Route 66 Across Uptown OKC: Tower Theater

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23rd Street is not the nicest part of Oklahoma City.  It used to be, though.  23rd Street was a center of suburban commerce.  Its streets were lined with businesses like TG&Y (a five-and-dime store), and of course, the magnificent old Tower Theater.

West of the capitol building, Route 66 follows 23rd Street, May Avenue, and 39th Street — although 39th is mired in a confusing intersection with I-44 and Lake Hefner Parkway.  Eventually you’ll rediscover OK Hwy. 66, and know that you’re on the right track.

The Tower’s marquee is hanging in there, although a few pieces are missing.  I couldn’t tell what it looked like inside — trash cans were piled up by the doors, and some sketchy people were hanging out nearby.

23rd Street might not be the neighborhood it once was, but an effort is underway to clean it up. The area is known as “Uptown Oklahoma City”, and plans call for a restored Tower Theater to be the center of redevelopment.  I’m not sure how well those plans are progressing, though, since it appears new owners purchased the Tower more than two years before my visit (in 2008), and things still don’t look all that great.

According to OKCTower.com, the Tower Theater was built in 1937, and given a thorough remodeling in the 1960’s.  It was routine, back then, for shows like The Sound of Music and Cleopatra to be sold out for weeks.

Lake Overholser Bridge

Once you make your way up 23rd, then May, then 39th, you finally have a chance to put the city’s urban sprawl in your rear-view.  Just beyond the community of Bethany, watch for this (somewhat scary looking) bridge at the side of OK Hwy. 66.  This is the Lake Overholser Bridge, which carries the original alignment of the old Route.  Beyond here, the old alignment follows the lake’s shoreline before rejoining the more modern route.

Lake Overholser Bridge was still open to vehicular traffic during my visit in March, 2008.  However, plans are in the works to restore the bridge, and in the process, convert it to a pedestrian-only path.  A retail district and a park (complete with statue of Will Rogers) are also planned.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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