Two buildings imploded to make way for a 27-story tower in downtown Oklahoma City
The ground shook as 15 charges could be heard going off Sunday morning inside the 11-story Hotel Black and the eight-story Motor Hotel, setting off what some say may be the last such implosions downtown for the foreseeable future.
Chris Kates, owner of Midwest Wrecking, oversaw the job that his father, Ben Kates, had hoped to see before his death in July at age 63. Ben Kates was a legend in the business, whose prior work included the Tivoli Inn and the demolition of the remains of the bomb damaged Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
“He didn’t ask a lot aobut business the last couple of years,” Chris Kates said. “But he did keep asking about this one after we signed the contract, asking ‘When is it going to happen?’”
Kates said he expects Sunday’s implosions at 1 N Hudson Ave. to be the end of an era downtown, with most remaining old buildings either already renovated, or in the case of First National Center, unlikely to be targeted for demolition.
The implosions went off as planned. The Hotel Black and Motor Hotel, their west facades painted in pink to control asbestos, came down in 20 seconds after the sound of 15 charges could be heard promptly at 8 a.m. Several drones joined local television news helicopters flying over in capturing footage of the buildings coming down and the large cloud of dust filling nearby streets.
The crowd cheered as the buildings collapsed into rubble, though a few people made clear through social media their displeasure with tearing down the block. City planners previously advised the block between Main Street, Sheridan, Hudson and Walker Avenues represented the last intact vestige of downtown retail that operated between the 1930s and 1960s.
Demolition on the block began in August, and once cleared, the site is set become the home of the 27-story BOK Park Plaza tower and two garages.
Nine buildings were targeted for demolition. Only one building, a two-story extension of the old Hotel Black, stood along Sheridan Avenue. Kates predicted it would be gone by Monday morning in what he described as a “30-minute” knock-down.
Precautions including a line-up of tractor trailers and netting protected nearby Devon Energy Center from any flying debris.
The implosions Ben Kates hoped to watch were originally scheduled to take place in February, but work was delayed by an unsuccessful court challenge to stop demolition of another structure on the block, the Union Bus Station.
About a thousand people showed up to watch the implosion. Multiple generations of families gathered together as elders recalled the Urban Renewal era of the 1970s when at least a dozen implosions took place among the hundreds of demolitions of older buildings.
Jim and Debbie Best gathered with their daughter Caren Yust, her husband Jeff, and their children Zoey and Jack along Hudson Avenue and recalled how they were newlyweds when they watched the implosion of the Biltmore Hotel in 1977.
“We were still young and excited,” Jim Best said. “We were excited about Urban Renewal and anticipating the changes that were coming for downtown Oklahoma City.”
The Bests agreed the downtown of 2015 “far exceeds” the vision that was shared with residents during the Urban Renewal implementation of a plan drawn up by renowned architect I.M. Pei.
“We love it down here,” Debbie Best said, standing just a block away from where the Biltmore stood at Hudson and Sheridan Avenues.
Downtown needed a makeover, Jim Best said.
“You did your business downtown and then you left,” he said. “There was really no other reason to come downtown.”
Zoey Yust, meanwhile, teased her 8-year-old twin brother about his love of explosions.
“He loves to build things and then destroy them,” Debbie Best said, adding her grandson was a bit disappointed when they explained the difference between an implosion and an explosion.
Scott Wallace was 13 years old when he watched the Biltmore Hotel implosion, and he made it a point to bring his own 13-year-old son, Matthew.
“We had an opportunity to see a building come down, and what 13-year-old doesn’t want to see that, so that’s why I brought my 13-year-old today. It was loud and noisy and interesting to see. My dad had sincere regrets about it coming down,” Wallace said.
“Obviously the park is a good thing to have, but the questions still linger whether taking down all those historic buildings was the right thing to do,” Wallace said. “I hate to see old things go, but the Hotel Black has been abused the decades.”