Archive for November, 2009

Giving Thanks

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

Pops Bottle

This past weekend over the Thanksgiving holiday, I found a few of those little surprises that make me glad I’m a native of Oklahoma City.

My wife, daughter, mom, brother and I found ourselves out early on Black Friday along with a surprisingly large number of the multitudes. This has become sort of an early-morning ritual/tradition that I still can’t quite figure out. I guess the rationale has something to do with getting into the holiday spirit. Shoppers were out in galore at Quail Springs and Penn Square Malls. (Quick note to Quail Springs: You need a Starbucks.)

In the afternoon, we drove out to Rand Elliott’s landmark POPS on Route 66. For all of my “out-of-town” friends, this is truly can’t-miss attraction. Check it out online here to see what I mean. Then it was up the road a mile or so to the newly restored “round barn.” Its loft is one of the coolest event spaces I’ve ever seen.Barn lrg 1

Later Friday afternoon we all made our way downtown to see the official city Christmas tree lighting in front of the SandRidge Building. Since we’re early for everything, we made an impromptu stop through the Skirvin Hilton Hotel just a block away, just in time to see the completion of two large ginger bread houses in the lobby. As usual, the entire hotel was in full holiday mode, and congrats to General Manager John Williams and his talented team for keeping the landmark property alive and well.

The tree lighting itself was preceded by music and even a flyover by the International Space Station directly overhead. A large group of “Not This MAPS” advocates were in attendance in their black T-shirts, but kept the peace. Thankfully.

Mayor Mick Cornett rode into the proceedings with Santa Claus, lit the tree and we headed home for some warm homemade pie.

Please forgive the sappy commentary here, but hey, it’s the holidays, ok? While I’m not often given to such frivolity amid the hustle and bustle of the season, this is absolutely my favorite time of year, and it was great to enjoy a long but thoroughly entertaining day in the heart of Oklahoma. I highly recommend it to everyone.

 P.S: The photos are courtesy of my daughter, Alex Johnson, and her trusty phone.

On the Record: Rand Elliott

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

How many young up-and-coming entrepreneurs would turn down an opportunity to work for Philip Johnson, one of the world’s leading architects, in the Big Apple? Even after the collapse of Penn Square Bank and the resulting black eye dealt to Oklahoma City back in the early-1980s, that is exactly what Rand Elliott did. Instead he chose Oklahoma.

Today, Elliott is a premier architect in his own right, winning 10 American Institute of Architects Honor Awards and nearly 200 other design honors. Recently we caught up with him in his downtown Oklahoma City office to chat about the state of all things architecture and touch base on some of his latest projects.

The Song Remains the Same?

Monday, November 9th, 2009

While rummaging through my vast collection of old magazines over the weekend (a favorite pastime, I might add), I happened across a cover that brought back both good and bad memories. That’s what I love about magazines, they are constant visual reminders of history, and I’m a huge believer that you can understand the present and future only by learning the past.

Macleans cvrAnyway, I happened to be in Toronto in May 1992 for a wedding and snapped up this local news magazine, sort of the Canadian version of Time, at a local bookstore. I instantly recognized the two characters on the cover, Albert and Paul Reichmann, who, once upon a time, ran one of the largest and most secretive property companies in the world, the great Olympia & York based in Toronto.

During the last great boom-boom time in commercial real estate, Olympia & York (O&Y) developed some of the world’s most recognized and iconic symbols – think of the World Financial Center buildings next door to the World Trade Center towers in downtown Manhattan, or the huge Canary Wharf project outside London.

Years after my Toronto visit and wondering what drove the Reichmanns to conjure up such grand designs, I had the opportunity of touring the Canary Wharf project in East London. To say it was impressive would be akin to saying the Queen has a penny or two tucked away. Without a doubt, the Reichmann’s vision was unmistakably grandiose, but also like so many other visionaries, undeniably way ahead of its time. They too had become entangled in the great overbuilding binge that claimed many a magnate.

In the economic crash of the early 1990s, the hapless Reichmanns eventually surrendered nearly everything they owned to remain solvent. Even the great O&Y filed for bankruptcy, and hence the reason for the magazine cover. But as part of the never-ending cyclical nature that is this industry, however, later in the decade and well into the new millennium their visions finally began bearing fruit for new owners.

Alas, recent years have not been kind to the project and once again it has struggled under the weight of humongous debt and flagging tenant demand. I was just wondering if, given the state of things today, we might be seeing a few more real estate dignitaries shamefully gracing the covers of news magazines in various parts of the world for all the wrong reasons.

Let’s hope not.