Story and photography by Melanie Votaw
THE MANY CHARMS OF OKLAHOMA CITY
When the opportunity to visit Oklahoma City came my way, I had no idea what to expect. My first night involved an event at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum – not exactly my cup of tea. Suffice it to say, I did not have high hopes that I would enjoy the venue much. I was dead wrong. The museum as well as Oklahoma City as a whole are both spectacular.
The cowboy museum is big – just as you would expect a cowboy and western museum to be – and filled with sculptures, movie and TV memorabilia, and a replica of a western town. Despite the fact that I am not and never have been a little boy, I enjoyed all of it. I’m old enough to remember television’s “Gunsmoke,” and there in front of me were costumes worn by Miss Kitty herself. The Indian and cowboy sculptures were stunning, whether of metal or stone, and walking through the “western town” definitely captured my imagination. It was like a movie set, and this time, I could pretend I was Miss Kitty, wearing one of those wonderful costumes on display.
My favorite part of Oklahoma City, however, was Bricktown, an area that was once an abandoned warehouse district. A project that was begun in 1993, Bricktown is now a popular night spot in the city and is perfect for strolling during good weather. There are a number of restaurants and bars and a canal on which you can take a 30-minute water taxi ride.
One night, we got off the water taxi near Toby Keith’s restaurant for dinner. As you’d expect, Toby’s chain of restaurants serves southern fare, some of which have a slight gourmet twist. Another evening, we tried Bricktown’s Abuelo’s, a beautiful Mexican restaurant with an extensive menu that includes Yucatan shrimp fajitas and an array of margarita flavors.
Also in Bricktown is the American Banjo Museum, a small property displaying more than 300 banjos and a replica of a 1960s Shakey’s Pizza Parlor. (All Shakey’s parlors were required to hire a live banjo player.) I had no idea that such artistry went into the making of these instruments. The designs on display are diverse from a banjo with a carousel motif to one with inlaid shell birds. There are also exhibits that chronicle the history of the banjo from its beginnings as a stringed gourd African instrument to the slave days in America.
I stayed at the Renaissance Hotel, a property adjacent to the Cox Convention Center and within walking distance of downtown and Bricktown. In fact, if the weather is poor, you can enter the convention center through a walkway that is attached to the Renaissance. For an upscale property, room rates are reasonable at $200 or less per night. The large 15-floor hotel contains 258 rooms, 53 suites, 49 meeting rooms, three concierge levels, a spa, a pool, a fitness center, two restaurants, and a Starbucks. Amenities include complimentary limousine service to Bricktown, but there is a daily charge for wifi. The lobby is spacious with plants, a koi pond, and exposed glass elevators.
While there is a free trolley available, we walked easily from Bricktown to several sights in the downtown area. I started at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, which, besides its permanent collection, featured a temporary interactive exhibit of rare, ancient biblical manuscripts, including the first English translation of the entire Bible. Unfortunately, the exhibit is no longer at the museum, but another exhibit I recommend will be shown through the end of 2011. This is called “Faded Elegance: Photographs of Havana” – a group of 29 large, colorful images by Michael Eastman that were taken in Cuba during the last decade.
Near the art museum are the Myriad Botanical Gardens with a Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory containing more than 1,000 tropical plants. The gardens are an oasis in the middle of downtown Oklahoma City. If I lived and worked in OKC (as it is lovingly called), I would visit this place almost every day during my lunch hour.
Also in the downtown area is the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. As a New Yorker who was in Manhattan on 9/11, I was unsure if I wanted to visit this site, but I’m glad I did. Don’t get me wrong – it is a grueling set of exhibits that will absolutely move you to tears. But the museum is very tastefully done. I refrained from taking photographs within the museum except for one small corner of the destruction that was left as it was on the day of the bombing on April 19, 1995. Now behind glass, this small section of debris is a reminder that you are walking where the horror took place.
The memorial itself outside the museum is lovely and quiet with a reflecting pool next to the Field of Empty Chairs – a glass, bronze, and stone chair for each life that was lost that day (etched with the person’s name), sitting where the Murrah Building stood before the bombing, as if waiting for the people to return and sit. For those who feel they cannot emotionally handle the museum, I recommend visiting the memorial and paying respects. You will also see notes, teddy bears, and flowers attached to the fences outside the museum, where people who lost loved ones still – after all these years – leave remembrances.
An elm tree that was in the parking lot of the Murrah Building is now called the Survivor Tree because it remains on the site despite enduring extensive damage from the bomb. There is a great deal of construction in Oklahoma City right now, a testament to a city that continues to grow despite its painful history. As the inscription on the deck wall around the Survivor Tree reads, “The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.”
Even after visiting all of the places mentioned, there was much I missed in OKC. When I return, I want to check out the 99s Museum of Women Pilots, the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma Museum of Telephone History, and the Oklahoma State Firefighters Museum, to name a few. And that’s just the beginning… Watch for my upcoming story about Tulsa, which is within easy driving distance of Oklahoma City. The two cities and surrounding areas make for an excellent family vacation for a week or two with more than enough activities and sights to satisfy everyone.
© December 2011 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.