80s Record Store: Rainbow Records, OKC
In 1987, I visited Rainbow Records in Oklahoma City for the first time. I went by way of Ken and Phil, two of my favorite college buddies. The store was located in an historic blond brick building with brown brick trim at the the corner of NW 23rd and Classen Boulevard. It had literally thousands of LPs, and was the place in Oklahoma City to find music by obscure bands, most of which hailed from the United Kingdom and Canada.
Rainbow Records was a bit of a far-flung journey for the daughter of a Nazarene minister. I’d graduated high school with 50 other kids on a Kansas prairie. Most of us grew up on a steady diet of “Country-and-Western” music. When it wasn’t that, it was the usual suspects of Night Ranger, Air Supply, Journey and Styx. Springsteen was my big departure from the family of origin.
My father escaped into his study every night when he came home from work. When he wasn’t reading the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe and contrasting his existence with that of the Apostle Paul, he was spinning Hank Williams and Patsy Cline. He played his albums on a pale yellow record player, and when he closed it and clasped it, it looked like a suitcase. Once, when my mother came to visit me in college, I took her to Rainbow Records where she purchased a set of Gene Autry records for my dad.
I took anyone who would go to Rainbow Records, which is why I am certain I took my father. I just can’t recall the trip specifically. I really loved that store. I bet my dad loved it, too.
The more I visited Rainbow Records the more I enjoyed it. I fawned over round Springsteen memorabilia in Good-n-Plenty pink. True story. I really wanted that pink record, which sold for $140. I can’t even imagine what it would fetch today. Maybe more? Maybe less?
As best I can recall, Ken and Phil were not that taken with Springsteen. They bought Kate Bush and The Pretenders; U2, R.E.M. and Echo and the Bunnymen. I still listen to all of this music. I remember them holding up record jackets of The Dead Kennedys, Sex Pistols and Skinny Puppy. My goodness; I so did not think this stuff was funny. In fact, I thought it was perilously disgusting, and I think they found my prudish aversion to it funnier than the thinly-veiled provocation of these bands. (Hi Phil. Hi Ken.)
By now, I’ve lived long enough to know that things have a way of coming and going. One day, you wake up and discover somebody has packed up your favorite donut shop and hung a closed sign in the window. How dare they!
Geodesic Gold Dome Bank
Today, I live less than one mile from the old Rainbow Records building, so I pass this store several times a week. I’m sure it bugs me more than most. But, it seems quite a shame that after all the attention that was focused a few years back on saving the geodesic Gold Dome, that now this architectural landmark would have to sit across the street from 10,000 broken vacuum cleaners. (As if it’s not bad enough that someone has named it Fantasia. Not kidding.)
I hate to sound like a snob. I apologize in advance for having my attention averted from more critical subjects like economic collapse, world peace, and hunger, but I just wish, at a minimum, somebody would make this property owner hang some curtains in the windows. It would be grand if somebody would buy or rent this building and open up something special like a vintage store, gift shop, or cafe. This is a landmark building in Oklahoma City, right next door to the longtime Macia’s Dance Center. Not only is it an anchor for the Asian District it is an anchor for Uptown, home of the Tower Theater.
I’ve refrained from posting the pictures I shot of cleaning buckets and spackle tubs in the windows, and those revealing serious water damage to the ceiling.
I’ve heard some argue that parking is the issue for this building, but please don’t tell that to the foot traffic in New York. And, don’t tell that to three SNU students in the 1980s, because we never had a problem finding a place to park. Our problem was getting back to campus. I still remember praying Phil’s old VW van would make it up the incline of NW 23rd.
The property has just gone up for sale this past week and it is hoped that a local developer will become interested in it for its great visibility, the proximity to the Asian District, the Uptown area, the Paseo District, and Oklahoma City University. Great character for sure, with a lot of memories. Parking is indeed an issue in todays commercial building standards, but hopefully one of the buildings next door could also be purchased to create parking. There was a great article written in The Journal Record today. So, hopefully over the next year, this old gem will find its luster again.
