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Give It Your Wall

Ziegler’s devotion to customers shines through in a simple practice that’s kept them in business for half a century.

Article
Gina Conroy
Photos
Sarah Eliza Roberts
Posted
November 28, 2019

Not far from downtown’s growing art district at the corner of Kendall Whittier Square sits a historic red brick building overflowing with treasures waiting to be discovered. One of Tulsa’s best-kept secrets, Ziegler Art and Frame, a unique, family-run store, has been serving the Tulsa community for almost 50 years. And they plan on being around for at least 50 more.

“There’s nothing like us,” says Trent Morrow, grandson to Dan Ziegler, the master craftsman who built the place by piecing together buildings as they acquired new property. “A lot of our regulars come here not knowing what they want, but they always leave with some new treasure.”  

Tourists who stay downtown enjoy Ziegler’s unique charm and the area named one of the seven certified art districts in Oklahoma. With Circle Cinema, bookshop, restaurants, coffee shop, STEMcell Science Shop, and breweries close by, you can easily spend a day of entertainment in Kendall Whittier District.

“I’m a big advocate for the neighborhood,” says Trent, president of Kendall Whittier Main Street a nonprofit dedicated to transforming the area. “When [Whittier Main Street] started in 2010, we had a 35% occupancy rate on the square, but at this moment, we’re just about at 100%.”

Ziegler loves having artists in the building, whether creating in the open studio space or teaching others the art of watercolor, oil painting, drawing, and more. (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)
Ziegler loves having artists in the building, whether creating in the open studio space or teaching others the art of watercolor, oil painting, drawing, and more. (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)

The nonprofit has done a lot for the economic development of the area after decades of decline. When Ziegler first opened its doors in 1973, they didn’t know the district was starting a downhill spiral after thriving for decades as Tulsa’s first suburban shopping district. The construction of the eight-lane highway built in 1967 would soon change the neighborhood, but not Ziegler.

They started as a wholesale business in a little space selling to companies like Michael’s and Hobby Lobby. “We did manufacturing, canvasing, and little frames,” says Trent.

“My dad focused on retail and business, and my grandfather kept his eye on properties.” As Dan bought up buildings and expanded, his son-in-law, Trent’s father, filled the rooms with merchandise. Over the years, the wholesale side started dwindling as retail flourished.

After the decline of the area in the 1980s, Ziegler stood strong and kept its doors open to serve its customers. Back then, this district could have been called the “red light” district of Tulsa.

“The Circle Cinema [built in 1928] was an X-rated theater at the time,” says Trent. The area was teeming with seedy bars and strip joints. In 2003, after being threatened with demolition, the theater was named to the National Register of Historic Places. According to Morrow, the neighborhood started to change when they revamped Circle Cinema in the early 2000s.

“We stuck it out for a long time, and in the last five years, we’ve had a real transformation,” says Trent. “It’s been a mission of ours to help change the neighborhood.”

Ziegler’s dedication to the community isn’t just apparent in its love for the neighborhood; the devotion to customers shines through in a simple practice that’s kept them in business for half a century. (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)
Ziegler’s dedication to the community isn’t just apparent in its love for the neighborhood; the devotion to customers shines through in a simple practice that’s kept them in business for half a century. (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)

When the building across the street that housed the adult bookstore was for sale, Ziegler didn’t hesitate to buy it. “We wanted to make sure that type of business wouldn’t come back in,” says Trent. Now they lease the building to Fair Fellow Coffee Roasters.

Ziegler’s dedication to the community isn’t just apparent in its love for the neighborhood; the devotion to customers shines through in a simple practice that’s kept them in business for half a century.

“We take care of our customers,” says Morrow.

When you walk through the doors, you immediately sense the difference. Maybe it’s the wide-open spaces filled with unique merchandise and art, instead of small aisles crammed with duplicate factory-made products. Perhaps it’s the fact an employee can be readily found to assist you, or maybe it’s because Charlie, Trent’s dog, greets each customer with a wagging tail. “She’s our mascot and excellent at her job,” says Trent. “She always puts everyone in a good mood.”

Part of the fun is seeing people wander around enjoying the store. “This place makes a lot of people happy,” he says. “Sometimes they’ll buy something, and sometimes they won’t.”

A lot of regulars stop by with no agenda or purchase in mind. And that’s just fine. Trent’s only caution is whenever you take a trip to Ziegler, you better give yourself plenty of time to “soak it all in.”

One of the reasons people keep coming back is Ziegler has products you can’t find anyplace else. That’s why people from south Tulsa and Bixby travel to Ziegler.

