OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – From a quick glance at the skyline, a visitor might see the city laid before them with a look of permanence.
But author and historian Bradley Wynn knows it’s constantly changing.
“People are often surprised,” he tells us as we walk what is now Sheridan Avenue. “This area was built in the 1920s and ’30s.”
His day job might include patrolling city streets as an Oklahoma County Sherriff’s Deputy, but he digs deeper in his off time as an urban archeologist.
“Oklahoma City has this amazing layer upon layer of amazing things over time,” he tells us, “from the very beginning right up to present day.”
Our walk begins on what is still called Film Row just west of downtown, a place once considered the outskirts of Oklahoma City where film studios could store volatile nitrate film stock headed for theaters across the region.
“Just beyond this was farmland,” he points out. “There were more than 300 film exchanges here at one time.”
Buildings like the Paramount still bear the same name and still house old screening rooms long abandoned by the major Hollywood studio companies.
He recalls, “When I first started coming down here in 2003 there was one business from that era still in operation since 1930. It was the Oklahoma Theatre Supply Company.”
The archeologist in Wynn sees the exposed art deco skeletons peeking through the modern crust.
“These represent unique stories about city history that people forget. So, my goal is to help them remember.”
Saved from the urban renewal wrecking ball in the 1970s simply because the city ran out of money, Film Row languished for years, the old offices largely abandoned.
“I remember how blighted it was,” he states.
Bradley’s walking archeology tours extend from a revitalized district eastward toward downtown, and just above what was once OKC’s Chinatown, a series of connected basements long since filled in.
“Late 1920s, early 1920s,” he describes, “there were probably around 200 Asian people living right around here.”
The walk from Film Row to another former district once called ‘Hell’s Half-Acre’ only takes a few minutes but contains generations and many layers of colorful city history.
Standing across the street from the old Cox Convention Center, Wynn says, “This was the ‘Wild West’ of OKC until the 1920s. This is where you would find the brothels, and bars, and backroom dealings.”
Authors and investigators like Wynn insist you don’t need a shovel in a place like this, just a good pair of shoes and the right walking companion.
He says, “We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.”
Find more information and purchase tickets: Wynn’s Urban Archeology Tours.