Along sixth street just east of downtown you’ll find an area of red brick buildings, broken storefronts and scenic views of downtown Tulsa. In the recent past you’d likely also have seen tumbleweeds and the occasional vagrant — but a growing group of Tulsans seeks to change all of that.
The Pearl represents an area of historic prosperity, where a community of business and residential spaces existed together in walkable harmony. Though mostly vacant now it’s easy to see that this area was once diverse and bustling.
“From 1920 to 1964, the local residential population seemed to adequately sustain two small groceries, as well as a barber shop, drugstore, dry cleaner, shoe repair shop, beauty shop, tavern, and restaurant.”
This balance of commercial and residential uses has become scarce in the Tulsa of the twenty-first century. Our grocery needs are mostly relegated to big box stores which reside in a sea of parking lots, and the era of the mom-and-pop drug store has given way to the Walgreens-on-every-corner approach to service.
But there’s hope, if not for the neighborhood drugstore than at least for a peaceful harmony of life, work and pedestrian-friendly development. The Pearl represents a somewhat unique situation in Tulsa: a tightly-packed grouping of salvageable (albeit run-down) commercial buildings adjacent to but independent from the urban core. While there’s nothing wrong with new buildings as part of urban redevelopment, it’s also important to utilize the historic infrastructure we have instead of letting it fall into ruin — or worse, bulldozing it to build cheap characterless retail or office space.
And so a group of citizens is fighting for The Pearl, before it’s too late.
We’ll be delving into the issue of the Pearl District in more detail over the coming months, profiling the history behind the area and the people championing — and resisting — its redevelopment and rebirth. In the meantime, here’s a recap of an event held last weekend that encapsulates the possibilities — and potential challenges — to developing the Pearl District.
Polishing the Pearl
Last weekend the Tulsa’s Young Professionals held the “Street Cred” event, which invited local businesses and organizations to help show off the potential for redevelopment in the Pearl. Volunteers cleaned up broken glass and garbage and applied fresh paint and temporary signage for the event. Local restaurants and eateries provided food and beverages, crafters displayed and sold their various creations and local organizations and businesses set up (temporary) shop to give 6th street some curb appeal.