Home to the legendary Tulsa Spotlighters, this art deco showplace has entertained Tulsans for decades.
conservatory instructor Patti Adams Shriner had trained in the U.S. and
Europe but wished to make a permanent residence for her art in Tulsa,
a place which would be equal parts school and recital hall.
Influenced by colleague and fellow artist Adah Robinson--who had
designed the Boston Avenue Church--Shriner chose Robinson favorite
Bruce Goff as the architect of her studio. The Riverside Studio is
very similar in material, layout, and design to the Robinson Studio
which Goff had previously built.
Built by Goff in
1929, the Riverside Studio building is a two-story stucco structure
which reflects elements of Art Deco and International Style design.
Goff’s inspiration for the building was his attempt to create
“frozen music,” or capture music in architectural form. The theme
is resonant in the window treatment on the building’s façade. The
enormous round window is patterned with sand-blasted ornamentation,
and is flanked by smaller rectangular windows adjacent to black glass
inserts, which form a diagonal pattern. The sand-blasted pattern evokes the musical score which Goff composed while he was working on the design for the Riverside. The colors, shapes, and
arrangement of the windows are variously said to be reminiscent of
musical scales, the ebony and ivory of piano keys, and the holes
punched into the music rolls that are used by player pianos. The fountain, designed by
Alphonso Iannelli, employs abstract marble sculpture with pipes that
drip water into chromium cups, which are sculpted and sized to
produce distinct musical tones as the water drips onto them before falling
into the pool below.
As the Great
Depression finally rolled into Tulsa, Shriner’s business began to
collapse. The studio shuttered in 1933 and was foreclosed upon by
various financial institutions. In 1941, Richard Mansfield Dickinson,
a mildly successful actor from New York City,
purchased the Riverside. He used the building as a residence and
opened a speech-drama studio out of the recital hall. In 1953,
Dickinson and a group of amateur performers, called the Tulsa
Spotlighters, gave their performance of The
Drunkard, a one-act condensation of the melodrama Ten Nights in a
Barroom. Dickinson had only planned to hold one performance, but
the phenomenal outpouring of public interest convinced the
Spotlighters to hold a performance each week thereafter, on Saturday
In 1962, the
group organized into the Tulsa Spotlighters, Inc., a non-profit
charity, which purchased the theater. Two years later, Karl Janssen, who had
starred in the original production, took over as director of the
show. The current production recreates the melodramatic atmosphere in which
Ten Nights in a Beer Hall was performed—beer gardens where
patrons participate by loudly cheering the hero and booing the villain.
Each night before The Drunkard comes an audience sing-along and the Olio,” a
vaudeville-style variety act featuring singers, dancers, musicians,
magicians, comedians, and other acts. During the holiday season, the
Spotlighters tour regional hospitals and institutions to entertain
the patients with their Olio acts. The Spotlight troupe currently
counts over 150 performers.
On June 14, 2001,
the Riverside Studio was listed in the National Register of Historic
Places under criterion C; its NRIS number is 01000656.