25 August 2002
Sliding commission

The election of county commissioners — there are three in each of Oklahoma's 77 counties — would seem to be No Big Deal. Then again, about twenty years ago it was discovered that more than half of the state's 231 commissioners had gotten their fingers into some very rich pies. The Legislature responded by requiring independent boards to oversee county budgets. Still, the position of commissioner carries considerable clout, and apparently Shirley Darrell, who used to be in charge of District 1 in Oklahoma County, would like to have her job back.

To do that, Darrell will have to beat former OKC council member Beverly Hodges, who defeated Darrell four years ago. But there's a primary next Tuesday, and Darrell is being challenged by one of her former deputies, Jim Roth, who has mounted a fairly high-dollar direct-mail campaign. How high? He's sent me seven postcards, roughly 7.5 by 10 inches, each with two-color art and a different pitch. It was the seventh of those cards in which Roth came out swinging against his old boss, complete with what purported to be a copy of a warrant for Darrell's arrest on charges of racketeering, bribery, perjury, and other Bad Things. And indeed, Darrell was charged with all these at one time or another, but as anyone this side of Bill Clinton can tell you, a charge does not equal a conviction.

Roth describes himself as a "penny-pinching Democrat", which may even be true: Oklahoma officials of both parties are renowned for parsimony, although it's seldom reflected in the local tax rates. But there's still the thought in the back of my mind that the struggling remains of the local Democratic organization is pushing Roth mainly because he doesn't have Shirley Darrell's legal baggage. And there are other suspicious types out there; last year, when the arrival of the new census figures required that the district lines be redrawn, members of the African-American community protested that the new lines were cunningly designed to put the screws to Darrell because four mostly-black precincts were reassigned from District 1 to the comparatively-whiter District 2, which doesn't hold an election for commissioner until 2004.

And it gets better. Roth, should he prevail in both the primary and the general election, would be the first openly gay officeholder in the state's history. The state GOP, which is somewhere to the right of Fred Phelps, will not take this lying down. And Beverly Hodges, the Republican incumbent, who's been known to pinch a few pennies in her time — she voted to defund Oklahoma City's Human Rights Commission back in 1995, and she turned down a statutory raise last year — doesn't have a free ride through the primary either; she's drawn three opponents, including Courtenay Caudill, daughter of Oklahoma County Clerk Carolyn Caudill, who is — get this — Jim Roth's current boss. The Executive Committee of the Oklahoma County GOP took considerable umbrage that the County Clerk, one of their own, would dare to encourage a Democrat, especially a gay Democrat.

If it sounds like an awfully big tempest for what is, after all, a fairly small teapot, remember: This is Oklahoma, where politics is a blood sport. Almost.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:02 AM)
11 September 2002
It's for you

Something called APAC Customer Services Inc. is seeking to fill 500 call-center positions in metro Oklahoma City. If you're interested in being emotionally drained by a soul-sucking job (don't even think of calling it a career) and you think 42nd and Treadmill pays too much, this may be just the spot you've been looking for, and may God have pity on your soul.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:03 PM)
4 October 2002
The Windows slam shut

Microsoft has given the Oklahoma City Public Schools until 14 October to rid themselves of software not complying with Microsoft license agreements, and the district has launched a major software-license audit.

In the first pass, the district found 1700 PCs with questionable licensing, each of which could theoretically generate a $500 fine from Redmond; a second pass is scheduled to begin today. "I think we're in pretty good shape," said Jerry Dimmitt, team leader for the audit, "but we have so many computers it will be difficult to catch everything." The district has a site license from Microsoft for volume purchases, but it doesn't cover software acquired before the license, and most of the offending stuff, as it happens, is installed on PCs donated to the district, many of which will have to be weeded out to pass the audit.

The district is also putting out a list of minimum standards for donated machines, which reads as follows:

Minimum Hardware Requirements:
  • Pentium III processor with 64 MB Memory, 6GB Hard Drive, 3.5" Floppy, CD- ROM, SoundBlaster sound adapter, and an Ethernet 10/100 network adapter.
  • Monitor- 15" SVGA 1024x680, .28 pitch with an IBM standard monitor connector.
  • Keyboard- 101 key with a PS2 connector
  • Mouse- 2 button with or without the scroll wheel. PS2 connector.
A certificate of license for that product must accompany any software on the donated computers.

So don't even think about bringing over that old 286.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:37 AM)
16 October 2002
Yesterday

Paul McCartney showed up last night at the Ford Center, the first-ever appearance of any Beatle in the Sooner State. I didn't go, reasoning that I had probably better things to do with $250 — or perhaps rationalizing my failure to pay attention to the ticket-sale schedule — but by all accounts a splendid time was guaranteed for all.

And a tip of the fedora to Gene Triplett (and if it wasn't Gene, it was Sandi Davis — gad, how I hate shared bylines) of The Daily Oklahoman, who quipped: "If they love him this much at 60, he has nothing to worry about four years down the road." Vera, Chuck and Dave are no doubt very much relieved.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:21 AM)
6 November 2002
Waxing Roth

I mentioned this race way back in August and apparently never followed up on it. Anyway, in case anyone was asking, Jim Roth has defeated Beverly Hodges, 55 to 45 percent, to win the Oklahoma County District 1 Commissioner position.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:45 PM)
23 November 2002
You'll always find the unusual

Kambers has sold gifts and luggage in Oklahoma City since 1922, and for half of those eighty years, their TV spots were done by Eleanor Kamber, daughter-in-law of the founding family. It's a small sort of celebrityhood, to be sure, but I suspect anyone who spent more than a few months in this part of the world would have recognized her on sight. The store has moved several times — from downtown to Penn Square to Northpark to its current location on the eastern edge of Nichols Hills — but the one thing you could always count on was Mrs. Kamber.

That is, until this week, when health problems finally caught up to her; she died late Thursday night, at the age of 92. The store will remain closed through Monday noon, following services at Temple B'nai Israel. (Yes, Virginia, there are Jews in Oklahoma.) Her advertising tag — "You'll always find the unusual at Kambers" — is a local cultural icon, alongside "Boomer Sooner" and the B. C. Clark jingle.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:01 AM)
2 December 2002
It won't be called "Murrah 2"

We used to have a Federal building in Oklahoma City, named for Alfred P. Murrah, judge of the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit from 1940 to 1970.

After everything came crashing down in 1995, plans were drawn up for a new facility. The new building, as yet unnamed, will open next fall, and already it's full; ten Federal agencies are slated to move in.

So far, so good. But there's one minor hitch.

The new building is located at NW 6th and Hudson (400 block west).

The Oklahoma City National Memorial, erected on the site of the Murrah, is located between NW 4th and NW 6th west of Harvey (300 block west).

A lot of people with windows facing east or south are going to be able to see the memorial. And not everyone, I imagine, will be able to shrug it off.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
9 December 2002
Available space

The Oklahoma City Public Schools have been pondering moving John Marshall High School about two miles northwest of its current location. Under the current MAPS for Kids initiative, money is available for renovation and improvements, but the present school sits on a 24-acre site, about half what the state specifies for a high school. Rather than buy up nearby properties, the district proposed to move the school to a larger tract, but residents near those tracts took exception.

Later this week, a feasibility study will point the district towards its next move. The negative response to moving the school, it is believed, will make the prospect of staying put and buying adjoining property more likely. A similar study earlier this year made basically the same recommendation for U. S. Grant High School, on the other side of town. If the Marshall plan follows the Grant example, the new school will occupy the far end of the school property; once it's built, the old school will be torn down.

This sounds excessively complicated, but both the Marshall and Grant facilities are really old and fairly decrepit and bringing the existing buildings up to spec will likely cost even more.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:11 AM)
10 December 2002
Where all the lights are bright

Downtown Oklahoma City, once the sun set, used to do a passable impression of a mausoleum: the offices would empty out, and nothing remained but concrete.

The redevelopment in Bricktown, across the Santa Fe tracks just east of downtown, has brought actual nightlife to the area. And the new Oklahoma City Museum of Art, about a mile west of Bricktown, is anchoring a nascent downtown arts district. However, almost everyone coming to Bricktown or the OCMA has come from a fair distance across town: there are private residences on the edge of downtown, but not many.

In an effort to reduce that "fair distance", the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority is planning 300 residential and retail units in something called "Legacy Summit at Arts Center", a few blocks north of the Museum. It's not quite as close to Bricktown as the row of renovated lofts on Broadway, but the city fathers have an abiding faith in "If you build it, they will come." Only recently has that faith begun to pay off; still, as the success of Bricktown attests, it is paying off.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:38 AM)
12 December 2002
You've got pink slips

America Online announced that about 300 jobs would be cut, and locally, where AOL operates a call center, everyone was sweating bullets (and, of course, offering bullet de-sweating devices at 40 percent off). It appears, though, that only a dozen or so will be laid off from the AOL facility in the north end of Shepherd Mall, leaving more than 1300 folks to talk you out of canceling your service after the 1025-hour free trial.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
17 December 2002
Finalizing the Marshall plan

After briefly flirting with the notion of expanding John Marshall High School, the board of the Oklahoma City Public Schools has decided to relocate the school to a site on the southwest corner of NW 122nd Street and Portland Avenue. The move will cost upward of $25 million.

There are still objections being raised by nearby residents, though there's always the question of whether they'd raise the same objections were it a school from, say, the adjacent Putnam City district being moved into their neighborhood.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:28 AM)
9 January 2003
Positive tunnel vision

It's called the Metro Conncourse, and no, that's not a typo: it's named for Jack Conn, chairman of the old Fidelity Bank downtown, who with Dean A. McGee led development of Oklahoma City's pedestrian tunnels. The first link, under Broadway at Park Avenue, opened in 1931; over the years, the network of tunnels has expanded to most of downtown. Recently, Bricktown, east of downtown and off the Conncourse, has gotten most of the attention, and the tunnels have been mostly neglected.

Until now. A $3 million master plan for renovation of the tunnels will attempt to make them hip once again, with improvements to both the tunnels and the sidewalk entrances, and the addition of historical galleries to brighten up the rather bland interior. With the new plan comes a new name: "The Underground". Maybe too hip for this crowd, but I've always thought that the tunnels were one of the niftier aspects of downtown, and perking them up is something that's long overdue, especially if downtown promoters expect to pick up on any of the Bricktown frenzy. It's probably not possible to extend The Underground to Bricktown — the canal might get in the way — but right now, it's more important to remind people that it exists at all.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:20 AM)
11 January 2003
Ditch, ditch, ditch

Rep. Leonard Sullivan (R-Planet Delusional) thinks the North Canadian River, which snakes its way through the middle of Oklahoma City, should be renamed the Oklahoma River. "I can't see any good reason for Canada to get all of that publicity," says Sullivan, perhaps hoping to set off a firestorm of protest in Ottawa.

But of course. And what better name for a stream which needs mowing twice a year, whose banks overflow at the slightest provocation, than "Oklahoma"?

Why, the Beaver River, which is what the North Canadian is called above the confluence with Wolf Creek. Of course, not everyone will be happy with a name like Beaver, either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:34 AM)
28 January 2003
It's only rock and roll

Yeah, and a Porsche is only a car.

The Rolling Stones are here. They'll play tonight at the Ford Center in downtown Oklahoma City.

No, I'm not going. In my present emotional state, which may be best described as "insufficiently repressed", I don't believe I could handle it.

And the Stones on the same night as the State of the Union address? Obviously this isn't the situation for which they wrote "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" — but it seems to fit just the same.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:15 AM)
15 February 2003
Why people live here

About 520,000 people live in the city, about as many in the suburbs, and you could probably get close to a million different answers to the question "Why do you live here?" But surely some of them will point out that on a comparative basis, it's cheap.

The most recent cost-of-living survey by ACCRA puts Oklahoma City at 9 percent below the national average, with housing costs a startling 21 percent below the national average. In all the areas covered by the survey, only transportation carried an above-average price tag, perhaps due to the spread-out nature of the place and the limited availability of public transportation.

Those who argue that you get what you pay for — well, we'll get to that some other time.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:07 AM)
29 March 2003
Boycott day

Monday night, the Oklahoma City Public Schools board is expected to approve a plan to close seven facilities at the end of this school year. Six of the seven schools would have been closed by 2006 under the city's MAPS for Kids master plan, but closing them early is expected to save $1.9 million for the beleaguered district.

State Representative Opio Toure, complaining that the closures unfairly target poor and minority students, has suggested that parents keep their children home one day in protest. Toure's Coalition for Educational Progress and Equity will meet today to discuss possible options.

In the Oklahoma City Public Schools generally, it seems to me, almost any school closing will impact minority students: more than a third of the district's students are black, another quarter are Latino, and there are substantial Asian and Amerindian contingents as well. Still, under the MAPS for Kids plan, new schools would be in place at approximately the same time the old ones were to be closed; under this accelerated consolidation, there will be a handful of schools temporarily operating with twice as many students.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:47 AM)
30 March 2003
Skirvin: a long, strange trip

Opened in 1911, four years after statehood, Bill Skirvin's hotel in downtown Oklahoma City was the unquestioned social center of town. By 1930, with an oil boom underway, the Skirvin had grown to 14 stories and 525 rooms. Bill Skirvin died in 1944, his children decided to sell the property, and while the hotel did well for the next two decades, an ill-advised search-and-destroy urban-renewal program in the Sixties caused everything downtown to suffer, and by 1969 the Skirvin could keep only a third of its rooms filled.

Things picked up in the 1980s, as urban renewal took a new form: restoration and preservation of the remaining historic structures downtown. The Skirvin was now on the National Register of Historic Places. Still, a succession of managements could not make it profitable, and after Oklahoma City government decided that it was worth saving, the city last year acquired the property from its most recent owners for just under $3 million.

Tomorrow, the city will receive proposals for redevelopment of the Skirvin. And they're plenty serious: as the committee report says, "Saving the Skirvin is not about saving a bad real estate deal; it is about investing in the future and supporting continuing economic growth in the downtown district." With Bricktown, just to the east of downtown, still growing, those extra hotel rooms will definitely come in handy. The city is willing to entertain the idea of letting the Skirvin go condo, but will draw the line at converting it to office space: there's too much of that going begging already.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:19 AM)
1 April 2003
Shuttering schools

As projected here last weekend, the board of the Oklahoma City Public Schools will shut down seven schools after the completion of the school year in an attempt to save some money. Chairman Cliff Hudson said he'd rather close some buildings than lay off teachers.

It's going to be tight at some of the surviving facilities for the next couple of years.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:11 AM)
19 April 2003
Thoughts on the 19th

Actually, I worked diligently at not having any thoughts on the 19th, but thunderstorms this morning immediately prompted "Geez, I wonder if this is going to affect the memorial service downtown?" and that was the end of that.

And yes, the ceremony to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was affected — it had to be moved indoors because of the weather — but there was no way it was going to be stopped.

The tradition of 168 seconds of silence at 9:02 am was observed. General Rita Aragon of the state's Air National Guard received two flags from the memorial, one of which will be delivered to General Tommy Franks at Central Command. (General Franks, you'll remember, got his commission in 1967 at Fort Sill, just down the road.)

Venomous Kate weighed in today with the thought that Timothy McVeigh, convicted of the bombing and subsequently executed, got off easy:

Say what you will about capital punishment (but don't say it to me because my views won't be swayed on this), but dying by injection is humane. It is easy. Sterile. There is no way that the dread he felt waiting on death row, walking down that corridor for the last time, or having his arm swabbed before the needle plunged in could ever measure up to the heart-beat of terror his victims felt as the sound of the blast ripped through their ears and the weight of the building fell on them.

I'm not so sure I want capital punishment to be particularly gruesome — there have been moments when I wasn't entirely sure I wanted capital punishment at all — but were it possible to bring him back to life and execute him again, again, and yet again, once for each of his 168 victims...no, that's not enough either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:19 PM)
22 April 2003
Fearless five-day forecast

It's going to rain — if not tonight, then tomorrow, and certainly by Sunday.

It has to. This is the week of the downtown Festival of the Arts, and the Fates would like nothing better than to see 150,000 people (a reasonable daily attendance figure) soaked to the gills.

The same rule applies, incidentally, to the State Fair of Oklahoma in the fall.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:20 PM)
25 April 2003
The sheriff's wish list

On the 13th of May, Oklahoma County residents (including yours truly) will vote on a proposed 0.4 percent sales tax increase, the estimated $30-35 million proceeds to be earmarked for the office of Sheriff John Whetsel.

Among other things, the sheriff wants to hire 145 new employees (including 100 for the county jail), expand existing programs and upgrade equipment.

Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys shot the sheriff down: "It's too large," he said, "it's too loose, and it goes on for too long." The mayor also announced he would head up a campaign to defeat the measure. Should the tax pass, the combined state/county/city sales tax in OKC would rise to 8.775 percent.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:15 PM)
14 May 2003
Small shocks to the system

So far, this morning has been notable mostly for a string of minor surprises.

I turned in early last night, so I had no idea how badly the 0.4-cent county sales tax proposal was being beaten. On the way outside, I noted that however much rain fell amid the endless rumblings last night, it still wasn't enough to get the dirt off my car. And the bottom half of my doorknob was covered with some dark, gunky substance, like a partially-chewed Tar-Bar™ (money back if you get a stone).

Oh, and more rain is on the way some time in the next half hour. Let's see how it rearranges the dirt.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:59 AM)
18 May 2003
A Sunday drive

As American traditions go, the Sunday drive is definitely on the wane, shunted aside by our longer workweeks — gotta husband that leisure time carefully, doncha know — and sporadic haranguing by green types in blue states (or is that blue types in green states?) who object to any use of fuel that isn't on their Approved List. All the more reason, I figure, to take one when the schedule permits, and having gotten today's chores done early for once (clean up the bathrooms, do two loads of wash, defrag four drive partitions), I packed up some suitable tunes and hit the road. (Fred will be happy to hear that today's selections were chosen from the 1963 archives.)

Central Oklahoma, laid out mostly like a waffle iron, doesn't have anything quite like L.A.'s Mullholland Drive, but getting off the beaten path doesn't require an hour down the Interstate, either. I set the northern boundary at Wilshire, which in the city proper is noted for being halfway between 63rd and Britton Road, but which offers a quirk throughout its entire discontinuous thirty-mile length: it is at Wilshire where the section lines, and therefore the major roads which follow them, are supposedly adjusted slightly to allow for the curvature of the earth. Intersections at Wilshire are therefore decidedly non-standard, though seldom as perverse as, say, New Jersey jughandles.

I picked up Wilshire on the east side at the 9000 block, on the far side of one of those discontinuities, mainly because Douglas, which was a perfectly respectable suburban boulevard a few miles ago, shrinks as it goes; at this point, it's down to 1.4 lanes and won't go any further. It wasn't entirely clear whether I was within the city limits or not, since the intersection isn't marked. Heading eastward, I set a 40-mph pace, subject to road conditions, and observed.

Oklahoma City, for reasons having to do with ancient history — "ancient" in this part of the world meaning "before 1907" — is centered, not in the middle of the county, but towards its southwest corner. So this area, which starts maybe four miles from the county center, is almost entirely rural. The roads range from not bad to fairly grungy to downright awful, and they seem to change from one category to another just about every mile. Actual farming still goes on here, though it's sort of offputting to see a farm with a street address (911 insists); I saw three tractors in use, and two of them were apparently being operated by women. There were big houses and small houses, presumably designed for form rather than function; the overdesigned monstrosities in the newer developments simply don't exist out here. Someone who lives out this way who isn't farming, I have to assume, is here to get away from the rest of the world; it's hard to happen upon this neck of the woods by accident.

Somewhere around the 19300 block, there's a four-way intersection with three dead ends. Rather than back up, I chose the right turn, and found myself on a winding (well, sort of) two-lane that, surprisingly, had two houses for sale, one of which was open for inspection. And apparently I'd misjudged my location somewhat, because the open house was on a lakefront — which explains the multiple dead ends, anyway. I wheeled around in a hurry and got out of there, lest I be smitten by the place.

Rethreading myself, I headed south on Luther Road and noticed that all of a sudden I was getting seriously strong cell signals. A couple miles later, I spied the tower, which happened to be a few yards from an electrical power plant. Probably the same one that supplies my juice, even. I've lived in the eastern half of the county for most of the last twenty years, and I had no idea it was even there. "I really must get out more," I decided.

And eventually I turned back westward, following Reno Avenue, the main drag through the east end, wondering what Serious Urban Planners would think of it, what with little crapbox country houses cheek by jowl with overwrought suburban McMansions, and, this being Oklahoma, a church every mile. I suspect they'd be appalled at the lack of stylistic unity, the mailboxes that haven't seen a coat of paint since the Korean War, the little gas stations where you can get your fishing and hunting licenses, and the mere fact that people are living way the hell out here a good fifteen miles from downtown and twenty miles from major shopping areas, thereby wasting precious fuelstuffs on the way. Why, I must have wasted a good two bucks' worth just looking at these things. (Which was still cheaper than dinner: $5.77 at Braum's.)

And, yes, I enjoyed every minute of it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:55 PM)
21 May 2003
Return of the Chicks

Almost a full house — and no protests — greeted the Dixie Chicks last night at the Ford Center.

Pertinent Natalie Maines quotes:

"I contemplated not wearing a short skirt, since I knew I'd be sitting on stairs, but then I remembered you've all seen me naked."

"Something recently happened to us. We call it 'the incident.' I'd like to say there won't be any more incidents."

This could be just playing to the crowd — I mean, "the incident" itself involved playing to the crowd — but I'd like to think she means it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 AM)
23 May 2003
Getting on the Line

The OkiePundit (23 May) gives his endorsement to the County Line, fabled barbecue joint half a mile west of the National Cowboy Museum, which reminds me that it's been too long since I've been up there. (And if you've driven past the back of it on Interstate 44, you realize that "up there" is exactly the correct description.)

Occasionally, someone in state government issues a whine about how life expectancy out here is lower than it is in, say, central Norway. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn't, but dammit, we do know how to eat.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 AM)
29 May 2003
Jailhouse rocked

This has not been a great month for Sheriff John Whetsel. First his requested sales-tax increase is voted down by three-quarters of the county electorate, and now the Justice Department is investigating his jail.

Four issues are under investigation: alleged violations of inmate civil rights, jail staffing and operations, staff safety, and inmate medical attention. The investigation should take no more than four weeks, and a report is expected before the end of the year.

The sheriff has yet to say "I told you we needed more money," but give him time.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:19 AM)
30 May 2003
How hot is it?

Dear Vickie: This is just for you.


On the upside, no new snow is being reported, surely a comfort to us all.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:23 PM)
5 June 2003
Skirvin update

The shuttered Skirvin Hotel, once the showplace of downtown Oklahoma City, is one step closer to becoming a working inn again. After soliciting proposals for redevelopment of the Skirvin this spring, the city, which owns the facility, has selected three finalists.

The apparent favorite, receiving the largest number of votes from the city's evaluation committee, was a proposal by former Hilton development officer John Weeman to reopen the Skirvin as a Hilton-branded hotel and conference center with 238 rooms. Weeman's track record includes the renovation of the Hilton Milwaukee City Center.

Wichita developer Jack DeBoer's proposal for an independent full-service hotel similar to his Hotel at Old Town in downtown Wichita also won support from the committee, as did the Historic Restoration Inc. offer to convert the hotel into upscale apartments.

Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys says he expects the final decision to be made within six months, and that the Skirvin, in whatever form, will be open by the time his term ends in 2006.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:19 AM)
8 June 2003
Deal on the table

Two of the largest furniture retailers in Oklahoma City will be brought together under a single corporate roof.

Mathis Brothers (3434 West Reno), which already owns four stores (with four different names) in the area, is acquiring majority control of Evans (SW 3 and Portland, three blocks away) for an undisclosed sum.

No substantive changes are planned at Evans, which will retain its separate identity; for the TV viewer, this means that every ten minutes or so, if you're not seeing a commercial for one, you're seeing a commercial for the other.

The Mathises, even with this acquisition, are a long way from controlling the local furniture market, however, and the merger will not have any problems sailing through the FCC (Federal Chair Commission).

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:16 AM)
9 June 2003
Going, going, (almost) gone

In the spring, I wrote about Atkinson Plaza, the shopping center along Southeast 29th Street in Midwest City that used to dominate commerce in this part of the county until newer and spiffier facilities started showing up.

At the time, I said this:

Atkinson Plaza, once decorated, now declassé, is probably doomed, unless someone decides that World War II-era architecture is worth saving and can be sold to someone else.

Well, it's doomed. The city of Midwest City will demolish Atkinson Plaza and replace it with, of course, a newer and spiffier facility. The last of the tenants has cleared out, so it's just a matter of scheduling the dozers; the proposed 800,000-square-foot complex should be completed by the beginning of 2005.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:07 AM)
12 June 2003
The General rushes to rebuild

The General Motors assembly plant in Oklahoma City, severely damaged by May tornadoes, will reopen on the last day of June. GM's in a hurry, since this plant builds some high-markup vehicles: the GMC Envoy and Chevrolet TrailBlazer twins and their Isuzu Ascender cousin.

GM predicts repair costs and lost time at the plant will knock down quarterly profits by 25 to 35 cents per share, around $150 million. A crew has already come in to finish the trucks that were being built when the storms hit, and the usual two-week summer shutdown will be canceled.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:10 AM)
2 July 2003
New kids on the block

Nice piece in The Daily Oklahoman today about new American citizens. The story focuses on one person — Valeria Barrett, born in Argentina, now teaching Spanish in an Oklahoma City school — but to me, the most inspiring part of the article is the last paragraph, which lists all the participants in this week's naturalization ceremony. In addition to Mrs Barrett, we welcome:

Quyen Thanh Nguyen
San Dinh Pham
Lisa Amanda Bryant
Mohammed Asadullah
Dorian Guadalupe Vazquez
Snjezana Dragicevic
Jamie Gustavo Wiesner Ortega
Emily John Richards
Ann John Richards
Milagros Valencia Mayo
Helen Montehermozo Wilkey
Rampriya Ramkumar
Varun Kofi Ronnie Figaro
Marlene Georges Sharp
Sima Nematinajafabadi
Tri Huu Vo
Quoc Khanh Nguyen Le

You can't get a whole lot more diverse than that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:15 AM)
3 July 2003
The once and future Skirvin

Oklahoma City's grandest hotel, closed in the Eighties after the oil boom went bust, is now officially on the way back.

After a brief evaluation period, a city advisory committee has designated a Dallas-based group as the official developer for the remaking of the Skirvin Hotel. The group's plans include affiliation with the Hilton chain and the appointment of Marcus Hotels and Resorts as the operator of the 238-room hotel.

For years, the city's convention business has been stymied by the lack of downtown hotel space, and continued growth in the Bricktown district east of downtown has only exacerbated matters. The two major hotels downtown are booming; with the Skirvin coming back and two more hotels in the works, the Okay City may be able to compete for bigger events than ever before.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:15 AM)
18 August 2003
Where all the lights are bright (2)

Once upon a time, an ill-fated Oklahoma City urban-renewal plan put downtown on two shifts — twelve hours business district, twelve hours mausoleum — and people wondered why. It's no secret, says Linda Stinnett of Oklahoma Main Street Center:

If you want to have a vital downtown, you have to have people living downtown.

Simple as that. And in Oklahoma City, it's actually starting to happen; lofts have been carved out of buildings in Bricktown and along the downtown Automobile Alley, and more are coming. Lofts are in place in Norman and Cordell, and planned for other cities. The supply is coming because the demand is there, and because people have been willing to pay above-average rents for desirable locations. Were I twentysomething and on the party circuit, I probably wouldn't be able to resist the temptation myself.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:34 AM)
5 September 2003
Breathe deep, the gathering gloom

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has issued its list of Allergy Capitals, the places among the top-50 metropolitan areas where persons with "seasonal allergies" are likely to suffer the worst, and the Oklahoma City metro ranks seventh for fall sneezing and wheezing: we're up to here in ragweed and various pollens, and will be until the first fall freeze.

It's slightly better in the spring, when we check in at number 21. The worst of all? Louisville, Kentucky, which is #1 in the spring and #3 in the fall.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:45 AM)
10 September 2003
A remembrance

Today I went to the Fence.

The Fence defines a boundary of the Oklahoma City National Memorial; if you're eastbound on Northwest 5th Street going downtown, you head right toward it. Which I was, and which I did.

The Fence was installed as a routine security item. But its appearance is anything but routine: threaded through its metal links, you'll find the stuff of memories, items left by mourners, something personal to offset the starkness of the empty chairs.

The Fence is familiar to us all; we've seen it a thousand times, reduced to the size of our living rooms. But that familiarity still doesn't prepare us for the sight of the real thing.

Tomorrow there will be an observance at Ground Zero. I'm afraid that were I there, I would find the experience completely overwhelming; even now, after eight years, I find I am still affected by the Fence.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:32 PM)
12 September 2003
Jailarity ensues

Lockdown at the Oklahoma County Jail, but it's not because of the possibility of escaping inmates; it's the annoying certainty of escaping sewage, which flooded the basement and the ground floor yesterday.

The plumbing was fixed quickly enough, but it will take time to clean up the mess. And apparently it's the fault of the inmates, says Major Russell Dear:

When they get angry at us, they stuff [the lines] with sheets and bedding, because they know it's all got to flow down to where the administration is on the first floor...and we have to suffer with it.

Sheriff John Whetsel may get his new jail yet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:52 AM)
19 September 2003
Who cares what picture we see?

Oklahoma City's downtown movie houses closed years ago; with the exception of an occasional screening at the new Oklahoma City Museum of Art, films have migrated to the suburbs.

Now the Arizona-based Harkins Theatres chain has received a permit to build a 16-screen movie house on the south edge of Bricktown, adding yet another venue to the city's entertainment district. I hope they have room for an occasional non-blockbuster.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:27 AM)
29 September 2003
Here come the dozers

Fox Lake covers about ten acres on Edmond's east side, and about two hundred upscale homes have been built in its general vicinity. The area is near Interstate 35, and a ridge separates the highway from the home sites.

In late July, homeowners were alarmed when a part of that ridge was cleared off to make room for a new neighbor: a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Not that anyone objects to Wal-Mart in principle, of course; they just don't want it so close at hand. Clearing off the rest of the site, they fear, will cause erosion and the eventual destruction of the lake.

Edmond's rules for development are among the toughest in the state, but Fox Lake residents fear that the city is ignoring those rules in pursuit of sales-tax revenue.

Wal-Mart's proposal includes a heavily-wooded 100-foot-wide buffer to insulate the site from the Fox Lake development and substantial measures to preserve the lake. But ultimately this isn't about Wal-Mart, but about the likelihood that other commercial properties will follow them into the I-35 corridor, increasing traffic and stretching the perceived sprawl of Oklahoma City miles to the north.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
1 October 2003
Mine eyes glazeth over

The cop in the donut shop is perhaps as indelible an image of America as exists today.

But how about a cop on a donut shop?

Friday morning, 17 October, an Oklahoma City policeman will park himself on the roof of the Krispy Kreme shop at Pennsylvania and Memorial, and will remain there three days. Meanwhile, other members of the force will be on the grounds, collecting money for the state's Special Olympics. The scene will be duplicated at other Krispy Kreme locations in Oklahoma.

Hey, whatever works.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:23 PM)
9 October 2003
We gotta get out of this place

Some lowlife shot up a convenience store on a strip of US 62 just outside the city limits, wounding the owner and killing his wife.

I don't think I'm going to miss this neighborhood at all.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:45 AM)
14 October 2003
Kirk will boldly go

With Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys on the brink of running for Don Nickles' Senate seat, candidates are positioning themselves for the top spot at City Hall.

Ward 1 Councilman and erstwhile media guy Mick Cornett is already in the ring with his own hat, and present-day media guy Cam Edwards says Cornett's a cinch to win a special election. (As noted yesterday, unless a city charter change is approved by voters, the position will be filled by the City Council upon Humphreys' resignation.)

Meanwhile, Senator Jim Inhofe announced that he would be more than happy to have Kirk Humphreys serve beside him in the Senate.

Can Hizzoner win it? I think he can, though there are plenty of people — plenty of Republicans, even — who can't stand him. The biggest problem, of course, is that he has no base outside the central part of the state, which the Inhofe endorsement presumably can help. But it's not going to be a walk, since the Democrats actually have candidates this time.

(Update, 15 October, 8 am: The charter change passed.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:41 AM)
23 October 2003
The Saint stands pat

For some months now, St Anthony Hospital has been making noises about moving away from its near-downtown location and relocating in the 'burbs. The city was appalled at the prospect, and started working up incentives to keep the hospital and its 4000 employees close at hand.

It appears that now they've come up with a package acceptable to both sides; among other things, the city will create a medical corridor district from St Anthony to the existing medical complex east of downtown along 10th Street, a distance of about a mile and a half, which will link all the major downtown hospitals and contribute to the city's efforts to rehabilitate the near-northwest area.

Assuming no snags, the agreement could be signed as early as tomorrow.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
29 October 2003
Freshly-delivered Buds

I've passed by the building before, but I didn't know for sure what it was.

Now I do. Premium Beers, the local Anheuser-Busch distributor, has a new facility near I-240 and Eastern, a location chosen for optimum transportation availability. I-35 is a mile away; the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe railroad is running a spur line right into the Premium warehouse.

Not that I'm a major Budweiser fiend or anything, but some of the smaller, snootier brands are either brewed or marketed by A-B, and besides, I like the idea that Premium consolidated three facilities into one and actually added a handful of jobs in the process.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:35 AM)
4 November 2003
A break for the Memorial

It may seem crass to say so, but there it is: attendance at the Oklahoma City National Memorial, where the bombed-out Murrah Federal Building used to be, is down 22 percent since the 11th of September 2001.

The state's Congressional delegation, notably outgoing Senator Don Nickles, has responded by tucking $1.6 million in funding for the Memorial into the federal Interior Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2004. Nickles has stated that one goal for his final year in office will be to stabilize the Memorial's financial structure so it can stand on its own.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 AM)
Think locally

I've mentioned before that I'm moving into one of Oklahoma City's Urban Conservation Districts, and that while some of the zoning restrictions therein might seem daunting, they were enacted at the request of a majority of the property owners therein, and, well, if I found them particularly onerous, perhaps I should have bought somewhere else.

