For the past four years, the Aurora Building at 415 S. Dewey Avenue, abutting Rogers State University, has been headquarters for the OK Mozart International Festival — yet few people recognized it as the OKM Festival office due to an outdated exterior with no apparent identification.
Acquisition of two major grants is about to change all that. Last week a Development Financing Assistance agreement was approved by the Bartlesville Redevelopment Trust Authority with OKM Properties Inc. in an amount not to exceed $17,362 in actual and verified expenses incurred in the renovation of the ground floor and exterior of the building which houses the OK Mozart Festival offices. This complements a previous recent grant from the Lyon Foundation for $128,120.
The combined grants make it possible for OK Mozart to move forward on plans for a major exterior restoration and interior remodeling that will firmly establish OKM’s identity and give the 30-year festival a tangible presence, as well as to offer the city a new downtown entertainment venue.
During the past year, OKM Executive Director Dr. Randy Thompson has championed a project initiated several years ago to see the building utilized to its full potential as an arts center. This includes converting a first-floor storage space into an entertainment venue that will seat up to 125 patrons.
Designed by architect Scott Ambler, the space will project what Thompson describes as “a magical feel in an intimate setting.” It has been designed with acoustics for live performances to accommodate OK Mozart’s house concerts, offered intermittently throughout the year. Plans also call for restoring the building’s exterior at a later time to its original brick front, adhering to the overall downtown restoration guidelines.
“It’s important to note that this building is an historic landmark which first appeared in the Bartlesville City Directories in 1920 as the Aurora Apartments,” adds Thompson.
“In those days it was considered ‘the’ place to live,” recalls former owner Lewis Ambler, who donated the building to OK Mozart in 1988.
Initially it nestled between two family homes — one of them separating the Aurora Apartments from the towering Masonic Temple at the corner of Fourth and Dewey, which had been completed the previous year, in 1919.
Twelve apartments of varying sizes were located on second and third floors, with open porch balconies for the four front-corner dwellers.
“Four of the apartments also had fireplaces,” notes Ambler, adding that one of them still exists in his old office space at the rear of the second floor. Two original chimneys can still be seen from outside the building.
Initially the ground floor offered space for three businesses with storefront entrances adorned with decorative awnings. In 1921 the city directory shows those were occupied by Bon Ton Confectionery, the Max A. Jacobs Company and Commerce Press Company.
Sometime in late 1969, early 1970, Ambler bought and renovated the aging building, converting it into offices with a lobby and elevator dividing the lower floor business entrance.
After receiving the building from Ambler, who had been a long-time OK Mozart Festival devotee, although OKM now owned the building, it wasn’t until 2010 that the organization moved from its former location in Price Tower Annex to the Aurora Building just across the street.
Taking occupancy first required gutting the first floor south side, converting it into specially designed OKM office space with box office, individual offices, a work room and large conference room. The large expanse on the opposite side of the first floor was utilized for festival props storage.
Now that grants have been approved, work will begin soon on the outer front wall creating a large new window open to the street, providing passersby an unobstructed view of Aurora Hall.
“Inside, a baby grand piano will greet patrons,” explains Thompson, “and the hall itself will remain lighted with the OKM logo displayed prominently on the back wall, above the stage.”
The new Aurora Hall entertainment venue will include a green room and restroom facilities.
“It’s a new downtown venue suitable for all sorts of programs, particularly our House Concerts, which makes it big news for everyone, especially young people,” says Thompson. “It will allow OK Mozart to have a footprint in downtown Bartlesville all year long.”
The hall will also be available to other organizations or individuals who want to rent it for receptions, meetings, parties or performances.
Oklahoma’s premier music festival
For the past 30 years, the OK Mozart International Festival has taken place each June in Bartlesville, and is made possible through the support of the Oklahoma Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, Mid-America Arts Alliance, ConocoPhillips, Phillips66 and individual, corporate and foundation patrons throughout the USA. For more information on the festival, visit www.okmozart.com.
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