Tulsa World: Whittier Square is “Redeveloped”

Tulsa’s Whittier Square is ‘developed’ for a day

By MICHAEL OVERALL World Staff Writer

Waiting to cross the street, a pedestrian nonchalantly leaned against a lamp pole, and the pole nearly fell over.

It was nothing but a prop, sitting on a plywood base, light enough to pick up and carry.

The crosswalk was made out of white tape, easy to pull up. And a bike lane was marked with cardboard signs, sure to disintegrate during the first rainstorm.

For one brief evening Wednesday, Whittier Square looked revitalized, complete with shops and landscaping and bustling crowds.

But it was all temporary.

“It’s a live rendering,” explained Andrew Howard, a construction director from a Dallas group called Team Better Block. “Instead of drawing a picture, we’re going to actually build it for a day to see what it could look like.”

First developed in the 1920s, Whittier Square was originally a thriving neighborhood east of downtown, where old Route 66 met Lewis Avenue.

In more recent decades, it’s been a block notorious for derelict buildings and seedy bookstores.

But the Circle Cinema and a few other projects have offered a glimpse of redevelopment. And two years ago, it was designated an “Oklahoma Main Street,” a statewide program to preserve and revitalize older shopping districts.

With Main Street coordinators coming to Tulsa from all over Oklahoma for some annual sessions, they decided to get out of the conference room and conduct an experiment.

“We could make a Power- Point presentation to show people what this area needs,” Howard said. “But what if we let people walk around in a revitalized Whittier Square for one night? People can see for themselves what’s possible with just a little investment.”

The improvements included angled parking and sidewalk lighting. And Lewis Avenue shrunk to two lanes to make traffic more pedestrian-friendly.

Vacant storefronts became a hardware shop, an art gallery and a wine and coffee bar with cafe seating outdoors.

But it will all disappear Thursday morning.

“It’s a shame,” said Stephanie LaFevers, executive director of the Circle Cinema Foundation and a member of the Kendall Whittier Main Street board. “But I really think it’s going to look like this again someday.”

Similar efforts have led to real, permanent revitalization in Fort Worth, Memphis, Dallas and other cities.

“It shows people what can be done,” LaFevers said. “Hopefully, it inspires people to make it real.”

See full story and more photos at TulsaWorld Online.