Rescuing Johansen’s Mummers Theater

Newsletter, Southwest
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
The Stage Center, formerly the Mummer Theater, in Oklahoma City (Courtesy

The Stage Center, formerly the Mummer Theater, in Oklahoma City (Courtesy

Amidst office towers in the heart of Oklahoma City sits an incongruous ensemble of multicolored boxes, tubes, concrete skywalks, and corrugated metal painted in shades of red, blue, orange, and chartreuse green. One cantilevered rectangle precariously perches at the edge of a swooping concrete form whose interior holds a theater in the round, once home to the Mummers Theater troupe. Architect John M. Johansen, of the so-called “Harvard Five,” completed the project for the Mummers in 1970, but the troupe folded just one year later. The building would go through several incarnations as a theater/arts center called Stage Center until a 2010 flood put it out of commission. Vandalism and decay ensued, and now the AIA Central Oklahoma chapter has put out an RFP for the renovation, hoping to spur design-world interest in their Save Stage Center Campaign.

Detail of Johansan's Mummers Theather (aka Stage Center) in Oklahoma City. (Courtesy AIA Central Oklahoma).

Detail of Johansen’s Mummers Theater (a.k.a. Stage Center) in Oklahoma City. (Courtesy AIA Central Oklahoma)

One group, organized by Tracy Zeeck with Rees Architects, envisions a children’s museum modeled with a play café, like the soon-to-close Moomah in TriBeCa. The design would need little alteration to capture the imagination of kids. “I grew up here and I remember it as kinetic; I thought it moved,” said Zeeck. She added that the group got Johansen’s blessing to restore the space for kids and support from the Phoenix Children’s Museum. There’s a concern that the rapid development might threaten the building. Directly across the street is the Picard Chilton– designed Devon Energy tower to be completed in 2012. The 50-story glass-clad tower dwarfs the comparatively quaint arts complex. “I think as a city we tear ourselves down to build ourselves up,” said Zeeck. “I just want my son to share the same memories of the place that I have.”

Deadlines for the proposals are due to the AIA Central Oklahoma Chapter by February 29.

The Mummers Theater (Courtesy fuckyeahbrutalism.tumbler)

The Mummers Theater 1970. (Courtesy



2 Responses to “Rescuing Johansen’s Mummers Theater”

  1. michael bobrow faia says:

    this is a must save project- johansen was an outstanding faculty member at columbia and other ivy league schools in the 60’s and pushed the envelope for his work and students beyond the dogma of the time. try to get some of his sketches- he was a remarkable draftsman…

  2. Barbara Koerble, AICP says:

    Unfortunately, some of Johansen’s buildings have been lost already, but the Mummers Theater is so iconic it must be saved. Its international fame and acknowledged influence on architects such as Frank Gehry and Richard Rogers underscores its significance. Let’s get behind this effort to save it.

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