Oklahoma City’s Bricktown was originally nothing but warehouses for wholesale operations, connecting with the rail lines. Today, Bricktown is now the city’s premier entertainment district and the transformation still continues. Business writer for The Oklahoman and NewsOK.com, Steve Lackmeyer, is the author of Bricktown (Images of Modern America), which captures the history of the district and how it became what it is today. In this Creator Conversation Q&A session, Steve shares how he started writing Oklahoma City’s history, the biggest factors for Bricktown’s success, advice for writers, a dying man’s wish, and more.
Let’s get to know you, Steve. Tell everyone a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Hicksville, New York, Oyster Bay, Long Island. Now, if Oyster Bay sounds familiar, that might be because it was mentioned in a couple of Billy Joel songs. Billy Joel and my late uncle were childhood friends. My family moved to Oklahoma City in 1977 when my father was working on behalf of his employer to develop properties that included the Sheraton Century Center Hotel and the Century Center Mall. The mall is now known as “Century Center,” and it is now the new home to The Oklahoman. I saw the last of the old downtown being torn down, and I’ve watched it get rebuilt. I was hired by the paper in 1990 after I graduated from Oklahoma Christian University. I cover the police beat for six years. I couldn’t cover violence anymore after the 1995 Murrah bombing, and it was then that I started reporting on downtown.
What can people expect to learn in your book, “Bricktown (Images of Modern America)?”
“Bricktown was where Oklahoma City learned place-making and the importance of community.”A lot of locals, especially the younger ones, don’t realize that without Bricktown, you don’t have the Plaza District, Midtown, Film Row, Automobile Alley and the other great districts we have today. At least they wouldn’t be as far advanced. Bricktown was where it all started. Bricktown was where Oklahoma City learned place-making and the importance of community. It showed it’s doable, and it can work.
How did you get involved in writing about Oklahoma City’s history?
Well, first consider that as a journalist, I am blessed to get to write what is considered the “first draft” of history. But the answer is actually cooler than that. I was having lunch with Jack Money, my reporting partner and frequent co-author, Wendy, my wife, and Devery Youngblood, who was then working with the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber promoting downtown development. This was in 1999 as the Bricktown Canal was opening and suddenly everyone was in love with the project and with MAPS. And we were discussing just how many different stories were being told as to how the canal concept was conceived. This bothered us. We were seeing historical revisionism taking root. We realized it would get worse. I suggested doing a book. The others thought I was crazy. I lured Jack into the project after gaining access to Urban Renewal and chamber archives. We got the real answer on who conceived the canal concept. It’s in our first book, “OKC Second Time Around,” which was published in 2006.
When researching “Bricktown (Images of Modern America)” what were some of the more interesting things you learned?
I knew Jim Brewer from early on. We had a love-hate relationship. There were times he hated my reporting. There were times he loved my reporting. But in the end, as he was dying, he trusted me to tell his life story. As time has passed since his death, I’ve come to better appreciate the good of his legacy, which is an important part of this book.
What would you say were the biggest factors for making Bricktown what it is today?
Bricktown continues to capture the imagination of its visitors. The investment made by the city through MAPS is still paying off big dividends. So we can’t ever ignore the role played by the Bricktown Canal and the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. We also had a collection of owners and merchants over the years who, forgive me, didn’t always know what they were doing. Sometimes that went badly. But not always. And their contributions mattered. They took risks, they were creative, and they set the stage for what we see today. And I’ve tried to feature these folks in the new book.
What is your favorite part about Bricktown?
I love how it still surprises and inspires me. I love the memories it has helped create.
What are some things and advice you learned from writing your past books that would like to share for other writers?
“Don’t pass up an opportunity to get to know someone like Jim Brewer, even if they can come as being pretty rough at times. Each person has a great story to share.”Seek out the stories and listen. Don’t pass up an opportunity to get to know someone like Jim Brewer, even if they can come as being pretty rough at times. Each person has a great story to share. You just have to sit down, ask the right questions, and listen. Oh, also, observe everything!
How long did the book take to make from start to finish?
Anything else you want people to know?
I have three more books in the que, all of which I will be writing with frequent co-author Jack Money.