Tulsa Skyride takes first step toward National Register of Historic Places listing

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By John Dobberstein, Editor

The Tulsa State Fair Skyride has been deemed to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places by the Oklahoma Historical Society State Historic Preservation Office.

This step with the National Register, “underscores the skyride's historic significance and that the skyride is worth preserving,” said Scott Martin, a producer who is currently filming a documentary about the history of Bell’s Amusement Park. The documentary will include the community’s effort to save the Skyride.

Martin said amusement park historian and author Steven Wilson prepared the application for the Tulsa Skyride's preliminary opinion from the Oklahoma Historical Society State Historic Preservation Office. He launched TulsaSkyride.org in 2021 to increase awareness of and appreciation for the Skyride and to explore ways to make it “better than ever before.”

The office issued a preliminary opinion letter on the Tulsa Skyride's eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places.

The letter states that based on materials provided and a review of files, “it’s our opinion that the property is individually eligible for the National Register of Historic Places at the local level of significance” under criteria for entertainment and recreation due to its association with the Tulsa State Fair and the International Petroleum Exposition.

The office also believes the Skyride is eligible under the “engineering” criteria at the statewide level of significance as an aerial gondola system associated with Von Roll Ironworks.

Supporters of the Skyride said this marks an important first step in the process of being added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The next step is to complete the formal nomination for the State Historic Preservation Office to submit to the U.S. National Park Service which administers the National Register program. The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of our country's historic places worthy of preservation.

Although being listed on the National Register does NOT provide protection against demolition of the Skyride, it provides limited protection and possible eligibility for possible grants and tax incentives.

Opened in 1965, the Tulsa Skyride was manufactured by Von Roll Ironworks of Bern, Switzerland. Walt Disney introduced Von Roll skyrides to the U.S. when he added the Skyway attraction to Disneyland in 1956. Soon thereafter Von Roll skyrides were found across the U.S.

Currently, the Tulsa Skyride is one of only ten Von Roll skyride installations remaining in the U.S. It has not operated since the end of the 2019 Tulsa State Fair.

In May, Expo Square announced it was eliminating the Sky Ride, citing concerns about safety and cost of maintenance, and demolition preparations were made.

Discussions have also been ongoing about finding another operator for the ride.

Since that time, advocates for the Skyride revealed the ride had just completed a 5-year, $450,000 renovation in 2019.

Martin believes a “transparent process with input from the public, Doppelmayr, the previous skyride operator, ropeway and amusement industry experts, Expo Square, and the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority should lead to getting the skyride running again.”

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