Do districts of this sort, which in effect empower individual neighborhoods, threaten the status quo? Michael Bates certainly thinks so:

[M]y support for neighborhood empowerment (through the use of urban conservation districts) was why [the Tulsa World] wouldn't endorse me [for Tulsa City Council in 2002]. Averill [David Averill, of the World's editorial board] said that neighborhoods had opposed every good thing that had happened to Midtown, and they shouldn't be given any more clout to oppose progress. I cited several counter-examples to his assertion, but he was not interested in discussing the matter further.

The bottom line for the Whirled was this: If elected to the Council, I would be an obstacle to their vision for the redevelopment of Midtown, because I would work to protect the rights of homeowners and other property owners and make them a part of the decision-making process. I believe that we can accommodate growth and new development without endangering the character of our older neighborhoods, and with a minimum of red tape and regulation.

There are, of course, numerous examples where individual property owners have been given the back of the municipal hand, often to expedite the plans of politically-connected developers; the right of "eminent domain" is often abused. I don't know how well our little strip of the city will serve as any sort of bulwark, but it's a good thing that Oklahoma City is, at least for now, on our side — and it's not so good that Tulsa's movers and shakers think so little of their residents.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:13 AM)
5 November 2003
Kicking Bass

Reprinted from Usenet's ok.general newsgroup:

Mark your calendar for THURSDAY, NOV. 20TH.

A rally to protest the Grand Opening of Bass Pro Shops in Bricktown will be held at 9AM on the north side of Reno Ave. between Byers and Stiles.

Confirmed speakers at this time:

Moshe Tal
— Oklahoma City businessman

Chris Powell
— Chairman, Oklahoma Libertarian Party

Charlie Meadows
— President, Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee

No matter your political viewpoint, if you oppose corporate welfare, government favoritism, and abuse of our tax dollars, please come stand up for your beliefs on Nov. 20th.

Background: The city of Oklahoma City spent around $17 million to build the Bass Pro Shops facility on the fringe of Bricktown, for which Bass will be paying an annual rent of $600,000. There was some rumbling in the community when the deal was planned, but consultants to the city contented that sales at Bass would reach upward of $30 million per year, which would generate enough sales-tax revenue to cover the cost of the building and then some. A group called Citizens Against Taxpayer Abuse, in which rival Academy Sports was a participant, led the opposition; with Mayor Kirk Humphreys pushing hard, City Council eventually approved the package.

Moshe Tal, first-listed in the speakers list, is the Oklahoma City businessman who sued the city in May 2003 to quash the Bass deal; a hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

Bad Eagle.com discusses this matter in greater depth.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:49 AM)
8 November 2003
Notes from around town

A not-entirely-random collection of observations from behind the wheel, nothing more.

  • There's a narrow strip of park along the east side of the avenue as you head north toward my new digs, and piles of pipes are arranged parallel to the pavement. Looks like the city's planning to update the water and/or sewer lines, which is probably a good thing once the traffic headaches (I'm guessing my street will be closed at this end) subside. Oddly enough, new utility work is making it tricky to negotiate the way to my old digs.

  • When I was a teenager back in the Jurassic period, I bicycled to work, and that work was on a southside street that at the time was a major thoroughfare for an area largely populated by working-class whites. Thirtysomething years later, it's still a major thoroughfare, and some of the businesses (not the one for which I worked) are still there, but the area is now largely populated by working-class Latinos. Memory, especially my memory, is incredibly fallible, but apart from the occasional sign in Spanish and a paint job here and there, to me things look just about the same now as they did then. Frozen in time? Not really; it's more likely that nobody has ever had the bucks to give any of the buildings more than a perfunctory facelift. This is not one of those "gentrified" areas by any means, and it probably won't be one anytime soon.

  • The local United Way is running billboards with stark black-and-white photography of the presumably needy. One such ad shows an elderly gentleman with his brow permanently furrowed, saying "My phone never rings." For some reason, this bothered me, perhaps because there's a very real fear of being old and forgotten lurking in the back of my head. Probably why I keep blogging: my phone may not ring, but I get 3500 visitors a week, a handful of which actually say something now and then.

  • The chap in the checkout line ahead of me explained: "We're having house guests, and they will not drink tap water under any conditions." Which is why he had purchased every last bottle of Fiji Water in the store, a cart and a half, about two hundred dollars' worth. Either these guests are going to be in town for an extended stay, or they sure are thirsty. (Oh, and he bought a 12-pack of Barq's Root Beer for himself.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:23 PM)
9 November 2003
Or it could be cheese, I guess

The respected Aaron Tatum Custom Homes is building in the ultraswank Rivendell community on the south side, and one of Tatum's offerings, on 128th west of Doriath Way, is described in an ad piece this way:

French Cottage with 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, study, game/media room upstairs.

All very nice, and yours for only $359,900, though one thing gives me pause: when I hear the word "cottage," I somehow don't think of a structure enclosing 3700 (more or less) square feet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:07 PM)
12 November 2003
Burglar, well done, no onions

Four Oklahoma City policemen are on administrative leave after catching a burglary suspect more or less in the act and giving him a case of taser burn.

The perp died shortly thereafter, prompting his ex-wife to observe that while he wasn't the most, um, upright of individuals, "he didn't deserve to die."

Some of us, on the other hand, are persuaded that the only good burglar is a dead burglar.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:16 PM)
19 November 2003
We got your baseball right here

The Oklahoma RedHawks, Triple A farm club of the Texas Rangers, have been sold.

The Oklahoma Baseball Club LLC acquired the team from Gaylord Entertainment, the Oklahoma Publishing Company spinoff that operates the Opryland complex in Nashville. Majority owner is Bob Funk, who also owns the Oklahoma City Blazers of the Central Hockey League; the managing partner is E. Scott Pruitt, who represents District 54 in the Oklahoma House.

Gaylord has owned the team for ten years, during which time it changed names (from the Oklahoma City 89ers), league (from the American Association, since disbanded, to the Pacific Coast League), and home park (from All Sports Stadium at State Fair Park to the downtown SBC Bricktown Ballpark). Former owner Jeffrey Loria went on to buy the Montreal Expos of the National League and presently owns the Florida Marlins.

Last year the 'Hawks were 70-72, finishing third in the PCL East, 10½ games behind Nashville.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:35 AM)
Where would Jesus drive?

Scripture isn't entirely clear on that question, though I think we can safely eliminate Cinemark's Tinseltown moviehouse in Oklahoma City.

And even if the Son of Man were to grace us with an appearance, I doubt seriously that driving right into the box office would be part of the agenda.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:54 PM)
26 November 2003
So move it already

In an effort to discourage people from leaving the car running at curbside, Will Rogers World Airport charges zero for the first hour in the Hourly Parking Lot. Which is fine unless you arrive early and the person you're supposed to pick up is late, late, LATE.

Actually, I slid by at the 60-minute mark. Sometimes the Fates (Bob and Wendy Fate of Great Neck, New York) are almost kind.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:36 AM)
7 December 2003
Scaled up

The Albertson's supermarket chain has relocated one of its stores by a whole couple of blocks, and inasmuch as I used to shop at one of their eastside stores out by the Ghastly Hovel, I figured I might as well take a peek at this new location.

Of course, the layout is utterly unfamiliar, so it took an inordinate amount of time to locate the usual items on my list, even on the second visit, and there is the requisite number of contemporary improvements — wheelchair accessibility in most aisles, an optional Self-Check which ostensibly will get you out of the store faster, and actual rest rooms labeled as such — but two things struck me as really, really different from what I'm used to.

The first is the vastly-expanded selection of kosher foods, including kosher frozen foods. (Yes, there are Jews in Oklahoma City.) I'm thinking that perhaps all their stores carry a small, corporate-mandated selection of Standard Ethnic Items, and local managers may expand this if the demand in their area warrants; there are probably a lot more Jewish customers on this side of town than where I used to dwell.

The second is what appears to be a much higher degree of personal interaction among shoppers. Back at the old eastside store, most people trudged down the aisles, dropped items into the basket, and moved on, scarcely saying a word. Now I'm seeing (and occasionally hearing, acoustics being what they are) conversations on seemingly every corner. Do all these people know each other? Or are these presumably more upscale suburbanites simply more inclined to talk to one another? I haven't figured this one out yet. Maybe I'll explore further, should it ever happen that I have something to say. (Or blurt out, inasmuch as one shopper I spotted yesterday was almost a dead ringer for She Who Is Not To Be Named.)

Prices, incidentally, are identical to those on the, um, poor side of town, though the city sales-tax rate is a fraction of a point higher, so mingling with the owners of Benzes and Lexi and 'Slades isn't adding substantially to my grocery bill.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:13 AM)
8 December 2003
Starting all over again

The new Federal Building in Oklahoma City opens today, eight years after the last one was reduced to rubble by a truck bomb, one city block from where it happened.

The Small Business Administration has already started moving in. Some staff from the Department of Housing and Urban Development say they want nothing to do with the new building, claiming its proximity to the National Memorial (on the site of the old building) will bring back all the pain and sorrow from that horrible day in 1995; Washington has yet to decide what to do about them.

I admit to some puzzlement here. Surely someone must have invoked the "out of sight, out of mind" principle during the planning stages. Downtown space is admittedly limited and becoming more so; still, I think it might have been kinder, even if more expensive, to put this facility somewhere else.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:53 AM)
20 December 2003
Too close for comfort

HUD has informed nineteen of its Oklahoma City staffers that they will not be forced to work in the new downtown Federal Building, a block from the Oklahoma City National Memorial that stands on the site of the old downtown Federal Building, destroyed by bombers in 1995. Thirty-five people working for HUD were among the 169 killed.

The HUD staff will telecommute two days a week, and an alternative office location to be determined will be open three days a week. HUD facilities that had not been housed in the Murrah Building will presumably not be affected.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:31 AM)
25 December 2003
Out of sync

There's a place called North Pole City on Oklahoma City's south side, and while they do sell some non-Christmas stuff, I suspect passersby might be taken aback by the sight of the place as they zip down I-44 in the middle of June.

It's a sort of low-level cognitive dissonance that Patti, for instance, has noted:

Sometimes I wonder what it's like, being part of the Christmas industry — singing Christmas carols in May, or making ornaments months in advance, or all year, even. It would seriously disjoint my own sense of time, but one has to assume that such an industry exists.

That has to be an alternate dimension! Contemporary physics has nothing on real life!

I have to admit, I have enough trouble getting into Holiday Mode in December; I'd hate to have to try to do it in the spring.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:34 AM)
An inedible simulation

The Uptowne (yeah, right) Square apartments, north of the Oklahoma City University campus, have been spammed in a low-tech sort of way: some weasels planted imitation parking tickets on every open windshield, advertising a firm which supposedly would cover real parking tickets, and asking for $3.95 for information about said firm.

The Square is occupied mostly by foreign-born students, and many of them were quite perplexed, wondering how they'd managed to violate some arcane city parking policy all of a sudden.

I don't believe the city has a rule about fake parking tickets — the ordinance about impersonating a police officer wouldn't seem to apply — but it would be nice to be able to hang these weasels for something, even if it's only littering.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:00 PM)
1 January 2004
Where it all begins

Folks from 'round here will tell you that it always rains on the State Fair, and that something unpleasant will happen on Opening Night.

There's at least some truth to the former — the State Fair is scheduled in early fall, one of the wetter periods of the year — and maybe there's some to the latter as well, since Opening Night in Oklahoma City is 31 December, about the time Old Man Winter starts catching on to the fact that he's in charge again.

The rain doesn't keep people away from the Fair, though, and the downtown party that is Opening Night goes on even when the temperature is in single digits and the wind is howling from Hudson Bay and there's more ice on the sidewalks than in the drinks.

As a concept, Opening Night dates back to the Eighties, when the city and its culturemeisters observed that downtown tends to run down at sundown, and figured a New Year's Eve bash might draw some people out of the 'burbs for a change. Events were scheduled all over the place — you buy a button, you get admission to almost all of them at no extra charge — and eateries that normally closed when their business clientele went home stayed open late.

Despite spectacularly crappy weather in the early years, Opening Night did well, and when the Bricktown entertainment district began taking shape, Opening Night did even better. Forty thousand folks turned up last night and bought their buttons (six bucks); many more just came to party along the canal or in the streets. Times Square it ain't, but then we don't have to wonder if there's a picture of Dick Clark moldering away in a closet somewhere either.

Me? I came down with a bad case of the green-apple quick-step and retreated quickly. But thank you for asking.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:25 AM)
2 January 2004
Welcome to Fat City

Every year, Men's Fitness magazine rates the Top 25 Fit Cities and the Top 25 Fat Cities. Given our predilections here in the Okay City — cheap smokes, rib joints, a general dislike for the Nanny State — you'd probably expect us to be in the chub group, and you'd be right.

In fact, we're movin' on up; after the ignominy of finishing 23rd last year, we've made it up to 13th this time around. What's changed in the last twelve months? Well, I moved into the city, and...um...well, I suppose I can always question the methodology.

And after Detroit, which claims Numero Uno, four of the next five are in Texas, which surely is a sign of something.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:20 PM)
3 January 2004
Freshly pressed

There's a new weekly newspaper in town, and "in town" is the operative phrase.

The MidCity Advocate, published Thursdays, is your standard suburban community news/shopper with a twist: it's aimed, not at the suburbs, but at those of us who live in the 25 square miles of the central city. (Their coverage area runs from Portland to Kelley, Reno to 63rd.) This makes a certain amount of sense, since almost every other part of town is covered by a similar publication.

One pitch made by the Advocate is the diversity of its readership: "The MidCity area has over 65,000 residents that span the socio-economic spectrum. There is a broad mix of income levels, ethnic diversity and education." No doubt about that. The National Register of Historic Places records fifteen districts in the county, and twelve of them are in this area; there are also, alas, some neighborhoods which can charitably be described as "rough". Still, what's true of the 'burbs is also true here in the city: most of us are here because this is where we want to be.

I don't recognize any of the names on the masthead; evidently this is an entirely new bunch of folks. Sports Editor Jerry Spaeder admits to having roots in some place like Erie, Pennsylvania. I'm sort of hoping that the Advocate staff is here because this is where they want to be.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:21 PM)
7 January 2004
Those who have gone before

There is a fair amount of dissatisfaction with the proposal for the World Trade Center Memorial, and Michele points to an example of How To Do It Right.

In my back yard, more or less.

Last year, the day before 9/11, I found myself at the Fence, where hundreds of small items left by visitors pay silent tribute to the victims of April 19. It is a genuinely moving place, perhaps the most heartbreaking (because it's the simplest) part of the Oklahoma City National Memorial, and if it should inspire someone working on the WTC project, so much the better.

But I remember when I heard the bomb go off at 9:02, and while I'm always pleased to see my hometown recognized for providing a good example, I feel compelled to point out that the Fence, like the rest of the Memorial, is not for us; it's for the 168 friends and neighbors who were taken away in that frightening collision of madness and evil. The WTC planners would do well to remember that their first job is to honor the victims of 9/11, not to produce, as Michele says, "a piece of concept art."

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:35 PM)
15 January 2004
Hizzoner to be

Four men will be on next month's ballot to select a Mayor for Oklahoma City, to fill the last two years of the term vacated by Kirk Humphreys.

The presumed front-runner, at least for now, is Ward 1 Councilman Mick Cornett ("one of the rich Cornetts," Susanna might say); challenging are former Ward 1 Councilman F. O. "Frosty" Peak, bookstore owner Jim Tolbert, and Marcus Hayes, director of social services of a local senior center.

The ballot is nonpartisan; a runoff if needed will be held in April.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:22 AM)
18 January 2004
Smack dab in the middle

Bruce and I don't agree on too many things, but I definitely buy this observation:

I went all the way out to [Borders] at 21st and the Broken Arrow Exp. (64/51) and felt pretty silly about making the trek just to look at a few magazines and drink a cup of coffee. But you see, it's not like I can do that in BA, because there just isn't much out here. You shouldn't have to drive half an hour to find a suitable place to "hang out". Right?

Right. One of my justifications for moving into the city was to have fewer excuses to pass up an event because it was "too far to drive." And while my after-hours life isn't exactly scintillating these days, it's no longer nonexistent, which surely is worth something.

(There are only four Borders stores in the whole state, and it probably would have taken just as long to get to 81st and Yale; the Oklahoma City store is only about 1.4 miles from me, but Full Circle is closer, and it's locally owned, which I tend to view as a plus.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:24 PM)
24 January 2004
Child of the Mother Road

In 1925, a 748-foot steel bridge was constructed on a road north of Oklahoma City's Lake Overholser, just in time for the official designation of US Route 66 the following year.

Old 66, while not exactly gone, isn't what it used to be; the bridge remains, carrying traffic between the two sides of the Overholser recreation area, now dubbed "Route 66 Park". And the state's Historical Preservation Office has now nominated the bridge for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, citing its unusual construction — there are only three other bridges of this design in the state — and its association with Route 66.

I think there's at least a reasonable chance the nomination will win approval; the Register already includes one section of Route 66 at the opposite end of the county (near Arcadia), and there's a lot to be said for symmetry.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:07 AM)
31 January 2004
Final curtain

The life of the Redskin Theater on Oklahoma City's south side was neither remarkably long nor especially happy. Shortly after it opened in 1941, there were fights in the parking lot, reputedly instigated by union men from downtown movie houses who objected to competition in the suburbs. Things picked up after World War II, and the Redskin did a fairly steady business for the next couple of decades, fading as attention shifted to the suburban multiplexes. The theater was sold in 1978, and sustained itself for a while by catering to the soiled-raincoat crowd, but by the early 90s it was dead.

And now it's gone; while the Redskin likely did meet the general specifications for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, it was in a neighborhood which the city tends to ignore, so no one paid a whole lot of attention when the building was razed this week to make room for yet another used-car lot. Of half a dozen old southside theaters, only the Knob Hill, later the home of the Oklahoma Opry, and the Winchester Drive-In remain.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:20 AM)
12 February 2004
Monorail!

Well, it hasn't gotten to that yet, but Oklahoma City's Metro Transit is getting ready to spend a million bucks or so on a feasibility study for a light-rail system.

This, mind you, while the city (connected to the usual conduit for federal funds) is getting ready to spend $350 million or so on a rerouting of Interstate 40 south of downtown which will trash five rail lines already in place.

I have my doubts about light rail in places as spread out as this — Oklahoma City covers over 600 square miles all by itself, and the suburbs will presumably want a piece of the action — but if we're seriously going to consider it as an option, ripping up rail lines for the sake of I-40 is utterly insane; not even Phil Hartman could sell a bill of goods that preposterous.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:05 AM)
14 February 2004
Saturday scenes

A few things I spotted today while wandering about town:

At 50 Penn Place, I found myself parked next to a Volkswagen Cabrio with a "Re-elect Gore 2004" sticker. Did I miss something?

Jim Tolbert, who owns, among other things, the Full Circle Bookstore at 50 Penn Place, is running for mayor of Oklahoma City — the election will be 24 February — and inasmuch as he lives around here, most of the yard signs that have sprung up in lieu of spring foliage are Tolbert signs. Curiously, he even has yard signs in Nichols Hills, which is outside the city limits; Tolbert may have friends in this old-money enclave, but he won't get any votes there.

Sign at a jewelry store on May Avenue: Valentine's Day Nomination Bracelets. Admittedly, I don't have an actual Valentine, and I have no reasonable expectation of ever getting one, but it bothered me no end that I had no idea what a Nomination Bracelet was. (Now I know.)

And for some reason, almost all the copies of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue in the rack at Albertson's were turned upside down.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:17 PM)
20 February 2004
We still have to buy her friends

One of Bigwig's research projects turned up this list of Barbie dolls custom-crafted for the Oklahoma City area.

For those keeping score, I live about halfway between Nichols Hills and the Paseo. There being no specific doll for this neighborhood, I have to play with myself do without.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:36 AM)
Asphalt letter 23

Rep. Ernest Istook on the condition of Oklahoma City's Northeast 23rd Street:

When someone drives through, they think, "My goodness, this looks bad." When you walk along the street, it looks worse. You see close up the cracks, the crumbling, the signs of deterioration.

And those signs start at Kelley Avenue, a couple hundred yards from the entrance to the Governor's Mansion. So it's a Good Thing that our share of the federal pork distro this year will include $500,000 to help defray the expenses of cleaning up the busiest street on the east side.

The effect on Oklahoma City's African-American community, for whom 23rd is arguably the primary business thoroughfare, is less clear. On the downside, some marginal firms may be forced to move, especially if the street, as I expect, is widened. But what remains, based on what the city was able to do on Northwest 23rd, will probably look a whole lot nicer, which may spur new development in the area.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:45 AM)
21 February 2004
Watching the mirror

The first rule of ticket quotas is: you do not talk about ticket quotas.

The second rule — but never mind, you can see where this is going.

An Oklahoma City police officer is claiming that he has been harrassed for failure to enforce those, um, nonexistent quotas, and his attorney claims there are actual OCPD internal memos which state the precise numbers for one particular division.

The OCPD Public Information Officer issued the following statement:

The police department has an activity tracking system to monitor different law enforcement actions. The police department's activity program does not have a quota in any one of these categories, including traffic citations.

This could get complicated very quickly.

(Update, 27 February, 4:45 pm: The police chief explains why it's not a quota: officers aren't told they must reach a certain level of points and aren't punished or rewarded by their point totals.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:37 AM)
22 February 2004
Stay on your side

The ubiquitous Jersey barrier does a good job of preventing crossover accidents — it's pretty darn difficult to get into the opposite set of lanes — but it's expensive to install and not exactly lovely to look at.

Enter the Brits, with a system called the Brifen Wire Rope Safety Fence, an unobtrusive four-cable guardrail system developed in the late 80s that's designed to be inexpensive to install and maintain: a Brifen installation costs roughly $200,000 per mile, less than half the price of concrete, and a post or cable damaged by impact can usually be replaced by a single worker with no heavy equipment.

The Brifen debuted in the US on a short (0.2 mile) stretch of the Lake Hefner Parkway in Oklahoma City in 2000, extended to the entire seven miles the following year. The Parkway, which runs from I-44 north to the Kilpatrick Turnpike, saw six fatalities due to crossover accidents in the three years prior to the installation of the Brifen; there have been none since. Encouraged, Brifen set up a US manufacturing facility on Oklahoma City's south side, and the system has been installed on highways in Colorado and Ohio.

The Oklahoma Gazette is reporting that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation has ordered the Brifen for 6.3 miles of I-35 through Norman. Construction will be mostly at night and on Sunday morning, and will be finished, says ODOT, by May.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:17 PM)
24 February 2004
Center of the horseshoe

Oklahoma City elects a Mayor today, and turnout seems to be heavier than I had anticipated: at 4:50 pm I was the 534th voter in the precinct. (By contrast, I was #346 at about the same time for the Presidential primary three weeks ago.)

Conventional wisdom says they'll finish in this order: Tolbert, Cornett, Peak, Hayes. I'd like to buck said wisdom, but I suspect it might actually be right this time.

(Update, 9 pm: Not this time. Mick Cornett is on top — perhaps aptly, inasmuch as his watch party is at the city's one and only revolving restaurant, on top of the United Founders Tower — and from the looks of things, he'll get enough votes to avoid a runoff with Jim Tolbert. Now comes the next question: who will fill Cornett's Ward 1 Council seat?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:10 PM)
25 February 2004
Post-election pundit syndrome

If there's a lesson in yesterday's election, it's this: money doesn't buy seats anymore. Jim Tolbert spent roughly three times as much as any other candidate and pulled less than 30 percent of the vote. And on the other side of the equation, political novice Marcus Hayes spent something like twelve dollars and pulled more than seven percent, finishing above one of the old-pro pols.

More than anything else, I think, this was a contest to see who could rock the boat the least. By general agreement, the MAPS projects have awakened what had been for too long a sleepy city, and no one made any suggestions about screwing around with the process. A little fine-tuning, yes; a firm hand on the finances, certainly; but we're not going to mess with what's working for us. Mayor-elect Mick Cornett should have no problems maintaining continuity during his two-year term, and we wish him well.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:47 AM)
26 February 2004
The shadow of Jim Crow

The Oklahoman has an interesting exhibit this week: photos of five Oklahoma City segregation ordinances, enacted from 1916 through 1934. From the vantage point of the 21st century, these seem downright medieval, but while all of them have been stricken from the books, there are reminders of their existence in the distribution of the city's population even today.

From Ordinance Number 1824, March 1916:

[I]t shall be unlawful for any white person to use as a residence, or place of abode or to establish and maintain as a place of assembly any house, building or structure in any block, as same is hereinafter defined, on which seventy-five percent or more of such houses, buildings or structures are occupied as residences, place of abode or public assembly by colored people, and twenty-five percent or less of such houses, buildings or structures are occupied as residence, place of abode or public assembly by white people.

[I]t shall be unlawful for any colored person to use as a residence or place of abode, or to establish and maintain as a place of assembly any house, building or structure in any block, as same is hereinafter defined, on which seventy-five percent or more of such houses, buildings or structures are occupied as residences, place of abode or public assembly by white people, and twenty-five percent or less of such houses, buildings or structures are occupied as residence, place of abode or public assembly by colored people.

Sure enough, a later paragraph defines "block," just in case there might be any doubts.

This ordinance was modified by the next ordinance, to make allowance for servants and such, and to define "white" and "colored" blocks more specifically. By the Thirties, the arbitrary 75-percent figure had been modified to an arbitrary 51-percent figure; eventually, all the rules were thrown out. Still, as late as 1970, Oklahoma City was considered 90 percent segregated — the Bureau of the Census compiles a Housing Segregation Index — improving to 68 percent in 2000. Zero is probably unattainable, given human nature; still, progress is being made. And as a practical matter, most present-day segregation tends to be economic rather than racial; someone making $12,000 a year would find it difficult to buy into my neighborhood, simply because of the prevailing prices, and I certainly can't afford something in the higher-lux areas a mile and a half from me.

I don't pretend for a moment that people in Oklahoma City, or in the United States in general, live in perfect racial harmony. But the stark reminders of what used to be should make us feel slightly better about what is.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:56 PM)
28 February 2004
How Mick did it

Before the actual balloting for the election of the Mayor last Tuesday, I'd made a rough guess of how the votes would fall, and I'd decided that Jim Tolbert would rule in midtown, that Mick Cornett would sweep the newer developments farther from downtown, and that Marcus Hayes would run strongest near the Capitol and points east.

Now that the votes by precinct have been released, I see that by and large I had the right idea, but I underestimated Cornett's strength in midtown. My edge-of-midtown precinct, which I figured would be evenly split between Tolbert and Cornett, went for Cornett 54 to 38 percent. Tolbert did rule in the Historic Districts — Heritage Hills, Crown Heights, and such — but that was the extent of his dominance; he wasn't even close on the southside. Hayes did best where I thought he'd do best, but he picked up more votes on the periphery than I expected. Almost certainly he'll be back in some fashion.

Things happen in elections that aren't always predictable except in retrospect — see Mike Donovan's comments to this post for an example — but they don't seem to keep us keyboard-strained wretches from trying.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:35 AM)
Minor touchup work

As far back as I can remember, the lot on the northeast corner of NW 59th Street and May Avenue has contained a Long John Silver's Seafood Shoppe of the old school, a little mock-clapboard building with a simulated boat hull seemingly aground on the roof, as though the flood waters had only just receded.

A couple of weeks ago, they posted a CLOSED FOR REMODELING sign. Today I watched some of that remodeling, which involved three bulldozers.

Truth be told, I have no idea what's going to happen with the now-vacant lot. Did LJS decide it was too small? Negotiating the parking area was tricky, more so when they added the drive-through.

Actually, that's not quite true. I know one thing that's going to happen: semi-severe stormage tonight and tomorrow, which should produce some nifty red mudslides. If they get past Monterey Jack's, they'll ease down the hill right into Barnes & Noble. And anyway, should I feel the need for sort-of-fast seafood, I'd just as soon drive the five miles to the nearest Captain D's.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:59 PM)
1 March 2004
Getting there from here

Oklahoman columnist Don Gammill covers transportation issues, and this week he passed this reader question to the city traffic engineer:

Why, after 40 years, does not Oklahoma City complete the interchange at Northwest Expressway and May Avenue, the southeast quadrant? This would allow traffic going east to exit and go north without having to travel on another 300 feet.

May runs north and south; Northwest Distressway runs more or less west-by-northwest to east-by-southeast. There is no intersection: the May lanes are elevated, and there is no ramp for the narrowest turn, eastbound NWD to northbound May. (In practice, you follow NWD for one more block, take the turnaround, and catch the northbound ramp from westbound NWD.)

This is of course a pain in the neck, but as a practical matter, all the ramps are inadequate; the city engineer says basically that they'd have to redo the entire interchange, and that's probably true, but for the moment, I'm planning my trips with an eye toward never having to take any of those turns. Since I live less than a mile away, that's a lot of planning.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:39 AM)
2 March 2004
We bring good things to light

If you buy lots of General Electric light bulbs, be advised that GE's Home Electric Products division in Cleveland is getting out of the business.

Oh, you'll still be able to buy GE bulbs, but they'll be made in Oklahoma City by Jasco Products Co. under license. Jasco, which has been making electronic accessories for GE for the last four or five years, is adding about 120 jobs and 400,000 square feet of plant space.

What, you were expecting maybe China?

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:55 PM)
Just down the street, kinda sorta

At least for now, the top-of-page photo at JMBzine.com is a spectacular shot of Oklahoma City's Overholser Mansion, on NW 15th between Hudson and Harvey, a home which dates to before statehood and which qualifies as a tourist attraction all by itself.

And you thought we all lived in little boxes made of ticky-tacky.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:26 PM)
8 March 2004
West by southwest

Rural Oklahoma changes slowly, when it changes at all; the machinery may be newer, the buildings are generally older, but the pace of life is distinctly different from what you'd experience in the city.

And you don't even need to leave the city to see this. Oklahoma City covers over 600 square miles, but barely a third of that area qualifies as urban; the city limits extend well into the country, and city services follow slowly, if at all.

I was in Canadian County yesterday, in an area the city annexed many years ago. There is a city fire station in the 11600 block of SW 15th Street (at eight blocks per mile, this is way out), and occasional fresh green city street signs can be seen, but for the most part this is an area of small farms and ranches, separated by old and indifferently-maintained roads. (I caught one of Frosty Peak's campaign signs over on Piedmont/Czech Hall Road, which promises "I will fix this road.") The sections that are within the limits of Yukon or Mustang, both of which were established long before Oklahoma City pushed into these areas, look decidedly more suburban, more contemporary.

Still, there are changes. People wanting to get away from the concrete jungle are building houses out here, and not just in Mustang or Yukon. Twenty or thirty years from now, this part of Canadian County may look just like any other suburb — but I can't imagine it happening any sooner.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 AM)
13 March 2004
Inverse gentrification

Heritage Hills East is unusual among Oklahoma City Historic Districts: while it was developed at the same time as the ritzier Heritage Hills area to its west, it was platted for smaller lots and a mixture of single-family, multi-family, and commercial buildings, no doubt because it's the first block west of Broadway, a major commercial thoroughfare. And while Heritage Hills itself was given Historic District status way back in 1969, the East was not accorded this designation until 1999.

One other difference comes to mind: it's impossible to imagine Habitat for Humanity building in Heritage Hills, but they're putting up two houses in the East. These structures are so new they haven't yet been listed on the Web site of the local Habitat branch, but I took a peek at the area this morning to get a feel for what's going on.

Last year, Habitat acquired via donation two vacant lots in the 100 block of Northwest 16th Street, and applied for Certificates of Compliance with the city's preservation guidelines. Approval was granted in January, though the standard boxlike Habitat home will have to be modified somewhat to meet the guidelines. Drawings released by Habitat indicate that the new homes will look very much like the traditional Craftsman-style bungalow that dominated the lower end of the housing market in Western states in the early 20th century, a style that appears in many neighborhoods developed in the city through about 1920.

Residents of East Heritage Hills might be forgiven for asking "What will this do to our property values?" I might ask what those vacant lots had done to those values. Meanwhile, the president of the neighborhood association, interviewed by the MidCity Advocate (4 March), seems to be keeping an open mind:

The association is trying to walk a fine line. We want to be supportive as possible of the new residents coming in.

In the past, Habitat for Humanity has built homes in nondescript — sometimes badly descript — neighborhoods, because that's where they could acquire low-cost sites. While the Heritage Hills East sites will cost about twenty percent more than usual to develop, mostly due to the cost of compliance with the city's preservation guidelines, a positive experience here should open up new areas for Habitat, and it might even reassure uneasy neighbors-to-be.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:54 PM)
15 March 2004
Two doors down

I'd been half-asleep for half an hour when the lights began to play high on the walls. I ignored them and rolled over; it's not like nobody ever got a traffic ticket on this street before.

A few minutes later, I looked up again, and still they were there. World's slowest cop? Maybe, but I didn't think so. And as the pattern started to seem less random, I figured it out: two light bars, minimum.

Something was going on.

I pulled myself up out of bed, fumbled for some semblance of clothing, and ambled outside, trying to look like I did this sort of thing every night about this time. Two ambulances: paramedics from the fire station around the corner in front, the usual emergency-services vehicle behind. No police; no fire engine. I thought I saw some activity behind some living-room windows. Gawkers, I thought, then realized I'd come out to do exactly that.

Four emergency personnel brought the gurney from the house. Its occupant wasn't moving, so far as I could tell, but did seem to be sitting up; I couldn't determine much of anything else. They loaded the gurney into the truck, and I started back inside, satisfied that I'd seen nothing more than some poor soul taken very, very ill.

And as I got to my door, the helicopter passed overhead, a beam of light scanning the ground below it.

Something had been going on.

