This New Museum Hotel in Oklahoma City Promises to Surprise and Delight

  • The 21c Museum Hotel located in Durham, N.C., is housed in a modernist skyscraper by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, the architects of the Empire State Building
  • 21c Museum Hotel Oklahoma City in Louisville, Ky.
  • Contemporary art and design are front and center at the 21c Museum Hotel property in Lexington, Ky. in the lobby
  • Lockbox restaurant and bar at the 21c Museum Hotel property in Lexington, Ky
  • Patricia Harris and David Lyon

A stay at a 21c property promises to surprise and delight.

Anyone who pauses to admire the brick, steel, and glass exterior of Oklahoma City’s old Ford Motor Company assembly plant could become enveloped in a sudden cloud of mist issuing from Woozy Blossom. The 16-foot-high perforated steel skeleton of a tree planted in the sidewalk is the first hint that the 21c Museum Hotel Oklahoma City aims to surprise. Inside the lobby, a 4-foot-tall purple plastic penguin leaves no doubt.

Opened in June, Oklahoma City is the latest property from 21c Museum Hotels, which launched in Louisville, Ky., in 2006. “It was considered quite risky by our family, our friends, and our bankers,” says cofounder Steve Wilson. To make their contemporary art collection accessible to the public and to revitalize their hometown’s core, he and his wife, Laura Lee Brown, converted old bourbon and tobacco warehouses into an art museum, 91-room hotel, and award-winning restaurant. “We never expected to be doing more than one. But after the success of Louisville, people in other communities wanted us to partner with them. So here we are, 10 years later, with six hotels and more on the way.”

For each hotel, the Milan-based Cracking Art Group created a limited-edition flock of penguins in a signature color. Besides penguins, what unites the properties, says chief curator and museum director Alice Gray Stites, is that “each is a museum first and a hotel second.” Think of 21c properties as museums that happen to have sleeping rooms. The hotels also strive to anchor the revitalization of downtown districts. In Oklahoma City, that’s Film Row, an up-and-coming entertainment strip where Hollywood studios once distributed movies throughout the Midwest.

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