The Edmond Sun

October 8, 2013

AGAINST THE GRAIN: Downtown images can be very artistic

William F. O'Brien
Special to The Sun

OKLA. CITY — Randy Hage is a California photographer and movie and television set designer. As chronicled in a recent article in the New York Times, several decades ago, he began to photograph store fronts in New York City. In those pictures he captured the variety of retail establishments in the Big Apple that include hand-painted signs in a variety of languages that have been faded by time. His work includes images of establishments with signs that that read  “Yonah Shimmel Knish Bakery” and the “Vesuvio” store that offers “Italian Bread and Biscuits.”  

As certain areas of New York City began to gentrify and old stores were replaced with coffee shops and trendy restaurants that catered to the affluent young people who were moving into those neighborhoods, Hage’s camera documented how those storefronts were altered. His work also showed how stores that catered to Eastern European and Italian customers were often replaced with retail establishments that were owned and patronized by  Hispanics and Asian Americans.  

Several years ago, Hage began to build small scale models of the places that he photographed as a way to preserve them. Those replicas and the photographs that inspired them are now being shown in the Flower-Pepper Gallery in Pasadena, Calif.

Many of the commercial buildings found on the main streets of Oklahoma’s smaller communities such as Edmond, Ardmore  and Woodward, also may warrant the attention of an artist with a camera.  While many of them were moribund and boarded up as a result of the growth of strip shopping centers in the Post-War era, in recent years they have awakened from their long Sabbath of decay.  

As aluminum siding and synthetic shingles and other coverings were removed from some of those structures, long-forgotten bricks,  windows and often the name of the pioneering merchants who owned the building were revealed. The late management theorist Peter Drucker told those who attended his lectures  that every time that they see a successful business they should remember that a courageous decision was made by the people who started it. And the men whose name is found on those buildings made courageous decisions when they founded their  businesses.   

Some of those structures  are now home to successful businesses operated by Hispanic and Asian immigrants who share the work ethic and dedication of their counterparts in New York City. Those businesses include restaurants, nail salons and bakeries. The second stories of some of those buildings, including those in Claremore, Ardmore, Guthrie and Woodward are now loft apartments that are occupied by local residents.

Many of those communities are affiliated with the Main Street program operated by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce and maintain websites where the artistry of their downtown buildings can be seen. And at some future date images of those structures will be featured in a  photography exhibit.

WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is an Oklahoma City attorney.