But with midnight approaching, I decided that maybe I didn't want to know.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:31 AM)
House of the rising bucks

This year's Oklahoma City Orchestral League Designer Show House is one of the most distinctive homes in the entire area; I've passed it by many times and wondered what it might be like. (It's hard not to, especially now that I'm living within a couple of miles of it.)

Anyway, it looks like I may get my chance to get a peek at the inside when the Show House opens next month. And if someone hands me a winning Powerball ticket between now and the end of May — well, I can't see spending $1.4 million on a home, but truth be told, I'm thinking it's a bargain at that price.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:16 PM)
17 March 2004
Back off with the BBQ sauce already

The Oklahoma City Zoo is one of only fifteen zoos in North America with babirusa in residence, and now they have a piglet, which, given the scarcity of the species, must be considered good news; there have been only six births this century in the North American population.

This is the 100th anniversary of the Zoo, which was established in Wheeler Park in 1904 and moved to its present location in 1923 when the North Canadian River, way above flood stage, overrode the dam at Lake Overholser and cut the park literally in two.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:21 AM)
19 March 2004
There goes the neighborhood?

Saturday I described a rather unusual development around town: the construction of two houses by Habitat for Humanity in a local Historic District. I suggested at the time that present residents might not be enthusiastic at the prospect, though I did predict that things would work out in the long run.

MidCity Advocate columnist Jennifer Gaines, who lives about two blocks from the new homes, sees things this way:

You just never know, when you get a new neighbor, what kind of person they are going to be. I have no doubt that, given the current state of the outside of our home and yard, plenty of our neighbors are disappointed that we moved here, instead of some more energetic people. Any new neighbor is a mystery, even if you hide behind the blinds while they move in and inspect their furniture. I hope that all of my neighbors and I remember this as the new houses near completion and that two lucky families get to move into their very own homes. I hope that we all greet them with open arms and open minds.

And I hope, for everyone's sake, that they are proud of their new homes, and eager to show it.

Only time will tell, and time has this irritating tendency to give up no secrets until the last possible minute.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:07 PM)
20 March 2004
The pirate and the Colonel

There was a sign posted today at the vacant lot at NW 59th and May, once a Long John Silver's Seafood Shoppe, which explains what's going on, and as Terkish Payne suggested, it's Combination FastJunk — it's going to be an LJS/KFC hybrid.

There's a freestanding KFC eight blocks south of that location, which I assume will be closed. I'm not sure what will happen after that; the Target store just to its north could probably use that lot for extra parking, especially after its rumored upgrading to quasi-Super status, but it will take some major landscaping, since the KFC store is slightly elevated and the Target is down in the valley. More likely, some indie restaurant with modest aspirations will take over the property.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 PM)
30 March 2004
None of their business

Oklahoma County's Metropolitan Library System has announced some new privacy measures.

Beginning immediately, applications for library cards will not ask for the patron's Social Security Number. (This is in keeping with state policy, which has barred the SSN from driver's licenses.) The eight-digit card number will no longer be printed on the checkout receipt, and transaction records will be deleted once the transaction is completed (material returned and any fines paid). And the library's customer list is not available for sale or rent.

I'm wondering if the deletion of transaction records isn't intended as a foil for the USA Patriot Act, Section 215 of which is supposed to override state confidentiality rules for libraries. The pertinent Oklahoma statute reads as follows:

A. Any library which is in whole or in part supported by public funds including but not limited to public, academic, school or special libraries, and having records indicating which of its documents or other materials, regardless of format, have been loaned to or used by an identifiable individual or group shall not disclose such records to any person except to:

    1. Persons acting within the scope of their duties in the administration of the library;

    2. Persons authorized to inspect such records, in writing, by the individual or group; or

    3. By order of a court of law.

B. The requirements of this section shall not prohibit middle and elementary school libraries from maintaining a system of records that identifies the individual or group to whom library materials have been loaned even if such system permits a determination, independent of any disclosure of such information by the library, that documents or materials have been loaned to an individual or group.

Assuming the Department of Homeland Security isn't going after sixth-graders — pre-teen terrorists seem to be purely a Palestinian phenomenon — it looks like they're going to be requesting records that will not exist.

Unless, of course, they're tracking some indolent suspects who can't return books on time.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 AM)
2 April 2004
Buffer zone

Along Southeast 29th Street, north of Tinker Air Force Base, there's a stretch where it looks like something used to be there, but isn't anymore. No mystery, really: development in this area was halted, and existing development actually removed, in an effort to reduce encroachment on Tinker, and to deprive the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) folks of an excuse to close the base. ("You've got houses right along the flight path, fercryingoutloud.")

Apparently even more area is going to be cleared: the Powers Nissan dealership at 8021 SE 29th has been condemned by County Commissioners after Mr Powers balked at their $2.5-million dollar offer for the property. District 1 Commissioner Jim Roth suggests that Powers, who originally had been leasing the property, timed his acquisition to maximize the possible take; he bought the tract two years ago for $2.15 million on the same day as the bond election held to raise money to acquire properties for an expanded clearance zone.

Powers says he'd take the offer right now if he had a place to go, but he's having problems finding a suitable new location. The commissioners want the space cleared off by summer.

Disclosure: I bought a car from Powers' dealership some years ago. Nothing in the transaction suggested to me that there might be weasels in the boardroom; I've always considered them straight shooters.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:21 AM)
7 April 2004
Large and discharged

In my neighborhood and a few others, the first Wednesday of the month means Big Junk: this is the day the city makes a separate run to scoop up stuff that won't fit in the standard carts. You're allowed four cubic yards of Big Junk per month; anything over that, they'll pick up, but you'll be billed for the overage.

It's always interesting to see what's been tossed out. In the two blocks east of Surlywood this morning, I spotted flattened cardboard boxes, old furniture, a dishwasher, and about three-quarters of a lawn mower. Some of this stuff may never make it into the truck: scavengers, in between raiding Dumpsters, often make the rounds a few minutes before the city crew. Somehow, though, I doubt any of these, um, informal recyclers would be interested in the tree and a half I dragged out to the curb last night.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 AM)
9 April 2004
The street from hell

Normally traffic accidents, even fatal traffic accidents, fall outside the purview of this site.

But this one, well, it bothered me, mostly because 26 years ago, I actually lived at SE 29th and Vickie Drive, and that intersection was Crash City even then: there's an elevation difference between the two roadways that makes blind spots almost inevitable, and traffic on 29th is always trying to make all the lights, of which there are an abundance. If you're crossing 29th on Vickie, you basically have to climb out of a hole and hope nothing hits you as you crawl across five lanes.

Come to think of it, all the major intersections on Vickie are hazardous. At SE 15th, you must turn: you have to duck under the I-40 overpass for about 800 feet, and wait out at least one, maybe two lights, before you can continue. At Reno, you have a one-way stop sign and a blind spot, and the northbound extension is barely even visible. And at NE 10th, you're fair game for petroleum tankers. (I got crushed by one once, albeit two miles away.)

Back in October, when I was looking to get out of my old apartment, I actually drove the entire length of this street sizing up possible locations. What was I thinking?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:36 PM)
11 April 2004
Sights for a Sunday afternoon

This print ad caught my eye:

ADORABLE DOLL HOUSE

Close to Downtown OKC & I-35 & I-40. 1050 sf, 3bd, 2ba, inside util, kit bar, d/washer, huge corner lot, under const.

There was a price — $72,500 — and an address, and I knew I had to see this place.

This is, after all, a neighborhood I tend to think of as capital-S Scary, and while it's just off a major thoroughfare, it's cut off from most of the rest of the city — the river and a railroad slice through the terrain nearby — and while being somewhat insular in character is probably good for gated communities where houses sell routinely in six figures, it strikes me as less good in a place where six figures could buy five or six houses. (I checked realtor.com; the going rate for the smaller boxes in this neighborhood is a startling $14,000.)

So what do you get for five times as much? The lot is indeed on a corner, though its hugeness is arguable; the house itself is at the point where the exterior is complete and the interior is being finished, and I have no doubt that, given some proper care, this place can live up to its description. Still, I suspect that finding someone willing to spend this much money to live here will be difficult until a lot more new homes are built — or a lot more old ones are torn down. And I have serious qualms about expropriating an entire neighborhood on the off-chance that it can be gentrified.

I mean, this is not much less than I spent for my own "adorable doll house," roughly the same size, in a neighborhood that presumably doesn't strike fear into anyone's heart. And on the way back to my side of town, I sliced through the western edge of Heritage Hills and caught a glimpse of a standard real-estate agent sign with an attached tag: "Just Beautiful." Same tag you could have seen in my yard, in fact, for the brief period between offering and closing. After what I'd seen earlier, though, I wasn't particularly inclined to be smug.

I did, however, manage a sneer while passing a salon which noted on its sign that "sandel season" had arrived, and they were offering a "foot facial." Now I appreciate sandal season more than most, and indeed I've seen some remarkably nice feet this spring, but I don't think there's any way you can stretch any definition of "facial" to cover the services they offer. Not that I'm going to spend the $45 to find out.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:23 PM)
15 April 2004
Dancing in the street

The Festival of the Arts in downtown Oklahoma City, which runs Tuesday through Sunday, is, well, pretty darn festive, what with scores of artists (figure 150 or so) plying their wares and four stages for live events.

It is literally in the street: specifically, Hudson Avenue south of Sheridan, between Stage Center and the Crystal Bridge. And there will be dancers, singers, actors, musicians, and every sort of nosh from pork-chop sandwiches to cedar-plank grilled salmon to, um, tequila bread pudding.

About the only question is when (not if) it will rain. This is spring in Oklahoma, after all. But the Festival, even dripping wet, draws around 700,000 people over its five-and-a-half-day run. In recent years there has been some rumbling to the effect that it may have gotten too big, that it draws big-name artists from elsewhere in the country at the expense of the locals, but I suspect the buyers are less concerned with where a given piece comes from than with how it will look in the living room.

I've missed the last couple of Festivals. This cannot be allowed to happen again.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:41 PM)
17 April 2004
Wander mode

I may have moved across town, but I still have my hair done (to the extent that you can call it "hair", and to the extent that what happens to it qualifies as "done") at the same old eastside location, so today I had to plunge into the Land of What Used To Be.

And indeed, a lot has changed over there in a matter of weeks: a flea market has moved into the shell of a K mart; the hardware store formerly next to Target has relocated one mile west, perhaps hinting at an expansion of Target itself; the most recent grocer to try to make a go of it at 15th and Vickie has given up; and the parking lot at the mall was 80 percent empty. I am reasonably certain that my absence has affected mall traffic not a whit, but still it's sort of dispiriting, and I dawdled over there as little as possible. (I did, however, gas up, since the Evil Orange Pump indicator was starting to flicker and the price was a penny less than my usual station, saving me one bit.)

On the return trip — different route, as per my usual habit — I saw this sign posted at a software store offering a seminar on virus infections: "In God We Trust. All Others We Scan."

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:48 PM)
19 April 2004
Murrah

Say it again: Murrah.

It's a mere slip of a word, a syllable and a half, barely enough for a murmur.

And on an April morning in 1995, its innocuousness was forever laced with toxins: number-two diesel fuel, ammonium nitrate, shrapnel, the very smell of death.

It is still not entirely certain whether the Oklahoma City bombing was a purely domestic operation, or if there might have been a foreign component to the conspiracy. But either way, the results were the same, and a hundred sixty-eight empty chairs stand downtown to give mute testimony to those results.

Spring in Oklahoma often brings us disasters. On this very date in 1970, the Chikaskia River, after three days of rain, rose three to six feet from its banks and washed away much of the town of Jefferson. In May 1999, tornadoes pushing the limits of the Fujita scale rolled through the Oklahoma City metropolitan area. The response is always the same: we take care of business, we mourn, we clean up, and we go on, because — well, because that's what we do.

I don't know if this is the stuff of which movies are made, but inevitably someone will try, and chances are there will be a title like Terror in the Heartland attached to it, a title that might attract attention on the bottom shelf at Blockbuster but which ultimately says nothing at all. Besides, if you were here on the 19th of April, 1995, as I was, as Jan was, you already have a name for it.

Murrah.

Now playing in the hearts and minds of a community that will always remember, and will always go on.

Because that's what we do.

(Update, 1:30 pm: Lynn S. and Michele have thoughts on the events of this day.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 AM)
24 April 2004
Some day my prints will come

"Art for art's sake," argued W. Somerset Maugham, "makes no more sense than gin for gin's sake." Which is true as far as it goes, but until they decide to have a Gin Festival downtown, there's always a good reason to go to the Festival of the Arts, especially since the clouds that had been dampening things all week unexpectedly lifted late this afternoon.

It doesn't cost anything to get into the Festival, though you'll be hard-pressed to find a place to park your car for under five bucks. (I opted for the usual parking garage on the edge of the Arts District, which cost exactly five bucks, though the poor anxious fellow at the gate gave me back $15 in change for my ten-spot, presumably thinking it was a twenty. He was most happy to be corrected.)

And once within the periphery, it's wall-to-wall people, or would be were there any walls: take these photos at Awe Contraire, shot Thursday, and double the number of bodies. Saturdays, especially suddenly sunny Saturdays, are like that. And it's sort of democratic, in a way: you can't immediately distinguish the people who always show up for these things from the people who popped in on a day trip from Wichita. Some find it stale; I find it stirring.

Knowing my propensity for sampling every last food vendor, I figured it would be safer for both my metabolism and my wallet to have dinner before going. A wise move, generally, though a lighter meal probably would have translated to more energetic movement; by the time I got back to my car, I was pretty well shot for the day.

I really hadn't been expecting any individual artwork to call out my name, but a monotype by Gillian Kemper caught my eye; we conversed on some level, I put it back down, walked around for ten more minutes, sang two verses of "Some Kind of Wonderful" (the Drifters hit, not the one by the Soul Brothers Six) along with one of the performers, walked back to Kemper's tent, resumed the conversation with the piece, and finally bought it.

I also had an extended chat with an Arts Council volunteer who was happy to tell me how much the Festival had changed in the last twenty or so years, which presumably was learned from a script since she couldn't have been much over twenty herself, and if she was, I want some of whatever — probably not gin — she was drinking.

It was good to be back.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:41 PM)
29 April 2004
Downtown renaissance (the sequel)

Lileks is talking about Minneapolis, of course, but some of this I'm seeing at my end of I-35:

I lament the loss of the old great hotels as well, and I wish they were still around — but if the Nicollet and Andrews were still here, they'd be gutted and turned into condos with incredible views and nosebleed tax assessments. That's what market forces would require. In the past, the government leveled Skid Row on behalf of new urban theories, and it did so with the full approval of the technocrats — not despite its effect on transients and day laborers, but because of its effect. The old flophouses were stinking lice-ridden hellholes with naught but chicken wire and cardboard to segregate the occupants; demolishing these places was seen as a great civic good. Be done with them, and let shiny white Corbu towers rise in their place. (Note: they didn't.) But no matter who drives the car — government or the market — prosperity will push some people out of downtown housing.

I. M. Pei's urban-renewal plan for Oklahoma City, hatched back in the go-go Sixties, had much the same effect, and there was never enough money to follow through on the more grandiose plans: the end result was rows of empty buildings occasionally broken up by vacant lots. The downtown core has recovered, for the most part, and Bricktown, on the other side of the tracks, is booming, but west of the Arts District is still pretty much a ghost town, and residential and industrial areas between Reno and the river are about to be liquidated in the name of I-40 expansion.

On the other hand, the Skirvin Hotel isn't going condo. Assuming the financing gaps can be filled, the city, which presently owns the structure, expects the hotel to reopen in a couple of years with Hilton branding. But with the marginal stuff swept away, housing close to downtown is about to get very expensive indeed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:31 AM)
30 April 2004
Shabby roads

The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce likes to refer to this place as "a shining urban jewel", a claim which might carry more weight if there weren't so many rough edges.

One example of roughness is the generally crummy condition of local roads; the Road Information Program research group has figured that Oklahoma City has the 11th worst roads in the country among metropolitan areas of half a million population or more, with fully 40 percent of the thoroughfares rated "poor," even worse than "mediocre." Tulsa came in 9th from the bottom; Los Angeles, with two-thirds of its roads in the "poor" category, was the worst.

Residents of central Oklahoma are likely to greet this news with a resounding "Well, duh!"

The list [requires Adobe Reader] is here. If you're wondering who fared best in the survey, it's Atlanta: 84 percent of their roads are rated "good" and none of them "poor"; if there's a downside, it's that 23 percent of them are named "Peachtree."

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:33 AM)
3 May 2004
A storm story

Here in Tornado Alley, there's a tendency to become complacent: we see the warnings on TV and we think, "Oh, well, it's another one." If it's coming our way, we fumble to remember our safety precautions; if it's not, we shrug.

Five years ago today, no one shrugged. No one had time to shrug. It was the first F5-level tornado ever seen in the city, the very top of the Fujita scale, and the damage started at unimaginable and worked its way up from there.

From my notes at the time:

At its peak, the funnel was nearly a mile wide, and its easternmost flank ventured to within half a mile of this desk. At least, that's what they said in the newspapers; what I saw looked more like a matte painting from a science-fiction film, and an ill-lit one at that. The electrical power went dead here almost immediately, and was not restored until the next day. The only actual damage to my premises, though, was some ostensible surface excitement added to the top of my car, courtesy of a barrage of high-speed ice balls. Given the sheer strength of this storm — bigger vehicles than this were picked up and dropped across the street or in front of houses or even into houses — I'm not inclined to complain a great deal about a handful of dimples.

By the time the storm had passed my area, it had dropped below F5 level, so I managed to avoid seeing the worst of it. South and west of me, though, it was a war zone: nearly two thousand homes destroyed, six thousand more damaged. There was speculation that the storm had actually reached F6 levels; subsequent research seemed to establish that it hadn't, but at this point, it was like wondering, after your car had been totaled, if the turn-signal lever still worked.

[N]o one really believes it's over. You can't watch destruction at this level, even at a "safe" distance, without something happening to you. The deeply religious, and we have lots of them, saw this as a severe test of their faith; the vast majority of them, I believe, held on. For those of an environmentalist bent — and perhaps also for those who scoff at such things — the storm was a none-too-gentle reminder that Nature always gets the last word.

For the most part, rebuilding has been completed; the former Tanger Outlet Center in Stroud, still in ruins, will be rebuilt as a medical center starting later this year.

Today will be placid, this morning chilly, this afternoon sunny, winds on the light side. Fortunately.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 AM)
Once again, open for business

Attorney General John Ashcroft, at the dedication of the new Federal Building:

This gathering, this building, this city are clear evidence, a demonstration of the kind of spirit in America showing that men and women who are allowed to breathe the bracing air of freedom will always come together to defeat tyranny, the tyranny of fear and hatred.

The new structure is one block from the Oklahoma City National Memorial.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:12 PM)
7 May 2004
Tightening the city belt

The new fiscal year starts 1 July, and Jim Couch, who twiddles the purse strings down at City Hall, is in a glum mood. In the news flyer that comes with the utility bill, he spells it out in no uncertain terms:

We asked every department to submit a budget cut of 2.5%. Even though the economy seems to be improving, we still have to cut — the revenue increase is not enough to keep up with the rising cost of employee pay and benefits.

On the upside, this doesn't sound anywhere near as bad as last year's budget.

The City Council will hold two public hearings on the budget before it comes up for a vote.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 PM)
8 May 2004
Without reservations

The bill for restoration of the downtown Skirvin Hotel is now calculated at $46.4 million.

The City Council will consider the package next week. Under the final agreement, the city will lend the Skirvin Partners development team $18.4 million; should the reborn Skirvin Hilton be staggeringly successful, the city stands to turn a tidy profit, and if the hotel is a total flop, the city will be on the hook for only about $4 million.

I doubt seriously it will flop. During the somnolent years, we got by with one downtown hotel; new development is now supporting three, and the two new arrivals in 2006 — not only the Skirvin, but also an Embassy Suites on the eastern edge of Bricktown — fit into the dreams of downtown planners with surprising precision.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau has projected that for Oklahoma City to compete for major regional conventions — and for sporting events like the Big 12 basketball tournament or the NCAA regionals — there should be 1250 to 1500 hotel rooms available near downtown. Right now, there are 931: 395 at the Westin, 311 at the Renaissance, 225 at the Courtyard by Marriott. There will be 245 suites at the Embassy, and the plan for the Skirvin calls for 238 rooms, bringing the total as of mid-2006 to 1414.

You know, this could work.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:08 AM)
29 May 2004
Art at an angle

The central city — by the Mid-City Advocate's reckoning, the 25 square miles bounded by Reno, Portland, 63rd and Kelley — is a hodgepodge of architectural styles, reflecting both the diversity of individual tastes and the wide variance in personal income that prevailed in the first half of the 20th century.

One of the quirkier areas is the Paseo, which is highlighted by a Spanish Revival shopping center built by G. A. Nichols in 1928-1929 as "Spanish Village." Not only did it contrast with nearby neighborhoods in Prairie or Craftsman styles, but it wasn't even on the city grid; the street designated "Paseo" wanders more or less down a hill southeastward from 30th and Dewey to 28th and Walker, and a couple of cross streets hit it at angles you don't want to negotiate at high speeds. When people and money moved out to the 'burbs, the Paseo remained in something of a time warp; eventually it became, due to relatively low rents and lots of small spaces suitable for studios, a hub for local artists. In the middle Seventies, those artists put together a street festival, which was successful enough to run for a second year, and a third.

And now a twenty-eighth. Cam Edwards, who used to live just off the Paseo, once described the event this way:

[T]he arts festival in the Paseo is smaller, more local than the big festival in downtown during April. The art is a little more experimental, the music a little more granola-based, and the crowd a little less like the crowd at the state fair. Less spandex leggings, more freakish piercings.

I should fit right in when I wander down there this afternoon.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:04 AM)
Party with the arty

As planned, I slid over to the Paseo today for the opening day of the Arts Festival, and it was a fairly complex compound of both familiar and surprising elements.

Of course, parking was going to be a chore; I wound up at a convenience store on the southern periphery, which was selling spaces (they had three or four) at three bucks a car, about the going rate. I pulled in next to a fiftyish woman in the shortest possible skirt and black tights, which is of course always a delight; turned out she was one of a couple dozen tap dancers who were scheduled on stage in a few minutes.

The wind was its usual intractable self — staff at the Paseo Café found themselves chasing after an umbrella which had reached escape velocity — but considering the ghastly levels of humidity today, every breeze was welcomed, even the ones that threatened to tear your precious parcel out of your very hands.

The crowd, as anticipated, was closer to boho than to boardroom, but not that much closer; I didn't see more than a handful of potential contestants for a Willie Nelson lookalike contest. And suddenly an old friend popped out of nowhere. It is a measure of the level of seclusion I'd maintained in years past that among the first ten words she spoke were "What are you doing here?" And it is a measure of how much things have changed that I had an actual answer.

What? Oh, yes, the art. Lots of stuff on display; I wound up with a print from an artist who's already represented on my walls. I didn't hit up any of the food vendors this time, fearing that the combination of unfamiliar victuals and unfriendly humidity would knock me for a loop. But as street scenes go, I figure I'm ahead of the game if I can fit into one for a few hours.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:42 PM)
3 June 2004
Gladly, the cross-eyed bear

Seal of the City of Oklahoma CityFor its first three-quarters of a century, the City of Oklahoma City managed to get by without an official seal. In 1965, Mayor George Shirk announced a competition to design a city seal; this is the prize winner, designed by Larry Thompson, who got $500 (a fair chunk of change in '65) for his efforts.

Now how long will it take the American Civil Liberties Union to decide that the white perpendicular bars in the center constitute a cross?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:09 AM)
6 June 2004
Wrapping up MAPS

After ten years, the Metropolitan Area Projects Citizens Oversight Board is ready to close the books. The once-fractious board voted to put itself out to pasture this week.

MAPS itself was remarkable: a single, massive upgrade of public facilities, financed by a one-cent sales tax for 5½ years. When MAPS was put to the voters in 1993, the city suggested that the projects would spur some $150 million in private investment; during the period the tax was collected, revenues and accrued interest totaled over $350 million, and the private sector so far has kicked in around $1.5 billion. In a city previously considered somewhere between sleepy and moribund, this is a turnaround on par with the '69 Mets.

One worry I had was that things were going to cost even more than the city had projected and the entire scheme was going to wind up in the hole. The final financial report shows about $450,000 still in the kitty, which will be devoted to project upkeep. And that penny sales tax expired in 1999; voters were sufficiently impressed with the results it got to reinstate it in 2001 for "MAPS for Kids", a scheme to upgrade public school facilities in the city, which is projected to cost some $620 million, 70 percent of which will go to schools within the Oklahoma City school district and the balance to schools in suburban districts which serve outlying parts of the city.

I could be cynical and ask what they're going to do in 2008 when the MAPS for Kids tax expires — surely they'll think of something, right? — but for now, I'm waiting to see whether the improvement in facilities is enough to jump-start the process of improving the quality of education.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:22 AM)
7 June 2004
Thank you for calling City Futilities

About 3,000 Oklahoma City utility customers got an unpleasant surprise this month in their water/sewer/garbage bills: $581.84 listed as "Balance In Dispute." I got the impression, talking to the harried but sort-of-smiling clerk, that 2,900 or so of them had called in today to complain.

She did say that it was safe to ignore it, but if I went ahead and paid it, they wouldn't complain a whole lot. I suppose they wouldn't, inasmuch as $581.84 (it's the same amount on all the affected bills) is about a year's worth of service at this address.

(Update, 8 June, 4:50 pm: The City is now claiming 10,000 bills were so affected.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:31 PM)
8 June 2004
Where will we put all these people?

Apparently the question of whether Oklahoma City has enough downtown hotel rooms has been settled: the Big 12 Conference announced today that the 2007 basketball tournaments will be held in OKC, the women's in the Cox Convention Center, the men's in the Ford Center.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:42 PM)
12 June 2004
Saturday spottings

Apparently my haphazard attempts at lawn care are at least slightly appreciated; a neighbor informed me that the yard "looks nice," which is far more kindly an evaluation than I'd give to it.

(Mental note: There is a GFCI-type circuit breaker installed in each of the outside electrical outlets. It's much easier to check it, and quite a bit faster, than it is to go poking around the breaker box.)

Seen a couple of blocks away: an Oldsmobile in Classic GM Vanilla, inscribed with the words "VOTE KHOURY," presumably a reference to Karen Khoury, one of the four Republicans seeking the state House seat for this area, which is being vacated this year. I didn't get a look at the driver, inasmuch as I was trying to avoid running over things at the time.

Sign at a restaurant a couple miles north: "BUY DAD SOMETHING HE NEEDS THIS YEAR — A DRINK."

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:29 PM)
19 June 2004
Who are these people?

Sometimes it's the items I glance at and don't seem to notice that come back to bother me later.

This paragraph from Triticale is a case in point:

Here in Milwaukee, there is real historical significance linking the name of Father James Groppi to the 16th St. Viaduct, but with the Menomonee Valley which it bridges no longer a barrier, and with 16th street south of the Valley now Cesar Chavez Drive, people crossing the Groppi Bridge are indeed unlikely to ponder the good Father's efforts to improve the city.

It was about a minute past the time I'd read this when I thought: "Wait a minute. I've heard of this guy." So I ran back through browser history — this is, incidentally, the one meaningful argument against "open links in new window" — and refreshed my memory. As in Milwaukee, Catholics in Charleston played a substantial role in the civil-rights movement of the Sixties, and as a student at a Catholic high school, I got a view of the scene that was no worse than second-hand. And while the diocese of Charleston didn't produce any figures as iconic as Fr. Groppi, we had no shortage of clergy doing the grunt work to help bring Dr. King's dream to life.

While Fr. Groppi is remembered only in some circles, pretty much everyone has heard of Dr. King. In fact, as noted by Andrew at Pathetic Earthlings, his name is everywhere, which inevitably dilutes his memory in ways not anticipated by those who wished to honor him:

It doesn't deny Dr. King's legacy to say that there is enough. After a while, it is lost in the repetition. When is the last time you passed by a Martin Luther King Road and stopped to ponder his many gifts to this country? My guess is not lately.

Everyone knows who Dr. King is or, worse, thinks they know. And when his name drops into the civic furniture of America, the uniqueness is lost. The moment of pause, which is all any building or statue or boulevard can hope to provide, is lost. Another King Hall? It passes by, as if it were Sutter or Fremont, Lexington or Lincoln. But if you were confronted with the Benjamin O. Davis Civic Auditorium or the Ralph Carr University Center, might you not take a look?

I don't think it's quite as bad as Andrew suggests: I pass through Oklahoma City's Martin Luther King Avenue five or six times a week, and it does give me a brief reminder of the man and his mission, though there's always the question of why this particular stretch of road was renamed for Dr. King, as opposed to, say, Northeast 23rd Street east of Kelley, which is the primary business thoroughfare through the city's largely-black east side. (Short answer: MLK is relatively well-kept, while 23rd is a mess.)

The most telling thing about MLK, though, indeed about the MLK in your town as well, is that it's always, in full, Martin Luther King Street / Avenue / Boulevard / Road. And quite unwittingly, Dr. King seems to have started another trend: streets renamed for dignitaries are now always given the full John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt treatment. Downtown Oklahoma City boasts streets named for E. K. Gaylord, Robert S. Kerr and Dean A. McGee; just east in Bricktown is Mickey Mantle Drive (which, nicely enough, runs past the ballpark). All of these people, even Mantle, contributed substantially to the modest greatness that is OKC, but with their full names in white on green on every street corner, it seems to me that their contributions might appear to outshine those of, say, Paul Braniff, Anton Classen, Charles Colcord, William Couch, Robert A. Hefner, G. A. Nichols, or John Shartel, all of whom played major roles in the city's first century and all of whom are remembered on street signs — without their first names.

And I expect I'll continue to argue this point when Oklahoma City, as it must, inevitably renames a street for Cesar Chavez. (There's already a Cesar Chavez Alternative [Middle] School, on Southwest 10th east of Walker; Walker, incidentally, is named for Dr. Delos Walker, who was the first president of the Oklahoma City school board.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:16 AM)
Saturday spottings (again)

Some of the things I saw around town today:

Bill Graves, one of the looser doorknobs in the Oklahoma House, is being term-limited out of a job, and Mrs Graves isn't going to be handed the District 84 seat on the proverbial silver platter: one Democrat and a fistful of Republicans are chasing this position. One of the GOP chasers is evident Greg Kihn fan Sally Kern, whose campaign signs bear the nonce word "KERNservative."

Also on the campaign trail is District 2 Commissioner Jack Cornett, no relation to OKC Mayor Mick Cornett or to your blogging Cornetts, whose reelection signs this year contain an actual line-drawing of a cornet. Let us hope this mnemonic notion does not occur to, say, Senate District 25 candidate Dennis Loudermilk.

At a stand inside the supermarket, a woman was handing out cans of C2, the new Coke that they hope won't be another New Coke. After twelve ounces of the stuff, I am prepared to say that it's okay as a diet Coke, but no match for the Real Thing™.

(Update, 4:30 pm, 20 June: Chris Lawrence, whom I trust implicitly in such matters, says that C2 probably makes a better mixer with vodka.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:09 PM)
20 June 2004
We got your high-rise right here

For years, they sat by side by side, the Dome and the Tower, on the southeast corner of 23rd and Classen. The Dome, designed by Robert Roloff on a theme articulated by R. Buckminster Fuller, was completed in 1958, and was threatened with demolition a couple of years ago. Now owned by a local optometrist, the Dome is being refurbished, though its characteristic gold tint, weathered with age, will not be restored due to difficulty and expense.

But what of the Tower next door? Built in 1966, Roloff once again at the helm, it's a pretty fair knockoff of Frank Lloyd Wright's Price Tower in Bartlesville; it's in decent shape but is mostly empty, and a local developer picked it up this spring at a fire-sale price, suggesting that part or all of it may go condo.

This fits in with my ongoing notion that people will live downtown or close to it if you give them something distinctive, something secure, and something convenient. There aren't many high-rise residences in this area anyway, so "distinctive" is a given. The major disadvantage for downtown living has been the lack of grocers: the nearest supermarket to downtown is the Homeland adjacent to Mesta Park, at 18th and Classen. But it's only three blocks from the Tower, and three blocks farther north is Kamp's, eliminating this particular problem.

Security is another matter. This isn't a high-crime area, exactly, but it's a high-traffic area, which introduces issues of its own. And given the Tower's positioning on the edge of the Asian district, there's the question of whether its appeal will be limited to young Asian professionals, though there are easily enough such to fill up the Tower's twenty stories. (Each floor, reports the leasing agent, could accommodate three residences, roughly 1500 to 1900 square feet.)

I'm not looking to move there myself; I'm rather attached to my little patch of ground. But I tend to look favorably on plans to improve the general state of city dwellings, on the not-exactly-altruistic basis that if the quality of life in the central city as a whole goes up, so does mine; after all, I live around here too.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:15 PM)
22 June 2004
Fahrenheit 6/24

Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 will open Thursday in Oklahoma City at the Cinemark Tinseltown. You can't get in, though: all the seats for the premiere were sold at $25 each, and proceeds will go to the Progressive Alliance Foundation, which in turn will donate half the take to the families of Oklahomans killed in Iraq. Friday and subsequent showings will be open to the general public.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:28 AM)
23 June 2004
Warr on taxes

The community of Warr Acres, an enclave within Oklahoma City's northwest quadrant, has one claim to fame: its 6.5-percent sales tax rate (2 for Warr Acres, 4.5 for the state of Oklahoma), the lowest in the metro area. (Neighboring Bethany collects 8.5 percent; Oklahoma City, 8.375 percent.) Signs posted on the way out of town contain the ominous message "Warning: Higher Taxes Ahead."

Unfortunately, there may be higher taxes ahead for shoppers in Warr Acres. With the closing of the Wal-Mart store along the community's section of Northwest Distressway — Sam's myrmidons relocated to a larger box farther up the road, within Oklahoma City limits — tax collections are way down, and Warr Acres' share of a widening project for MacArthur Boulevard, its main north-south thoroughfare, is coming due. Mayor Marietta Tardibono is considering raising the sales tax, which will require a vote by residents, probably early next year.

