History Nerds and the 4-0-5
8:48 PM EDT on July 22, 2010
Yes, we have made fun of Steve Lackmeyer on occasion. The Oklahoman's downtown beat writer has been the butt of jokes about a grown man wearing Bricktown-themed pajamas and Devon tower inspired erections. Today, though, we're putting aside the snark because Steve did us a huge favor.
Steve is the director of RetroMetroOKC, a new history project that launched about a week ago. For people obsessed with the history of this area, like founders of obscure local social blogs, it is a GaryEnglandsend. As part of my recent series on Oklahomans doing cool things (see this article for the first post), Steve agreed to do a Q&A about the new website, what the project has in store, and how our readers can help it to be even better. Check it out:
Q: The mission statement of your project is: "Retro Metro OKC is dedicated to educating the community and its visitors about local history by collecting, preserving, displaying and interpreting materials reflecting the heritage of Oklahoma City." How did your group come together and decide that an endeavor like this needed to happen?
A:It started with a lot of coffee. I'm good friends with Doug Loudenback, who has the popular history blog www.dougdawg.blogspot.com. I went to high school with Buddy Johnson, the archivist who runs the Oklahoma Room at the downtown library. Buddy had spent some time talking with assistant city planner A.J. Kirkpatrick about the need to better preserve and tell our city's history. I was having similar discussions with Doug and Blair Humphreys. A.J. Kirkpatrick had a friend, Marc Weinmeister, who shared our vision, and, well.... it started with a lot of coffee. Within a few months we had added another dozen or so people with the diverse talent needed to pull this off.
Q: What kinds of materials have you put together and what are you hoping to add?
A: So far our group has scanned about 1,200 materials, many of them rarely seen images from Oklahoma City's earliest days. One of the things that frustrated some of the founders was that many of the photos that were online were taken by commercial or institutional photographers. That means lifeless streets and empty shops and restaurants. And while such photos give a glimpse of our past, they don't show us real life. Our photos show the wealthy enjoying a drive down Main Street at a time when only the most affluent owned vehicles. We have a photo of Mamie Van Doren being oogled by a radio disc jockey at KFNB in First National Tower. We have vintage menus from restaurants ranging from Beverly's to Dolores and Christopher's. And we have an incredible collection of 1960s through 1970s era television commercials that can grab one's attention for as long as it takes to finish a championship game of checkers (yeah, I know, this is my own geeky way of trying to be funny). We have century-old images of children playing in parks - we have photos of one of the city's oldest family-owned funeral homes.
In the near future we will be aggressively expanding our vintage restaurant collection.
Q: Any plans for a Gary England tribute section?
What we do isn't so much a tribute as it is a display of historical materials. But is Gary England a part of this city's history? You bet! So if Gary will indulge us with photos and materials relating to various adventures, how could we say "no"?
Q: Most of your materials, to date, are from the 60's and 70's. That age of artifact is educational to me (for instance, I can now impress my Mom by talking about the bowling alley that used to be in The Village), but as a child of the 80's and 90's, there isn't much of a nostalgia factor. Would you say your target audience is 40 and 50 year olds?
A: No, not at all. Our youngest member is 17 and we have several members in their 20s. You are actually giving us way too much credit when it comes to demographics and target audiences - we're just history geeks. Right now though, our collection does primarilly span from the early 1900s through the 1980s (the latter decade is best represented in the Jon Spence Collection). But history is ongoing. That's why, in the near future, we will be adding materials from current events and places we consider. I was at the Grateful Bean on Saturday, and I filmed what is about to be the end of an era. I've taken photos of the Charcoal Broiler and the transformation of NW 9 downtown. Other members are doing likewise. Our collections are a work in progress. And your readers can help us widen our scope, whether that means donating a few photos from Edna's (seriously) or from more recently lost history (Club 54 in Bricktown, Lion's Park on Memorial Road, etc.)
Q: Oh, Lion's Fun Park...I forgot about that place. Many nights of my mispent youth were wasted there playing bankshot basketball and having slam dunk contests on the eight foot goals. Anyway, back from memory road, would you describe RetroMetro as a passion project, or are you hoping to make it profitable some day?
A: It's a passion project for all of us. There is certainly no profit so far! It all goes back to when we drank all that coffee. Our city has a colorful history, and yet we really haven't done as much as we could to preserve it and pass it down from generation to generation. We will need to raise some funds to cover our costs. So far I estimate we've spent less than $1,000 getting everything set up, with the remainder of our work being done ourselves. We're blessed with a very talented group of people. The website is the creation of Justin Tyler Moore, who along with Cody Cooper (also a Retro Metro OKC member) created www.abandonedok.com. The archiving process was set up by Buddy Johnson, chief archivist with the Metropolitan Library System. Much of the photo identification was done by Buddy and Doug Loudenback, operator of the popular www.dougdawg.blogspot.com. The list of folks donating their time and resources to give back to the community is impressive. What's in it for us? We enjoy geeking out over history. It's who we are. And when we will do fundraising, it's our intent to do something fun - something that hopefully won't hurt existing non-profit history organizations.
A" How big is your vision for this website? For instance, do you see it becoming a major institution for local history and if so, what will TheLostOgle wing consist of in twenty years?
Our vision is a bit intimidating, to be honest, but then I realize how much talent we have within our group and I realize that anything is possible. Our site is built for all the emerging platforms, including Ipads, the new Iphone and more. Justin Tyler Moore is working with our group's treasurer, Marc Weinmeister, that will, when completed, allow visitors to zoom in and out on aerial photos of central Oklahoma City. What's new with that you may ask - can't we do that now with Google? Why yes - but imagine doing the same thing with the city in the 1930s and 1950s. Maybe you've seen some of the historic Tulsa films on OETA (or maybe not). Well we also are working on original documentaries and short films. The other part of our mission is to use our talent to help other organizations, and we most look forward to opportunities to work with the Overholser Mansion, Harn Homestead, the Oklahoma Railway Museum and the Oklahoma Historical Society. Is there a place for a section on obscure social blogs of the 2000s? And would it feature photos of worshiped weathermen and female anchors in pink bikinis? It's possible. History continues, and we're frantically trying to capture film and photos of places like the Grateful Bean, the Route 66 Bowl and Pipkin Camera before they're gone forever. As for what's ahead for Retro Metro OKC, our future, and this city's history, is still being written. I'm hoping your readers will ask themselves whether they can help tell that story with old photos, videos and other mementos of their past. (Serious Plug Warning): If you do, please don't hesitate contacting us at email@example.com.
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