I saw this make the cover of something — maybe the Journal Record of Oklahoma. It’s great news. I always wanted to make it a Gen X museum. Sadly, I’m just another broke Gen-Xer. I wish the buyers well. I bought some wonderful records at Rainbow back in the day. It was an interesting time in my life and the older I get the more I treasure it. Thanks for stopping by.
I ran across this thread and was quite surprised.
I started Rainbow Rainbow Records and opened all the stores in Oklahama until I sold my ownership. I remember hiring Lavon as he used to sell me records from the back of his car. Quite a few great memories.
Wow! That is amazing. Any chance you’d bring it and its glory back? It’s awful how that building just sits at Classen and NW 23rd. I pass it every day on my way to take the kids to school. I have such great memories of that store. I wasn’t very rebellious in my youth, but for some reason I bought a lot of records that would probably have made my father (a Nazarene minister) wonder where he went wrong with me. I found such great stuff at Rainbow Records. Still wish I’d sprung for the $200 hot pink Springsteen record in the case. =) Thanks for the comment, Brett. It’s great to hear from you.
It’s so funny how I came across this article. I was trying to located the manager of Rainbow records Lavon Pagon. I lost touch with him and Craig. I don’t recall Craigs last name, but he was the one with the long brown hair,and Lavon always reminded me of David Bowie. I had so much fun with those guys and the store. Everytime I go by as well, I desire to have that spot renewed and reinvented into another Rainbow records.
I know the owner, too. I’ve been a dance instructor with Macias’ next door for 8 years. The owner is a pack-rat hoarder to the extreme. The owner of that part of the building does not own the part west of the former Rainbow Records section. He actually rented an additional 2000 s.ft. from Mr. Macias. AND, that was stacked to the ceiling with vacuums as well. He also did indeed keep raising rents, but was always about 5 months behind on the rent to Mr. Macias. Crazy.
@Michael – Your comment has really inspired me to do something about this. Are you still in OKC? I am calling someone I know associated with Uptown tomorrow. It’s a new organization associated with revitalization of NW 23. Writing this small piece about Rainbow Records has piqued my interest more intently in Gen in OKC. I plan to publish your comment as a post in a couple days. Thank you for stopping by. I am most certain our paths have crossed. Do you remember the pink Springsteen records? They were in a locked case.
Jen, I worked at Rainbow Records from 1980 to 1990 and it was a magic decade to be in the music biz. I too am saddened that no one ever moved in after Rainbow closed up and moved out of the building. Parking wasn’t really that much of a problem for all our customers while I worked there. Most Saturdays we would have a packed house from open to close.
I started working at Rainbow shortly after they moved across the street (out from behind the milk bottle) and left not long before the original owners sold out. In my opinion the store was never really the same again after that.
Thanks for taking all the photos of the corner, even if most of them were painful to look at. Remembering the “glory days” when we had all the neon lights up and running full around the store was a far cry from how dilapidated the corner looks now.
I can also answer why the store is full of old vacuums now – the whole building was bought years ago by the Vacuum Repair Store next door and when Rainbow moved out it ended up getting used for storage for them. Because of the high traffic there at 23rd & Classen, the owners decided that rents should go up and up even though the neighborhood continued to decline. I think that’s why no one ever moved back in. Oh, and they get most of the revenue for that corner from the billboard up on the roof!
Anyway, I’m glad you still have some great memories of our store. It was a fantastic decade in my life and I loved sharing it with everyone just the way you did. Have a good one!
@KENT – Yes, the lighting has been great. My favorite time to shoot is about 10 to 12 minutes before Sunday. The window is so small, but in Oklahoma, the colors and mood are both stunning. I’m so amateur and most of the time get lucky. I also like shooting in Oklahoma after a rain when the sky is almost colorless. This lighting also works well. Thanks for your interest!