This isn't the first time that a suburb has lost a retailer to the city, either; Albertson's closed its store on the northwest corner of Britton and May, in The Village, and moved across the street to the southwest corner, which is in Oklahoma City. A Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market at the opposite end of The Village is presumably taking up some of the slack, but nothing so far has replaced the town's two auto dealerships, both of which have moved to areas with large clusters of dealers.

Still, this is very much the opposite of the situation in many other metro areas, where retailers are bailing out of the city and moving to the 'burbs. Oklahoma City no doubt is congratulating itself on its foresight in annexing everything within arm's reach in the 1960s.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:35 AM)
25 June 2004
Don't rain on their parade

The Weather Guys predict a 30-percent chance — "it probably won't, but if it does, we told you it would" — that it will rain on the city's seventeenth annual Gay Pride parade, or, to give it its full name, OKLAHOMA CITY GAY, LESBIAN, BISEXUAL, TRANSGENDERED & INTERSEX PRIDE PARADE AND FESTIVAL. It's enough to make you feel like the token straight.

The actual parade starts Sunday at five at Memorial Park, 35th and Classen, after a couple of days of festivities. Last year's event (let's not call it a "bash") drew about 20,000 spectators, a fair number of which did not actually qualify as G, L, B, T or I. My brother will happily point out that Surlywood is not adjacent to, but is in close proximity to, the zone known as "Homo Heights," and indeed my ZIP code contains more same-sex couples than any other in the state, but what the hell? On the nose of life's complexion, this, to me anyway, is not even so much as a freckle. Your mileage may vary.

(Update, 27 June, 9:30 pm: No rain. I wandered down the parade route earlier today to gauge the crowd and to get a look at some of the floats. If nothing else, the experience demonstrated the truth of my assertion that Oklahoma City is a darn good town for theatre.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:27 AM)
26 June 2004
Saturday spottings (once more)

Just driving around town doesn't mean anything unless you see something, after all.

Last Monday, IBC Bank completed its acquisition of what used to be Local Oklahoma Bank, and they wasted no time pinning up temporary signage at the local facilities. This was the first time that I'd noticed the IBC logo, which contains the usual outline of the 48 states — and right below it, an outline of los Estados Unidos Mexicanos. So far as I can tell, IBC doesn't actually have any branches in Mexico, but the location of its headquarters — Laredo, Texas is not only right on the border, but it's the southern terminus of Interstate 35, known informally as the NAFTA Highway — hints that they'd love to tap into the burgeoning Latino market. And by no coincidence, that's what we have here.

Habitat for Humanity has completed and sold the two houses they built in East Heritage Hills, and I wandered by today to see the results. I was properly impressed: it will be a while before these structures start to appear weathered, but stylewise, they fit in nicely with the smaller Craftsman homes that dominate that strip between Broadway and Robinson.

Conventional wisdom, seldom all that wise these days, holds that women pick out their vehicles on the basis of space and reliability; men have the need for speed. Anyone who's ever seen She Who Is Not To Be Named pushing a sandal to the floorboard should know better than that, but the stereotype somehow persists. As has been my wont of late, I struck up a conversation with a woman at the supermarket; she drives a '99 Mazda Millenia, and yes, it has the brand's traditional aversion to repair shops, but what she most appreciated about it, she said, was the little supercharged V-6's ability to put her in front of anything that wouldn't move out of the way while she was trying to merge onto the freeway. And until such time as ODOT rids us of the last of these two-car-length on-ramps, there's absolutely no substitute for good old Zoom Zoom.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:42 PM)
28 June 2004
Stories behind these walls

Around the corner from me is a Talking House.

No, really. I pulled in closer to see what was going on, and there was a sign directing me to tune the AM radio to 1610 kHz. And in one of those digitally-recorded voices that sounds just as garbled over the phone, up pops a loop explaining the virtues of this house, why you should drop everything and buy it now, and the person you should call should you want to do so.

It's a nice place, and I'm sure the eventual buyer will enjoy having bought into this neighborhood for a price in the low, low six figures, but for some reason this technique put me off, perhaps because the infinitesimal power output of the tiny transmitter virtually guarantees that you'll miss part of the pitch before you get out of range, which means that if you're at all curious you'll have to double back toward the house, which strikes me as less intrusive than having a lasso catch you as you walk away, but not much.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:54 AM)
1 July 2004
Crazy for the blue, white and red

This neighborhood looks different, but don't think it's subversive; a real-estate guy crept out in the dead of night — and very likely in the middle of a thunderstorm — to plant a small US flag near the curb at every household on the block, and they're still flying happily this afternoon. (In fact, there's probably greater exuberance, since the winds have picked up a bit.)

I'll leave mine up through Saturday, then replace it on the Fourth with a larger flag (obtained, ironically, from a rival real-estate guy), and reinstate the smaller one, probably not so close to the curb, on Monday morning.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:25 PM)
22 July 2004
Going up

Richard Tanenbaum wants you to live downtown.

Seriously. A year ago, he bought the mostly-vacant Montgomery Ward building at Main and Walker, a classic Art Deco structure on the National Register of Historic Places, and started the process of turning it into "The Montgomery," featuring about five dozen upscale apartments with a restaurant and a gallery downstairs.

This spring, Tanenbaum bought the former Citizens Tower at 21st and Classen; this week, the Oklahoma City Council approved rezoning the Tower, which will be renamed "The Classen" and divided into about 100 condos in the $130k range. It's not actually downtown, but it's very close — two miles to the business district, two and a half to Bricktown — and the view, says Tanenbaum, should be spectacular.

The plan for The Classen varies somewhat from initial speculation, which called for fewer but larger residences. Tanenbaum expects to have units for sale by next spring.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:22 AM)
24 July 2004
Turn around, look at us

There's a nifty new stone marker at the northwest entrance to my neighborhood, at the northern end of the narrow park that separates it from five lanes of May Avenue. I don't know whether this little bit of braggadocio will bring any additional visibility to our little strip of the city, but it definitely does look cool.

And speaking of additional visibility, the Asian district is about to get some identifying signage of its own: street signs along Classen from 24th to 35th will add references to the district, and the overhead signs at 23rd, 30th and 36th will add a yet-to-be-designed district logo.

What these two installations have in common is the amount of city funding involved: zero. Over on my street, the Neighborhood Association paid for the new marker; residents and merchants in the Asian District are covering the costs of the street signs.

This may seem like a trivial sort of thing, but I'm persuaded that getting people to live and shop in the central city is easier if you're willing to brag about it a little.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:46 AM)
6 August 2004
Lovely span, wonderful span

It's no secret that many Oklahoma bridges are in wretched condition. And there's one particular bridge that, as far back as I can remember, has always been in wretched condition: the Walnut Avenue overpass, which connects the Deep Deuce and Bricktown areas. (Walnut, south of Main, becomes Mickey Mantle Drive.)

Three years ago, a move to tear down the bridge entirely was foiled when then-Mayor Kirk Humphreys discovered that under state law, the Union Pacific railroad, whose tracks run under the bridge, could be billed up to half the cost of repairs.

The city has the money to fix the bridge — the Walnut Avenue project was funded in a 1989 bond issue — but the railroad has yet to consent to the repairs. In the meantime, Paul Brum, the city engineer, says that beams under the bridge are deteriorating, and therefore the bridge is closed until further notice; repairs should take about a year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:38 AM)
7 August 2004
Saturday spottings (with vegetables)

I was threading my way back from Sears' repair location, which is tucked away southwest of the Capitol complex, and eventually I found myself at 23rd and Classen, where Beverly's Restaurant had been bulldozed into oblivion to make way for the city's 726th Walgreens store.

Beverly's, of course, was an Oklahoma City staple for years, and their Chicken in the Rough was briefly franchised to other eateries. And while this location had been closed for some time, Beverly's Pancake Corner, west of Penn Square, still serves breakfast and lunch, so it's not the end of an era. Yet.

Besides, it could have been worse. Walgreens at first tried to get a different corner of this intersection: the one occupied by the Gold Dome.

North of 23rd, the new Asian District signage is in place, white on red in the sort of font one expects to find in ads for Chinese restaurants. A letter to The Oklahoman last week complained about the whole idea:

Since when can Oklahoma City Councilman Sam Bowman and his steering committee decide for the city to allow people to put up signs designating a certain district for a certain group of people? Will the Chamber of Commerce and other city leaders let Hispanics and any other group decide to put up signs on city property to claim a certain district?

The chamber's Drew Dugan says putting a brand on a district gives the business owners "pride." He may see it that way, but I don't think the majority of the citizens would agree. Why segregate an area for any group of people? I thought we were getting away from identifying any group of people from everyone else.

Which is a reasonable point, but identifying a mile of Classen Boulevard as an Asian District hardly constitutes segregation. For one thing, it's not a reflection of housing patterns; Americans of Asian descent live all over the city and in the suburbs, not just around this area. For another — well, Tom Waken, who owns property on Classen and elsewhere, and who sits on the Asian District Commission, sent this to the Mid-City Advocate:

The Asian business people staked out Classen Blvd. in 1975.... they are responsible for bringing Classen from a dying area to a place where business is thriving and property owners and business owners are paying more taxes into the city's treasury than they were previously.

I am for any ethnic group who will build up our great city to proudly display their own district with their signs. It is good for everyone who lives in Oklahoma City.

And that initial arrival of Asian-owned businesses got this area, and the strip of 23rd just to its east, known informally as "Little Saigon," a name which has persisted all these years; it's not like anyone should be at all surprised by this.

Will we eventually see Latino (around, say, SW 29th and Western), African-American (NE 23rd and Martin Luther King), even gay (NW 39th and Pennsylvania) districts? I'm thinking we will, and I'm thinking it's just fine with me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:21 PM)
9 August 2004
Who's edits the newsletter?

Transformations, August 2004, page 7MAPS for Kids is the successor to the original Metropolitan Area Projects plan that renovated so much of downtown Oklahoma City. The plan, funded by a temporary sales tax (seven years), will take ten years to implement completely. Half a billion dollars will be pumped into Oklahoma City Public Schools, and $150 million more into suburban districts that overlay parts of the city. The Chamber of Commerce has begun sending out a quarterly newsletter called Transformations, to advise us taxpayers where the money is being spent. From the looks of this sidebar on page seven, apparently none of the $650 million went to proofreading.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:46 PM)
14 August 2004
Saturday spottings (part cinq)

The transformation of the Samurai Club on May south of Grand into — well, I have no idea what's going to replace it — continues apace: the new architecture is Standard Suburban Medical Office, minus the bogus roof extensions over the doorways, which could mean almost anything. No signage yet; in fact, the old Samurai marquee is still in place, with only a few missing characters here and there.

Tuesday marks the opening of the Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library, the last of the MAPS projects, at 300 Park Avenue. And "300" seems to be something of an understatement: the facility stretches across the entire 300 block, from Harvey to Hudson. It's an imposing structure; the only trick is actually getting there, since Harvey terminates at Park and it's one-way north, meaning you have to take either Hudson or Robinson south, meaning quite a roundabout if you're coming from the downtown Business District where all the signs are. Still, accessibility wasn't a problem Friday for the book-passing ceremony, in which books were literally handed down, one person to the next in an enormous chain, from the old library at 131 (not 301) Dean A. McGee to the new one.

A nearby salon is pitching "pedicures for men and women," which at least seems nicely nondiscriminatory, and to tell you the truth, I was at least slightly tempted: while my instincts tend toward the retrosexual, I am also sufficiently self-indulgent to be able to come up with a justification for it. Besides, I'm somewhat curious as to whether they'd charge me extra for these size-14 clodhoppers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:36 PM)
17 August 2004
Your basic triple threat

According to the flyer in this month's utility bill, the city of Oklahoma City is setting up a drop on Saturday, 11 September, at the Fairgrounds, for the following sorta-hazardous wastes:

  • Used tires;
  • Used computer equipment;
  • Presumably unused ammunition.

I've got to wonder how they decided on that particular grouping. They won't take tires at the Household Hazardous Waste facility.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:53 PM)
21 August 2004
Saturday spottings (yet again)

The Montgomery, Richard Tanenbaum's transformation of the old Montgomery Ward store downtown into upscale corporate apartments, continues; I have no idea what he's done to the interior yet, but an enormous amount of accumulated crud has been scraped off the art-deco exterior at 500 West Main, and I can only wish he could work similar magic on the former Holiday Inn next door, newer yet somehow grubbier. The Montgomery, we are assured, will open in October.

Also being spruced up are some long-abandoned buildings along Walker, including a couple of former car dealerships, which are being converted into fresh office space. When the 65-foot clock tower on the northeast corner of 4th and Walker was built this past spring, it looked ever-so-slightly silly, but now that work has progressed, it fits nicely into developer Rick Dowell's design scheme. Eventually Dowell wants to build a high-rise residential tower, assuming the market for downtown housing isn't saturated any time soon.

Then there's the headquarters of Oklahoma City Beautiful, which has moved a mile up Classen without actually leaving its building: the original structure, near the now-departed Beverly's on the corner of 23rd, was picked up, driven up the street, and deposited near Memorial Park at 36th.

Of course, not everything I saw today was a sign of Better Times Coming. Up on the Lake Hefner Parkway I caught sight of a Scion xA with the vanity tag BRITFAN. Britain? Britney Spears? Brittany spaniels? Who knows?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:03 PM)
22 August 2004
For sale by somebody

I usually don't read the real-estate section of the Sunday paper. For one thing, most of the actual for-sale ads run in Saturday's edition; for another, I'm not going anywhere anytime soon. For some reason, though, I took a peek at today's selections.

Traditionally, ads of this sort are believed to require multiple grains of salt to counteract the evasions, misdirections, and outright fibs that are supposed to be inherent in the selling process. I didn't find a lot of those, though I was amused by one little place pitching itself as being in the "Crown Heights area," which is true if your definition of "area" is sufficiently broad. (Douglas Place sits north of Crown Heights; this house is on the opposite side of the street from the northern boundary of Douglas Place.) It's probably just as "absolutely darling" as the ad claims — I think that's a reasonably spiffy neighborhood — but Crown Heights it ain't.

On the other hand, some ads score for Brutal Truth. On this presumed handyman's special on the southside: "Not scared of repairs?" And one rental ad, for a westside apartment, cuts to what's really important: "No One Upstairs."

What caught my eye fastest, though, was a feature article on this. Yes, it's just slightly ostentatious, and yes, it's expensive — $1800 was the quoted price — but damn, it put a wobble in my Thou Shalt Not Covet stance.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:11 PM)
26 August 2004
Now it's an eyesore

In 1962, the shiny new All Sports Stadium opened at the Fairgrounds, a home for the city's brand new minor-league baseball club, the 89ers.

In 2004, the Niners are now the RedHawks and play in Bricktown; All Sports Stadium has sat vacant for four years, below contemporary minor-league standards and nowhere near "accessible" in the ADA sense.

The Fairgrounds Trust has now declared the stadium "surplus property," the first step towards demolition.

I spent quite a few evenings in the old ballpark way back when; it was pretty decent for its time, but its time is long gone. Still, it's going to be odd driving I-44 past 10th Street and seeing nothing on the corner.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 AM)
28 August 2004
Confidentially speaking

We're at the copier station: Valerie is making copies because sometimes that's what she does, and I'm there because Valerie is there and she's awfully pretty. For some reason we got onto the subject of real estate, and I mentioned that my house was built back in 1948. "I don't know when mine was built," she said, at which point I darted back to my cave and called up the County Assessor's database.

I returned and announced: "Nineteen fifty."

"How did you find that out?" Valerie asked.

And she followed me back to the cave, where on the screen was a description of her house, its current market value, and every ownership change on it since, well, 1950.

Most people who have seen this database in action have been impressed that something like this was available in this putatively hick burg. Not Valerie. She was utterly horrified that any bozo from off the street could call up intensely-personal information like this. I pointed out that in years past, any bozo from off the street could walk into county offices and request exactly the same data: real-estate transactions are a matter of public record, after all.

She was not mollified. And she was even more upset when she caught sight of the name of her ex-spouse, who at one time was a co-owner of the house: presumably she got it in the divorce settlement. "They had to execute a transfer to put it in your name. He's a former owner. Of course his name will be on there." I can certainly see why she wouldn't want to be reminded of the guy — and what kind of guy lets someone like Valerie get away, anyway? — but divorce proceedings, too, are a matter of public record.

I don't think she was about to cry, but I've misread her before. Still, she seems to have a point: is it now too easy to access public records? It's not like J. Random Stalker is going to have a much better shot at her; he's got to know how to work the database, which has its quirks, and none of its contents are indexed by search engines, so merely Googling her won't produce any of this information.

I suppose it's a good thing I didn't bring up the GIS mapper, which presumably has an aerial view of her property.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:53 AM)
29 August 2004
Sunday spottings

Actually, none of these were spotted today, but I forgot to do a "Saturday spottings" this week, and anyway a couple of those would actually turn out to have been detected on Friday, fercryingoutloud.

One of them involved Major Tom, wherever he may be: parked in front of one of those Nichols Hills demimansions, I saw two huge (given the width of NH streets, which isn't much) trailers identified as coming from "Ground Control," which turns out to be a landscaping/yard-maintenance operation way out in the northeast quadrant. Small thing, perhaps, but I assure you, had Timi Yuro not been on the stereo at that moment ("What's a matter, baby, is it hurting you?"), I'd have burst into a couple of stanzas of "Space Oddity." I have no shame.

A few blocks south of there, the building which houses a well-established cosmetic-surgery practice is getting, um, a facelift.

And seen in the parking lot at Albertson's, this bumper sticker: "John Kerry for President — of France."

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:06 PM)
31 August 2004
How dry I am

So I got home around 5 pm, wheeled out the mower, wrestled the front yard into submission, and by 5:25 I was crawling into the shower.

Which turned out to be a bad idea; those wonderful folks at the gas company had sliced through the water line, and even my Super-Velocity Ultimate Vortex shower head was unable to spit up more than a few bits of drizzle.

Full service was restored somewhere around 9:30 pm. The break occurred on the other side of 50 Penn Place; I wonder if they had to put up with it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:59 AM)
3 September 2004
How diverse are we?

Well, I'll tell you: we are so diverse that... but never mind. Nobody is buying. Oklahoma City, though many paths intersect here, is still widely perceived as being all of a piece, and it's a piece of white bread with the crusts cut off.

Four months ago, I came up with this:

Dr Richard Florida, guru of the Creative Class movement, was here this spring, and if I'm reading him properly, we can't really buy ourselves a Creative Class: we have to attract one, and that requires not only sprucing up the locations but the local attitudes as well. This doesn't mean we have to do a political 180, necessarily, but it does mean we have to come to grips with diversity in its truest sense: not something imposed from on high, but something that grows from the ground up.

There are now signs that the power structure is actually starting to pay attention to this sort of thing. The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce has begun Project NEXT, which seeks to "make Central Oklahoma attractive to educated and talented individuals and the most successful businesses," a task which they admit will require seeking "input from the entire community, including people that may or may not be [our] traditional partners."

I'm not quite sure the Chamber really has a handle on this yet. "We've got all the main minority groups — American Indians, Asians, Hispanics, African-Americans, gays," says Chamber spokesperson Drew Dugan in apparent "See how hard we're trying!" mode. Still, they are trying, and that's something they wouldn't have done forty, or even four, years ago.

Next Thursday, representatives from "all the main minority groups" will descend upon the Cox Convention Center to tell the Chamber what they think needs to be done. It should be interesting, to say the least.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 AM)
8 September 2004
Well, not much debt, anyway

The goal, said City Manager Jim Couch, was to finish MAPS right and without debt.

By any reasonable reckoning, they did the job right; the nine original Metropolitan Area Projects were massive undertakings, and the results are breathtaking.

But did they go over budget? Here are the individual projects:

  • SBC Bricktown Ballpark ($34 million)
  • Bricktown Canal ($23 million)
  • Oklahoma Spirit Trolleys ($5 million)
  • Cox Convention Center renovation/expansion ($60 million)
  • Civic Center Music Hall renovation ($53 million)
  • State Fairgrounds improvements ($14 million)
  • Ford Center ($89 million)
  • North Canadian Oklahoma River development ($53.5 million)
  • Ronald J. Norick Library ($21.5 million)

Which comes to $353 million, a fair chunk of change by any measure. However, the city claims to have collected only $309 million from the temporary sales tax (since expired) that funded the projects.

Of course: government projects result in cost overruns. Nature of the beast. No doubt some of the difference was made up by the sale of naming rights. And I've had years (don't even ask) when I overspent my income by 14 percent. So I'm not as cranky about this as I could be, I suppose, especially since the City isn't actually running a deficit, unlike some governments I could name.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:19 PM)
12 September 2004
Sunday spottings (for once more)

Someone once asked why I would go to the trouble of visiting parts of town that are generally considered, um, less desirable. It's simple: I don't want to get into the habit of thinking about a 600-square-mile city in terms of the few blocks that surround my house. Things happen all over town, and given the priorities of the press, which enjoys harping on tragedies even more than boasting about some dubious manifestation of "progress," I'd just as soon see for myself.

So I was near Linwood and Blackwelder today, where small firms under the general heading of "light industrial" vie for curb space with homes built around the time of World War I. And every other block, there's a church, and this being Sunday, those churches were busy. (I caught sight of an old-fashioned revival tent on a double lot.) A few black faces, but mostly brown; kids on bicycles, men unloading trucks, women in their Sunday best.

Now the roads through there aren't great, and I suspect the rest of the city's infrastructure is probably an upgrade or two behind schedule, but this struck me as a relatively nice, if obviously not at all upscale, neighborhood. (I spot-checked a couple of houses for sale, and you can still buy in around here for thirty-five to fifty-five thousand.) Professional worriers, faced with a few blocks like this, would undoubtedly start screaming "Blight!" and calling for intervention. And indeed, there's room for improvement, starting with what appears to be, at first glance, a higher-than-average crime rate. But I am becoming persuaded that the kiss of death for any neighborhood comes at the exact moment when the studies and the surveys and the recommendations start coming out and the focus shifts from "How can we make this area better?" to "How can we get these people out of here?" I, for my part, am loath to tear up an area of affordable housing just because it's not pretty.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:48 PM)
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 founder's 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 founder's 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.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:49 AM)
18 September 2004
Subduing the Party Monster

I have no idea whether they checked all of Macaulay Culkin's major crevices when they booked him into the Oklahoma County Jail yesterday on charges of possession of what the government persists in calling "substances," including six-tenths of an ounce of marijuana. On the other hand, they did let him go once he'd posted $4000 bond.

One thing bothers me: at 4 pm, the time of the initial bust, 70 mph on I-44 would normally put one at the back of the traffic pack — even at 5 pm, traffic is often moving at close to 75 mph — so I have to assume that the improper lane change was what drew the attention of the gendarmes.

Which, for that stretch of 44, surely must be a first.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:01 AM)
Saturday spottings (on time)

Construction has begun, it appears — I saw no signage, but the location and the size match up — on the Embassy Suites hotel on the eastern edge of Bricktown, which is supposed to open in January 2006, and which will give owner John Q. Hammons three of the five major hotels in downtown Oklahoma City. (Hammons also owns the Renaissance and the Courtyard by Marriott; the other two are the Westin — scheduled to morph into a Sheraton — and the not-yet-reborn Hilton Skirvin.)

Meanwhile, Harkins Theatres says its new 16-screen motion-picture showplace will open on the first of October. I've got my doubts, but I figure they'll do their darnedest, especially since the Centennial Fountain near the entrance is now up and running.

I saw quite a few new Bush/Cheney yard signs today, though no new signs for Kerry/Edwards. On the other hand, Kerry stickers seem to outnumber Bush stickers, at least on the cars that were in front of me. Whether this reflects anything other than what the local parties were able to hand out this past week remains to be seen.

A billboard on the south side: YES ON 712 / Education and Jobs. State Question 712 [link requires Adobe Reader] is the State-Tribal Gaming Act, which provides the following:

The Act contains a Model Tribal Gaming Compact. Indian tribes that agree to the Compact can use new types of gaming machines. These machines are used for gambling. Compacting tribes could also offer some card games.

If at least four Indian tribes enter into the Compact, three State licensed racetracks could use the same electronic gaming machines.

The Act limits the number of gaming machines racetracks can use. The Act does not limit the number of machines that Indian tribes can use.

The State Horse Racing Commission would regulate machine gaming at racetracks. A tribal agency would regulate authorized gaming by a tribe. The Office of State Finance would monitor authorized tribal gambling.

Proceeds from authorized gaming at racetracks go to:

  1. the racetrack;
  2. the owners of winning horses,
  3. horsemen's organizations,
  4. breed organizations, and
  5. the State to be used for educational purposes.

Some of the proceeds from authorized gaming by Indian tribes goes to the State. The State would use these proceeds for educational purposes and compulsive gambling programs.

Pitching this as an "education and jobs" measure, I believe, is highly dubious.

And just a little bit of Mitsubitching to the fellow in the dingy white Diamante: if you're going to have dual fart-can exhausts, you might consider actually fastening them to the car rather than have them dangling a few inches above the pavement.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:14 PM)
21 September 2004
Arraign upon the plain

Macaulay Culkin, last seen getting busted in Oklahoma City, was read the charges yesterday: two misdemeanors, one for possession of marijuana, one for possession of a prescription drug (Xanax) without a prescription.

The Oklahoman reports from police records that Culkin and his traveling companion, pulled over for minor traffic violations, would probably have gotten off with a warning had they not been so obviously "nervous."

DA Wes Lane will perforce suggest Culkin enter a drug-treatment program.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 AM)
From the Department of Major Upgrades

Tropos Networks has built a number of Wi-Fi systems for public-safety use, but they've never tried anything this big: a wireless network for the city of Oklahoma City, 600-plus square miles of spectacularly-irregular polygon.

The new network, which should be fully operational by the end of next year, will cost around $5 million. And no, there will be no public-access hot spots, at least at first.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:24 PM)
23 September 2004
Gently down the stream

My first thought, of course, was this: "OCU has varsity rowing?"

Which they do. And on the third of October, Oklahoma City University hosts the Head of the Oklahoma Centennial Regatta, over two and a half miles of the no-longer-ludicrous North Canadian Oklahoma River.

Even Harvard is sending a team.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 AM)
2 October 2004
Saturday spottings (time-warp edition)

It's not a jump to the left and then a step to the right; this time we're going backward and forward.

Back in August I noted the demolition of the building at 23rd and Classen that once housed a Beverly's Restaurant, and it occurred to me this morning that it had been far too long since I'd sampled any of the wares therein.

Beverly Osborne's first restaurant, dating to 1921, was just north of the State Capitol on Lincoln Boulevard; eventually there were half a dozen across town, the last to be built being the Pancake Corner at Northwest Expressway west of Pennsylvania, which sports red floor tile almost identical to the tile on my bathroom floor. Time, attrition and urban renewal took their usual toll, and now the Pancake Corner is the only Beverly's remaining. Still, it's hard to imagine that it was much different in the Good Old Days than it is now: it's a classic diner of the old school, everything happens right up front so you can see the level of chaos for yourself, and while prices are inevitably higher, the menu and the recipes are largely unchanged. I should be in such good shape when I'm eighty-three years old.

The Harkins Theatres in Bricktown aren't even eighty-three hours old yet, but they were doing a semi-brisk business for a Saturday afternoon, perhaps because four screens (including the monster Cine Capri) were devoted to the weekend's big debut, Shark Tale. Being the sensible soul I am, I went after lunch, reasoning that the Big Bevburger ($4.95 with fries) was likely to be more substantial a meal than the $5.50 Giant Popcorn at the concession stand. (I did, however, fork over three and a quarter for a box of Raisinets, because — well, just because, okay?)

Two weeks ago I said something to the effect that I'd be surprised if they made their first-of-October opening on time, and indeed they did, but there's a reason I trust my gut: about two-thirds of the way through Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, a section of ceiling molding and the backing material came crashing to the floor. (I suspect it says something about Sky Captain that hardly anyone noticed the crash, what with all the crashing and whatnot on screen, duly reproduced in Dolby® Digital.) The offending section was directly above an aisle, and no one in the auditorium was even close to being affected by it, but Harkins management was properly appalled, and everyone at that showing was comped with a free pass for the inconvenience suffered, while staff hurried in halfway through the credits to make the repairs.

We jump now into the realm of the timeless. A chap from a local Baptist church rang my bell this morning and handed me a package of light bulbs. (Good ones, too: GE Soft White Longlife 60-watt.) No catch: it's just part of their outreach. And, well, why not promote Eternal Light with something good for 1500 hours or so?

Sign at a Kelly-Moore paint store: 100% CARB FREE PAINT. I should certainly hope so.

And to the long cool woman in a black dress who was posing for photographs in front of, and darn near on top of, the Centennial Fountain around three o'clock: thank you, thank you, thank you. (Words fail me otherwise.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:59 PM)
7 October 2004
I do believe it's true

The word hasn't made it to the city Web site yet, but they're putting it out in the City News utility-bill insert: you can now pay Oklahoma City utility bills at the zoo.

Really. Seven days a week, 9 to 5, the Oklahoma City Zoo's Guest Services Counter will take your check or money order in payment of your utility bill, assuming it's current. What's more, they're reserving a couple of parking spaces near the zoo entrance for utility customers.

In another development, the Municipal Court will now take plastic for city fines, in person or over the phone during business hours, and won't even charge you a service fee.

Eventually, they really need to unite all these functions and make them payable at okc.gov. (Right now, only traffic tickets can be paid over the Web.) But I can wait.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:47 PM)
9 October 2004
Saturday spottings (Etruscan edition)

On the south side of the campus of St. Gregory's University, a small (850 students) Benedictine school in Shawnee, Oklahoma, is the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art, founded in 1914 by Father Gregory Gerrer, a Benedictine monk and an artist in his own right.

It's always worth the half-hour trip (35 miles, but traffic on I-40 tends to move at close to 80 mph once you're past Tinker Air Force Base) from the city to Mabee-Gerrer, but this year they have something literally unique: Unveiling Ancient Mystery: Etruscan Treasures, the first-ever showing of 225 pieces of jewelry from the collection of Count Vittorio Cini (1885-1977), passed down to his daughter Yana and made available by her husband, Prince Fabrizio Alliata di Montereale.

In addition to the Alliata-Cini collection, Etruscan Treasures features items that were imported to Etruria from other Mediterranean venues — Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia — that inspired the Etruscans' own artifacts. (For instance, to supplement an image of an Etruscan sarcophagus, there's an actual Egyptian sarcophagus from the museum's permanent collection.) There are workaday items and luxuries, reproductions of typical clothing based upon statuary, everything you'd want from a serious archaeological dig.

But the exhibition inevitably is dominated by the jewelry: small, intricately detailed, constructed with incredible precision using highly-sophisticated techniques. (A local jewelrymaker who contributes to the Antenna Audio tour program has actually duplicated some of the pieces; the reproductions can be bought at the museum at prices which reflect the difficulty of the task.) I quote from the catalog ($27.50) description of one piece in the collection:

Disc-shaped earring decorated with a six-petalled flower of beaded wire and central granule, inscribed in concentric circles of twisted, plain and spooled wire. Suspended from the disc is a pendant in the form of an inverted three-sided pyramid with a grain on the tip, decorated at the edges with spiral-beaded wire.

And they were doing this around 350 BC, mind you.

Of course, the greatest Etruscan mystery is "Where did they go?" We know that Etruria, whose borders correspond roughly with those of present-day Tuscany, eventually became part of the Roman Empire, and we are learning that some vaunted Roman innovations were derived (or blatantly copied) from Etruscan work. The exhibit is a celebration of Etruscan culture at its best, but it's also a grim reminder that no civilization, however sophisticated, lasts forever.

Unveiling Ancient Mystery: Etruscan Treasures runs through the end of October at Mabee-Gerrer. It's a national exclusive: this is the only place in the entire country to see this exhibit. And unsurprisingly, the museum register records visitors from all 50 states. (New Hampshire, says the front desk, was the last.) If you're anywhere in the vicinity, or even if you're not, it's worth the trip.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:16 PM)
16 October 2004
Saturday spottings (on their own shelf)

This series has gotten to the point where it's almost not unpopular, which suggests that I maybe should give it its own category. Which I did, at least for a while.

Heritage Park Mall, on the west side of Midwest City (which is on the east side of the county), has been a rather gloomy place for years now. Built for three and a half anchor tenants, they've had to make do with two: Service Merchandise, in the "half" spot, has now closed all its retail stores, and Montgomery Ward is history. And while everything in the mall isn't suffering — Dave will be happy to know that El Chico still dishes up the Tex-Mex to good crowds — the general atmosphere has been one of "So when are they going to put this place out of its misery already?"

Not so fast, Bucky. The buzz was positive today, and while no one is saying for sure until the contracts are signed, the word is that a big-box appliance store, most likely Best Buy, is going to take over the Wards spot. (Circuit City once had a store across the street, but it died quickly, and its space is now occupied by a Goodwill store.) To me it seems like an odd place for a Best Buy, which normally shuns malls, but it's a fair distance from their other stores in the area, and with the local Sight 'N Sound chain having been sold off, this might be the time for Best Buy to make its move.

I go past it every weekday morning, but it's usually an hour or so before sunrise, so I didn't notice until today that the Guest House Inn, an old motel once a fixture of the no-longer-around Classen Circle, has been torn down. I have no idea what's in store for the lot; access from I-44 is not wonderful, and I suspect that antique dealers around this area have reached a saturation point. And somehow I doubt that people wanting to crash after a night at Edna's will crawl two whole blocks to the Courtyard by Marriott.

Coming back from the supermarket, I managed to get behind not one but two purveyors of pure pollution: a first-generation Dodge Intrepid and a going-on-fifteen Mazda 929, both of whom were spewing roiling plumes of noxious white smoke into the air and into the ventilation systems of everyone who wasn't fast enough to switch to Recirculate. I don't want to hear anything more about greenhouse gases and other dubious bugaboos until somebody does something about these easily visible and highly verifiable mobile smog machines.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 PM)
21 October 2004
Loading up the frontage road

The abandoned Wal-Mart on I-240 east of Pennsylvania Avenue will be torn down, as will a currently-operating Mardel store: in their place will be a semi-upscale strip vaguely similar to Belle Isle Station on the northside, including new quarters for Mardel and the city's first Marshalls store.

