Most politicians have remained mum on the issue. Others quarrel with the idea that Brady was a major instigator of the riot. Mayor Dewey Bartlett said he’s read accounts that showed disagreement over Brady’s role in the unrest.
The mayor wants to keep the Brady name, citing concern that the renaming effort could become a slippery slope for other streets and landmarks named after people with questionable pasts.
“We look at history as a good teacher, not something to emulate, obviously, but in this case something to learn from and avoid,” Bartlett said in an interview. “My opinion, I guess, is that I have not heard a strong groundswell of support for changing the name and to what? What are we going to call it next?”
The entertainment district is at the core of Tulsa’s effort to rejuvenate its moribund downtown, which had long been pocked with half-empty offices, blank storefronts and weeds. The improvements come after the city invested decades, and many millions of dollars, in failed attempts to revive the area.
Today the district has been reborn. It has a new ballpark, boutiques, a cigar bar, trendy restaurants and a museum and park dedicated to Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl balladeer, Woody Guthrie. The elegant Brady Theater is one of the jewels, opened by Brady in 1914 as the biggest arena between Kansas City and Houston. It’s now a popular showplace for indie and classic rock shows.
“We’ve been here over six years, and no one seemed to notice or care” about renaming Brady Street, said Janet Duvall, executive director of the Tulsa Glassblowing School, one of many specialty shops that have taken root along the street in question. “The success is finally here, and now we think we need to put someone else’s name on it.”
Others say the name can serve as an omnipresent reminder of “never again” as the city moves ahead.
“It’s like changing the name of the city of Tulsa because it has a racist past,” said Kuanza Johnson, a California transplant and teacher, who is black and lives in the Brady Heights Historic District. “Where do you stop?”
Anna Taylor, a white resident of the historic district, agrees, saying the city need not dredge up the battles of the past.
“It’s not going to change anything,” she said.
Confusion over the name seems especially apparent in the Brady Heights neighborhood, a section of large, nearly 100-year-old homes, including the Greek Revival-style mansion Brady built in 1920 and named Arlington, after Robert E. Lee’s Virginia estate.
Once home to business barons, the neighborhood is now is full of young families in fixer-uppers and newcomers to the city. Until recently, many never even knew who the district was named for.
Still, “You don’t revamp history,” said Susan Kufdakis, who lives with her parents in Brady’s old mansion, which has been turned back into a single-family house after being divided up in apartments. “You shouldn’t forget who Brady was, but you keep history the way it is.”