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Damaged by flooding, the lights dim at Stage Center, home to a half-dozen community arts nonprofits



If a playwright were to pen a stage drama inspired by Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park's history, the technical crew's cue sheet might have more ink than the script.

Stagehands would have to prepare several scene changes and cue multiple volleys of pyrotechnics.

And now, at least one act would require a water tank.

"With fires and floods, we wonder what's next, whether it's going to be locusts or what," said OSP board president Larry Alley.

On June 14, more than 9 inches of rain fell in less than six hours in what meteorologists describe as a "500-year rainfall event" that filled creeks and ponds beyond their banks and turned city streets into rivers.

Many parts of Oklahoma City were flooded, including Stage Center, 400 W. Sheridan, the home of six community arts organizations.

The multi-use arts complex was built in 1970 and designed by John Johansen, a renowned architect whose award-winning contemporary design centered on a trio of concrete pods linked by colorful steel tunnels.

Nearby streets and parking lots overfilled during the torrent, and water descended a sloping driveway that led to a load-in door at Stage Center. Below street-level, the area there began to fill "like a lake," said Peter Dolese, executive director of the Arts Council of Oklahoma City, which owns the building.

After the basement flooded in 1993, the Arts Council replaced the garage-styled door with a pair of heavy-duty steel doors that sealed shut. The water was nearing the top of the reinforced steel frame when the doors caved in, Dolese said, collapsing the opposite direction of which they swung.

All six hinges were sheared cleanly off.

"Water just came gushing, and then it became a drain for all the water that was on the street," said Dolese, continuing into the musty bowels of the now-empty building. Furniture and heavy appliances, like ovens, refrigerators and ice machines, were swept up and buoyed down the labyrinth of hallways and stairwells.

The carpet, tile and fixtures in the basement and sub-basement were removed by cleanup crews, as were a good portion of walls that had to be "flood-cut" to a foot above the waterline. Stripped to bare concrete, Stage Center is dry, and the deterioration has been halted.

The salvage effort is over, and now the Arts Council and its tenants are occupied with estimating damage and planning their next move.

Artworks, Carpenter Square Theatre, Metropolitan School of Dance, Oklahoma Community Theatre Association and Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park were all headquartered at Stage Center, and each suffered some degree of substantial loss.

Carpenter Square artistic director Rhonda Clark said nearly their entire costume stock and at least half of the company's collection of sets and furniture were lost. CST was insured, but the company's policy didn't cover flood damages.

"We never thought about that," she said, "and supposedly the building had been corrected, and the area corrected, to prevent what happened (during the 1993 flood)."

Alley said OSP's insurance situation was similar. Most of OSP's costumes and props were stored offsite, and Alley said most of his company's losses came from their flooded office, which was in Stage Center's basement. OSP's entire archive of photos, newspaper clippings and programs was affected, and a large percentage lost, Alley said. Company members managed to make copies of meeting minutes and salvaged a few items, but Alley said all of OSP's losses were "irreplaceable."

Allied Arts, which supports 20 arts organizations statewide, rallied with emergency funds and helped find temporary office spaces for the affected groups.

A thorough assessment of the damage to the building is wrapping up, Dolese said, and the Arts Council has yet to rule out any potential future for Stage Center. The building's insurance policy covers flood damage, Dolese said, but the final outcome hinges on both the total damage figures " which he said "has to be in the millions" " and the likelihood that the arts organizations, or other tenants, will reoccupy the building.

"We're not saying we're not going to reopen at this point, the board has not made up their mind about what they're going to do," Dolese said. "They really don't have all the information they need to make that decision at this point."

In the long-term, Alley said OSP would like to return to Stage Center, "But hopefully not the lowest level," he said. But Clark said Carpenter Square might not be able to plan around such uncertainty.

"It seems to me that the future looks pretty bleak for that building. I mean, I just don't know how or when or if it's going to be restored. We have to kind of move forward," she said. "It was pretty rough the first couple weeks. A good day was when I didn't burst into tears." "Joe Wertz

top photo
The organizations are put up in temporary locations. photo/Shannon Cornman
middle photo Peter Dolese, executive director of the Arts Council of Oklahoma City, shows how high flood waters rose at Stage Center. photo/Joe Wertz
bottom photo Flood water crashed through Stage Center, destroying building infrastructure and ruining office equipment, costumes and stage props. photo/Peter Dolese

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