This makes a certain amount of sense, since I-240 just about bisects the southside; it's halfway between Reno and SW 149th. Admittedly, most of the growth in this area is south of 82nd Street, half a mile south of I-240, which is the border of the Moore school district, but there isn't a retail corridor in the area that in any way rivals I-240.

I did find this comment by Ward 5 Councilman Jerry Foshee interesting:

Wal-Mart moves every five years and leaves a box. It becomes a blight and affects the neighborhood surrounding it.

It's very uncommon, though, to remove one of their abandoned boxes completely; usually someone will try to renovate it into smaller spaces. The developers evidently felt that this old box was unsuitable for their tenants. Of course, this leads to the next question: What happens when Wal-Mart, which is now west of Penn, decides to pack up and go somewhere else? I guess we'll worry about that when it happens.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:07 AM)
23 October 2004
The limits of city limits

By any reasonable standards of size, Juneau, Alaska is huge: in 1970, the city and the surrounding borough were consolidated and the city of Douglas was annexed, and now Juneau covers 3200 square miles, half of which is water — some liquid, some actual ice.

Apart from the ice, this happens in the Lower 48 as well. Jacksonville, Florida covers all of Duval County that isn't otherwise incorporated, over 750 square miles of land area (and a fair amount of water as well). Former Jacksonville Mayor Hans Tanzler explains the rationale for merging the city and the county back in 1968:

The population went down in the city over a 10-year period and exploded 200 percent in the county. Nobody wanted to live in the city, and the city's tax base was becoming eroded and weaker and less capable of carrying the load.

And Jacksonville was hardly alone in its woes, which explains much about Oklahoma City's annexation efforts after World War II and into the 1960s, in which the city ballooned to 640 square miles, then the largest in the nation. (About 20 square miles were subsequently detached.) Bethany and Warr Acres, adjacent to one another, are completely surrounded by Oklahoma City; ditto for Nichols Hills and The Village. Municipalities farther out began to expand: Edmond now covers 85 square miles, and Norman sprawls over 177.

Things reached a peak of sorts in 1999, when the city of Seminole annexed a strip of land about ten miles long and three feet wide, along the west side of Oklahoma 99 from the existing city limits to Interstate 40. Property owners objected, suits were filed, and eventually the state Supreme Court ruled against the city. The state has since acted to make annexation somewhat more difficult. In 2004, two bills were passed to provide some protection to owners in unincorporated areas: Senate Bill 851 exempts land used for agricultural purposes from municipal ordinances when it's annexed, and Senate Bill 905 changes the rules for so-called "fenceline" annexations.

But SB 905 doesn't officially go into effect until the first of November. The city of Harrah, on the eastern edge of Oklahoma County, has a 50-foot-wide fenceline which encloses an unincorporated area and which borders other municipalities in the county. Harrah would like to extend this 50-foot strip to 300 feet, presumably because under SB 905, they will have to have a minimum of 300 feet on at least three sides to be able to annex the interior of the rectangle without having to seek the consent of a majority of property owners.

There's just one problem: property owners tend to take a dim view of being annexed. There's a section of Oklahoma City that extends all the way to the Pottawatomie County line, and about five years ago some residents petitioned to be deannexed, on the basis that the city was never going to get around to providing city services that far out. (Fire Station #36 has since been opened at 17700 SE 104th Street.) Harrah is holding public hearings before the expansion of their fenceline, but I wouldn't expect their proposal to be welcomed with open arms.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
Saturday spottings (in a roundabout way)

The intersection of NW 10th, Classen Drive and Walker Avenue has been a mess for a long time, simply because it's a five-way intersection (though Walker is one-way north) and the lights are synchronized with the price of beets in Tegucigalpa or something equally implausible. As part of the 10th Street Beautification Project, aka "How do we keep St. Anthony Hospital from moving out of midtown?", the city has begun replacing the intersection with, heaven help us all, a rotary. (Readers from northeastern states may snicker now.) Detours are set to one block beyond, and are actually fairly clearly marked, which didn't stop some ditz in a powder-blue Ford pickup from wending southbound on Walker from 10th as I passed through on 9th.

A bit farther west, the Linwood Place neighborhood, towards the far end of the old westbound trolley line, is in spruce-up mode for the annual Home Tour tomorrow. Before I got married, I lived about two and a half miles west, and I used to take 19th Street to work, simply because the houses, especially through this area, were so darn gorgeous; almost thirty years later, they still are.

Closer to home, they've scraped off the southeast corner of NW 39th and May, which old-timers will remember as the onetime home of Shotgun Sam's Pizza Palace. None of Sam's successors did really great business, and the now-vacant lot will shortly become home for David Stanley Ford, which is moving across May. Stanley's place will be taken over by Lowe's, which is putting in one of their home-improvement stores. (Yes, there was a Builders Square at 36th and May, and yes, it's vacant, and no, Lowe's didn't want it: too small.)

Finally, a note from the back yard. Most of the trees around here in autumn end up with yellow or brown foliage, and not especially wondrous shades of either. However, my two sweetgum trees, a species with which I was not familiar before moving here, shed leaves just this side of stop-sign red, making for an interesting color display — and, unfortunately, making the need to rake more obvious.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:03 PM)
29 October 2004
The Dell you say

Dell is hiring in Oklahoma City.

Next month, the computer manufacturer will start construction on a new facility for its Oklahoma City sales center to replace the space they currently borrow from Hertz; the workforce will grow from 250 to 700 and could eventually reach as high as 3,000.

I misheard the location on the announcement and for a moment thought that they were going to locate in suburban Del City, prompting a brief reverie about the possibility of adding a letter to the town's name. ("Del" was Delaphene Campbell, daughter of city founder George Epperly.) As it happens, the new facility will be located off SW 15th Street at I-44, in an abandoned park once set aside for river development that never happened.

And now that I think about it, I'm due for a new computer.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
30 October 2004
Saturday spottings (pre-election)

A map [link requires Adobe Reader] of Oklahoma's House District 87 vaguely resembles a map of Minnesota, and judging solely by yard signs and bumper stickers, it's seriously Democratic down around Albert Lea and Rochester and gets more Republican the closer you get to International Falls or Moorhead, though registrations are more or less evenly split. (Stretching this map metaphor to its maximum, I live around Hibbing.) Operatives from both parties were busy today: I spied a woman bearing KerryOkies indicia on her minivan a couple blocks southeast of me, and later I caught two presumably younger women wearing Tom Coburn T-shirts canvassing along 36th Street (call it US 10).

Speaking of yard signs, I lost mine last night: the Oklahoma wind ripped the plastic right off the wire frame. It held up for more than three months, which is probably well beyond its expected lifetime; I'm not planning to request a replacement because, well, the election is Tuesday fercryingoutloud. (No, it wasn't stolen; a thief wouldn't have left the wire in place, and around the neighborhood, other signs for the same candidate were still up.)

I've seen a few pro-SQ 712 signs, but this was the first day I saw any significant number of anti-SQ 711 signs, with the tag "Don't Legalize Discrimination." Of course, I'd expect these close to home: ZIP code 73112, per Census Bureau guesstimates, has more same-sex couples than any other ZIP code in the entire state, though this is due partly to its sheer size (7.5 square miles).

Seen on a vanity plate: EDITUR. I don't know whether this was a Spanish translation or just someone in need of a kopy editur.

And finally, on the marquee at Whataburger: IT TASTES LIKE CHICKEN 'CAUSE IT IS CHICKEN. I assume they're trying to slam some competing product, but I don't want to know what that product is.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:12 PM)
31 October 2004
Sunday spottings (stir crazy)

It was a nice day to stay inside and take a nap, but having been here and done that, I decided I'd just as soon venture out, and it's not like it was a particularly arduous task to do so.

Near NW 5th and Walker, an ancient motel, once a TraveLodge (which I, for some reason, have always read as "TREYV lodge," as though it might not be kosher or something), has been gutted and is being restored. It's about time; there ought to be some lodging around downtown that doesn't cost a hundred bucks a night.

A church on Meridian mentions SQ 711 on its marquee and trots out that well-worn business about Adam and Steve; while Googling about for an original quotation, I turned up an actual gay dating service called Adam and Steve. This particular A&S is located in Los Angeles, a place where off-center business names have long flourished; I remember a specialized sports shop there called The Merchant of Tennis. But we don't do so badly here in Soonerland: one of my current favorites, nomenclaturally speaking, is local florist Floral and Hardy.

The little westside Mexican restaurant called Zacatecas has been replaced by a little westside Mexican restaurant called Red Onion, whose owners are very likely unaware of a highly-dissimilar establishment with the same name that existed here in the 90s. The 1890s, that is; the Red Onion of the Oklahoma Territory days was a notorious "disorderly house," if you will, that was a primary target for the admininstration of Mayor Charles G. "Gristmill" Jones, who took office in 1896 pledging to clean up this wild and woolly town. (Among other things, Jones, who really did own a mill, was the president of the Oklahoma Territorial Fair Association, predecessor to the present-day Oklahoma State Fair; the city of Jones, northeast of town, is named for him.)

About a mile south of the Red Onion — the new one — is a night-spot called the Dirty Hoe. It sports a, um, gardening motif.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:04 PM)
2 November 2004
We got your urban sprawl right here

The new Mosher-Adams Street Atlas for Oklahoma City is out, and it shows seven hundred new streets since last year's edition, the biggest increase ever. A few of these, I suspect, come from outlying towns which, due to suburban expansion, are now practically suburban themselves, but the city itself is growing at a steady pace; the 2003 population estimate is 523,303, up 3.4 percent from the 2000 Census figure of 506,132. The metropolitan area, at 1,085,282 in 2000, reached 1,126,709 in 2003, up 3.8 percent, and projections [link requires Adobe Reader] by the Center for Economic and Business Development at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford anticipate 1,221,552 by 2010.

It's too early to proclaim the death of the classic boom/bust economic cycle that has dictated Oklahoma's destiny for a hundred years, and indeed many of the state's rural areas are still largely in decline, but for one of the few times since the Land Run, Oklahoma City has turned into something of a destination for migrants, not just from poorer parts of the state, but from out of state as well. Maybe the ghost of Tom Joad will be getting some well-deserved rest.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:59 AM)
6 November 2004
Saturday spottings (everywhere a sign)

This being possibly the last really warm (middle 70s) Saturday until spring, I loaded up the CD player with Carolina beach music and hit the streets with the windows down.

Signs all over town are showing name changes. The Hilton Inn Northwest is mutating into a Crowne Plaza; Eckerd's drug stores have dropped their old logos, though relatively few have any CVS signage up.

And sometimes there are signs in response to signs. Back in June, Texas-based IBC Bank completed its acquisition of what used to be Local Oklahoma Bank, and this fall they had rented billboards around town saying "IBC is LOCAL", a reference to the name change. Little Advantage Bank, based in Spencer, put up some billboards of its own on the east side saying "We Really Are Local."

Advantage Bank, I note, used to be Spencer State Bank, back when you'd think that a state-chartered bank in Spencer would almost have to be named that. Steve Martin once observed that banks have to be named something like "Security National Trust and Federal Reserve," because "nobody's gonna put their money in 'Fred's Bank'," and I once faked up a radio ad for "State City National Bank and Truss Company" for reasons which are mercifully lost to history. Fred may have failed to get his name on the sign, but bank names have definitely taken a turn for the weird: the new bank in the tower at 1601 Northwest Distressway, a building named with brazen simplicity "The Tower," is called "Valliance Bank," which to me sounds like a fatal collision of "valley" and "dalliance." Not that I'd ever engage in such a thing, though Ondrya Wolfson might:

I am a Val, I know. But I live in, like, a really good part of Encino so it's okay.

Okay, fine, for sure, for sure. Sheesh. Meanwhile, in a less-than-really-good part of Oklahoma City, the Riverfront Skatepark is nearing completion: most of the concrete is in place. And regardless of what you may think of sk8terbois, this is a Good Thing: cleaning up the banks of the newly-christened Oklahoma River is essential to making it a serious destination for travelers and bored-out-of-their-skulls locals.

Finally, one last sign: Hyroop's, styled "The Big and Tall Place," probably should have thought twice before proclaiming a "Store Wide Sale," and definitely shouldn't have proclaimed it on the side of a big fat balloon.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:37 PM)
7 November 2004
Horsing around with tax rates

The hotel-room tax in Oklahoma City was fixed at 2 percent in 1972, and has been there ever since. On the 14th of December, the city will hold an election to increase it to 5.5 percent, largely to pay for improvements to livestock and horse facilities at State Fair Park.

In announcing the election in the CityNews flyer in November utility bills, the city introduces this array of numbers:

The hotel tax has been at the current 2% rate for more than 32 years. Even at 5.5%, Oklahoma City's hotel tax would still be far below most other cities, including our main Texas competitors. Dallas, for example, has a 13% hotel tax, Fort Worth's is 15% and the San Antonio hotel tax is almost 17%.

A bikini of a paragraph, this is: what it reveals is interesting, but what it conceals is vital. What you're not being told here is that in addition to that measly two percent, travelers are being hit with the full sales-tax package, state, county where applicable, and city; lodging in Oklahoma City is ultimately taxed at a rate of 10.375 percent. I grabbed my handy Choice Hotels Directory, which got some heavy use this summer, and sure enough, most of the inns in the city are listed at that tax rate, give or take some rounding somewhere.

So if this measure passes, tourists will be forking over 13.875 cents in tax for every dollar of room rate. This is still lower than Fort Worth or San Antonio, but the city is making it seem like visitors have been getting the screaming deal of the century here, which of course they haven't. Meanwhile, the City of New York makes do on a mere 13.625% plus two bucks a day.

I'll still probably vote for the increase — we really do need to spruce up the horse facilities around here — but somebody at City Hall should have taken the time to give that tax comparison some actual legitimacy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:21 PM)
13 November 2004
Saturday spottings (open up your heart)

The clouds hung overhead all day, and by sunset they were ready to drizzle, so I didn't get to see a whole lot outside today. I must, however, note a correction to a previous edition: whatever that is at the east end of Bricktown, it's not the Embassy Suites hotel, which is apparently awaiting negotiations with adjoining properties to make sure everyone has enough parking spaces. The Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority is reportedly considering granting hotel operator John Q. Hammons an extension of six months before he starts construction.

Meanwhile, I was inside at the west end of Bricktown, watching The Incredibles at the Harkins. And while there's a certain amusement value in noting that this is the second film in a row I've seen which features nasty robots with tentacles, what matters here, as is always the case with a Pixar film, is the story. And I don't care if it is animated; you will not see a better action-adventure film this year — or next. The internal geekboy, of course, sprung from my head at the end of the credits to bounce Fantastic Four comparisons off the remaining handful of stragglers, and yes, there are some marked similarities, superpower-wise, but Fox's upcoming FF movie, ostensibly due on the Fourth of July, has its work cut out for it if it hopes to come even close to this league, and that's quite 'nuff said.

Just when I was getting used to credit cards that are credit-card-sized, a bank which shall remain nameless sent me a teensy 2.5-by-1.5-inch cardlet with a hole punched in the corner, presumably for use on a keychain. I don't think so. ("Hello, Mr. Hill? We found your keys, and oh, by the way, you're $10,000 in debt.")

And thanks be to Mac Gayden and Buzz Cason, who wrote "Everlasting Love," to Robert Knight, who recorded it in 1967, and to those drivers around Penn Square who didn't take umbrage while I was singing along with it at damn near the top of my lungs this evening. Probably to Elastigirl.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:39 PM)
19 November 2004
Dozers at the ready

Back in April, Powers Nissan in Midwest City was being handed a condemnation order by Oklahoma County commissioners, hoping to clear away areas near flight paths at Tinker Air Force Base and thereby give the Base Realignment and Closure folks one less reason to put Tinker on their lists of bases to close.

Powers sold the property at 8029 SE 29th Street to the county, which leased it back to the dealership for six months so a new location could be sought. The lease is now up, and the county has now given Powers until the end of the month to vacate.

David Stanley Dodge, one block to the west (Midwest City numbering being what it is, they're at 7609), isn't going anywhere.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:16 PM)
20 November 2004
Saturday spottings (wheeling)

The stretch of Broadway from 4th to 10th is known as Automobile Alley; at one time it was the home of more than half the car dealerships in Oklahoma City. After World War II dealers began relocating to the suburbs, and today only two auto dealers operate downtown, neither on the Alley (though Mercedes-Benz of Oklahoma City, at 12th and Broadway, is close). Like many near-downtown districts, the Alley has been getting a facelift lately, and while there are still lots of empty vintage buildings, there are signs of serious commerce: a couple of branch banks, an architect, even a CD store.

I was down the Alley today to drop in at Individual Artists of Oklahoma, which has a gallery between 7th and 8th in what used to be the city's Packard dealership. The main exhibit at IAO this month is "Muse America" by Steve Cluck, a collection of paintings and screenprints that celebrate American womanhood at its brightest, or at least its most brightly-colored. Interesting stuff, and there's a ballot box to vote for the Muse you find most inspiring.

And I should point out that the "Alley" name, while it undoubtedly was chosen for the purpose of alliteration, is a prime example of Oklahoma understatement: this section of Broadway is one of the widest streets in town. Its 100-foot width, according to legend, was chosen because it was wide enough to do a 180 in a horse-drawn wagon.

North of the Capitol, construction continues on the Oklahoma History Center, a new home for the state Historical Society and some spiffy new exhibits. And it's about time they did something north of the Capitol; they've cleaned up Lincoln Boulevard's streetscape, but there's scarcely anything left between 23rd and 36th. While I don't particularly miss the rundown commercial district that used to be there, I'd like to see something on Lincoln that doesn't reflect the state government's ongoing edifice complex.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:07 PM)
27 November 2004
Saturday spottings (ice and more ice)

With the ongoing success of the New Year's Eve bash known as Opening Night, going downtown during the holidays is no longer considered weird, and each year a few more stops are pulled out to lure folks into the middle of things.

One of the newer, and neater, of the attractions is Braum's Ice Rink, 9300 square feet of ice-skating space in front of the Music Hall. This is the third year for the rink, and it always draws a good crowd; in fact, the city's cable channel trains a camera on the rink to fill the space between programs, and being the clumsy oaf that I am, I marvel at the sheer beauty of it all. People who hate disco should probably avoid it on Friday nights, but otherwise it's a genuine winter wonderland. A semi-complete list of things going on downtown this year can be seen at DowntownInDecember.com.

Meanwhile, out in the jewelry jungle, something of a shakeout is going on. The Berkey Brothers store on the Northwest Distressway reports in its recent advertising that a competitor bought the building and is not renewing the lease, presumably putting Berkey out of business.

In this little part of the jewelry universe, though, you have Gordons, and you have Non-Gordons. The Gordon's Jewelers chain, which goes back to 1905, is these days a corporate sister to Zales. Outside the chain, there is the Samuel Gordon operation, apparently not related to those Texas-based Gordons, which started in 1904; there is also Alan Gordon, a smaller firm that traces its history back to 1878.

The new guy on the Gordon block is Arthur Gordon, who set up his shop in the late 1970s. I remember it being simply Arthur's Fine Jewelry, suggesting that he didn't want to trade on the surname or be confused with those other Gordons, though eventually Art decided to hang his full name out on the shingle. It apparently didn't help, as he's now got going-out-of-business signs hanging up at his store at NW 70th and May — half a mile north of Alan's place.

Still, the jewelry market in Oklahoma City isn't exactly owned by people named Gordon, as anyone who recalls the B. C. Clark jingle will readily testify.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:07 PM)
28 November 2004
Running a trace

What I know about this neighborhood is not much, really. I know that C. B. Warr, after whom the enclave of Warr Acres is named, developed this subdivision right after World War II; my house, like most of the others close by, was built in 1948. (Other noteworthy happenings in this year: the founding of Israel, the beginning of the Berlin Airlift, the publication of Alfred Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, and a Triple Crown win by Citation.)

Which leads to the question: what happened to the original settlers? A 1907 township map shows everything owned, if not necessarily platted, as far north as Wilshire Boulevard. (Townships were six miles square; the boundaries were Wilshire and Reno on the north and south, and May and Bryant on the west and east.) This quarter-section was owned, says the map, by one Halvor Steanson, for whom Steanson Drive (2800 block West, through this neighborhood only) is presumably named; in 1925, Steanson was still listed in the city directory as a farmer, located around NW 45th and May.

Tarrant County (Fort Worth), Texas reports the birth of Kirk Halvor Steanson in July 1955. Grandson, I'm guessing. Did the Steansons sell out to Warr and move to Texas? One of next year's projects will be to find out for sure.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:15 PM)
4 December 2004
Saturday spottings (the shuffle)

The nascent Asian District is getting a bank at 2523 Classen, across the street from, and slightly north of, the fabled Milk Bottle. It's a branch of Edmond-based First Commercial Bank, which recently expanded into Oklahoma City with the acquisition of Rockwell Bank.

In other bank news, Americrest Bank, previously known as Guaranty Bank, is rebranding itself again, this time as Coppermark Bank. The "Americrest" name was coined when Guaranty planned to move into the Dallas-Fort Worth market, where a Guaranty Bank already existed; however, they ran afoul of trademark issues, and had to come up with yet another name. The name change was announced in November, but permanent signage is just now going up.

The Happy Homemaker reports on the impending construction of a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market in her neck of the woods, near NW 23rd and Pennsylvania. Typically for Wal-Mart, they're not filling the extant vacant space in Penn Crossing; I recall that when they took over an empty Homeland store in The Village, they razed the building and rebuilt. Still, the arrival was arguably good for Casady Square across the street, and The Village needed the sales-tax revenue, especially with Albertson's moving across Britton Road into Oklahoma City territory. Those who hate all things Wal-Mart will undoubtedly head for the Buy 4 Less across Penn, or drive elsewhere, but I've learned not to bet against Sam Walton's retail machine.

And there are still some small signs of life at Bradford Commons, apartments located south of the Oklahoma Health Center between NE 7th and NE 8th. The 247-unit complex was sold in 2001 for a startling $3.5 million dollars to 2012 LLC. This year, TV news has been coming up with regular stories about how the place has gone to hell: the water was supposed to have been turned off around Thanksgiving, and all the tenants are presumably going to have to be gone by the end of the month, when the complex shuts down. Rumors that the Commons would be sold have persisted, and KGOU radio reported this week that the University of Oklahoma, one rumored buyer, isn't interested. I haven't heard that the Commons are going to be Cabrini-Greened out of existence, but at this point, I wouldn't be surprised to see bulldozers heading down 8th Street.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:04 PM)
7 December 2004
Dred reckoning

Oklahoma became a state in 1907, and almost immediately became a segregated state: Senate Bill One was the first of many Jim Crow laws which took entirely too long to repeal.

One of the tactics used to undermine Jim Crow was the sit-in, and one of the first places it was used effectively was Katz Drug Store in downtown Oklahoma City. It was 1958, and teacher Clara Luper brought her students into Katz' soda fountain for soft drinks: when said drinks were not forthcoming, Luper and the kids resolved to stay put. They got their drinks, but the aftermath wasn't pretty, and it took five or six years before every lunch counter in town, every restaurant, got the message.

The Freedom Center on Oklahoma City's Eastern Avenue, now Martin Luther King Avenue, will be presenting a play written by Luper: The Dred Scott Story, about the slave whose suit for freedom was eventually denied by the US Supreme Court.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:51 AM)
10 December 2004
Bricktown adjacent

The International House of Pancakes is coming to Bricktown, and The Downtown Guy considers the ramifications thereof:

So, what's going to come next, a Hampton Inn? A Starbucks? The time of Bricktown being a bastion of locally owned enterprises is coming to an end. They'll still be around. But the national chains and corporations are now taking a very serious look at our revived downtown.

Whether you liked the Bass Pro Shops deal or not, it's hard to argue the impact it's having on east Bricktown. Look further down Reno, past what we consider to be Bricktown, and you'll see where the next wave of development may likely occur. It won't be the sort of development we expect in Bricktown — but it's looking like a lot of the former junk yards will at least be converted into a basic off-highway strip of fast food, motels and such. They'll try to seize on the Bricktown name — as some already are (have you visited Bricktown Spas yet? Or Bricktown Central Plaza Inn?). Sum it all up as a sign of Bricktown's arrival as a destination.

If you think of Bass Pro as the easternmost outpost of Bricktown, the Central Plaza Inn is a mile and a half farther away. Still, this is a logical progression, with Martin Luther King Avenue the probable limit of expansion; farther south on Eastern will be the Native American Cultural Center and Museum, which likely will define the eastern boundary of the New Downtown.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:05 AM)
11 December 2004
Saturday spottings (urban/exurban)

For no particularly good reason today, I found myself traipsing around Newcastle, a McClain County town just down I-44/US 62 from southwest Oklahoma City, which, although it certainly doesn't look like it now, might be the next big Suburban Destination. At least some of the pieces are in place: it's a local call from anywhere in the city, it's relatively easy to get to, and both southwest Oklahoma City and west Norman, on the opposite side of the Canadian River, are experiencing something of a boom. What's more, perhaps in anticipation of their coming status, the city fathers have annexed basically everything in the county north of Highway 9 and west of I-35 that wasn't already incorporated into, or surrounded by, the city of Blanchard: they have almost 50 square miles to work with. Wal-Mart has put in a Supercenter on NW 32nd Street (SW 179th Street/Indian Hills Road if Oklahoma City or Norman extended this far), and a couple of housing developments are underway. And since the north Newcastle exit from I-44 (US 62/277, which is Main Street) is the last free exit before the road turns into the H. E. Bailey Turnpike — but you can see the pattern here. The population is a modest 6,000 or so right now; I wouldn't be surprised if it hit 20,000 by 2020.

Meanwhile, things are still happening in the middle of town. Oklahoma City's Neighborhood Services department is putting in half a dozen new houses along NE 5th Terrace, between the Oklahoma Health Center and Washington Park, and I took a look this afternoon. They're quite nice, and the neighborhood itself I would characterize as "on the upswing": some of the older homes in the area are a bit on the ramshackle side, but they haven't been allowed to become seriously dilapidated, and the newer buildings are kept up well. For a "brownfield" — an area whose proximity to industrial use may have resulted in ground or groundwater contamination — it looks pretty good. One visual disappointment in the area is the boarded-up Page Woodson School, which served as the "Negro high school" in the early days of Jim Crow. However, the majestic old 1910 building may be getting a new lease on life: Oklahoma City Northeast Inc., with some serious backing from the local community, wants to reopen the school as an African-American cultural center, and has asked the city to include it in their project list for the local Empowerment Zone.

Marquee on a westside church: WHAT DID NOAH DO WITH THE WOODPECKERS? Your guess is as good as mine, maybe better.

And apparently Bricktown, as a trademark, is far more extensible than previously imagined; there's an inn called "Bricktown Guest Suites" going in on SE Grand Blvd. at I-35, a good four miles from the downtown district whose name it borrows.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:48 PM)
18 December 2004
Buy my house dot com

Anyone who's bought a house lately (which, I suppose, includes yours truly) has browsed real-estate Web sites of one sort or another, usually operated by Realtors® or other brokers and their respective companies. Homes offered For Sale By Owner generally don't have much of a Web presence.

Then there's this: 12608ArrowheadDrive.com, dedicated to the selling, by owner, of a home at, well, yeah, it's obvious.

(If you see this and subsequently buy the house, let me know. No, I don't want a finder's fee or anything like that.)

(Update, 19 December, 10:20 am: Dave finds a spiffy twenty-acre spread in, you guessed it, Montana.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:59 PM)
21 December 2004
Form following fugly

The Oklahoman reports that the new Dell facility on the North Canadian Oklahoma River at I-44 will have an entryway designed to look like a Dell computer.

"This," says Mayor Cornett, "will send a progressive message, a message that we have a presence of high tech industry."

Um, Your Honor, sir, we're not trying to lure American Standard here, are we?

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:00 AM)
Marketing plans

There is, or was, a Braum's Ice Cream store off I-40 at Villa/Agnew; it's now shut down, acquired by the state as part of the process of laying down the new hyperexpensive alternate alignment to Interstate 40.

But when a door closes, they say, another opens, and The Downtown Guy sees an opening:

For anyone wanting a grocery store downtown, this might be the shot to get a good start. Braum's has had success with limited grocery / ice cream / restaurants across town. In addition to selling the typical assortment of burgers, sandwiches, etc., they also sell fresh meat, produce, eggs, milk, bread, cheese and other basic grocery items.

The only supermarket close to downtown, you'll remember, is a Homeland on 18th between Classen and Western adjacent to Mesta Park.

The Braum's nearest to me, at 39th and Pennsylvania, has made this conversion, and it's very handy; the selection is somewhat limited, but one could argue that the selection at one of the monster markets in the 'burbs might be too large, and what Braum's does carry in the way of actual groceries is well beyond what you'll find in most convenience stores.

(Aside: This store is careful to identify itself on the phone as "39th and North Penn," because, as they explained, there is also a store at 39th and South Penn.)

And this may be an answer, if not necessarily the answer, for the New Downtowners:

Braum's has got to be looking for a new I-40 store. Could they build a new full store and restaurant closer to downtown. They would get the same traffic that hit the old store, plus downtowners who want a Braum's breakfast or lunch, plus grocery access craved so badly by downtowners.

Which leads to a question: do you park the store along the new I-40 alignment, which is half a mile south of downtown at its closest approach, or do you locate it along the "parkway" they're supposed to make out of the old I-40?

I'd be really surprised if Bill Braum's kids weren't thinking this over already.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:14 PM)
26 December 2004
You're going where?

Tom Lindley's column in The Oklahoman today touches on a phenomenon I've noticed myself: while Bricktown is now firmly established as a tourist destination, a surprising number of people who live here have never ventured into the district.

The powers that be at 42nd and Treadmill decreed that this year's Christmas party would be held at the Bricktown Brewery, at twelve years old one of the more established, um, establishments in the area, and I spent something like half a day explaining to coworkers where it was, how to get there, where to park, and other logistical details which I tend to take for granted. And it occurred to me after about the seventh or eighth iteration of these details that had someone asked me about them a couple of years ago, when I was living out in the 'burbs, I probably would have drawn a blank myself.

Our newbies, once arrived in Bricktown, all responded with variations on the same theme: "I had no idea we had something like this here." Oklahoma City has a forty-year history of people avoiding downtown, which, I suggest, began when the old Shepherd homestead west of Pennsylvania on NW 23rd was developed for retail in the early 1960s, with Sears, Roebuck moving out of downtown altogether to anchor the east end of the development.

By now, there's enough critical mass of activity in Bricktown to insure things will keep growing, at least for a while. And people will come downtown for some things — the Festival of the Arts, say, or Opening Night — which was one of the motivations for this year's Downtown in December promotion, which had events scheduled all through the month. I'm thinking, though, that while restaurants and watering holes are wonderful things, Bricktown — indeed, all of the downtown area — needs some form of retail beyond Bass Pro: not necessarily big box stores, not necessarily the return of Sears or its K mart overlords, but the kind of funky little shops that have started to take hold in some of the spiffier strip centers. Something like Two Sisters, over by my place, might do well in a Bricktown storefront, or along Automobile Alley. Events are events, and they are glorious to behold, but shopping is part of everyday life.

(Update, 9 pm: The Downtown Guy suggests: "At the very least, maybe we need to encourage more office Christmas parties in Bricktown." Maybe next year.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:23 AM)
Snickering about architecture

Our man at the Red Dirt Blog is soliciting examples of Oklahoma kitsch, demonstrations of this state's long tradition of "creative freedumb."

And really, you can't get much kitschier than the Braum's (previously Townley's) Milk Bottle standing on top of that tiny storefront (lately, Saigon Baguette) at 24th and Classen; there's an Andy Warhol-on-Route 66 vibe to it that tickles me every time I see it, and its proximity to the Bucky Fuller geodesic dome across 23rd — well, can you imagine the reaction of someone new to the city southbound on Classen for the first time? First the bottle, then the dome, then that missile gantry of a tower at 22nd, and by 21st he's thinking "Were these people out of their minds?"

Well, of course we were. Sheesh.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:46 AM)
Sunday spottings (and despottings)

I have yet to wash my car in the driveway at Surlywood, partially out of some vague concern for the environment, but mostly because I am lazy and would rather have the machine at the Shell station do it for six bucks. But poor Sandy, having carried around the traces of last Wednesday's snow for half a week, was looking a lot older than her (just under) 40,000 miles, and this being still technically the holiday season, I was in the mood to indulge both myself and the car, so off we went to the Red Carpet Car Wash at 50th and Pennsylvania, an idea which apparently occurred to about a hundred other people today.

The amazing thing about this place is that it works despite its atmosphere of utter chaos, from the fellow who soaped something that looked like "GAS F 87 WAX CH" on the glass — "fill up, 87 octane, wash and wax, cherry-scented air freshener" would accurately describe what I ordered — to the person who found two quarters under the seat and left them on the console (I promptly lost one of them again), to the chap who wielded his blue towels like a toreador in a hurricane. And those are just the people I was watching when I wasn't trying to strike up a conversation with the gorgeous blonde with the gold Oldsmobile. I can remember times when I spent a lot more than $33 for a lot less entertainment.

I've seen this twice now: a Chrysler PT Cruiser with a Continental kit. I suppose it says something about Bryan Nesbitt's original retro design that this car doesn't actually look ridiculous with a fake spare tire sticking out of its rear bumper, though it may be a function of the original gunmetal-grey paint color; I don't want to see this in yellow or red.

The city's Thou Shalt Not Skate ordinance covers most of the downtown area, though it doesn't extend as far north as Winans Park (the circular park along Broadway south of 23rd), where I saw a few folks parked outside the old Borden plant packing up their boards. I did some temp work at Borden many years ago, and I seem to remember some strange stretches of concrete along there, which presumably explains the appeal.

