When I first came to the Oklahoma Historical Society to manage the Barney Hillerman photographic collection, I knew very little about historic Oklahoma City. The collection is made up of an estimated 750,000 images, mostly triacetate negatives, but also 35 mm film, nitrate negatives and prints. Many of the images are related to business in the area between the 1920s and 1960s, and include images of buildings in downtown Oklahoma City. As I processed the collection, the images coalesced in my mind to create a popular and thriving city. But the skyline of the 1930s wasn’t the same skyline I was familiar with.
Learning about Urban Renewal was emotional, as it explained what happened to the historic city that I’d grown to love. Because the old city became so alive to me through these images, I felt it was important to create a project to share my experience with others. Using Sanborn fire maps, Polk directories, and other resources, I was able to create a visual orientation for the viewer. The bibliography identifies resources that are highly recommendable for those who want to learn more about Urban Renewal and historic Oklahoma City.
Now when I walk through downtown Oklahoma City, I see the city less for what’s missing, and instead as an (architectural? Structural?) palimpsest. I recognize the old city synthesized into the new, and appreciate the efforts that our people have put into preserving and enhancing downtown.
Thanks to Bob Blackburn, Linda Schwan, and Bill Welge for helping produce this project. I especially thank Jennifer Towry for designing and coordinating the online product. I hope that it will bring the city to life for you, as it’s done for us.
Click to visit the Hillerman Map Project.
The Hillerman Collection includes other subjects, including families, residences, sports, clubs and events, transportation, advertisements, oil, occupations, and many more. Please visit the Hillerman Collection page to learn more.