“We’ve had people bring U-Haul’s as far as Florida and Wyoming to buy our ready-made gallery frames because they’re difficult to find,” says Trent.

“Every frame with the ‘Z’ logo is made in-house,” says Trent. “If there’s three on the shelf and you need six, we can have them ready for you next week.”

You’ll find unique seasonal and gift items as well as custom frame samples that are displayed in a beautiful array of colors and styles on the wall. Their custom framing and matting, the focus of Ziegler’s business, is a cut above the rest. While it’s quite a challenge to keep all the frame molding in stock, they do it because it’s the cornerstone of their business.

“Another reason people come to us over other frame shops is most of the floor samples are stocked on the premises,” says Trent. “That’s pretty unheard of in most frame shops.”

If an artist comes in on a Tuesday, has a show on First Friday, and needs their art framed, Ziegler can get it done, unlike other stores that might have to order the frames, which can take weeks. “We don’t charge rush services for that type of thing, and that’s pretty unique for frame shops,” says Trent.

Just beyond the custom-frame samples is the staircase Dan built, which leads to the formal dining hall of a ballroom built in the 1930s. The original signs from the dance hall still hang on the wall. The dance floor is where they custom cut and make the frames, but original pews still line the wall of the hall where dancers rested. As you walk through an aisle of custom-frame molding and around the corner, you’ll see the original ticket window of the dance hall.

“There’s cool history up here,” says Trent.

If you’d like to take some history home, you’ll find it in the gallery downstairs. Ziegler has the most extensive collection of Tulsa art, photography, and memorabilia under one roof. From the nostalgic feeling of the oil boom and Route 66 to popular depictions of this growing city, there’s something to fit every style, budget, home, and office.  

“Tulsa-themed art and decor have become popular in the last several years with everyone’s pride and enthusiasm for the city,” says Trent. “With all the new buildings being constructed downtown and new offices, they want artwork, and they like having images of the city.” Residents and tourists like the Tulsa spirit themes, as well. The growing art scene downtown along with First Fridays has piqued resident’s interest in art in general.

Scattered throughout the showroom gallery is a selection of decor and unique furnishing that aren’t mass reproduced. “Home decor doesn’t describe what Ziegler offers its customers,” Trent says as he points to a leather cowhide barstool.

If you can’t find a print in the size you want, Ziegler has a vast database of images. They can print what you want on canvas or photo paper and have it framed to order. They can even add calligraphy to mattes, and rolled up prints can be vacuum mounted.

“You have to have all the right tools to do the job right,” says Trent.

Ziegler does almost everything in-house, which means customers get their orders faster than stores that outsource. They can even preserve, restore, refurbish, and colorize your old and damaged photographs as well as digitally reproduce your original artwork.

Walking toward the art supplies, you may not notice the door that leads to a small courtyard. Even that has a story. “This used to be an alleyway,” says Trent. “We had to get the city’s permission to shut down the road because my grandfather kept building the store out.”

Ziegler’s support of artists in Tulsa goes beyond showcasing their art for sale. They love having artists in the building, whether creating in the open studio space or teaching others the art of watercolor, oil painting, drawing, and more. Whatever medium the artist teaches, the space is free of charge, and everything they need is just a room over.

Carrying major brands in oil, acrylics, watercolor, and gouache paints as well as inks, markers, pens, other wet media, and dry media like graphite, pastel, charcoal, as well as a variety of stretched canvas, panels, pads and sheet goods, Ziegler is a playground for the artist’s soul. They have easels and tables designed with the artists in mind.

One of Trent’s proudest accomplishments is acquiring two murals on the outside of the building: one is by Scribe, an internationally known artist, and the other by John Hammer, from Claremore.

Since being certified an Oklahoma art district a couple of years ago, Kendall Whittier has not only been attracting more tourists and customers; it’s also been attracting more artists.

“While the art scene downtown is thriving, the studio spaces can be pricy,” says Trent. “[The Kendall Whittier District] is more of the working-class arts district. We like having that identity down here.”

The charm and location of the Kendall Whittier District also attracts established artists. Directly across the street from Ziegler is Marjorie Atwood’s studio. Shared spaces like Studio 75 and the Loose Leaf artist studio that attracts photographers and architects, and Fire Thief Productions, a private company that produces films, are also popping up in the area.

Although the area is thriving, there’s still room for growth. “We would love to see more restaurants and other businesses,” says Trent.

Until then, Ziegler isn’t going anywhere.

LOCATOR
Ziegler Art & Frame
6 N. Lewis Ave. | Tulsa
918-584-2217
zieglerart.com
Monday-Friday: 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Sunday: Closed

December 2019 Cover