And I hadn't thought about this before, but if I ran a moviehouse inside a mall with a marquee outside the mall, I'd surely place Meet the Fockers as high off the ground as I possibly could.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:30 PM)
28 December 2004
Kitschy kitschy coo

Lil'Red weighs in on the Red Dirt Kitsch meme (first promulgated here):

The neon pig atop 50 Penn Place — For the life of me I can't remember why that pig was there. I think it was a logo for a bank that was housed there. All I know is that when the pig was gone, I was hurt. It's kind of like insurance. You never really need it, but you just like knowing it's there.

Sooner Federal Savings and Loan, which failed in the Great 1980s S&L Bust. Its remains were acquired by First Gibraltar Bank, an association set up specifically to buy up the residue of failed S&Ls in this part of the country; First Gibraltar subsequently sold off the Sooner Federal facilities, mostly to Bank of Oklahoma.

The new vaguely-shamrock-like logo fills the space, but does not truly replace the pig.

And on the old Belle Isle Power Plant, she says:

Long gone are the days when the Belle Isle power plant, all funky and ugly, sat alone just north of I-44. Although it was an eyesore, I still dug it ... it's that history thing I mentioned before. And I'd rather look at the Belle Isle eyesore than the State Fair WalMart that went up in its place. Ugh.

Remind me to buy her a drink — and not at the Sip, either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:27 AM)
30 December 2004
Dome on the range

The beehive is about to reopen for business.

The Golden Dome at 23rd and Classen has been undergoing refurbishment, and owner Irene Lam, whose optometry office will occupy part of the dome, is getting ready to start looking for tenants. Lam bought the building from Bank One in 2003 for $1.1 million, and estimates she's spent at least that much on the renovations; the city of Oklahoma City offered a loan guarantee to assist Lam.

Part of the structure will be reserved for a cultural center, but about 26,000 square feet will be available for office space. Construction work should be completed by early February.

The next step is to figure out some way to restore the gold-anodized finish of the dome without going totally broke.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:17 AM)
Blight refractions

The OKPartisan looks across the river, and she doesn't like what she sees:

We have a serious blight problem in many areas of OKC, but Southside is in particular trouble. I felt like I was driving through an encyclopedia entry on the Modern Great Depression. So many empty strip malls! Bargain stores, check cashing centers, "cheap cigarette" stores, broken up by a few chain drug stores and clusters of chain restaurants on I-240. Bricktown is great. Oklahoma City is coming into its own. But what can we do to help our decaying, sprawling city? Why is it that there is so much new building on the periphery with the very large center of the city languishing?

Well, the last question is the one most easily answered: families with children are used to hearing that one must avoid Oklahoma City schools at all cost, and therefore they're fleeing to Putnam City or Edmond or Moore schools, all of which have substantial numbers of students actually in Oklahoma City limits. (I'd be very surprised if the majority of students in the Moore district didn't actually live in OKC.) How much effect MAPS for Kids will eventually have on this perception remains to be seen, but I do know that right now in my neighborhood, adjacent to one of the better OKCPS grade schools, you'll find young couples and empty nesters, and not a whole lot in between.

One other factor that should not be overlooked is the fact that neighborhoods on the northside are far better organized than neighborhoods to the south; it's no accident that all the Historic Districts and all the Urban Conservation Districts are north of the river, and the grease tends to follow the squeaky wheels. And I suspect that organizing a neighborhood in the inner areas of the southside might be trickier than usual, if only because the increasing Latino population in this area tends to suggest the possibility of, um, undocumented residents, who just might be resistant to the idea of mentioning their existence to city committees.

It might be true that the southside suffered even more than the rest of the city during the Great Eighties Bust; the house we (I was married then) owned circa 1980, in the Almonte neighborhood west of May and north of SW 59th, which we sold at the end of 1981 for $60,000, was resold seven years later for less than half that. Prices have since recovered somewhat. And areas in Cleveland County (south of SW 89th) are clearly thriving. But there's no easy fix, and I'm sticking by what I said a few months ago, when I visited a less-than-beautiful area just west of downtown:

Now the roads through there aren't great, and I suspect the rest of the city's infrastructure is probably an upgrade or two behind schedule, but this struck me as a relatively nice, if obviously not at all upscale, neighborhood. (I spot-checked a couple of houses for sale, and you can still buy in around here for thirty-five to fifty-five thousand.) Professional worriers, faced with a few blocks like this, would undoubtedly start screaming "Blight!" and calling for intervention. And indeed, there's room for improvement, starting with what appears to be, at first glance, a higher-than-average crime rate. But I am becoming persuaded that the kiss of death for any neighborhood comes at the exact moment when the studies and the surveys and the recommendations start coming out and the focus shifts from "How can we make this area better?" to "How can we get these people out of here?" I, for my part, am loath to tear up an area of affordable housing just because it's not pretty.

The city can wave whatever magic wands are at its disposal, but change comes from the bottom up, one street, sometimes one building at a time.

(Update, 2 January, 9:15 am: Added a link to justify the claim of "one of the better OKCPS grade schools," and corrected a pronoun issue.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:55 PM)
31 December 2004
End-of-year clearance

Two thousand four must go by midnight tonight, and in Oklahoma City, the Opening Night celebration will bring about 40,000 people — maybe more, since it's fairly warm today — downtown to watch it go. Six bucks will get you into as many individual events as you can manage to squeeze in, and the trolleys will schlep you back and forth, no charge.

(Update, 1:30 pm: The Downtown Guy gives thanks to the Arts Council and one piece of advice to the general public: avoid the Robinson exit from I-40.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:22 AM)
1 January 2005
All around the town

The axes are Sheridan and Santa Fe. Neither of these is exactly a major thoroughfare — Sheridan runs only three and a half miles or so, and doesn't lie along a section line, while Santa Fe disappears entirely downtown — but these are the avenues that determine the quadrants of Oklahoma City and its nearer suburbs.

I've lived in all four of those quadrants, which is not especially unique an experience, nor does it confer any particular wisdom upon me. But it perhaps does give me some sympathy for LilRed's defense of the southside:

I had no idea that we were seen as "southside trash" until I went to college and met kids from north OKC. And they were not at all discreet in letting me know how they felt about southsiders. I even dated a guy during college who, after introducing me to his father at a nice northside country club dinner, told me later that his dad thought I was a "great girl — for a southsider."

What? That's the equivalent of saying, "Oh, she's pretty ... for a fat girl." Or, "He's a handsome black guy."

Another guy I went out with kept going on and on about how impressed he was when he went with me to my ten-year high school reunion. Well, what did he think? That just because I went to a southside high school that all of my classmates would be knuckle-draggers?

Since I never went to school here, I never got to see this particular phenomenon myself, but I suspect similar divisions exist in any town big enough to have two high schools. In fact, they can exist within the same school: I graduated from a, um, "faith-based" high school in Charleston, South Carolina, which drew most of its students from the prosperous areas east and west of downtown, while those of us who hailed from the comparatively-impoverished north side were few and far between and fairly defensive about it. (This is not, incidentally, why my romance with a westside girl was doomed, but that's yet another story.)

LilRed continues:

I am always amazed at how people talk about the "difference" between north and south Oklahoma City. Granted, there are areas south that are seedy, I get that. But there are seedy areas of north OKC as well. But somehow this seems to be overlooked.

Not by me. I live here, and I have to drive through them on a regular basis. And it's been that way for some time: Roy P. Stewart, in his legendary city history Born Grown, published way back in 1974, complained that "May Avenue, especially from Northwest Thirtieth on north, is a glaring neon alley." The neon has largely given way to plastic signage, but the glare is still there. Lincoln north of the Capitol is a wasteland. And I travel NW 10th west of I-44 only at gunpoint.

What's going to be interesting is how the City Council ward alignments shuffle after the 2010 Census. The 2000 numbers put the old southside troika — Wards 3, 4, and 5 — essentially out of business: Ward 3 now extends as far north as NW 36th, and Wards 6 and 7 reach as far south as SW/SE 44th. Ward 6's Ann Simank is certainly aware of spreading blight: last spring, she called for a reexamination of the city's Master Plan, saying that blight, far from an inner-city issue, was creeping southward toward I-240 and northward toward NW 63rd.

As I suggested earlier, what the southside needs is the kind of clout that near-northwest neighborhoods have developed over the last decade or so. The South Oklahoma City Council of Neighborhoods should not be the red-headed stepchild to the Neighborhood Alliance. Capitol Hill may not be Crown Heights, but it's not Calcutta either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:45 AM)
Saturday spottings (southern exposure)

First, a housekeeping note: The Soonerland and Spottings categories were re-merged, and things that were deemed OKC-specific were then broken out into a new category called City Scene. If you were goofy enough to bookmark any of these, consider yourself warned.

The emphasis around here lately has been on the city's southside, so that's where I started today's jaunt. Along SW 15 east of Portland, the earthmovers have started clearing the way for the new Dell Business Services Center. The empty space, occasionally interrupted by mounds of dirt, looks a lot more impressive at street level than it does from the I-44 bridge over the Oklahoma River.

I took Portland south to SW 44th, which is one of the streets I used to hit regularly when I lived out that way but haven't seen much of in the past couple of decades. From the looks of things, I haven't missed much. I did perk up when I saw that Penn 44 Lanes, my bowling alley of choice in those days, was apparently still around. And I was slightly disturbed by the (probably accurate) signage at a body-piercing place identified as "House of Pain."

I swung down Western and headed west on 74th, where a large mound of broken concrete and bent steel sat in the parking lot of what once was a Wal-Mart. The upscale center planned for this area seems an awfully long way off.

Back up Pennsylvania, and then east on 59th, which I remembered as being a traffic nightmare, especially around Blackwelder. This memory, at least, was correct. And I detoured into the residential area to see if I could find the old rock house where my younger sister had lived circa 1978. It was still there, and it looked even smaller than I remembered it; the official documents report 785 square feet, a number rather higher than I expected to find, and a recent (August) sale for $20,000. It may be uninspiring, I reminded myself, but it's somebody's home.

I returned up Walker, where starting around SW 29th the most common phrase seems to be Nosotros financiamos — "We finance." Same signs that were there thirty years ago, just translated into Spanish.

And on the way home, I took Harvey through Heritage Hills, where I saw something I'd never seen before: a mother/daughter (I assume) team on a Segway, whirring along at a brisk 12 mph or so. It almost looked like fun. Not that you'll ever get me on one of those contraptions.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:42 PM)
2 January 2005
Reno-vations

I've fretted before about the sad state of Heritage Park Mall, on East Reno west of Air Depot. The humongous Simon Property Group, which also owns Penn Square and two Tulsa malls, seemingly had lost interest in the place, and the number of tenants kept dwindling.

Simon has now officially bailed out. Dillard's and Sears will retain their equity in their respective stores, and the vacant Montgomery Ward store was spun off separately. I know nothing about Dan Dill's DDDD Corporation, which bought the mall for the fire-sale price of $4.1 million, except that it recently sold two Tuneup Masters locations in the city for $900,000, and that it's set up a limited-liability company to own the mall. Leasing will be handled by Sperry-Van Ness of Irvine, California, which opened an office in downtown Oklahoma City in 2004.

Logically, the first step will be a facelift, probably with a new logo. For the city of Midwest City, which has been spending big bucks to improve its facilities — about $20 million went into the Atkinson Plaza replacement project — this has to be some sort of good news.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:22 PM)
6 January 2005
Are we there yet?

It's a nice little page, this Driving Directions page for Oklahoma City's Will Rogers World Airport, but what's with the photograph? So far as I can tell, it was taken on the south side of Somerset, Pennsylvania, which has no particular relevance to Will Rogers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 AM)
7 January 2005
Available space

A closed Ramada Plaza Hotel east of downtown Edmond will be refurbished and leased to the University of Central Oklahoma, which is in dire need of additional student housing.

UCO will pay about $350,000 a year for the 148-room structure, which presumably will house 296 students. The University had sought to acquire the hotel on its own, but was unable to come to terms with the seller.

The facility at 930 East Second Street is a block east of the southeastern corner of the campus.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:46 AM)
8 January 2005
Saturday spottings (easterly)

For the second day in a row, the promised sunshine failed to materialize, which was probably as good a reason as any for heading out to Heritage Park Mall in Midwest City, a shopping center that's had a Joe Btsfplk-ish cloud following it around for what seems like years now.

There's no sign of the regime change just yet: somewhere around a third of the spaces are vacant, and at the entrance to the old Wards store, the local blood bank was taking donations. The side of the mall facing Reno Avenue is not too badly deteriorated, but the back, having lain fallow for so long, is a couple of ticks beyond grungy. People I talked to seemed hopeful, but when your third largest retail store is a Hallmark shop, you've got a long way to go.

Then down Air Depot Boulevard, where a widening project between SE 15th and SE 29th is doing its part for auto-suspension shops. I suspect that the few remaining residences along Air Depot will eventually be removed; some are already gone, and what appears to be the new curb line is perilously close to the front doors of those which still remain. There was a scaffolding up at the old Sound Warehouse/Wherehouse Music store in the 2300 block, where it looked like new window treatments were being installed, so maybe someone's actually going to take over this building.

East on 29th, it's still a bit offputting to see nothing along the north side of the street: the steakhouse that was west of the old Atkinson Plaza remains, and the Firestone store that anchored Atkinson's east end is still in business, but everything in between is gone. Midwest City, understandably, would like to see some of this 90-acre patch of dirt filled up, and there are earth-movers on the scene near the eastern edge of it. And farther down, the old Powers Nissan lot is closed; there are cars parked in the old used-car lot in the back, but the place is otherwise shuttered. I assume they've shut down entirely, since the old Powers Web site now forwards to NissanUSA.com.

And yes, Dave, El Chico was serving, though they weren't too busy at 1:30 when I arrived.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:05 PM)
9 January 2005
Maybe 3.5 flags, max

When you're talking theme parks, the Six Flags chain occupies a level of awareness right up there beside Disney; it's a huge operation, justly famed.

Which makes it even odder that Six Flags, which is based in Oklahoma City (which is odd in itself), has done so little with its hometown park, says OKCPulse:

Frontier City has a theme that is unique. It takes leaders with a strong vision to take the park far beyond what it is today, but those people obviously are not there. Frontier City will never see itself on the Travel Channel, because the park has nothing significant to leave out-of-state visitors impressed. Many park visitors feel they do not get the quality out of the admission they pay, which is $27.99 for adults as of 2004. The park [has] not done the surrounding area much good. Look at the businesses along the I-35 service road, they are failing alongside a string of dilapidated properties, and that is a bad impression.

Despite fairly-indifferent financial performance [link requires Adobe Reader] last year, Six Flags is going ahead with some improvements to some of its parks, says Chairman Kieran E. Burke:

Our 2005 capital plan encompasses new attractions in 13 of our 18 domestic theme parks, a major new ride in our park in Mexico City and a children's area in our Montreal park. We will be adding both teen and family attractions. Our largest initiatives will be concentrated in our major markets. We will be debuting a new water park at our Chicago park for 2005. At our New Jersey park, we will be creating a dramatic new jungle themed 11 acre entertainment section, anchored by a world-record setting roller coaster, and including a new stadium for unique tiger shows and exhibits and an expansive new children's area. Our San Francisco park will receive a new section including a dolphin cove and other interactive animal attractions. We will also continue to invest against in-park revenue growth; we have seen strong year over year in-park spending growth over the last several seasons. In all, we expect our capital program to entail an expenditure of $130-135 million. We believe that this capital program, when combined with our breakthrough marketing campaign, should yield solid attendance and revenue growth next year and set the stage for significant growth the next several years as we restore park performance to average historic levels.

Emphasis added by me. "Average historic levels," generally, means "before 9/11." I suspect there will be a few more lean years before there are any substantial upgrades to Frontier City.

Still: twenty-eight bucks? Universal Studios Orlando (neither a Disney nor a Six Flags property) will set you back $59.75.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:28 AM)
11 January 2005
Waste is a terrible thing to mind

At last night's Neighborhood Association meeting, we discussed, among other things, the time frame during which Big Blue, the Oklahoma City trash cart, is allowed on the curb. For the record, there's a 25-hour window: 7 pm the night before pickup to 8 pm after pickup. On my block, the collectors usually arrive a few minutes before 7 am; separate runs are made for Big Blue and the teensy square recyclable-items bucket, which of course is called "Little Blue." I suppose theoretically one could be fined for exceeding the 25-hour period, but I've never seen it happen.

Meanwhile, in Reddish, Lancashire, England, there is a decidedly narrower window of opportunity: a woman was fined £50 for putting her trash out the night before.

A spokesperson for the council insisted that notice had been given to all area residents, and a copy was placed on display on the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying "Beware of the Leopard," or something like that.

(Via Interested-Participant.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 AM)
12 January 2005
Live from 38th and Classen

File this under Things I Didn't Know Existed.

Vietnamese Public Radio, based in northern Virginia, beams shortwave programs across America, and Oklahoma City, with its substantial (somewhere between 1.5 and 2 percent) Vietnamese population, provides a lot of listeners for VPR through a rebroadcast facility in Edmond.

What's more, there's a one-hour locally-originated news/talk program hosted by Mai Ly Do, which runs daily from 11 to noon and is rebroadcast at 5:30 pm. While no one is sure how many people are listening, the local station offers low-end shortwave receivers for $35, and they've sold 2200 of them so far.

Color me impressed.

(Updated broadcast time on 2 May; also, VPR's local office is moving about one mile south, to 21st and Classen.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:59 AM)
13 January 2005
Watch where you point that thing

A pilot departing Oklahoma City's Wiley Post Airport on New Year's Eve has reported that someone shone a laser beam in his face immediately after takeoff. The pilot contacted the control tower, and police searched the area adjacent to the airport.

Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta, who was in the city yesterday visiting the FAA's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, announced that beginning next Wednesday all laser incidents must be reported to air traffic controllers. I expect that in the interest of avoiding the appearance of profiling, all reported incidents will receive the same response, regardless of the color or angle of the laser involved.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:35 PM)
14 January 2005
Give us your tired, your poor, your outsourced

CIBER Incorporated, a Colorado-based "application development center," has come to Oklahoma City, which means that some of the IT work you might have thought was going to Bangalore is coming here instead.

Why Oklahoma City? Says CIBER president/CEO Mac Slingerlend:

There are many American labor markets outside the traditional technology centers that have skilled but underutilized IT workers who can get IT projects done faster and cheaper.

And give Slingerlend credit for quoting David Ricardo's Theory of Competitive Advantage in the news release. CIBER is counting on the presence of a low-priced yet high-quality labor force out here on the Lone Prairie, as CIBERsites head Tim Boehm explains:

Though CIBERsite employees will be paid less than the national average, they will still earn more than their overseas counterparts. And, our CIBERsites clients will have another choice in avoiding the hidden costs of offshoring, such as language gaps, intellectual property protection, travel, time schedules, infrastructure vulnerability, political risks and increasingly high employee turnover.

About 200 underutilized IT professionals will be put to work at the Oklahoma City CIBERsite. I'm willing to bet they'll be happy to have the opportunity, even working for "less than the national average": hell, everyone here (except maybe the state legislature) makes less than the national average. The only thing that really bugs me is CIBER's corporate self-description:

CIBER, Inc. (NYSE: CBR) is a pure-play international system integration consultancy with superior value-priced services for both private and government sector clients.

A what? Now that's a "language gap."

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:08 AM)
Going down for the last time

Vonnie Boufford is retiring, and when she goes, a piece of Americana goes with her.

Boufford is apparently the last full-time elevator operator in the state; she's worked at the Hightower on Hudson for the past seventeen years, and before that she spent twenty-eight years running an elevator at the Cravens Building.

The building manager at Hightower says that parts for the old Dover manual elevator are impossible to find, so they're phasing in new automated elevators. One is already in place, which forced operator Bob Johnson to the sidelines — though Johnson will return as a greeter next month, after Boufford's retirement.

And if you're wondering where this "Cravens Building" is, it's presently called Robinson Renaissance.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:35 PM)
15 January 2005
Beyond the river

The Downtown Guy has started a series about Capitol Hill, one part of the city that's seemingly never mentioned in all the recent flurry of expansion and restoration and renovation.

I wrote up a lot of pertinent stuff to serve as supplemental material, and it got so long — about 5.5k — that I reformatted it and posted it on the other side of the site as a Vent. I hope that the latter-day historians in our midst will find it useful, and that the born-and-bred southsiders will find it interesting.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:03 PM)
18 January 2005
Growing pains

Is Oklahoma City seeking to expand again? At the last meeting of the city's Planning Commission, one of the items on the agenda was an "Ordinance for Public Hearing annexing 160 acres at N.W. 206th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue."

Currently, the city's farthest northern reach is halfway between Danforth (192nd) and Covell (206th) between approximately the 500 and 3400 blocks; there is a housing development (Danforth Farms) that extends to the north side of NW 199th Street. Edmond has a one-mile segment along Pennsylvania from about 200th to 213th, the only part of Edmond that extends west of Western Avenue.

(Well, okay, on the city's far northeast side, there is a stretch that's just as far north — halfway between Danforth and Covell — from Choctaw Road to Peebly Road. This includes a bit over 3 miles of old 66 west of Luther.)

The 160-acre tract, presumably, is on the southwest corner of Penn and Covell. I have to assume this is simply a preemptive move, should Edmond decide to push farther west.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:32 AM)
19 January 2005
Just don't call it "sprawl"

Oklahoma City continues to grow, and our friendly urbanite/suburbanite explains the dynamics thereof:

Every ten years it seems that we add another chunk to our metro, about the size of Lawton, Oklahoma. We currently have 1.2 million proud residents, and excellent city leadership, that are not restricted to Oklahoma City.

I see growth lasting well through a while, simply because in matters of size, it is America's 3rd largest city. Enough land, that urbanities tend to dislike, that we are unrestricted by any boundaries. While other cities may not grow much more, this also dampers urban growth in Oklahoma City, and means the city must pay for unnecessary utility costs. But, think of it like this... if the main city in a metro grows, the rest of a metro benefits. The urban center benefits. The suburban centers grow. As long as we tend to provide our citizenry with an unmatched transportation infrastructure, we should have smooth sailing. If suburbs like Moore, inner suburbs, will grow, we can link outer suburbs like Norman, extreme suburbs like Newcastle to the urban center and see even more growth. Metropolitan growth starts from the center, and is sustained in the suburbs.

I'm not as impressed with the "transportation infrastructure" as he is, but otherwise this makes sense. Too many metropolitan areas are growing around the fringes and withering away at the center. It helps that Oklahoma City has filled up less than half of its available space; yes, extending city services halfway to Shawnee will run into some serious money, but most developers are working closer to the city center.

And there's one angle which is seldom discussed: school-district boundaries. Twenty-three different school districts cover the expanse of the city; this complicates figuring things like property taxes, but for those people who aren't waiting around for MAPS for Kids to transform Oklahoma City Public Schools into the promised "model urban district," it's possible to take advantage of whatever benefits are offered by suburban schools and still live in the city. (Nor are they paying the MAPS tax for nothing; 30 percent of the MAPS take goes to those suburban districts.)

Next census? Maybe 565,000, perhaps 1.25 million in the metro. Of course, nothing comes close to that first-day growth rate back in 1889: zero to ten thousand in twenty-four hours.

(Update, 12:30 pm: Dan Lovejoy talks about transportation issues.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:22 AM)
20 January 2005
Elliptical thinking

Well, Chicago has a loop; why can't we?

A while back, I heard the area bounded by I-44 on the North and West, I-40 on the South and I-235 on the East referred to as "The Loop." And, of course, everybody wants to be in the loop, right? You've got downtown, Bricktown, the Asian District, OCU, St. Anthony's, the Paseo, historic neighborhoods like Edgemere Park, Mesta Park, and the grandiose dwellings of Heritage Hills.

Which, I guess, is reasonably appropriate. I, of course, am out of the loop, albeit not by much; I-44's northern span is a bit on the irregular side, dropping from just north of 50th to down the middle of 39th, and as it drops, it passes me by.

Will this catch on as a local meme? It just might. One plausible rival is the Mid-City Advocate's circulation area, which is a square — Reno to 63rd, Kelley to Portland — but seldom (outside the pages of the Advocate, anyway) do you hear anyone talking about the Mid-City. And nobody ever describes an address as being inside or outside the Grand Boulevard circle.

And frankly, I'd prefer "The Loop" to "Near-Northwest," which is bandied about by some.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:27 AM)
22 January 2005
Take a look around

The Downtown Guy is setting up his excellent series on the history and future of the Capitol Hill section of the city on a separate blog.

The rise of "place blogging" in recent weeks is heartening, not just because there are people here who know more about the city's history than I do (and I'm no slouch at these things), but because it's a form of documentation that bypasses the Official Versions, that helps to complete the picture.

My friend Fred First lives, not in a city, but on an 80-acre spread in the Blue Ridge. (I've been there, briefly, and if heaven isn't like that, I've wasted my time being good.) "Sometimes the most difficult ground to see," he says, "is that which is under our own feet." The value of writing about "place," therefore, is obvious:

Lenses are real, and they are metaphors for anything that lets us or makes us see the world differently. Each of us has a 'philosophical lens' that molds our thinking and our writing. It clarifies, magnifies, distorts, and colors our perceptions and understanding of the reality around us. When I write about my particular place here on Goose Creek, I portray it through a refracting lens that bends and molds my view of life in a way that is unique, even from my neighbor's. Your lens, too, is as distinct as your thumbprint, and when focused on that ground under your feet, your words about what you see, and your pictures offer us worlds about you in your place we would never have known.

There are half a million stories in Oklahoma City. More of them will be told. I believe there's a place for all of them, if not in some building across town, then certainly in this virtual world of ours.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:13 AM)
25 January 2005
Utterly board

Oklahoma County Commissioner Stan Inman is pushing for a vote this week on his proposal to eliminate the county's Budget Board, which consists of the three commissioners and the county's five other elected officials.

In his proposal, Inman pointed out several instances where the Board, he said, either exceeded its authority or acted ineptly.

Commissioner Jim Roth has suggested a home-rule ballot as an alternative: "We're still operating with an 1890 model, and if we disband the budget board, we get even closer to 1890."

And Treasurer Butch Freeman pointed out that most property-tax payments are made in the middle of the county's fiscal year, which leaves the till comparatively empty in the spring. A county lacking a budget board, he says, would have to borrow from banks to cover any shortages.

Is Inman truly unhappy with the Board's performance? Maybe. I think, though, what really has his BVDs knotted is the Board's vote last Thursday to support the addition of sexual orientation to the county's official non-discrimination policy. Local real-estate broker Jim Nimmo, who attended the Thursday session, is a bit blunter:

It appears there will be another showdown with the County Government this Wednesday, as Rinehart and Inman dissolve the Budget Board, the very device of their downfall. Is this revenge and retribution, or pretending to be an old-testament god masquerading as good government?

As I understand things, dissolution of the Board would not invalidate the nondiscrimination policy, nor would a 2-1 Commissioner vote be sufficient to establish personnel policies under state law.

And Assessor Leonard Sullivan, hardly gay-friendly, still won't support Inman and Rinehart. He remembers the county-commissioner scandals of the 1980s:

We had the biggest scandal in the history of the U.S., and we created a budget board to have accountability in county government. This would allow just two people to control the budget and be accountable to nobody. I can't believe taxpayers would stand for this.

Roth's home-rule proposal may look pretty good after all this blows over.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:59 AM)
26 January 2005
The costs of Warr

Last summer, I suggested that Warr Acres' days in the low-tax sunshine might be ending, what with revenues declining and expenses going up.

It hasn't happened yet, but Warr Acres City Council is contemplating the matter: a city committee is recommending that an election be held this spring to raise the city sales tax from 2 percent to 3 percent, in line with other municipalities in the area. (Oklahoma City charges 3.875 percent; the state sales tax is 4.5 percent.)

This being Warr Acres, though, only half the extra penny would be a permanent increase; the other half would be collected for five years and placed in a trust fund, where it would presumably be harder to spend.

The City Council in Warr Acres has not yet acted on the committee recommendations, but I think it's a fairly safe bet that they'll go along with the basics, if not necessarily the amount. (Prediction: 0.75 percent, two-thirds permanent, balance to the trust fund, which would still enable them to claim the low-tax high ground.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:55 AM)
27 January 2005
The role of quarters

One of the primary justifications for increasing the Oklahoma City room tax was to patch up the horse-show facilities at State Fair Park, lest horse shows decide to go elsewhere.

With the tax increase passed and $55 million worth of improvements scheduled, it appears the city knew what it was talking about: this week, the American Quarter Horse Association has agreed to continue staging its World Championship here for the next ten years.

The fifteen major horse shows annually in Oklahoma City are believed to add some $180 million to the local economy, rather a lot more than we can expect from convention business.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:01 AM)
28 January 2005
Sprucing up the place

Professor Gary Hack of MIT has come up with Ten Commandments of Design Review, which, in a city like this with hopes of reinventing itself, probably should be heeded. And in Oklahoma City in particular, two or three should be emphasized:

6. Design review needs patronage, a core of supporters who stick with it over time. The support is necessary because in the process a lot of people will not be getting all they want. The supporters will help shore up the process when those who have not gotten what they want from it become frustrated. A review board of highly respected members can play this role, or there could be a group appointed to monitor and evaluate the process that also assumes this role.

You can't plan everything to the nth detail unless n is vanishingly small. There are going to be disagreements on just about everything. The phrase that pays is "We're going to do this," not "We're going to do this exactly this way."

7. Be prepared to break the rules. The best environments have landmarks, folly and divergence from the norm. This is especially true of public institutions, public locations or intersections.

Two words: Stage Center. Love it or hate it, you can't miss it.

9. Design review is not about creating beautiful buildings. It is not taste making. It is about creating good street, good communities and protecting important symbols and about determining whether new development fits in.

You can have the nicest neo-Victorian mansion in the three-county area, but if it's on a block that's gone to seed, who's going to care? A desirable urban environment takes a lot more than just remarkable architecture.

(Via The Downtown Guy.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:04 PM)
29 January 2005
Brain buckets required

In November I noted that the new skate park was nearing completion, and expressed support for its mission.

It's done. The park will open Friday, 3 February at 5 pm, and thereafter hours will be sunrise to 11 pm, seven days a week, all year. I still think this is a great idea: obviously I'm not going to be dropping into the bowl any time soon, but it's about time Oklahoma City put a different spin on the "recreation" part of "parks and recreation".

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:23 AM)
31 January 2005
By design

Michael Bates, on the sort of urban-design review that exists in Oklahoma City:

Tulsa doesn't have any design review districts, as such. We have historic preservation districts that are strictly residential and are concerned with maintaining the appearance of the appropriate period on a home's facade. Urban or neighborhood conservation districts focus less on the building in isolation and more on its relationship to other buildings and the street. The focus is not on preserving buildings of historical significance, but on preserving any valued characteristic of a neighborhood. It would be a great tool for preserving the small and shrinking parts of our city that are truly urban and pedestrian-friendly.

The destination, of course, is a lot more attractive than the journey. Two of four front-page stories in last week's Mid-City Advocate dealt with urban design, upside and downside. The city's Urban Design Commission turned down a plan for a new home on a vacant lot in Midtown because it was too much out of character with the rest of the street, what with the garage in front and all; the builders say that the lot is too small to construct a driveway that extends to the back yard. And a chain of convenience stores will have to give up its trademark color scheme to operate in the streetscape along 23rd.

This is not to say that Oklahoma City is single-minded about design considerations. In 1999, city planners and developers were so much at odds that a committee was convened to review the entirety of the standards and practices in use, and their report [link requires Adobe Reader] explains what happened:

[T]he ordinance and its processes and requirements mean different things to different people. The diversity of opinion about the intent and content of the limited design standards outlined in the ordinance, as well as a largely untrained Commission that has had inadequate guidance from its own enabling ordinance, has resulted in confusion and sometimes anger among residents, property owners and public policy makers throughout the community.

The Urban Conservation District rules also came in for some criticism:

The Purpose section suggests that one of the goals of the ordinance is to identify "resources worthy of conservation," yet it does not describe the types of resources that could be considered significant and the Criteria for Designation section sheds no more light on the question.

Unlike most communities' historic preservation or conservation district ordinances, the UCD statute fails to establish objective criteria against which a neighborhood, area or community is to be measured, thus usually leaving to neighborhood leaders the charge of devising their own review criteria, land use policies and any specific provisions that apply to a targeted area. The Planning Commission's charge to create an implementing ordinance that protects an area from "detrimental development action" and lists the type of regulation standards that may be included in such a district-designating ordinance does not specifically enable inclusion of architectural design standards.

In my district specifically, the architectural design standards are very loose, partly because there is such a wide variety of variations on the few basic themes that were used during its late-1940s construction. The neighborhood was conceived as slightly upscale, sort of entry-level junior executive, and the platting reflects that concept: the lots tend to be on the large side of average, and the houses range from contemporary for the period to downright eccentric. The primary focus is on retaining the relationship between house and street — setbacks must be preserved, and front-yard modifications are restricted — and on improving streetscapes themselves. (An ongoing lighting project will eventually install new mid-block lights to supplement the lights at intersections.)

The revised 2003 guidelines addressed most of the committee's concerns, though it's clear that there are always going to be some conflicts between property owners and the Planning Department. It's worth noting that while there is a single section in the Municipal Code which enables the Conservation Districts, each District has its own specific section that sets down its own particular rules: while there are similarities among them, there is no attempt to make one size fit all. If this approach smacks too much of "I know it when I see it," a more specific approach would probably be resisted as being too restrictive.

Still, the rules have been in place long enough — the first historic district was so designated in the late 1960s — that everyone has had time to get used to the idea. And for the most part, things work.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:26 AM)
5 February 2005
Moving on up

Last year, says the Oklahoma City Metro Association of Realtors, 19,284 homes were sold in the metro area, the highest number anyone can remember, and up about 10 percent from the previous year. The average price was $125,860, up 6.6 percent; the median price (half cost more, half cost less) was $106,383, up 6.8 percent.

