16 September 2004
A jubilee in Nichols Hills
Well, it will probably be slightly restrained: this enclave within Oklahoma City's north side is not known for being loud and boisterous.
Still, a seventy-fifth anniversary is something to celebrate, and the founding of Nichols Hills in 1929 was fairly remarkable, if only because the motivations for its founding were such a departure from the norm for Oklahoma City over the preceding forty years.
Mrs George R. Bixler, who was town clerk in Nichols Hills for many years, described it this way:
One man who had accumulated sufficient worldly goods, turned a few years back from building just houses, and decided to express his idea of a community where homes and only homes would be the paramount issue. This man, the late Dr. G. A. Nichols, had one ambition back in 1929, and this was to develop an area near Oklahoma City which would be an ideal place for homes and families.
Every home in the community was to be protected against encroachment of undesirable surroundings by permanent building restrictions. The streets, he decided, would be laid out with the express purpose of slowing down people with that deadly mania for "getting some place fast." The streets were not to be thoroughfares. They were, rather, to invite leisurely travel. It was the founderís idea that no one should want to travel at an excessive speed through the hills. They were to be the "hills of homes," to be enjoyed by all who passed that way. Such, then, was the founderís conception of Nichols Hills.
Dr. Nichols bought 2,700 acres of rolling prairies and farm land north of Oklahoma City. From Kansas City he brought in a firm of engineers to lay out the streets as he visualized them. The old fashioned "checker-board idea" of cut and dried straight streets and square blocks had no place in this new development. The streets were to follow the natural terrain of the country side, with the entrance to be at N.W. 63rd and Western. The long graceful sweep of the curving streets, he decided, were not to go anyplace particular but were just to roam around the hills past the homes.
The natural prairie was attractive and effective. But, it was decided, that where homes were to be built there must be trees, and lots of them. Consequently, a whole forest of trees were moved in from distant places. In that first year more than 5,600 large shade trees and 35,000 smaller ones were transplanted to the new community of Nichols Hills. There also were hundreds of different kinds of pine, spruce and junipers planted. Plots for small parks dotted the whole community, and there were larger park areas in every available space.
The entrance at Northwest 63rd and Western was marked by two stately towers of true Normandy architecture, and Avondale Drive took off from there in a northwesterly direction. All street names at that time were scooped from the English countryside. While the new streets were still a gleam in the developers eyes, people who wanted to get away from the corner drug store and the hustle and bustle of the city bought the lots from a piece of paper. They began to construct their homes, and before they were finished the paved streets rolled past their doors and everyone was very happy.
And indeed, if you drive on the grid in north Oklahoma City, things change radically once you cross 63rd; even Pennsylvania Avenue, a busy city thoroughfare, becomes a winding residential street with a 25-mph speed limit.
It's still a lovely place, though its lack of room for expansion it's surrounded on three sides by Oklahoma City, and the city of The Village, incorporated in 1950, lies directly to the north has resulted in the occasionally-unlovely prospect of fine period homes being torn down and replaced with contemporary faux châteaux. There haven't been that many demolitions yet, though, and I suspect the city strictly limits the number of permits it grants for such things, so I rather think Dr. Nichols' countryside will look about the same (give or take a few sport-utility vehicles) over the next seventy-five years.