Developer Wants New Life For Tulsa's Temple Israel

Thursday, January 22nd 2009, 10:23 pm
By: News On 6

By Jennifer Loren, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- A California real estate developer has big plans for Tulsa.  The developer has an unusual approach; he likes to combine art with architecture.  And, that's exactly what he had in mind when he bought an old synagogue in Tulsa.

"This is one of those sort of iconic buildings in a neighborhood that the entire neighborhood actually extends around," said Rivervire Neighborhood Association's Anne Pollard.

On the edge of downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma's very first synagogue has sat empty for years collecting dust and broken windows.  Its enchanting history and unusual architecture caught developer Kevin Stephens' eye.

"It's Temple Israel and it was built in about 1910. It's on the corner of 14th and Cheyenne and I just fell in love with the building," said developer Kevin Stephens.

Stephens bought some adjacent property where he plans to build apartments.  But, he wants to restore the temple, have it placed on the National Historic Registry, and then turn it into a community arts center.

"In the auditorium space it would be a space for dance performances, theater performances, visual arts shows for groups that, you know, don't have a home to share their talents," said developer Kevin Stephens.

Stephens' project was inspired by his two passions:  architecture and art.  Combining those two passions, he's holding an open house and art opening all at once in another home he restored near downtown Tulsa.

"I've had a lot of fun and gotten to know a lot of interesting people in the arts community all throughout my career," said developer Kevin Stephens.

Back at the temple, neighbors couldn't be happier.  They're impressed by the developer's appreciation for something besides money.

"People who have seen this neighborhood one house at a time get fixed up all of the sudden have someone who's saying we want this neighborhood to be great just to be great," said Rivervire Neighborhood Association's Anne Pollard.

And, when it comes to Tulsa itself, Stephens says he sees great potential and a great city.

"Every time I'm here, I discover something new and unique to Tulsa," said developer Kevin Stephens.

The project is expected to take more than a year to complete.  Stephens has several successful projects going on in Tulsa right now.  He says he'd be doing even more if the economy hadn't slowed things down.