Yes I did…. Great shot… and the colors in the clouds are sooo Oklahoma…. Great sunsets here…And could the light that we get this time of the year get any better?
@kentfischer – that is such a great observation. That gold dome I suppose is the emerald city. It is total juxtaposition at its best. It just goes to show – tax dollars can only do so much. Property owners are an important piece in revitalization. I always look forward to your comments. Did you see the street shot of Plaza a week or so ago??? That street lends itself to great photos.
kent fischer says
Jen the photo/s 23rd street reflection have an almost Wizird of Oz look to them. What an interesting juxtapostion. A look into the future or the past????
@Debra W – I hope you do stop by OKC sometime. If you do, I hope you’ll make time for me and mine! I’ll give you the grand tour.
@Soul Moxie – I love seeing your name again!!! Thank you.
@yogi – it’s good to know you lived in edgemere! I love edgemere. it’s come a long way since 1988. I remember helping a friend refinish hardwood floors around 1995 – it was still a bit sketchy then. I think it’s one of the most consistent historic neighborhoods in OKC today. How wild that you were going to Rainbow during that same time frame!
Debra W says
I am loving how your photography is evolving into revealing different parts of your personality. Wonderful!
I don’t think it’s at all snobbish of you to write about the things that matter to you. Your memories of Rainbow Records remind me of recollections of a very dear, and very old friend. I wish I could have somehow visited the shop with you. Your enthusiasm must have been contagious(It still is!), which is part of the reason that everyone you took there must have loved the experience so much!
Thank you so much for sharing so much of “your hometown” through your words and photos. Your pride makes me want to stop by Oklahoma City and say hi, someday! I met a gentleman on the airplane when I was flying out to Las Vegas, this past weekend, for my youngest daughters dance competition. He was flying home from a business in Southern CA and when he told me where he was from, I immediately thought about you.
Wonderful, bittersweet post, dear one!
PS-I will get your package out SOON! I can’t wait to get it to you.
I completely agree with T.R. about that first picture. Lady, you need to get that stuff on sale – YESTERDAY! People would eat that up! Including me!
I grew up listening to Hank Williams and Patsy Cline. I still hold their music close to my heart.
I loved Rainbow records and tapes. I rented a great little house in Edgemere in 1987 (just a little before I met Sweetie!) and went in there to look a lot although I didn’t buy a whole lot.
I finally had to leave Edgemre in 1988. Everything that wasn’t nailed down was getting stolen. I had the OKCPD non emerg# on speed dial (not really).
Hi! I drive by this building often also, but on the way to the Grand House restaurant in one direction or to Pho Hoa in another. It’s a shame that they closed, but there was no parking at all near there without walking around the corner from the that little asian strip mall to the north.
Great blog! Cool pictures.
@TR – Thank you!!!! I was pretty excited about that first shot! I spared everyone the disgusting bucket in the window. Nothing remotely nice about it. I’m glad you’re back!
@CGHill – That is such a great point – it’s not like Cuppies and Joe has loads of parking and peeps seem to get around all the same. I do have some recollection of Rainbow trying to relocate somewhere.
@Robert – I was NOT adventurous. I was AFRAID someone would see a hint of fear in my eye so I plunged ahead. I was very lucky. =) If I’d known you were at OCU right up the street, I would have stopped by to say hello. =)))
Parking is an issue almost anywhere worth going along 23rd. I figure it’s just the price one pays for all this urban splendor. 🙂
Rainbow resurfaced briefly, on Western north of 36th, but did not survive; oddly, a branch of Norman’s Guestroom Records, in the same block, has flourished.
Jen, you were adventuresome. I went to college just down the street, but would not venture east of Blackwelder. The pics look like some thing out of the movie dark helmet. The music they had then seems like classical music nowadays. I was a little intimidated by groups with crazy names like “sex pistols”. One of these days that corner is going to be the hottest cafe in the midwest. Rob
Your photography!!!!! That first pic is FANTASTIC!