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Soul in the City

Located at the southern end of the IDL, the Cathedral District boasts a rich combination of faith, life, business, and culture while focusing on being collaborative and visionary.

Article
Michele Chiappetta
Photos
Marc Rains
Posted
January 29, 2018

Tulsa is one of those big little cities — small enough where you can run into familiar faces pretty regularly, while still offering plenty of city-minded arts, shopping and dining. One way Tulsa makes the most of its big little city flavor is the many unique neighborhood districts that visitors and denizens alike can explore.

The most recent district to receive an official designation is the Cathedral District. Located at the southern end of downtown Tulsa, the newly christened district is bordered by Detroit Avenue, Sixth Street, Denver Avenue, and 14th Street. Within its borders are six historic churches, the downtown campus of Tulsa Community College (TCC), and a variety of large and small businesses.

Once busy and vibrant, the Cathedral District has struggled in recent decades due to urban renewal projects that turned old buildings into asphalt parking lots as well as the loss of businesses during Tulsa’s lean times. Though it includes a portion of historic Route 66, you almost wouldn’t have known it in recent years.

Like many a city, Tulsa has had its challenges in finding ways to revitalize itself to draw people in from the suburbs during the evenings and on weekends. And the Cathedral District neighborhood is no different.

Like many a city, Tulsa has had its challenges in finding ways to revitalize itself to draw people in from the suburbs during the evenings and on weekends. And the Cathedral District neighborhood is no different. (Photo: Marc Rains)
Like many a city, Tulsa has had its challenges in finding ways to revitalize itself to draw people in from the suburbs during the evenings and on weekends. And the Cathedral District neighborhood is no different. (Photo: Marc Rains)

In 2015, though, this trend began to change. A team of volunteers, consisting of interested citizens, local businesspeople and others, came together to discuss and pursue ways to invigorate their neighborhood. Thus, the Cathedral District was officially born, with the goal of drawing in more visitors and new businesses, and to bring about the kind of revitalization that has helped put the Blue Dome District and the Tulsa Arts District on the map.

“The current objective of the Cathedral District is to capitalize on the iconic features of south downtown, including the churches and TCC and the existing space, and developing a more complete area,” says Lauren Brookey, who co-chairs the district along with Gordon Guest. “Our hope is to create a vision and implement that vision in the next five years.”

Among the elements the district already capitalizes on are its historic churches. The district’s name comes from those churches — a huge draw for those who are fascinated by architectural design, especially when it comes to ecclesiastical structures.

Among the elements the district already capitalizes on are its historic churches. (Photo: Marc Rains)
Among the elements the district already capitalizes on are its historic churches. (Photo: Marc Rains)

Probably the most well-known of these structures is the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church, with Art Deco and Gothic inspired architecture designed by Tulsans Adah Robinson, a former art teacher at Central High School, and Bruce Goff, a well-known architect who once was a student of Robinson’s. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the church building was finished in 1929 and shows off, among other features, the dramatic, soaring, stylized tower that represents hands folded in prayer, reaching toward heaven. That tower is among the more memorable parts of the skyline as you drive to and from downtown.

Other impressively designed churches clustered here include the First Presbyterian Church of Tulsa, its congregation existing here since 1885; the First United Methodist Church, dating back to 1886; the First Church of Christ, Scientist, with a building dating to 1918; and others. Even the business-focused buildings, such as the Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) building, are historic in nature.

In fact, the entire district is walkable and drivable for those who enjoy the idea of doing a self-directed tour of Tulsa’s amazing architectural structures. The churches and the PSO building are among the spots featured on downtown architectural tours offered by the Tulsa Historical Society and the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture.

Of course, there are other reasons to visit the Cathedral District, beyond architecture. The churches draw many congregants, organizing charity events and finding ways to give back that are unique to the district’s rich spiritual connections. Thousands of students attend classes each week at Tulsa Community College’s Metro Campus and the University of Tulsa’s newly opened Oxley College of Health Sciences.

“The Cathedral District is focused on being collaborative and visionary,” says Brookey. “Our hope is that the vision will be a touch point for the organizations that currently exist and for new development, and as a result this area will be well-planned, dynamic and an asset for the larger downtown area. “

Already, the area boasts some interesting entertainment options for visitors who want to enjoy downtown’s eclectic offerings. The section of Route 66 that runs through the district is home to Foolish Things Coffee Co., a popular local coffee shop. Other dining spots in the district include The Vault, 624 Kitchen & Catering, and The Boulder Grill. And the district looks forward to more growth as time goes on.

“Each of our members has a shared interest in ensuring our organizations shape an environment that attracts students, members, employees and customers as well as improves the value of our investments,” says Brookey. “There are already demonstrated models for success in downtown for achieving those goals, and the City has shown strong interest in supporting organic growth and design downtown.”

July 2019 Cover