I thought was a neat thing. One meal, she told me to casually get up and look at the table behind me. I got up to get dessert and it was Mr. Vose, E.L. Gaylord, Dean A. McGee, and Robert S. Kerr II. I will never forget the look on her face when the bank examiners sent her and all the staff home. She said they marched in and ordered everybody out, leaving everything. She said they literally carted everything out in boxes and left offices picked clean. She continued with Boatman's and other transitions but she never recovered her lost bank securities. It totally changed her retirement plans. If you had told her it was even possible she would have said you were insane.

Anonymous said...

Working with the general contractor of the renovation I can say that the renovation is scheduled to start in October of this year. The building will have high end apartments and retail in it when it is complete. the job is scheduled to last about a year and a half.