Dispute Could Doom John Johansen’s Iconic Mummers Theater

Friday, May 11, 2012
John Johansen's Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City. (Courtesy of Farooq S. Karim)

John Johansen’s Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City. (Courtesy of Farooq S. Karim)

John Johansen’s iconic Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City may be demolished in the next year. Built with a $1.7 million grant from the Ford Foundation, the so called “Brutalist” building was closed in 2010 due to flooding and a local Oklahoma City group has been trying to purchase it for a downtown children’s museum.

Proposal for a Childrens Museum at Mummers Theater. (Courtesy of Farooq S. Karim)

Proposal for a Childrens Museum at Mummers Theater. (Courtesy of Farooq S. Karim)

When the building flooded, the theater moved and ownership of the property was transferred to the Oklahoma City Community Foundation who been negotiating with the museum group to transfer ownership to them. But negotiations have broken down over a request by the Childrens Museum to pay the foundation $25,000 to hold a right of first refusal on any sale of the property for one year.

It’s a sad day for this great building but the foundation seems determined to do away with it and the estimated cost of $30 million is more than the museum group can raise in a year.

Meanwhile Johansen, who was one of our most important architects in the 1960s and 1970s and at 96 lives in Cape Cod, may witness yet another one of his buildings falling to a wrecking ball. His 1967 Mechanics Theater in Baltimore is facing similar fate as preservationists and developers fight over the building. Mechanics Theater was denied landmark status in 2007 and its fate may already be sealed.

4 Responses to “Dispute Could Doom John Johansen’s Iconic Mummers Theater”

  1. aldorossi2004 says:

    This is a travesty. Mummers Theatre is one of the finest examples of Mannerist Brutalism that exists. The stylized concrete and steel building is built in the manner of Brutalism, but is not explicitly, or purely Brutalist. It is this that marks Johansen’s idiosyncratic and important contributions architecture.

    His Smith Elementary in Columbus Indiana is similarly spectacular, although it has undergone very well-executed, sensitive additions and is certainly in better favor than the Mummers.

  2. HardyHugh says:

    The idea of retrofitting – or reusing – brutalism for children’s play spaces is a provocative one. One day, I hope my kids also will be able to play on the crumbled ruins of modernism.

  3. Tracey Zeeck says:

    Anyone with ideas on how to help, PLEASE contact me! TraceyZeeck @gmail [dot] com.

  4. Mac Gordon says:

    John Johansen is perhaps the greatest living American architect (7/20.12). Too many of his wonderful buildings have been torn down already. The Mummers Theatre is one of his best.

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