Rina Risper, President & Publisher of The New Citizens Press
(Pandemic photo 2022)
Part of the highway ride into Tulsa was less than impressive. The glitz and glamor of New York City or Chicago were not present. I kind of had an attitude that Tulsa was not meeting my initial expectations. I half expected a few tumbleweeds to come sweeping down the highway. My eyes fluttered open and closed while we drove down the highway and then I saw it.
This magnificent and glorious art deco building came into view and I immediately got goosebumps. I thought it was the air conditioner that was blasting but there was a sense of warmth that also came into play. I leaned in closer to the window and I could see condensation forming on the window and feel my heart becoming full. I was really astounding myself with the amount of “wonder and excitement” that I was feeling. I turned to the driver Martin, and while pointing, I asked, “What is that building over there!?”
Miles Davis’ “Blue and Green” played in the background as if I was in a scene from a movie production. “Blue In Green” is an iconic jazz ballad from Miles Davis’ 1959 album, Kind Of Blue. It is one of the few jazz pieces that I know and love.
Martin did not turn his head once. He was listening but not taking his eyes off the road. I glanced around and the highway was almost empty. I started thinking that Martin was about his business and nothing was going to happen to me in that van. After sitting next to friendly and not so friendly, “I hope you brought a gun,” on the plane, my soul was quieted.
He told me that it was now The Jazz Depot and where the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is housed. I could not see it well so, of course, I did a search on the internet. The Union Depot Building was built in 1931. It was to create a centralized hub for three rail companies. While the building was being constructed, our north-south overpasses were built crossing South Main Street, and South Boulder, Cincinnati, and Boston Avenues so rail traffic would not interrupt street traffic in the area. (Tulsa has an interesting relationship with overpasses). I thought that it was in an odd location and had trouble seeing it in its full glory but I found out why quickly.
The building has gone through so many changes. It is interesting how I picked that up.
While reading an article, I found out that in November 2020, The Tulsa County Industrial Authority (TCIA filed a lawsuit to terminate the building lease with the Jazz Hall and to recover $8,474 in past-due taxes and utilities. The suit alleged that the Jazz Hall was so far behind in its utility payments that electricity to the building was turned off on October 19th.
In January of 2021, the Jazz Hall declared bankruptcy. On June 10, 2020, the bankruptcy court approved a $200,000 sale of the Jazz Hall, along with the transfer of the lease of the Depot, to a new non-profit entity, The Jazz Foundation LLC. That bid included a pledge of $1 mil- lion for deferred maintenance and other improvements, along with $1 million available for operating expenses and to satisfy future obligations under the lease with TCIA.
By July of 2022, renovations had begun on the facility, with an expected reopening in early 2023 as simply the Jazz Depot. The Jazz Foundation has funded $2 million in renovation updates for the second-floor Grand Entrance Hall, Exhibit Promenade, and Performance Hall, which I would have loved to see inside.
The parking lot was empty and I just felt like there was something missing and unnecessarily complicated… this would not be the last time I would have that feeling in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This will be continued…