Nationwide, sales of new homes set a record high.

I'm not sure how long this will last — sooner or later, rising interest rates will start to show up in mortgage rates — but for now, it's one heck of a ride, and homes in my neighborhood are approaching $75 a square foot, a figure which would have seemed utterly implausible two years ago.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:18 AM)
Saturday spottings (redux)

Spottings took off the last two weekends so that I would have more time to fuss over, um, women younger than I; despite feeling like the plague warmed over in a low-powered microwave, I figured the least I could do was hit the streets once more.

Monday I wrote about a case before the Urban Design Commission about a builder who wanted to put a 1½-story home on a narrow lot in Midtown and was shot down because he wanted garage access from the front. The Commission told him it was out of character for the neighborhood; the builder contended that the lot was too narrow for a driveway to run all the way front to back. This is not a big lot — only 50 feet wide — and the alley in back, uneven and narrow, is surprisingly difficult to navigate, so I can see his point. (The larger question of why someone would want a 2500-square-foot home on a 7000-square-foot lot I leave for somebody with greater household demands than mine.)

High clouds and 60 degrees today, about ten warmer than spec for this date, so I reckoned there would be a good crowd at the new skate park, and indeed the place was crawling with sk8terbois and/or grrls. I watched just long enough to realize that were I in there and on wheels, I would kill myself in about ten seconds.

West of Capitol Hill and south of the Stockyards is a light-industrial area that's gone into seemingly terminal decline; it looked pretty dire 35 years ago, and it still does today. Still, I'm not prepared to write off any part of the city yet, and on SW 15th near I-44 I wondered if the massive Dell facility is going to make any meaningful difference on the near-southwest side, or if all its staff will come from way across town.

Finally, closer to home, an item of interest to one of those younger women (the one who is actually related to me): a house a few blocks over, it is reported by the Neighborhood Association, is getting the full HGTV treatment. There's no sign up, probably to deter gawking, but the location seems pretty obvious, and if it's on HGTV, it's a cinch my daughter will see it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:54 PM)
7 February 2005
Broadway, though, is kind of wide

Fark had an item this morning about Tucson's Old Spanish Trail, which is apparently neither old nor Spanish. (There's also one in Houston, if I remember correctly; it should have similar credentials.)

Not that we can snicker here in Oklahoma City. In the 1970s a subdivision went in west of Ski Island called "Canyon North," and threading down the middle of it is something called Basswood Canyon Road. Quite apart from the fact that we're not exactly overrun (underrun?) with canyons in that part of town, basswood doesn't grow here: it tends to show up in the Midwest and points east, also places not known for canyons.

Then again, County Line Road does run more or less along the (Canadian/Oklahoma) county line. And I will entertain no complaints about the Rivendell area: that's supposed to be, um, fantastic.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:00 PM)
Green? What green?

I'm on the Northwest Distressway this afternoon, getting ready to do the turn onto Pennsylvania and then a quick duck down NW 50th, the light goes green, and one car gets through before the yellow pops up again. I hadn't floored it or anything, being as how I was the fourth in line, but I uttered a deep and dark curse against whatever Fates were responsible for this.

And then I saw it: the fire engine, in the oncoming lane, everyone else in the vicinity having been evacuated by that seemingly-random hardware malfunction.

Which answered two questions for me: "What are those traffic-signal override devices really like?" and "You think they have any of those here?"

The fire truck cleared the intersection, the green was restored, and I made my turn.

I'm not thinking these are the answers to everyone's prayers, though. Half a mile down 50th, an ambulance was oncoming, and if it was heading for that same emergency, it was going to be late; on 50th eastbound at Pennsylvania, there is no option but to turn right, unless you're prepared to jump a barrier. Now if those can be moved by remote control, I promise to be duly impressed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:10 PM)
12 February 2005
More of the costs of Warr

The city council of Warr Acres, as predicted here last month, will consider calling an election for a 1-cent sales-tax increase at its meeting next Tuesday.

The council is considering basically the same package recommended to them by a city commission: 0.5 percent as a permanent increase, and 0.5 to expire after five years, to be routed to a trust fund for future improvements and/or emergencies. (I had predicted 0.75 percent total, two-thirds to the trust fund.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:42 AM)
Say hello to Craig

It's not even listed yet on any of the other local versions, but yes, craigslist is now open in Oklahoma City.

Matt Deatherage noticed it before I did.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:08 AM)
Saturday spottings (reconstruction)

It's not every day a McDonald's is torn down, and it's a shock to see the vacant lot at NW 67th and May. A bigger and badder Mickey D's is promised for this space, but it's not so big a space to begin with, so something, either facilities or parking, is going to take a hit.

Speaking of shocks, they're taking a hit if you drive anywhere on May these days: the late-winter pothole season has produced some impressive blossoms, ready to take a chunk out of those overpriced rims you bought last year.

And still on May, doing the grocery-shopping thing this afternoon, I watched a puzzled woman scanning shelf after shelf for some arcane item or other. "They always hide the one you really want," I said.

"I know. And this has to be special. Valentine's Day, you know."

"I hope he appreciates all this," I said.

"He'd better," she replied. "Because he's getting dumped right after."

Nothing like, um, softening up the blow, so to speak.

Meanwhile, something unexpected (at least by me) is planned for the new Oklahoma History Center going in near the Capitol: a reconstruction of the lunch counter at the downtown Katz Drug Store, the site of Clara Luper's sit-in back in 1958, the first blow struck against segregated eateries in Oklahoma City. (The store itself is long gone, courtesy of urban renewal.) This is an important chapter in the national civil-rights story, and it's good to see it getting the attention it deserves.

Sign on a marquee near May and Grand: "SUNDAY SERVICES START AT 9." A church? Nope: a tire store.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:56 PM)
13 February 2005
Party all the time

Me, on the recent school-board election:

I do, however, take a dim view of the GOP's failure to comprehend the meaning of a "nonpartisan" ballot.

The Oklahoman, in an editorial last month, characterized this sort of thing as "improper etiquette," thereby condemning the practice while suggesting that its infringement is among the more minor of peccadillos.

This morning in an op-ed, five former Oklahoma City mayors expand on this premise:

All of us are proud of our city's great progress. We believe it is because the people of Oklahoma City — Democrats, Republicans and independents — have been willing to work together. Certainly, there is a place for partisan politics, but it is not at City Hall.

Partisan politics and city government don't mix. The city provides basic services. Police and fire protection, water and sewer service and streets know no political affiliation. As longtime New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia famously said, "There is no partisan — Democratic or Republican — way to fill a pothole."

The philosophical differences that separate Republicans and Democrats rarely affect the decisions made to provide the fundamental services of the city.

And the bottom line, as they see it:

We are very proud to have been a part of all this progress and we are deeply concerned about a disturbing trend that threatens to stop it.

The men and women who settled our city had the wisdom to understand party affiliation has nothing to do with city government. That's why our city charter prohibits candidates from using a party label.

We encourage candidates for city office and leaders of political parties at every level to refrain from interjecting partisan politics into city elections, as any such attempt will be nothing but destructive.

Signing off on the piece were Jim and Ron Norick, Patience Latting, Andy Coats and Kirk Humphreys. I think it would have carried more weight had current Mayor Mick Cornett added his name to the list; then again, Cornett, having been the beneficiary of exactly such actions to support his election, might not be in the best position to disavow them.

My opinion is as it was: if these are to be made partisan elections, it's fine with me, but if they're supposed to be nonpartisan, then the parties need to keep their noses out of the proceedings. Period.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:13 AM)
15 February 2005
It's so crowded, nobody goes there anymore

Those who follow my World Tour reports will note that I do a fairly respectable job of avoiding the usual tourist destinations. (I mean, three days in South Dakota without either Rushmore or Sturgis? Heresy!) Matt Rosenberg would probably applaud:

I hate it, just hate it, when folks come to a new city, and waste their time schlepping around to all the predictable tourist traps. You see well-heeled yokels doing this all the time in Seattle. At Pike Place Market (gawking at the fish flingers, having dumb conversations with fish merchants about shipping one crab and a piece of salmon 2,500 miles in a chilled box, and generally getting in my way as I try to shop); at the Space Needle; and finally, falling for the downtown hotel concierge's ultimate and utterly predictable "local flavor" gambit — riding the ferry to quaint little downtown Winslow on Bainbridge Island. Paint-by-the-numbers, all the way. And so a whole class of visitors manage to have "been" to Seattle without having actually BEEN here.

Okay, I did schlep Dawn Eden through Bricktown that one time. But it was on the way, and it's not like the place was full of locals or anything.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:08 PM)
16 February 2005
And it's not even open yet

Rose Union Elementary School will be the name of the new grade school in the Deer Creek district in far northwest Oklahoma County, and the board has already announced that it's going to be overcrowded the moment it's built.

The new school, to be located on NW 220th east of MacArthur, is well away from the two other grade schools in Deer Creek, but student population is growing at more than 10 percent a year. (Current student counts are here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:36 AM)
Riding that train

As reported by KOKC radio, transcribed by The Downtown Guy:

Oklahoma City's Amtrak service is in jeopardy of ending by September.

Ward 7 Councilwoman Willa Johnson applauds an agreement to provide security at the Bricktown train station. But Mayor Mick Cornett says the federal government doesn't appear to be interested in keeping the train service to Fort Worth going so the state legislature needs to financially help keep the affordable transportation. Mayor Cornett estimates the cost of keeping Amtrak alive to be about 3 million dollars for the fiscal year.

The Heartland Flyer is the state's only railroad passenger service. And it's been getting more riders lately; during the fourth quarter of 2004, 14,062 riders took the train, up 27 percent from the fourth quarter of 2003. The track itself is getting some much-needed upgrades this spring.

Even with the additional riders, this route, like most Amtrak routes outside the BosWash corridor, is losing money, and there's always the question of whether the government should subsidize this sort of thing at all. Right now, though, I'm not going to gripe much if the state does kick in $3 million to support the train, which is admittedly a triumph of "Wow, cool" over cold sober reflection. Some days I do that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
From the Department of Serendipity

A question I asked last fall about this corner of town:

[W]hat happened to the original settlers? A 1907 township map shows everything owned, if not necessarily platted, as far north as Wilshire Boulevard. (Townships were six miles square; the boundaries were Wilshire and Reno on the north and south, and May and Bryant on the west and east.) This quarter-section was owned, says the map, by one Halvor Steanson, for whom Steanson Drive (2800 block West, through this neighborhood only) is presumably named; in 1925, Steanson was still listed in the city directory as a farmer, located around NW 45th and May.

One of my resolutions for the new year, so to speak, was to answer that question. Fortunately for me, someone else spotted it first. A Steanson, yet.

Steanson B. Parks reports from Dallas:

Halvor Steanson was my great grandfather. He and his wife came with their family from Norway, entered the USA at Ellis Island, some stayed in Brooklyn, and their group came onto Kansas and ultimately on down to OKC in the late 1880's. They originally settled in a "mud hut one room home" up around the WKY radio/tv antennas (I believe above 63rd and May). However, they did not have any water there and had to fetch water via walking or horseback. I'm told by my grandmother (my father's mother) that they then traded their land for about 40 acres down around 48th and May (one block east of May) where the current Steanson street is located, and runs about four or five blocks. At the base of the street was a pond/creek and that is where they moved the prairie porch-style house that they had built to replace the original mud hut home up north. They lived a good life, and eventually built a new brick home (I think in about 1948 or so). My great aunts Julie and Kate lived for many years in that home. Their older sister Chris, lived to be 103 years of age. They were all three school teachers, and Chris, the oldest taught at Capitol [Hill] High, south of OKC, and the two younger sisters taught at Edgemere (spelling?) down around 15th Street as I recall. My grandmother, Jennie Harriet Steanson, married M.B. Parks, settled in Muskogee, Oklahoma and raised her family there. My father Elmer B. Parks was named after my grandmother's younger brother, Elmer Steanson, who lived/worked in OKC for many years and was with Southwestern Bell Telephone. The old original wooden, two story prairie porch style home was later on cut into pieces and moved over to the Lincoln Ext. area somewhere, where I understand a landman in the oil and gas business currently lives.

You gotta love this Internet stuff. And 1948, you'll remember, was right at the beginning of this neighborhood.

Thank you, SBP. We can always use a little more history.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:28 PM)
17 February 2005
A Capitol Hill story

John Hendrickson writes in with a tale from the southside:

My name is John D. Hendrickson and grew up as did my Mother in Capitol Hill. I spent ten years in Norman and then returned after my divorce. The Hendricksons, Guytons, Householders and Winkleman families have been in the Hill since the '20's and maybe even before. We are proud people who have been citizens of Capitol Hill first and foremost rather than Oklahoma City citizens. How the "Reno" split came about we will probably never know for sure. But it is still there for many of us. When I was growing up and even into my thirties we never went North of Reno, excluding downtown OKC unless it was a 'have to thing' and if you went at night it was to cause trouble and mayhem for the north side kids. A turf war it would be called now. Of course it was more of pranks and such and not the violence and harm as kids do to today.

Good old southside pride. Reno, of course, was the section-line road nearest the township boundary, and Capitol Hill, after all, had been a separate city for a few years before being absorbed into OKC.

I'm thinking maybe these bits of oral history are going to be of considerable value one of these years.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:32 AM)
18 February 2005
Crosstown rivals

If you're twenty-five or younger, you've never known a time when the Oklahoma Publishing Company wasn't the only newspaper game in town: The Daily Oklahoman ruled the morning, the Oklahoma City Times had the afternoon to itself. (Now, of course, there's only The Oklahoman.) But for one brief shining moment — okay, it wasn't all that brief, and it didn't shine all that much either — there was actual newspaper competition in the Big Town.

W. P. Bill Atkinson was a bright fellow with one special gift: somehow he was a step ahead of the rest of the movers and shakers and developers. It was Atkinson in 1941 who snapped up the property north of what is now Tinker Air Force Base, before the power structure was even aware that the facility was going to be built. In the 1950s, while the rest of the Big Boys worked on acquiring land along SW 59th Street in anticipation of a new Southwest Expressway, Atkinson bought up plots along SW 74th — and guess where the road was built?

This sort of thing got under E. K. Gaylord's hide, and it festered. In 1958, Atkinson decided to run for governor on the Democratic ticket. Gaylord, incensed, refused to accept any advertising from the Atkinson campaign. With the state's largest paper officially ignoring his candidacy, Atkinson bought lots of TV time, but viewers found him less appealing than the telegenic J. Howard Edmondson, who swept to victory.

Atkinson was not in a forgiving mood five years later when he decided, once and for all, to get his revenge on Gaylord. The prevailing belief at the time was that the Oklahoman and Times were aimed at the plutocrats on the northwest side of town, and Atkinson's power base, the areas he had developed, were to the south and east. He had some background in journalism — he'd taught it, briefly, at Oklahoma City University — and he figured that ought to be enough to qualify him as a publisher.

In 1964, the first issue of The Oklahoma Journal rolled off Atkinson's shiny new offset press at SE 15th and Key in Midwest City, bearing the slogan "The Paper That Tells Both Sides." (Note to Fox News Channel: "Fair & Balanced" is nothing new.) The editor was Forrest J. "Frosty" Troy, lured away from The Tulsa Tribune's Capitol bureau with the promise of at least equal bucks and a substantial stock position. Troy was enthusiastic at first, but a chill set in when Atkinson suggested that local stories be vetted by a county commissioner (who happened to be his partner in various local businesses), and that stock position eventually proved to come with a stiff price tag. Troy departed, to be replaced by John Clabes.

The nascent Journal, technically competing with two papers, ran into difficulties rather quickly: top-drawer syndicated offerings were snapped up by OPUBCO, and rather a lot of its news was recycled UPI wire stuff. Still, there was enough local resentment of the Gaylord machine to keep the Journal subscriber lists from going dry, and while the front-page design was generally hideous — even the smallest stories had monstrously huge headlines — the paper's state-of-the-art press was producing high-quality ad inserts, good enough that even businesses who weren't advertising in the Journal would still have them print their material, which they would then truck over to the Oklahoman. E. K. Gaylord, once he got wind of this, refused to accept any ad inserts printed at the Journal; Atkinson sued and won.

Eventually, the Journal settled down into the same sort of comfortable mediocrity as the Oklahoman, albeit with a smaller subscriber base. E. K. Gaylord died in 1974; his son Edward L. proved to be just as intractable a foe, and the younger Gaylord's wheeling and dealing under the auspices of the Oklahoma Industries Authority, which you'd never see covered in the OPUBCO papers, would have been perfect fodder for the Journal — except that in the late Seventies, Atkinson wearied of the constant negative cash flow, and persuaded a faraway publisher of community shoppers and weekly papers to take the Journal off his hands.

The last issue of The Journal, having truncated its name and its slogan (now "Both sides of the news"), appeared in 1980. The Oklahoman reported its demise on the back page of the business section, with the single-column headline "Midwest City Paper Folds." In retrospect, the Journal might have done better had it tried to be a Midwest City paper rather than trying to take on the Oklahoman. Still, the Journal's 40,000 or so circulation had cost the Gaylords dearly — in an effort to swat the pesky competitor, OPUBCO had slashed some of its ad rates, and at one point cut its newsstand price from a quarter to a dime — and in 1981, a year after the Journal called it quits, the circulation at the Oklahoman had hardly budged at all, suggesting that there were forty thousand people in town who would rather read nothing than read the Oklahoman.

Newspaper competition was over in Oklahoma City; it continued in Tulsa until 1992, when the Tulsa World announced it would not renew its Joint Operating Agreement with the Tribune. The Tribune, perhaps remembering the untidy death of the Journal, opted to fade quietly away.

(Per assignment; my thanks to Frosty Troy, some of whose reminiscences are incorporated herein.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:15 PM)
20 February 2005
New rules for new developments

Oklahoma City has new regulations for subdivisions, effective last Friday, and while some of the 110-page document [link requires Adobe Reader] is taken up with housekeeping and minor language changes, there are some new rules worth noting:

1.7.2 Conflict With Public and Private Provisions.
A. Public Provisions. The regulations are not intended to interfere with, abrogate or annul any other ordinance, rule, regulation, statute or other provision of law. Where any provision of these regulations imposes restrictions different from those imposed by any other provision of these regulations or any other ordinance, rule, regulation, statute or other provision of law, the provision that is more restrictive or imposes higher standards shall control.

B. Private Provisions. These regulations are not intended to abrogate any easement, covenant, or any other private agreement or restriction, provided that where the provisions of these regulations are more restrictive or impose higher standards or regulations than such easement, covenant, or other private agreement or restriction, the requirements of these regulations shall govern.

The city, in other words, is setting the baseline standards: you may exceed them, but don't even think about coming up with something more lax, no matter how many property owners you can get to sign the papers.

5.1.8. Street Names.
A. Street Name Approval. The Planning Commission shall approve the names of all streets as part of the subdivision approval process. The subdivider shall initially propose street names on the face of the preliminary plat for major subdivisions and the final plat for minor subdivisions. Names shall be sufficiently different in sound and in spelling from other street names in the City so duplication is avoided. A continuance of an existing street shall, wherever possible, bear the same name. East-west streets shall be numbered in accordance with the established pattern throughout the City.

This is actually pretty much the current practice. I'm interpreting "continuance" in the most literal sense, that the new street actually connects to the existing one: it seems unreasonable to me that a street must be called, say, Brookline Avenue just because it's a block west of May. On the other hand, the city, perhaps with an eye towards making life easier for the fire department, has been insisting that east-west streets follow the number grid for years now, which is why down in Rivendell one gets from Lorien Way to Endor Drive by either (and equally prosaic) SW 121st Street or SW 123rd Street.

5.1.10 Property Owners Association (POA). For any subdivision utilizing or incorporating private streets, shared parking, common drives, islands or medians within street rights-of-way, and/or any other common areas, a Property Owners Association (POA) shall be established and be responsible for maintenance of said easements and common areas.

Translation: "You wanted this to be private, make sure you take care of it."

As a practical matter, I don't expect the new rules to have much of a negative effect on development: the demand for new homes in outlying areas of the city continues, and local businesses are already positioning themselves. (Who knew there was a Sonic way out at 18031 North Portland? I just saw it for the first time yesterday, and there's even a strip mall adjacent to it.) I do wonder if there's going to be an eventual ZIP code realignment up north, as more and more people discover that they live in Oklahoma City and their mail goes to Edmond. (This has happened to some extent on the west side: 73127 now extends all the way to Sara Road, though anything in Canadian County north of 36th Street still goes to Yukon, or Piedmont if you go far enough north.)

Were I a New Urbanist, I suppose I would be appalled that folks are moving way out to the fringes of the city. But I take comfort in the fact that they're still in the city, no matter what their return address may say: we're all in this together, whether we live on 9th Street, 99th Street, or 199th Street.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:19 AM)
21 February 2005
Looking into the sunrise

I live in Oklahoma City's Ward 2, represented by Sam Bowman, who isn't up for reelection this year, so I admittedly haven't paid that much attention to the new crop of City Council candidates. The Oklahoman had a piece this morning on candidates for Ward 7, including incumbent Willa Johnson, but what caught my eye was some chatter by Mayor Cornett that addresses some issues I've mentioned before. There are plans, said Cornett, to "spruce up" the NE 23rd Street corridor, about which I grumbled last year.

And in a June piece about residential development close to downtown, I said this:

The major disadvantage for downtown living has been the lack of grocers: the nearest supermarket to downtown is the Homeland adjacent to Mesta Park, at 18th and Classen.

It didn't occur to me then that there wasn't even one supermarket in the 100-square-mile expanse of Ward 7, which stretches from east of downtown to the edge of Luther. The Mayor says he's looking into the possibility of working with a "major grocer," perhaps in the Deep Deuce area, which could serve both downtown and the near-northeast side, although he cautioned, "It will happen when the market conditions are ready for it to happen," and not before. I'm thinking a block or two farther north, in the Flatirons district, which would make for easier access from I-235.

From the standpoint of geography, Ward 7 is perhaps the nicest part of Oklahoma City: it's more forest than grassland, and it generally lacks the city's trademark flatness. If we could bring its infrastructure and streetscapes up to spec, it would be, I suspect, a far more desirable place to live.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:55 AM)
A new angle or three

A consortium of developers has decided to brand an area near downtown and try to turn it into something different: "a vibrant mixed-use environment where people can 'live, work and play' in an upscale, fashionable urban community."

We've heard this before, but I no longer question the miraculous in this city; I've seen too many things that couldn't possibly work that somehow did. The Triangle district, which overlays part of Automobile Alley and includes the Flatirons area, is patterned after a rejuvenated warehouse district in Charlotte, North Carolina. The residential area is planned for near NE 3rd Street and Oklahoma Avenue, a block east of Broadway; there will be retail and entertainment facilities at its periphery.

The developers' next move is to descend upon the Oklahoma City Planning Commission, probably in April, with a sheaf full of plans. I note in passing that most of The Triangle lies within Ward 7. (Mr. Mayor, you knew about this, didn't you?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:52 PM)
22 February 2005
You can't get there from here

This week, the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority is beginning something called the Oklahoma Fixed Guideway Study, including seven public meetings, which will focus on trying to anticipate traffic problems twenty-five or thirty years down the road and suggesting solutions.

Among the ideas being bounced around are HOV or bus lanes and commuter or light rail; the only options that have definitely been ruled out are a subway system (too expensive) and a monorail system (too expensive, and we couldn't get Lyle Lanley to sell it to us).

The current state of traffic in this town can be fairly described as "not as sucky as it could be," though obviously the level of suckage can be expected to rise as population and development increase. It's probably a good thing that they're trying to get the jump on these issues, but I hope they don't get the notion that there is some sort of magic bullet that will punch through all the potential problems at once.

(More thoughts along these lines in this week's Vent.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:10 AM)
23 February 2005
We got crazy freakin' bikers!

Um, make that Crazy Freakin' Bikers™.

Mat Hoffman's CFB Series will descend upon Oklahoma City's Riverfront Skate Park in mid-May, bringing about 500 competitors, thousands of fans, and the cameras of FoxSportsNet.

Hoffman, a BMX legend who lives in Edmond, will oversee the presentation himself; a vertical ramp and a series of dirt jumps will be temporarily added to the park facilities. This CFB event is a qualifier for the 2005 X Games.

As the phrase goes, this oughta be good.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:38 AM)
24 February 2005
The need for speed

The city has concluded that people drive too fast on the Broadway Extension and will crack down on such antisocial behavior. In a survey conducted earlier this month, hardly anyone was hugging the 60-mph speed limit, and two or three percent of drivers were doing better than 90.

Of course, going 90 mph isn't necessarily a hazard in itself; it's the people around you crawling along at 67 for whom it becomes an issue. Still, 90 mph isn't a viable speed limit for a short stretch of road, although obviously drivers are convinced that 60 is too low. The Lake Hefner Parkway is 65 for most of its length; the Broadway Extension — north of 63rd, anyway — ought to be at least as high.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:06 AM)
25 February 2005
Finding a spot for Jack and Jill

It's called "The Hill," and it's part of the area known as Deep Deuce; this week the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority heard three competing proposals for residential districts on The Hill.

All the proposals come from that mysterious land called Upscale; the big difference is whether the focus will be on individual ownership or on rentals. I'm thinking that since Deep Deuce already has a row of apartments, the city will prefer homes for sale. The real story, though, is that people are willing to spend some money on building in an area which for years and years was considered blighted or worse. It's technically not a case of gentrification: the dilapidated buildings were removed years ago, so no one is currently being displaced.

Those who worry about urban sprawl must be utterly mystified by Oklahoma City. There is serious development way out on the fringes, but there is just about as much serious development in the very center of town. In between, not much is happening. (My own neighborhood, closer to the center than the fringe, is stable in its sixth decade.) And I figure anything that perplexes the experts is probably a good thing in the long run.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:37 AM)
26 February 2005
Saturday spottings (ex-boondocks)

The tone for the day was set at the Sears parts/repair depot, where I arrived at the counter right behind a woman with a broken chainsaw. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind not to try to find out how it was broken.

From there, I dropped into the area which last week was first described as The Triangle, and now there's a sign or two to indicate such. What's over there now, at least east of Oklahoma Avenue, is not much; it's hard to imagine this as a vibrant urban community, but then fifteen years ago it was hard to imagine the decrepit warehouse zone east of downtown as an entertainment district, either.

Southward, to visit Dear Old Dad, where I filled him in on some of what's going on downtown, since he hasn't been downtown in fifteen years. He did seem impressed, though he wondered just how much money the city was blowing on eye candy, and pointed toward "some damn lake at the Community College."

Well, it's not technically a lake: it's a retention pond, to address some of the drainage issues in that relatively low-lying area of town. They did put a fountain in one corner of it, though, so I guess that qualifies as eye candy.

And I slid across I-44 to take a look at South Lakes Park, a 160-acre tract being developed in the semi-far southwest corner of town, an area which is largely unpopulated for now but which very likely won't stay that way for long. For the past twenty or thirty years, parkland has been an afterthought; the landscape is scraped away, the roads are put in, the foundations are laid, and maybe someone thinks to save some green area at the last minute. It's probably a good thing that Oklahoma City is actually ahead of the game this time around.

And there will be development out there, apart from the extant town of Mustang. Count on it. I followed the new (and not quite complete) alignment of Oklahoma 152, which used to start at I-44 and SW 29th Street, then veered off down Newcastle Road parallel to a rail line, threaded through the hamlet of Wheatland, until it hit 74th and turned west. The new 152 follows Airport Road west of I-44, which eventually will be extended beyond its current terminus on SW 44th between MacArthur and Rockwell. And to my amazement, someone is clearing space for high-buck homes where the new 152 crosses 59th. This made more sense when I drove back north of Mustang on Morgan Road, which used to be just one more country road and is now starting to accumulate housing developments. (Incidentally, the junction of Morgan at I-40, which used to be barely adequate, is now arguably the worst intersection in Canadian County, and competitive with urban nail-biters like Pennsylvania at Memorial.)

Vast Right-Wing Conspirators may be interested to hear that this stretch of SW 44th goes past one of Halliburton's two city facilities, and that I came within half a mile of the other one (near Reno and Morgan).

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:24 PM)
28 February 2005
Inside, looking out

A few days ago, I came up with this:

Those who worry about urban sprawl must be utterly mystified by Oklahoma City. There is serious development way out on the fringes, but there is just about as much serious development in the very center of town. In between, not much is happening. (My own neighborhood, closer to the center than the fringe, is stable in its sixth decade.)

The Downtown Guy follows up:

If you can have both, if you can have a strong core with thriving suburban areas, and maintain both with existing revenues, it could be the ultimate hat trick.

Of course, that sprawl will cost more money. New roads, sewers and utilities must be built. And those new areas will require more fire stations, more police posts, more police patrols. And traditional sprawl opponents have long argued that growth can only be covered by dropping services in older areas. And as the core gets worse, what was once sprawl itself becomes part of the rotten core.

But is that happening here in Oklahoma City? It certainly was through the early 1990s. I remember Hefner and Western when it was a good neighborhood, a newer neighborhood. Now it's a war zone. It's been that way since the mid-1980s. Southwest 59th and Pennsylvania is another area that's taken a turn for the worse.

And that may be the challenge ahead. It's the architecture of the old neighborhoods, ultimately, that helps make them attractive for revival with a bit of help from the city. But these neighborhoods built up in the 1960s and 1970s aren't so quaint. To be blunt, it's disposable construction both residentially and commercially. And that makes me wonder about what's being built today. Will we be so enamored with Dallas-style houses 30 years from now? And what will we do with all those big box stores once they're deemed obsolete?

I think it takes way more than thirty years for any particular architectural style to come back into vogue; no one these days is building, say, Tudor Revival houses of the sort that you see in areas like Gatewood, and I suspect the demand for simulated French châteaux will vanish shortly and not return until well beyond 2050. (Dallas-style homes are now being built in Ireland, of all places. Go figure.) The prevailing style in the 1960s and 1970s was a seeming lack of style, which can't be good for neighborhoods built during those decades, at least right away, but it should be remembered that Oklahoma City's historic districts sport lots of Craftsman-style homes, and that's "Craftsman" as in Sears; even if Sears, Roebuck and Co. didn't actually sell the kit, a lot of houses were built to look like Sears (or Montgomery Ward) designs. And even Levittown, the archetype for little boxes made of ticky-tacky, has evolved over the succeeding years.

The question of extending city services is more serious. The Fire Department has established stations in fringe areas — the farthest out include 11630 SW 15th, west of Mustang Road, and 17700 SE 104th, east of Triple XXX Road — but water and sewer lines take longer, and the police are still rather far away. Some argue for deannexation, noting that the urbanized part of the city is less than half of its total area; I'd point out that most of the cities in serious decline are those which have no place to expand. (St. Louis, which once was the fourth largest city in the nation, and had 800,000 people as late as 1940, is now down below 350,000, barely making it into the top 50; it's been stuck within its 61 square miles since about 1880.)

It's hard to argue, though, with this observation:

For now, it looks like we can have our cake and eat it too. But at some point, we may suffer a pretty nasty case of indigestion.

Well, it won't be because we bit off more than we could chew.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:27 AM)
Welcome to Macy's

The merger of Federated Department Stores and May Department Stores Co. will affect Oklahoma City in one major way: the Foley's stores owned by May, once the deal goes through, will eventually be rebranded as Macy's, Federated's major regional brand.

Ironically, Federated used to own Foley's, based in Houston, and Dallas-based Sanger Harris; the two chains were merged in 1987 under the Foley's name and sold to May in 1988.

Federated will also acquire David's Bridal stores from May, but I expect no name changes at David's.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:21 PM)
1 March 2005
Doing the poll dance

I get to sit today's election out: four of eight seats on the City Council are up for grabs, but the Ward 2 slot isn't among them. (Wards 1, 4, 7 and 8 have races.)

However, there is some serious stuff going on in the 'burbs. Mid-Del schools will be hoping for approval of the sale of $8 million worth of bonds to finance upgrades and repairs; Moore schools are seeking to issue bonds totaling $47 million, which would finance a new high school, new grade-school classrooms, plus computer and cafeteria upgrades.

Nichols Hills has some bonds to sell, too: $12.5 million to cover various city improvements. And Logan County wants to replace their ancient jail and seeks approval of a 0.75-cent sales-tax increase, to expire in 2015, to pay for the new lockup.

If you're affected by any of these, get ye to the polls.

(Note: This was written yesterday and set aside, and still had references to "tomorrow" therein; I have expunged same.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:08 PM)
5 March 2005
By now they might be seniors

The Junior League of Oklahoma City dates back to 1927; Mrs. Joseph Rumsey was its first president. Its purpose, then and now, is to promote volunteerism, develop opportunities for women, and provide support for local organizations. (The League's Remarkable Shop, a sort of upscale thrift shop, has been operating since 1930.)

The League's current headquarters is the Blinn House, the former Oklahoma County Home for Girls at 6300 North Western. Chesapeake Energy, whose campus is just to the south, has struck a deal with the League to buy the Blinn House, and Monday ground will be broken on a new Junior League office at Grand Park Center, just east of Western on Grand Boulevard. I expect that the Blinn House, which is on the National Register of Historical Places, will be changed little by its absorption into the corporate culture; you could show the Chesapeake facilities to a visitor and tell her it's a small private college, and she wouldn't question it for a moment. Not that I've ever done that sort of thing.

Incidentally, Pam Newby of the Junior League of Oklahoma City is the current President of the Association of Junior Leagues International.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:33 AM)
Saturday spottings (on the edge)

Generally, southeast Oklahoma City comes to an end at Pottawatomie Road, the far side of the 21900 block east, the beginning of Pottawatomie County. But there's a half-section beyond this point, and that's where I was headed today.

When you're this far from the center of things, you don't expect to find much in the way of city services, although I did see an actual Oklahoma City police vehicle patrolling near SE 130th and Peebly Road, and a few driveways sported the standard city trash containers. Otherwise, it's your standard exurban/rural area, large lots with an incredible variety of houses, the trashiest of trailers to the niftiest new construction, interrupted here and there by convenience stores and churches. This is not the place to go looking for a Burger King. (Indeed, one shouldn't look for a Burger King anywhere in the city these days: every one I've seen lately has closed up shop.)

