Cities across the South share a similar story. Phoenix-like tales of failure, bankruptcy, or abandonment, followed by revitalization, rebirth, and overwhelming success. Side streets and alleyways, main streets and highways brought back from the darkness of disownment and reclaimed as icons of a town and its people.
Tulsa shares such a tale. A city founded on the sudden wealth and success of oil tycoons, many of its most prosperous neighborhoods and streets fell victim to the passing of time. One such neighborhood, now dubbed the Brady Arts District, has overcome the trials of age and dereliction. Its trademark two-story warehouses, hard-faced brick edifices, have morphed into welcoming symbols of a thriving epicenter.
As one of Tulsa’s oldest neighborhoods, the Brady Arts District was born from the deep pockets lined with oil money a century ago, but its true spirit did not begin to arise until the last twenty years. Essentially surrendered to the elements, the Brady Arts District slowly began to rebuild and reshape itself into something unparalleled. At the district’s core, and the heart of the revitalization, were lasting icons of the city: The Brady Theater and Cain’s Ballroom.
The Brady Theater, built between 1912 and 1914, served as the city’s municipal auditorium and gathering space for decades. Under the doleful guise of “Convention Hall,” the building underwent early renovations and was transformed from a barn-like event space into a grand theater with art deco details. Since the ’70’s, the Brady Theater has hosted world-renowned artists and shows and become an archetypal symbol of Tulsa. Now fondly dubbed “The Ole Lady on Brady,” the theater continues to host shows for local Tulsans.
In addition to the Brady Theater, the declining neighborhood also housed Cain’s Ballroom. The historic building’s first purpose was to serve as a garage for the Brady family’s vehicles. The bricked building was purchased and converted into a dance hall in the ’30’s and housed such memorable acts as Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys and the Sex Pistols. Because of the historical significance of these two buildings, the district never entirely collapsed, but instead rose again.
The past twenty years have been a time of rejuvenation. Slowly, Tulsans began returning to Brady Street. The crumbling warehouses were slowly renovated and converted into office space. Fresh bars and restaurants opened outposts along the developing street. Most importantly, museums and art galleries brought culture back to the neighborhood. Today, the lifeblood of the Brady Arts District is, appropriately, art. Once a month, at the First Friday Art Crawl, the neighborhood’s galleries, studios and museums open to display their wares, drawing in some 3,000 visitors. The thriving art scene earned the neighborhood its new epithet, the Brady Arts District.
In 2012, the district its own mini-boomtown, the city opened a new venue within its boundaries: Guthrie Green. As a public garden and outdoor stage, Guthrie Green provides a welcome piece of nature to the urbanized district and serves as a communal meeting place. Local events, live music, and a Farmer’s Market all draw visitors to Guthrie Green—and the Brady Arts District.
Its landscape isn’t the only thing that’s changed in recent years. The district was named for the main street that runs through it, and the street–long ago–was named for W. Tate Brady. When the street received its title, W. Tate Brady was a respected community leader; but as time passed and unsettling facts came to light, including Brady’s participation in segregationist activities, local residents began to contest the name. And so, in 2013, the namesake of the district was changed. Now the Brady Arts District and Brady Street honor Mathew Brady, a famous Civil War photographer.
Often change is scary, and rarely is it easy. But as the Brady Arts District proves, sometimes embracing change means more than merely adjusting or adapting. It means releasing your past and cultivating your best self—or, in this case, your best neighborhood.
See More Brady Arts District Photos Here