The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

11 March 2006

Saturday spottings (blurring the lines)

Where does the city end, where do the suburbs begin? The easy answer: at the city limits. But that's not always the useful answer, especially when you're dealing with Oklahoma City, which covers 600 square miles of land and rather a lot of water, and whose borders are the poster child for irregularity. In the geometric sense, I mean.

Northwest 23rd Street is hardly suburban. Yet when Sears, Roebuck opened a store on the edge of the old Shepherd homestead at 23rd and Pennsylvania, it was thought of as a "suburban" store, probably because the Sears store downtown (on Sheridan, then still Grand Avenue, west of the Biltmore Hotel) was still open at the time. Both those stores are gone now, as is the Biltmore — the present-day Biltmore at Reno and Meridian has tenuous connections at best to the original — and 23rd Street is now the city's Axis of Ethnicity, with black, Asian and Latino sectors that don't exactly overlap but which aren't really distinct. The city has been sprucing up the streetscapes on 23rd, but what's been lacking so far has been a concerted effort to bring new business to the area. (The Gold Dome restoration arguably did more for Classen than it did for 23rd.)

So I have to see it as a favorable sign that the old Tower Theater on 23rd between Walker and Hudson, considered a "suburban"-style moviehouse when it was built in 1937, is being restored, along with the retail space surrounding it. A 1964 photo posted by the developers shows the theater nestled between C. R. Anthony and T. G. & Y. — and doesn't that take you back? Retail along 23rd has been in constant flux for the last 40 years or so: the old Sound Warehouse is now an Asian grocery, and perhaps the store with the longest tenure during this period is the Soul Boutique, which opened in the early 1970s in what used to be the Records, Inc. building on the northeast corner of 23rd and Classen. (A CVS store sits there now; the Boutique was last spotted on 23rd between Lee and Dewey, with the same logo it had originally.) I can't help but be hopeful about this project.

Speaking of Towers, there's something called the Atrium Towers on 63rd west of the Lake Hefner Parkway, and something about it has always bugged me. Today I figured it out: can you really call something a "tower" if its height is way short of its width?

If you head out east on Reno, you'll leave the city limits in a mere three miles, and I did that today to take a look at the current state of things in Midwest City. (And, well, to run a couple of errands: I have my hair, such as it is, done in MWC, and the Woodside Car Wash, off 8500 NE 10th, can usually be counted upon to be functional, which sadly is not always the case for squirt palaces closer to home.) I-40? Fuggedaboudit; there was signage freshening today along the Crosstown, and traffic was backed up three or four miles.

Over at Heritage Park Mall, there's not a great deal of hope, though the current owners have spruced up the place a bit; Dillard's, due to die this month, has locked all but one set of exterior doors, and the parking lot still looks like the surface of the moon. I didn't mention the infamous eBay auction, though: why worry people unnecessarily?

And it's weird to see the last vestige of the old Atkinson Plaza, the Firestone store, still standing along SE 29th while everything else for a third of a mile in either direction is the very new stuff for which the Plaza was demolished. On an impulse, I pulled out the Yellow Pages, and it's still listed as being at 139 E. Atkinson Plaza, an address which should not even exist anymore. (Behind it, the Target store is at 7305 SE 29th; Kohl's is at 7401; closer to the street, Steak 'n Shake is at 7181.) I suppose this was negotiated with the city of Midwest City.

And I came back on the Crosstown to see the new signs, and didn't see a thing — unless it was for the two-lane exit off I-40 westbound to I-44, which I don't remember being there before.

Posted at 7:06 PM to City Scene

Interesting spottings!

About Atkinson Plaza....Was there an Otasco there years ago? My grandfather worked for Otasco for 30 years and worked at a store in Del City and one in Midwest City. I don't know that area at all and I've always wondered where those old stores were. When I read "Atkinson Plaza" in your post, that sounded familiar. There are so many things I would have liked to have asked him before he passed in 1979.

Records, Inc.....I haven't thought about that place in years! One thing I remember is they were more expensive than a lot of the other places. Remember Wilcox Records on 23rd street? I loved their listening booths. When I needed to watch my spending I would have Mom take me to AMC or Founders Fair. I remember AMC and their .79 45s. Of course, there were records even cheaper....when I was starting out in radio, and doing sock hops to make extra money, I would buy 45s and heavy green sleeves at a place on 10th street just east of May. They bought and sold 45s from jukebox vendors if I recall correctly, but the name escapes me. Do you remember that place? It all seems like a hundred years ago.

Posted by: MIkeSwi... at 11:40 PM on 11 March 2006

The thing about Records, Inc. is that it charged full list price: a $4.98 LP was, by gum, $4.98, even if you could get it down the street at Wilcox for a buck less. Their stock, however, was tremendous.

Wilcox was an odd duck. If I remember correctly, when the last of the Wilcox family died, ownership passed to contractor A. C. Commander, whose son Ed took over the store. (Ed eventually turned the place over to manager Frank Hartung, not necessarily simultaneously with the move off 23rd to near Penn Square.) The address — 1423 NW 23rd — no longer exists; the Fabric Factory is at 1421, and Tom and Jerry's next door is at 1501.

There were a couple of "one-stop" record joints in town, catering to small retailers and jukebox operators and DJs and such; the one I remember was Phil's, which was on Linwood.

At least two OTASCO stores operated in Midwest City: it seems logical that one would have been in Atkinson, though I couldn't tell you if they were there the same time as Firestone, or if Firestone took over OTASCO's space when they folded. (Except for a brief period near SE 15th and Key, most of the time I lived out that way, I was in that murky area between NE 10th and 23rd.) Most commerce in Del City back then was on SE 29th from just west of Epperly to just east of Vickie.

Posted by: CGHill at 8:26 AM on 12 March 2006