Preservation Magazine, Spring 2015

Travel Itinerary: Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City blends a pioneer spirit with modern-day attractions.

  • By: Kristi Eaton
Oklahoma City Overholser Mansion

photo by: Preservation Oklahoma

Overholser Mansion

Smack dab in the middle of the country, Oklahoma City has long been home to one of the largest livestock markets in the world. The city has thrived in recent years, thanks in part to a major downtown revitalization package passed in 1993. But this state capital also values its heritage, as a slew of well-preserved places make clear.

Oklahoma City was settled in 1889, when the Oklahoma Land Run opened the area to potential homesteaders. In 1903, Henry Overholser—a prominent businessman and a leading supporter of the city’s creation—built a Queen Anne and Chateauesque-style mansion that still serves as a local landmark. Maintained by Preservation Oklahoma through an agreement with the Oklahoma Historical Society, the house is a popular attraction for visitors who wish to experience a bit of the area’s pioneer spirit.

About two miles away is the intricate, domed Oklahoma State Capitol, topped with a large bronze sculpture of a Native American warrior, which pays respect to the 39 tribes that call the state home. Oil is big business in Oklahoma, and the capitol complex site is the only one in the country that contains active oil rigs. Also keep an eye out for signs for the historic Route 66 highway, established in 1926, which cuts through the city.

Preservation gathered travel recommendations from three Oklahoma City experts: David Pettyjohn, executive director of the nonprofit Preservation Oklahoma; Terri Sadler, administrative director at Fitzsimmons Architects and founding member of Okie Mod Squad, a Midcentury Modern architecture and design appreciation group; and Blair Humphreys, a developer and urban designer.

Oklahoma City Lyric Theatre

photo by: Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau

The 1935 Lyric Theatre in Oklahoma City's Plaza District

David Pettyjohn

Executive Director, Preservation Oklahoma

EAT: Cheever’s Cafe is my favorite place. It has amazing food, and it’s in an old flower shop on North Hudson Avenue. They tell a little bit about the history of the structure on the back of the menu. When you go in, there is a vintage flower cooler right there that is original to the store. They now use it to keep the desserts as well as beverages, so they maintained a lot of cool historic authenticity.

STAY: The Ambassador is one of our newest hotels. It’s part of the Ambassador chain that goes into historic structures and renovates them into hotels. The Ambassador is located in the Osler Building, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. Constructed in 1929 by the Physicians Holding Company, the building was designed by Hawk & Parr, a local architectural firm. It originally housed medical specialists, dentists, and an allergy clinic.

DO: The Plaza District is a new and emerging arts district, and the Plaza District Association has put a lot of effort into renovating a historic stretch on Northwest 16th Street between Pennsylvania Avenue and Classen Boulevard. It’s got a really neat mix of shops and restaurants, and it’s just a great place to spend an afternoon. The area is also home to the Lyric Theatre. A popular Plaza District event is Live on the Plaza, which takes place the second Friday of every month and features local music, art, and other activities.

Terri Sadler
Founding Member, Okie Mod Squad

EAT: Kitchen 324, located in the 1923 brick-and-limestone Braniff Building downtown, serves great locally sourced breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Try the fried-chicken pot pie and a “curated” coffee.

STAY: The Skirvin Hilton [a Historic Hotel of America] is Oklahoma City’s oldest hotel and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It opened in 1911. The 10th floor was known for being a place of illicit gambling and other vices, and instances of ghost sightings persist today.

DO: The Museum of Osteology is America’s only skeleton museum. It has an impressive collection of more than 300 skeletons, in addition to its Skulls Unlimited store and skull cleaning and articulation services. Near and dear to my heart, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum was founded in 1955 as the Cowboy Hall of Fame before attaining museum status in 2000. I could wander through the rich history of America’s West and the galleries of world-class Western art for hours.

Blair Humphreys
Developer and Urban Designer

EAT: Packard’s New American Kitchen, in a 92-year-old former Packard dealership, is a wonderful combination of artfully prepared food, craft cocktails, and industrial-chic decor that make this a great destination for a night out. Before dinner, have a drink on the rooftop, which showcases stunning views of the Oklahoma City skyline and beautiful sunsets.

STAY: The Colcord Hotel [a Historic Hotel of America] is in a beautifully restored building that was Oklahoma City’s first skyscraper. Now it is a charming boutique hotel with an excellent restaurant, and an ideal location for taking in a downtown meeting, enjoying the Myriad Botanical Gardens, or catching an Oklahoma City Thunder basketball game at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

DO: Check out a Spokie bike from Oklahoma City’s bike share program and pedal north to the shaded streets of historic Heritage Hills. Head to the Boathouse District where you can canoe and kayak, or even zip line across the Oklahoma River. Enjoy a sunset at Lake Hefner while watching kitesurfers ride the wind.

Kristi Eaton is a roving journalist, communications strategist and author of the book "The Main Streets of Oklahoma: Okie Stories From Every County." Visit her website at or follow her on Twitter to see photos from her travels.

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