This popular wedding venue was once a real ranch
Located on 44 acres in Jenks, Spain Ranch has evolved thanks to one Tulsa family.
The White Barn is a popular venue at Spain Ranch, 732 E. 116th St., Jenks. The Spain family has owned the 44-acre property since 2004.
Perhaps it’s appropriate that Spain Ranch is a labor of love for its owners. After all, it’s often love that brings people to the 44-acre Jenks ranch.
In 2004, Dr. Michael Spain bought the property from longtime owners Sue and Lloyd Clifton. The couple had owned the property for decades, nurturing it as an agricultural production with cattle and bison. “The Cliftons held out for years as developers wanted this attractive property for the booming housing industry in this part of Jenks,” Spain says.
From 2004-2009, Michael and son, John, worked the land, eventually hiring Kris Yancey, first a ranch hand and now director of operations. Eventually John and now-wife Bronwyn moved onto the property and considered future opportunities and keeping the ranch in the family.
“Bronwyn and I committed to staying in Tulsa to see the formation of the business through and create a sustainable model that in turn pays for the land and reduced the financial responsibility of the other family members,” John says.
Over the years, the Spains hosted small family get-togethers and charity events. Then, in March 2014, when a family friend needed a venue for their upcoming wedding, they had the proverbial lightbulb moment.
After that wedding, Michael, John, Bronwyn and the whole family came together with the idea to use the property as an event venue, something the Spains thought was lacking in the Tulsa market. “We wanted to cater to a whole different kind of bride and bring city brides to the country,” says Bronwyn, Spain Ranch’s creative director.
The property’s existing buildings wouldn’t support a large gathering, so the family knew a new structure was needed. They purchased a Sand Creek barn kit, which was later built by John, who has a background in construction.
Like any family decision, opinions varied on how to design the space, but an overall mindset was to keep an interior raw wood aesthetic. Bronwyn, who holds a degree in interior design from University of Oklahoma College of Architecture, had another idea.
“We had to do all white,” she says. “It never goes out of style.” She felt the color also would play well for photographers, stylists and event designers. The space became known as “The White Barn.”
Even though they were hesitant to paint over the natural raw wood, John and Michael admit Bronwyn was right about the color decision. The Spains even painted the building themselves. “People look straight up as they walk in,” says Director of Events Cecily Tawney of the barn’s vaulted ceilings. “Many of our guests don’t know this place is out here.”
Large picture windows and French doors showcase the property’s lush foliage, trees and pasture. “We also wanted to let the land be part of the design,” Bronwyn says.
The results have been overwhelming. Since 2014, Spain Ranch has hosted 272 events: weddings, elopements, and corporate and charity functions.
Demand was so great, the family decided to do it all over again. The summer of 2018 saw the introduction of “The Black Barn,” a space that challenged the team while demonstrating the thriving business community and collaboration the Spains are passionate about championing. “We believe that Tulsa is the best city to start a business, and small businesses have been crucial to Tulsa’s economy,” John says. “Being a small business, we feel it’s important not only for the economy but for the people behind each small business in Tulsa to support one another.
“We want to educate and inspire our clients — especially young Tulsans — to shop and support local. We are passionate about Tulsa thriving, so we want to use our platform to inspire others to want Tulsa and its residents to thrive.”
Before the Black Barn’s construction, the Spains interviewed hair and makeup artists, photographers and other local industry professionals on what they wanted in a space: good lighting, accessibility, functionality and flexibility.
When it came to the color, Bronwyn thought of a wedding’s VIPs, the bride and groom. “This is the black tux to the bride’s white dress,” she says. She was inspired while on a trip to Kentucky where she and John saw several black fences and barns.
Along with the construction of the new barn, the family focused on creating a setting that was reflective of its surroundings. “We wanted to bring back some of the natural elements,” John says, referring to the use of local building materials. They also planted mostly native plants for water-conscious growing and to provide a refuge for pollinators. The family has reclaimed the property’s pond, which had previously suffered from silt as a result of the area’s booming developments.
The wedding and event industry’s environmental footprint weighed heavy on Bronwyn, who sees a lot of waste when it comes to weddings and events. She created a nonprofit called Project Bloom, which allows clients to donate the flowers used at their event to be delivered to one of four places in Tulsa.
Through the Ranch’s board of directors, which consists of six Spain family members, the board donates venue space each year for a number of nonprofit events.
Spain Ranch has spawned national attention from its design, aesthetics, services and brand, as well as venue management team and event planning capabilities. And the venue is starting a consulting firm that will help fledging venues succeed in an industry for which best practices are not openly shared, Tawney says.
But to what do the Spains credit their success? “We’re successful because we have young people in the business,” Michael says, and each brings their own special talents and skills. Each member has their own responsibilities — and each do their best to stay out of each other’s responsibilities.
“Micromanaging a family business is asking for disaster,” Michael says. Each member has found their niche and has excelled, John adds.
“We are very proud of and recognized for creating trends and showing the market or event industry as a whole things they have never seen before,” he says. “This level of forward thinking and creativity has allowed Spain Ranch and the brand as a whole to create demand in parts of the market that hardly existed, such as small weddings and elopements.”
The toughest part of the job is the ability to manage the “on/off switch,” a doubly tough challenge since four of the family members employed at Spain Ranch also live on the property.
The acreage is more than just a livelihood. It’s their home, something the family doesn’t take lightly.
“We manage to a vision,” Michael says. “With a strong set of values, your vision is set.”