The Oklahoma Hall of Fame was founded in 1927 by Anna B. Korn to celebrate the wonderful history of Oklahoma and to honor Oklahomans for outstanding service to their state. The Oklahoma Memorial Association was the first name of the organization that would organize the induction ceremony and statehood banquet every year. Also happening in 1927, the Mid-Continent Life Insurance Building in Oklahoma City opened to the public and, just a few blocks away, Judge Robert A. Hefner, Sr. was moving his family into the home that would become known as the Hefner Mansion. The histories of these Oklahoma institutions would be connected over the course of the next 90 years. This is the history of the homes of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.
Robert A. Hefner, Sr. first arrived in Indian Territory in 1906, to practice law in present-day Ardmore, Oklahoma. After seeing all of the opportunity Oklahoma had to offer, he moved his family from Texas to Ardmore in 1909. In 1926, Hefner, Sr. was elected a Justice of the State Supreme Court. This meant that he needed to relocate his family to Oklahoma City. The Heritage Hills home at 201 NW 14th Street purchased by Judge Hefner originally was built in 1917 for oilman E.L. Mulky. Judge Hefner served on the State Supreme Court from 1927 to 1933. In 1939 he was persuaded to run for mayor of Oklahoma City, an office he would hold for 8 years. During his time as mayor, the Hefner Mansion was a popular venue for events and meetings required of an Oklahoma City mayor. In 1949, Judge Hefner was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, which at that time did not have a permanent home. Interestingly, among the many positions of leadership held by Judge Hefner, he served as a director for the Mid-Continent Life Insurance Company and as president of the Oklahoma Memorial Association in the early 1950s.
At the 1970 Oklahoma Hall of Fame Banquet & Induction Ceremony, prominent Oklahoman Stanley Draper announced that the Hefner family had gifted the Hefner Mansion to the Oklahoma Memorial Association, establishing the first permanent home of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. The Hefner Mansion was formally dedicated to the people of Oklahoma as the Oklahoma Heritage House in 1972, and the organization changed its name from the Oklahoma Memorial Association to the Oklahoma Heritage Association while maintaining its mission of celebrating notable Oklahomans dedicated to their communities and state, in addition to providing educational programming for Oklahoma students.
Minor renovations were done by the organization to preserve the home’s historic architectural integrity. The restored mansion was furnished with the Hefner’s personal collections of artwork and antiques, mostly acquired during their world travels. An estimated 1,500 people toured the new Oklahoma Heritage House during its first week open to the public.
The third floor of the house was dedicated to exhibiting oil paintings and bronze statues of prominent Oklahomans inducted annually since 1928 into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. However, as the organization flourished in its first permanent location, over the years the mansion proved to be too small to accommodate all of the stories that needed to be told. The Oklahoma Heritage Association offices and the Oklahoma Hall of Fame remained at the Oklahoma Heritage House until 2006. The portraits and busts can be found on display throughout the Gaylord-Pickens Museum, home of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.
In 2007, the neighboring St. Luke’s United Methodist Church purchased the Oklahoma Heritage House, now known as St. Luke’s Mansion. Many of the Hefner family’s historic furnishings followed the organization to its current and permanent location in the Mid Continent Life Insurance building at 1400 Classen Drive, including the Venetian Carrara marble statuaries and 19th century rosewood cased musical instruments. After St. Luke’s purchased the property, it was updated to suit their needs while also preserving the home’s history. The space continues to serve the people of Oklahoma as it has for decades.
The organization’s move to the Mid-Continent Life Insurance Building, though located only a few short blocks from the Hefner Mansion on the west side of the historic Heritage Hills neighborhood, was a huge undertaking. Thanks to a generous donation from Edward L. Gaylord, former chairman and chief executive officer of the Oklahoma Publishing Company, the building was purchased in 2001 and, in 2005, T. Boone Pickens, chairman of BP Capitol Fund Advisors, matched Gaylord’s donation to facilitate the extensive renovations needed at the 1920’s property.
Construction of the Greco-Roman/Neo-Classical Building began in 1926. The building was designed by architect Soloman Layton, whose designs include the Oklahoma State Capitol, the Skirvin hotel, and the Bizzell Memorial Library at the University of Oklahoma. Twenty-two buildings of Soloman Layton’s are on the National Historic Register, including the Mid-Continent Life Insurance Building. The view from southwest of Shartel Avenue shows the backside of the building and the temporary railroad tracks that brought the building materials directly to the construction site.
Some of the building materials brought in for construction are the white Vermont marble floors throughout the building and the Honduran Mahogany that was shipped in as logs and cut on site for paneling in the president’s 3rd floor office and board room. Mid-Continent Life Insurance President R.T. Stuart acquired the business in 1916 and moved his family to Oklahoma City. R.T. Stuart wanted to build a large, elegant headquarters for his company in Heritage Hills, but city zoning laws only allowed for residential housing in the neighborhood. Stuart had Layton design the building with a living area to bypass this obstacle, and the Stuart family lived in the 4th floor apartment. R.T. Stuart was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1956. A highlight of museum tours is his office as it remains almost the same as it did in 1927 with his original office furniture.
The building underwent major renovation from 2003 to 2007, but the architects of Elliott and Associates left much of the original character of the building. During renovations, construction contractor James Pickel said “Labor is a big part of our business. Back in the old days there were probably hundreds of people working on a building like this, and now a lot of the materials and procedures we go through are less labor intensive, so you don’t see buildings like this being built.”
Staying true to its mission, the organization has expanded its educational programming to include, scholarships, free field trips, statewide education, and publishing books on Oklahoma history. The Mid-Continent Life Insurance Building was ready to transition into its new role in the community as the Gaylord-Pickens Museum, home of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame and opened again to the public May 10, 2007.
The renovations visually link the past with the present, while high-tech, interactive exhibits throughout allow visitors to learn more about the history of Oklahoma through its people. While touring the Gaylord-Pickens Museum, the public meet past and present notable Oklahomans who have shaped not only the state of Oklahoma, but also the country and the world.
Upon the opening of the museum, President and CEO Shannon L. Rich said that museum and the organization are, “creating generations of Oklahomans that are proud of where they’re from, that want to stay in this state, and invest in this state.” In 2015, the Board of Directors changed the name of the Oklahoma Heritage Association to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame to better represent the goals and mission of the organization. These goals are achieved through programs such as Free Field Trips, the Oklahoma Hall of Fame Teen Board, and the Second Century Board of Directors.
After 90 years, being inducted to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame remains Oklahoma’s Highest Honor. The Gaylord-Pickens Museum, home of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, promotes pride in our great state while preserving Oklahoma’s unique history through telling the story of its unique people. The Mid-Continent Life Insurance Building will now ensure the heritage of all Oklahomans for generations to come. The Oklahoma Hall of Fame believes there are no limits to what is possible. Every day we celebrate the legacy of inspiring Oklahomans with all generations because Oklahomans are changing the world!