As development continues to thrive in Tulsa’s core, the once-languishing Brady District has become a hot commodity, poised to house projects ranging from hotels to art galleries to green spaces. Here is the story of how this historic Tulsa neighborhood gained new life.
Current developments in the Brady District include the Marriott Fairfield Inn & Suites, left, and the Mathews Warehouse and Hardesty Arts Center, right.
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Just a decade or so ago, Tulsa’s downtown Brady District was really showing its age. Littered with a few too many shuttered buildings, weed-infested empty lots and the rusting hulks of obsolete factories and vacant warehouses, the general appearance of the district, at least to the casual observer, was one of decay and decline.
Progress seemed to have passed by the Brady District as Tulsa’s urban core depopulated and economic setbacks saw companies leave downtown. Over time, the area became dilapidated, worn out and neglected.
Signs of life, however, clung stubbornly to the area, thanks to a smattering of restaurants and bars as well as some artsy shops and galleries, a few industrial outfits and, of course, landmarks Brady Theater and Cain’s Ballroom. Even as it languished, the Brady District still managed to attract and retain a core of artists and others drawn to a grittier urban lifestyle with a tangible bohemian vibe.
Well, the times are changing — fast. Today, the approximately 27-city-block Brady District is experiencing a boom not seen since Tulsa’s big-oil era. If you haven’t visited the district in a while, you’re likely to be stunned by all the activity. Yes, big stuff is happening here.
Cranes in the air and construction crews — good signs
Just ask Steve Ganzkow. A longtime Brady property owner and developer, Ganzkow was behind one of the Brady District’s first big developments 12 years ago, the conversion of the former Tribune Building into loft apartments. Now he is the proud developer of the recently completed apartment building called The Metro at Brady Arts District. Located on Archer Street next to the Tribune Lofts, the $12 million, five-story Metro has 75 rental units and a pool — all designed for upscale urban dwellers.
Ganzkow, senior vice president of American Residential Group, couldn’t be happier with the district’s recent explosive growth.
“I don’t think there could be a better time,” he says. “A little while back, I was standing on the roof of the Metro and I counted seven cranes in the air. We haven’t seen that many cranes in the air in Tulsa in over 20 years,” he says.
The district’s revival is evident in the new apartment buildings, parks and streetscaping, as well as an ever-growing number of shops and businesses. After the current wave of development is finished, much of it this year, the Brady District will retain much of its original character, thanks to an ongoing allegiance to constructing low red-brick buildings. Yet the differences in both purpose and content — compared to the original area — will be staggering, too.
A rich history worth saving
The early development of the area now known as the Brady District started in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was all about fulfilling the commercial needs of a cow town that would rapidly transition into an oil-boom city.
Shoe salesman and shopkeeper Wyatt Tate Brady, after whom the area is named, was one of Tulsa’s earliest movers and shakers, and he relentlessly pursued development in the district, including opening the Brady Hotel at East Archer and North Main streets and another building that became Cain’s Ballroom.
Thanks to the Frisco Railroad, the area became an embarkation point for cattle, grain and other agricultural products. Soon mills, lumberyards and feedlots sprang up trackside, as did a host of other businesses to support the buzzing commerce. With the discovery of oil fields nearby, business and industry became even more concentrated and the area thrived for decades.
Eventually, as America became interconnected via interstate freeways, trucking firms settled into the district, supplanting rail transportation to some extent. By the 1960s, however, urban areas such as the Brady began to decline as more people moved away from the city center. By the 1970s and ’80s, attempts at urban renewal saw some old buildings destroyed and interest in meaningful revitalization remained stagnant.
Tulsa attorney and property developer David Sharp was alarmed at what he saw happening to the historic if rundown old district.
“This is my hometown, and I left in the ’60s to go to college and law school, and when I came back in the late ’70s, I realized the old part of downtown was being removed through urban renewal,” he says. “I was stunned that they were buying and tearing down buildings. I knew that if someone didn’t act quickly, then they would all be gone.”
Motivated to preserve Tulsa’s early history, Sharp went on a Brady District buying spree, knowing that any payoff would be years down the road if ever.
“I just decided to buy properties so that urban renewal wouldn’t take them out,” he says. “I hated to see the historic heart of downtown being wiped out.”
Sharp’s large portfolio of Brady District properties came to include the Fox Hotel Building (built in 1906), 201 N. Main St.; the Hercules Engine Co. Building, the building housing Caz’s Chowhouse, 18 E. Brady St., and Club Majestic, 124 N. Boston Ave.; the Main and Boston Street Apartments; and the Robinson Packer Building, 210 N. Main St., now the site of apartment lofts developed by the George Kaiser Family Foundation.