What makes this little 320-acre parcel beyond the county line unusual is that it's literally inaccessible from the rest of the city. Pottawatomie Road runs along the western edge of it, but there are no eastbound roads; to get there, you have to get onto Fishmarket Road, by taking either SE 89th (which becomes Memorial Road) or SE 119th (which becomes Homer Lane) and going a mile east. Lake Drive (SE 104th) is the northern boundary of the spread, which extends half a mile to the south between Pottawatomie and Fishmarket. This part of Pottawatomie County is unincorporated and apparently largely unserviced: the McLoud post office delivers the mail, and street signs are likely to be handmade. Lake Drive itself is maybe a lane and a third wide. One southbound road, called Eastway, shows up half a mile to the west, but that's it. I am normally not a big fan of deannexation, but I honestly can't think of any reason why Oklahoma City should hold onto this remote tract.

I pushed on northward and wound up in Green Pastures, east of Spencer, an area annexed to Oklahoma City during the late 1950s. Green Pastures is mostly rural, not unlike that remote corner of Pottawatomie County, but its population is largely black. (We forget sometimes that at statehood, about 8 percent of Oklahomans had African ancestry.) Parts of it are spellbindingly beautiful; parts of it are scary. Sometimes they're the same parts. I really need to go back through there again and get a better look. (Ironically, I used to live a lot closer to there, but never made the effort to see it.) To the east of Green Pastures is an area called Dunjee Park, named for Roscoe Dunjee, legendary editor of the Black Dispatch.

Most of my Spottings excursions don't run 100 miles. This one did. And frankly, I needed the reminder that there's a lot more to the city than downtown, Bricktown, and what's around the corner. Mayor Cornett said in his State of the City address: "For over 100 years, we've been a City that has grown and expanded on the edges." We pretty much had to: after all, we got our first ten thousand residents in the first 24 hours.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:13 PM)
6 March 2005
Not much in store

Last month I noted, somewhat belatedly, the lack of supermarkets on the city's northeast side, and it occurred to me afterwards that there wasn't an abundance of chain stores of any sort serving this largely-black quadrant: there's a CVS which used to be an Eckerd's (though, surprisingly, not a Walgreen's dogging its heels), one of Yum! Brands' KFC-plus-something-else stores, and a couple of Mickey D's around the edges, but chain retail is otherwise conspicuous by its absence. I wondered if this was an anomaly, but, says Karen DeCoster, it's worse in Detroit:

[U]ntil the Dennis Archer administration took over the mayor's office in 1994, there was hardly a single chain store anywhere that was willing to locate inside the city's borders. This was a phenomenon only known to Detroit. Most people whom I talk to, from other areas, cannot comprehend that the city of Detroit did not have mega-stores, shopping malls, retail giants, chain grocery stores, chain video stores, etc. within its city limits. This seems like a fairy tale to them. Phoenix, Chicago, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Dallas, etc. — they have all had the benefit of economies of scale in their cities.

Detroit? Hardly a single K-Mart, Kroger, Meijer's, Blockbusters, or otherwise, was located in the city borders. Starbucks? Not a chance. The only businessmen left were the Arabs — many are Chaldeans — who opened up independent grocers, video stores, dollar stores, makeshift retailing outfits, etc. As one who had to shop at these places as a financially struggling 19-year-old, I can attest to the fact that these stores were absolutely awful: high prices, rotten food, poor selection, nothing fresh, and they were all dirty as all heck. It left city consumers with having to purchase their daily needs from these brave-but-less-than-efficient businesses, or make trips into the suburbs to find a place to shop. (Poor Detroit residents have consistently fought against these stores, what with their unkempt ways and high prices, but these people were the only ones, for the most part, willing to dare risk any kind of entrepreneurship in the city of Detroit.)

In some circles it is de rigueur to bash chain retail for its negative effects on local stores, an attitude which overlooks the possibility that some of those local stores might actually deserve it. And residents of northeast Oklahoma City who actually want to take advantage of the chains have had to venture into other parts of the city, or head east into the 'burbs. As close as Wal-Mart is likely to get is NE 23rd and Douglas Boulevard, in the north end of Midwest City, coming next year. Still, that's only six miles from MLK; imagine how far you'd have to drive — or ride the bus — to get out of Detroit.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:30 AM)
8 March 2005
Curtain call

Maestro Sergiu Comissiona died early Saturday morning here in the city, less than 24 hours before he was scheduled to conduct the Oklahoma City Philharmonic.

But before that final curtain, he taught a master class for conductors at Oklahoma City University, and Matt Deatherage was there:

The Maestro . . . looked quite relaxed. He would occasionally stand beside the podium and conduct briefly alongside a student. He kept tempo with the tiniest motions, so larger hand gestures clearly communicated his style and dynamic wishes.

Sometimes less is more.

And the concert did go on, with Philharmonic Music Director Joel Levine at the helm.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:33 PM)
9 March 2005
Devon backs off

Oklahoma City's Devon Energy Corp. is terminating its operations in Syria, citing current political pressures. US sanctions against Syria do not block Devon's oil exploration, but the company is unable to import replacement parts for its equipment.

Devon had planned to invest approximately $17 million in the Syrian oil fields, and began operations, with the consent of Congress and the Department of State, in 2002.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:21 AM)
Scenery? What scenery?

When Bobby Troup was getting his kicks on Route 66, he noted that "Oklahoma City is mighty pretty."

He wouldn't have thought so if he'd had to take I-35 or 40.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:48 PM)
10 March 2005
Big wheels keep on turning

Tom Lindley's column in this morning's Oklahoman is perhaps a trifle overexuberant about the prospects for riverfront development along The River Formerly Known As The North Canadian:

With the new Dell Inc. call center under construction on the west end and a $110 million American Indian Cultural Center planned for the other, seemingly all that is left to do is carve up the middle of downtown Oklahoma City.

New zoning stipulations will need to be enacted, but no doubt plenty of room will be available for walking and running trails, bicycles and skateboards. There will be boats in the water and vegetation along the rocky river embankments. There will be room for high-rise apartments with remarkable views of the downtown skyline. To top it off, there may be room for a five-star hotel, a championship golf course and a new-age lifestyle center.

Quite a bill of goods. Then again:

Pat Downes, development director for the Oklahoma City Riverfront Redevelopment Authority, estimates inquiries from the public and developers have tripled since the new corridor was dedicated in December. "The first and longest step was to get water in the river," he said. "It's now a real river; it's no longer a speculative venture."

And just think of the money we'll save by not having to mow it.

Then again, the hard part — turning a raggedy old ditch into a full-fledged river — is already done. From here on out, it's all downstream.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
11 March 2005
And a nose of deepest blue

Pedro Almodóvar's Bad Education, one of the more highly-regarded films of 2004, was apparently booked for the Noble Theatre at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, but was scrapped at the last minute when someone noticed it bore an NC-17 rating.

The Literary Tech sends a missive to that someone:

With respect, I would ask that you seriously reconsider this decision. I would suggest that decisions of this nature will not lead to a growth of the film program at MOA, and this decision does little to stimulate the intellectual life of Oklahoma City. While this issue is most starkly seen when applied to Almodovar's respected work, it is an issue that must redound to other works.

In transcending the immediate concern for Mr. Almodovar's Bad Education, one sees a time where only the most innocuous issues can be addressed in films presented at the MOA theater. The recent Oscar-winning film The Sea Within offers us a case in point. Anyone who takes exception to Mr. Almodovar's fine work would need to consider taking exception to a wide range of films of all sorts. In time, one would expect little of note or merit to be shown on the screen at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. I hope for more for my city and, one day, for my son.

This was going to be the month that I actually buckled down, ponied up the bucks, and became an OKCMOA member; I think now perhaps I shall wait a while and see what happens.

(Update, 13 March, 9 pm: OKCMOA film curator Brian Hearn says that it was his fault that Bad Education was dropped; the Museum has a policy that requires NC-17 films be submitted to the Museum Board for review, and, he told GayOKC.com, he neglected to do so.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:35 AM)
12 March 2005
Saturday spottings (short form)

After last week's industrial-strength excursion, and what with the arrival of weather suitable for yard work, I didn't get around much today, but there were a few things worthy of note besides the wholesale destruction of weeds.

My big Midwestern bank has been absorbed into an even bigger East Coast bank, and they're saying they want all the signs changed over within the next six weeks. Given the amount of new signage I've seen at the local branches, which is to say none whatsoever, I'd say they have their work cut out for them.

About twenty-five years ago, I visited Memphis, and fortunately, it's easy to find Elvis Presley Boulevard on the maps; actual street signs are few and far between, and the only one I saw was mounted about two stories above the ground, presumably to discourage theft. (I'm sure this sort of thing didn't happen when it was merely Highway 51 South.) North of Britton Road in The Village is a noncontinuous residential street called Abbey Road. When I was househunting, one of the first notions I got was to go look on this street, for obvious Fab Four-related reasons, but houses on those few blocks seldom seemed to be for sale, and the neighborhood in question seemed to be out of what I thought to be my price range anyway, so I gave the matter no further thought — until today, when I was stuck in the usual May Avenue traffic, and ducked down a side road to evade it. A couple of turns, and there I was — except that, contrary to the standard prevailing on other Village street signs, the sign for Abbey Road (this one, anyway) merely says ABBEY, with no further designator; for all the casual visitor could tell, it could be Abbey Drive or Abbey Place or even Abbe Lane. Have people been stealing street signs from The Village? And should we blame Polythene Pam?

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:46 PM)
15 March 2005
Have it your way, somewhere else

A couple of weekends ago I noted the general disappearance of Burger King in the metro area.

They're not all gone — Burger King HQ says there are thirty-five locations remaining in central Oklahoma, though their definition of "central" extends as far as McAlester — but local franchiser Ken Knight, who at one time owned fourteen Burger Kings in the area, has shuttered all fourteen, and he and Burger King are going their separate ways due to what Burger King calls a "history of ... failure to meet Burger King operating standards".

(Yes, Burger King has operating standards. Knock it off.)

At least two of the closed Burger Kings had been sharing space with gas stations: a Shell at NE 23rd and I-35, and a Conoco at Pennsylvania and I-44.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:24 AM)
16 March 2005
A house of fine repute

It's been gone for nine years now, and its owner died last month, but The Downtown Guy thinks it's time to resurrect Molly Murphy's — in Bricktown.

I'm thinking it's a hell of an idea. If they're going to pitch Bricktown as a place where Things Happen, well, things were always happening at Molly's. The Oklahoma Gazette once described it as "a mixture of 20s Art Deco and the Taj Mahal," and they weren't kidding. And if the environment was wacky, the staff was insane. The food was okay, maybe a little better than that, but you didn't go to Molly's because you were peckish; you went to Molly's because you wanted to see just what in the heck was going to happen next, and it didn't bother you that you had to wait an hour and twenty minutes to get in.

Yeah, I know: reviving the original Molly's would be right up there with building a shrine to That '70s Show. But everything old eventually is new again, and frankly, I think it's time I got a chance to embarrass my grandchildren, who sooner or later will have to go to the bathroom.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 AM)
21 March 2005
Lofty ambitions

If you've always wanted to live in a loft in downtown Oklahoma City — and obviously some of you did, or there wouldn't be any efforts to increase the supply of same — The Downtown Guy has an overview of what's available and a hint of what's coming.

And surely it's coming. Mayor Cornett has claimed that there is a market for 6,000 housing units in the downtown area; fewer than 1,000 are currently available. There is construction in MidTown, just to the northwest; plans are being made for the east.

I tend to marvel at this sort of thing, but then I remember the mausoleum that was downtown Oklahoma City thirty years ago: maybe a few signs of life from 9 to 5, but forget anything after sunset. Now, with rental units in the 'burbs being old and decrepit and boring — the big apartment boom in the Seventies resulted in serious overbuilding, just in time for the energy industry to go bust — downtown is becoming the place to be, especially if you work in the business district and have no desire to burn up lots of increasingly-expensive gasoline to get there.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 AM)
25 March 2005
The county strikes back

Back in January, two of the three Oklahoma County Commissioners voted to dissolve the county's Budget Board as of the first of July, putting the Commissioners themselves in charge of the General Fund. At the time, I suggested that this was payback to the Board for supporting a non-discrimination policy that included sexual orientation as a criterion.

Four county officials have now asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to rule that the Commissioners are in violation of state law, that they cannot legally establish a budget agency of their own.

The lawsuit, filed by County Clerk Carolynn Caudill, Treasurer Butch Freeman, Court Clerk Patricia Presley and County Assessor Leonard Sullivan, asks that the Commissioners be barred from using public funds to set up budget oversight.

The plaintiffs are hoping for a decision on or before the 30th of June.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:49 PM)
26 March 2005
Saturday spottings (forward-looking)

Predictions for available hotel rooms in downtown Oklahoma City:

Me, May '04: 1,414 by mid-2006.

The Downtown Guy, this week: At least 1,300 by 2007.

Given the subsequent delays on the Embassy Suites in Bricktown, I'm thinking TDG's time frame might be more reasonable than mine. Still, it should be remembered that during the grim post-oil bust days, we soldiered on with one major downtown hotel; the promise of half a dozen in the very near future constitutes some sort of vote of confidence in downtown Oklahoma City.

There are still a few spots that could use some burnishing, of course, and one of them is the old Braniff Building at 324 North Robinson, built in 1923 for Braniff Insurance, Tom Braniff's day job while brother Paul was learning to fly. In 1930, Braniff Airways moved into 324, and remained there until they relocated to Dallas in 1945. Kerr-McGee now owns the building, and gave it a facelift in the late 1960s. Most of the lower-story windows were broken in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and have since been replaced, but otherwise 324 (and the adjacent 310/316) are seemingly frozen in time, aging a little but otherwise showing no signs of life. The Braniff name, incidentally, was removed many years ago; the sign reads simply THREE TWENTY FOUR BUILDING.

Out in Midwest City, things are still in flux. The stretch of Douglas Boulevard from SE 15th to SE 29th, in the expectation of greater development, has been widened to five lanes (two each way and a center turn lane); Air Depot Boulevard is currently undergoing the same treatment. CiCi's Pizza has taken over the old Sound Warehouse building, once a moviehouse, in the 2300 block of Air Depot, and some of the strip centers near 15th have been freshened. At Heritage Park Mall, not much seems to have changed just yet — there's been some attention to the surrounding foliage, I noticed — but everyone I talked to who worked in the mall seemed happy, or at least hopeful, about the new ownership.

And I took a spin over to Union Station, 300 SW 7th, which isn't the easiest place to get to in this city. (Robinson south from downtown, then hang a right on 7th.) In the hands of the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority, the station is serving as, well, not much of anything these days. (Amtrak's Heartland Flyer stops at the old Santa Fe depot north of Reno on E. K. Gaylord.) Virtually all of the vintage rail infrastructure is still viable, were the city to pursue a light-rail transit system, although it's scheduled to be trashed once I-40's Crosstown route is rerouted literally through the old railyard. ODOT, of course, insists that "the integrity of [the station] will be maintained". I have my doubts that there ever will be a light-rail transit system in central Oklahoma, but I am quite sure that if there is, it will cost a lot more than it would had the Union Station railyard been left alone.

And as I passed by the National Memorial — but never mind, you can imagine what sort of slaughter-of-the-innocents thoughts I was having.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:52 PM)
29 March 2005
A rather pedestrian matter

The American Podiatric Medical Association has issued its list of America's Best Walking Cities, and the only question I had when I started digging into the data was "How bad did we do?" Two hundred cities were surveyed (here are the criteria), so I figured we'd finish around, oh, 150th? 170th? 190th?

Well, it says here [link requires Adobe Reader] that the Okay City ranks 123rd, which is better than I'd anticipated. Then again, we're right behind Detroit, a place where I'd be disinclined to walk anywhere for reasons unrelated to mere foot issues.

Tulsa finished 78th.

(Suggested by this Gawker item complaining that the Big Apple had dropped to seventh.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:10 PM)
31 March 2005
The very smell of money

In 1931, the First National Center and the Ramsey Tower (now City Place) went up side by side (Park Avenue separates them) more or less simultaneously. The Ramsey was a general office building which occasionally housed a bank in subsequent years; however, the First National Center was built around what was at the time the largest bank in the state, and the Grand Banking Hall at its entrance was a spectacular Art Deco shrine to the American dollar, a lot of which were flowing into the state at the time. (Two words: oil boom.)

It's still spectacular, which is probably why The Downtown Guy thinks it would be perfect for the nascent state lottery. Certainly it would be a great backdrop. I just wonder what they're going to do with all those Enterprise Center people who some day are supposed to be hanging around all day.

(Revised with some minor changes, another link, and a reduced level of sarcasm.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:24 AM)
No takers yet

The house presently known as Surlywood went on sale on a Tuesday and sold that Saturday (contract was agreed to on Sunday), which wasn't a record for Oklahoma City real estate, but certainly delighted the seller's agent, who didn't have to put in a whole lot of work, and the seller herself, who got pretty much every cent she asked for it.

Not everyone has this good fortune. In December I wrote about a house in The Greens that the owner was advertising, among other places, on the Web. Way out of my price range, and I wasn't looking to trade up anyway, but I thought the seller's Web site was sorta neat, and I figured the place would sell in a big hurry.

A hundred days later and still it's for sale, and the owner has enlisted one of the brand-name agencies to assist in the matter. I'll keep an eye open for a few more weeks, just because.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:05 PM)
1 April 2005
And it comes on a stick

Michael Bates, riffing on this item, passes on the ultimate test of whether a neighborhood has good "walkability":

Can a child safely walk from his home to the store to buy a popsicle? The absence of this kind of walkability means a loss of independence for children, the disabled, and the elderly who no longer feel confident behind the wheel of a car. It also gives us less flexibility to cope with rising fuel costs — we can't choose to walk to the corner store rather than drive to the supermarket.

The nearest place is a c-store at 5050 North May. It doesn't require any crossing of major thoroughfares, at least from the blocks adjacent to mine, but both the streets that intersect there (May and 50th) have their slightly-scary aspects.

And come to think of it, the only thing I've ever bought there is gas; I have no idea whether they stock quiescently frozen confections.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 AM)
Fields of dreams

Local historian Pendleton Woods is doing a three-part series for the Mid-City Advocate (which, alas, won't be on their Web site) about Oklahoma City's original amusement park, the now-mostly-forgotten Delmar Garden, once characterized as "the most fabulous amusement area west of the Mississippi River."

The Garden, built in 1902, had carnival-type rides, a 3000-seat theatre (expanded from 1200), an outdoor amphitheatre, a dance hall, a swimming pool, a racetrack, a baseball park, and its own scenic railway. The 140-acre site southwest of downtown was right on the North Canadian River, which both added to its beauty and contributed to its demise: the river in those days tended to flood, and flood waters brought mosquitoes. Statehood in 1907 brought one other problem: Prohibition, which forced the closing of the Garden's tavern. The park shut down in 1910 — the railway continued for a couple more years — and the Farmers Market (now being renovated) was built on a section of the site in 1928. Today nothing remains of the original Garden except the name, which persists on a street leading from Reno into State Fair Park. But you can still see an image: the third-base entrance into SBC Bricktown Ballpark was, I am told, designed to resemble the old pavilion at Delmar. The Downtown Guy has posted some picture postcards to give you an idea of what it was like back then.

(St. Louis, you say? Well, yes, the principals in Delmar — John Sinopoulo and Joseph Marre — basically swiped the idea from what they'd seen in St Louis County, including the name. I'd like to think they improved on it.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:34 PM)
2 April 2005
Saturday spottings (the Grand tour)

W. H. Dunn was a landscape architect in Kansas City in the early 1900s, eventually becoming the Superintendent of Parks. His duties in Kansas City, however, apparently didn't prevent him from helping out other cities in need: in 1909, he developed the first official parks plan for Oklahoma City. One of the features in Dunn's plan was a boulevard to encircle the city, connecting regional parks in each quadrant. Not much happened on that front until 1930, when the boulevard was incorporated into The City Plan for Oklahoma City, and the process of acquiring rights of way began.

Grand Boulevard, as it was called, was never finished: a lot of non-contiguous sections were built, but the circle was never completed, and some of the areas intended for the circle were ultimately usurped for freeway use. Still, there's enough of it to make a day trip of it, and that's what I did, starting the circle at 12:00 and heading clockwise.

Northeast: The road begins, so to speak, at about 1500 NE 63rd Street, west of the National Cowboy Museum, heading south under Interstate 44 and then turning southeastward. The east side is largely undeveloped; the west side is residential. Grand crosses Martin Luther King Avenue at the 5400 block, where the name disappears in favor of "Remington Place," after the racetrack. On the far side of the track, on the way to the Softball Hall of Fame, Remington Place becomes NE 50th Street, and Grand slices off to the right, splitting the Lincoln Park golf courses. Past 36th, on the way to the Railway Museum and the OKNG, the road deteriorates; the last turnoff is 29th, which crosses under Interstate 35, and south of 29th it dead-ends. Grand picks up again at 23rd as a mostly-residential street on both sides of I-35; the eastern leg runs past Edwards Park and becomes the I-35 service road, ending at 10th, while the western leg veers off slightly to the west and becomes a divided road with a grassy median, which feeds into 10th and which dead-ends south of 10th, just beyond the I-35 southbound onramp.

Southeast: Grand reappears at 2800 East Reno and curves along for a couple of miles through an area largely devoted to light industry. East of the roadway is the South Grand Trail, for pedestrian and bicycle use; it jumps across the street on the way into Trosper Park as the circle turns back westward. (The Grand entrance into Trosper is no longer open to motor vehicles, perhaps to benefit trail users; motorists must enter on SE 29th.) Across I-35, Grand heads straight west to play its secondary role as 36th Street; just beyond the I-35 service road, Grand becomes a divided road again, and the trail runs down the median, where it will remain until Stiles, where the road narrows and the trail becomes essentially a sidewalk on the south side. This is an old working-class residential neighborhood: the houses are small, but most of them seem to be kept up.

Southwest: Once west of Santa Fe and into the southwest quadrant, Grand opens up into a divided road once more, and the trail returns to the median. This was a spiffy street in its time, running past Capitol Hill High School and its stadium, and it still looks pretty good today, considering its advanced age. About thirty years ago some of the street signs indicated both "SW 36th St" and "Grand Blvd"; I didn't see any of those around, and there are a couple of signs that read simply "36th St", but all the new signage says simply "Grand Blvd". At May Avenue, Grand becomes an access road into Woodson Park, which terminates at SW 33rd; the trail continues on for another mile and a half or so. Grand reappears at SW 27th on the west side of I-44 and continues northward to SW 15th, just east of the Dell campus.

Northwest: The northbound road out of State Fair Park, just east of I-44, becomes the eastern leg of Grand as it passes NW 10th Street, and it's one-way north, ending at NW 23rd. The western leg runs from Liberty Street, between 11th and 12th, to just north of 36th; it's one-way south except through Will Rogers Park. Everything is interrupted for 39th Street/Route 66. There are discontinuous segments east of the Lake Hefner Parkway between 40th and 44th, and between 45th Terrace and 46th; the road resumes at 50th and continues into the Integris Baptist Medical Center, then picks up again for a couple of blocks south of 63rd. On the west side of the Parkway, there's a stretch from 50th to Northwest Expressway. Another break, and then a single segment west of the Parkway from 65th to South Lake Hefner Drive; hang a right, and in a couple of blocks you're back on Grand, four lanes with a median, heading east. (There's a Grand Drive on the east side of the Parkway, in case you weren't confused enough.) And half a mile east of May, the Nichols Hills city limits beckon. Up to this point, the numbering system has sort of made sense, but once you pass Pennsylvania (2301 is on the corner), you're in the 6900 block heading southeast. At Woods Park the road splits, with residential strips on either side, while the main road runs down the center of the park. Single lanes return south of Sherwood Lane, and at 63rd Grand returns to Oklahoma City, crossing Western at 57th and going back to east-west numbering (that first block is the 1000s). The rest of the way parallels I-44, finally ending at Robinson Avenue.

The real question, I suppose, is "How Grand is it?" The neighborhoods vary about as widely as possible; the southside stretch is probably the closest to what the 1930 Plan called for, but the Nichols Hills segment commands by far the biggest bucks. And I'd hate to be delivering pizza on this road, at least until I'd learned every last section of it in my part of town. Still, even in its unfinishable state, it's something sort of unique, the parks fall into place where they're supposed to, and I was happy to blow three hours and a quarter-tank of gas trying to get the feel of it — especially since during those three hours, the station where I filled up at the start of the trip raised its price by six cents a gallon.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:36 PM)
6 April 2005
Two tales of turnout

A mere 1,543 people turned out for the runoff for the District 2 seat on the Oklahoma City school board yesterday, in which Gail Vines defeated Gary Walker. At my precinct, evidently they had side bets on how many bodies would show up at the polls; somebody was saying "Well, we got our sixty" as I was leaving. (I was #58.)

Meanwhile, 3,430 people (more than ever before) showed up at this Web site yesterday, the vast majority of which were reading this page from the fall of 2003, presumably because the story contained therein ended this week.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:09 AM)
9 April 2005
Saturday spottings (northwest-oriented)

Because, you know, sometimes things happen in my neck of the woods.

One of those things is the upgrading of the Target store at May and Northwest Distressway to Super status, for which the entrance has been moved to the southern end of the store. (The Office Depot store that used to occupy the north end of the building has relocated around the corner.) Next time I'm due for some Targeting — and it has to be fairly soon, because I have a 10-percent-off coupon I have to use sometime this month — I'll see what the inside looks like.

Speaking of the Distressway, Dub Richardson seems to have moved his Toyota store out of the little patch of Warr Acres that sticks up that far north and into newer quarters west of Council Road, fairly far out but not so far as Steve Bailey's Honda dealership. Commercial development beyond County Line Road hasn't happened yet, but it's bound to sooner or later.

And much work is being done on the northernmost stretch of Western Avenue in the city (between Memorial and 199th), suggesting that this is going to be the Next Big Corridor, and further blurring the lines between Oklahoma City and Edmond. The right-of-way is lined with massive tubes for utility use, and the road itself is being made over and in some places widened. The stretch of Western that runs through Edmond (north to about 220th/Coffee Creek) is still fairly rural-ish, but on the OKC side there's lots of housing, including what looked like half a dozen gated communities.

Sign at a cigar store on May: NICE ASHTON, BABY. Is this going to sell any actual cigars?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:28 PM)
10 April 2005
Growing up on the Hill

John Hendrickson, last heard from here back in February, favors us with another tale from the south side of the city:

A very fond memory of growing up in Capitol Hill was the amount of places a 'kid' could go on Friday &/or Saturday to dance. Capitol Hill Jr. High would have sock-hops following a few basketball games which were held on the basketball court. No street shoes allowed! Socks only, thus sock-hops. Mt. Saint Mary's did not have its own gym so it played basketball and held dances in the Sacred Heart School Gym. I don't think I ever attended a dance at CHHS. I am sure dances were held there but I do not know where or when.

For a young person growing-up in the 1960's love was found and lost near Robinson St. Just south of Grand Ave (36th street) on Robinson is the Capitol Hill Lions Center. At 7:00 p.m. the weekly dance in the bldg began. Why 7:00? At that time families had meals together at or near the same time each day. Home cooked from scratch meals. The first dances were held using a record player to play records we kids brought from home. Later on a jukebox played most of the new stuff and some of the earlier music. Might I add that there was no cost, all you had to do was make a selection and it played. Boys scanned girls and girls scanned boys. The idea I think was to locate the person to dance with through the night. You knew whether or not the person felt the same during slow dances. When you are in the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade to dance with a girl so close that a piece of paper could not come between you and her head is resting on your shoulder while your cheek lays across her open cheek it is love. The events ended I believe by 9:30 or 10:00. Often you and your "find" went to different schools and you may never meet again so you savor in the smell of her perfume on your hand and shirt. Her hairspray lingers. But next Friday a new love might just be waiting.

Saturday night was for the IOOF Hall west of Robinson and on the south side of Commerce Street. To me and my family and friends Commerce was just called 25th St. The Hall was much the same as the Lions Club dances. The difference was that the females were strangers and you would probably never see them again.

WKY Channel 4 carried a local program fashioned after American Bandstand. The show was called the "Scene" hosted by media personality Ronnie Kaye. An old movie theater at SW 28th and Agnew (Yes! That is part of Capitol Hill also) had the seats removed and on the stage local bands would play and with an admission charge you could go in and dance your butt off. On some nights there would be a battle of the bands. Groups set up some times in different areas and take turns playing sets. Of all the dance halls this one I think lasted the longest.

Another point I would like to make is that only the IOOF was near home. Yet we walked to and from these places 99% of the time. We only asked for a ride if there was a downpour.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:47 AM)
11 April 2005
Testier than thou

The Oklahoman's self-described "Anti-News Editor" Sally Allen has had it up to here with the squabbling in Oklahoma County government:

Since taking office in January, commissioners [Brent] Rinehart and [Stan] Inman have spent numerous man-hours publicly criticizing current county officials, disseminating memos of mass destruction, and otherwise displaying the political tact of Jane Fonda wielding a communist anti-aircraft gun.

County commission meetings, which formerly required massive doses of caffeine, now regularly consist of heated arguments over extremely important budgetary matters, such as whether or not to create the "Commission to Decide on the Anatomically Correct Definition of 'Sexual Orientation'."

Meanwhile, longtime county officials have reacted to commissioners' criticism with the patience and wisdom of seasoned public servants, similar to the way Indiana Pacers react to potentially lethal plastic cups.

Allen's proffered solution is also anatomically correct:

I'd like to suggest a worry-free way in which REAL MEN resolve their power struggles without further burdening the taxpayers. This simple, inexpensive solution requires only two things — a locker room and a tape measure. I'll donate the tape measure.

Bring a micrometer and a pair of Don Alverso's tweezers while you're at it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 AM)
12 April 2005
A tale of two city wards

Two new faces on the City Council starting today — well, actually, Pete White has been here once before, in the 1980s — and their constituencies couldn't be more different.

White's Ward 4 occupies the southeastern corner of the city. In the nearer areas, where industrial and residential development often took place side by side, an artifact of the old oil patch, neither the businesses nor the homes are doing particularly well. Farther east, you get into traditionally rural areas which are having to adjust, not always happily, to being inside city limits. And there's Lake Stanley Draper, which someday might be a destination but right now is mostly just a reservoir.

Way out northwest is Patrick Ryan's Ward 8, which includes some fairly upscale areas and some former farmland that's being converted into suburbia. The major problems out here are twofold: bad section-line roads in the outlying areas and horrendous traffic in the developed areas.

City Council of late has not had a reputation for internecine warfare, and I don't expect one to develop with the arrival of the new guys; I suspect the limiting factor in bringing improvements to these wards will be, not Council opposition, but budgetary constraints.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:04 AM)
13 April 2005
Debuting with a splash

Water Taxi of Oklahoma will start its river-transit service in the summer of 2006 with four 50-foot catamarans, which will carry passengers between the Reno-Meridian area and downtown. Unlike the seasonal Bricktown Canal service, these boats are expected to run 12 months a year.

Longtime residents will remember when the most plausible vehicle for negotiating the river was a lawn tractor.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 AM)
16 April 2005
Deuced coupes

I'm westbound from what used to be the Classen Circle, and out of four cars in the left-turn lane, three of them are '32 Fords with paint deeper than the Marianas Trench.

Which can mean only one of one thing: it's a National Street Rod Association event, specifically the Southwest Street Rod Nationals, this weekend in the Okay City. And registration was at the Courtyard by Marriott, just west of the ex-Circle.

The rodders are invariably well-behaved, say local officials, but locals apparently use the arrival of the classic cars to engage in such antisocial activities as "cruising" and street racing.

What makes the street racing particularly heinous is that it's along Meridian between Reno and SW 29th, an extremely busy stretch of road. The police are increasing their presence in the area, just in case.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:11 AM)
Branches to the heavens

If I mention in passing that this neighborhood, like so many others, has a fair number of American elm trees, many people will ask right off: "How are they doing?"

"Not great, but well enough," is what I usually say, and then we remonstrate for a few moments about the miserable blight that so easily fells these magnificent trees.

Some of them, anyway.

The nineteenth of April, 1995, a few minutes past nine. What used to be the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, between NW 4th and NW 5th, is now two parts shell, one part rubble. At this point, nobody knows how many people were lost. And nobody notices the American elm tree across 5th, its bark blackened by the blast, its trunk full of glass shards and splashed with asphalt at its base, its branches weighed down by the flying chunks of metal they caught. Its few remaining leaves, though, are still green.

And they stayed that way through a hot Oklahoma summer. As plans for the National Memorial began to take shape, the tree still stood. People came to the bombing site with cans of water for the tree. The plans were redrawn to include the old elm. Someone — no one knows for sure who — named it the Survivor Tree.

Came the spring of 1996. A few green leaves, then a few more. Mark Bays, an urban forester from the state Department of Agriculture, came up with a plan to remove the concrete from the area around the tree's base. A tree service reconditioned the soil, pruned damaged limbs, collected seeds. Over the next four years, a support system for the tree was developed.

Nobody knows for sure how long the Survivor Tree will, well, survive. It's been given the best of care, including treatments to repel the blight, and it's an integral part of today's National Memorial, insuring that it won't be forgotten. But this mute witness to the terrible tragedy of the nineteenth of April has brothers and sisters and cousins all over the city, and I believe that the strength of one, by some genetic anomaly, by the grace of God, by something, somehow resides in them all.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:53 PM)
19 April 2005
April 19

Ten years have passed since the bombing.

For me, there was disbelief; then there was cynicism.

Perhaps now there is understanding. I hope.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:20 AM)
A season of possibilities

On a less-somber note, the Festival of the Arts begins today in downtown Oklahoma City. Between now and Sunday, about 700,000 people will pour into the streets to see the sights, hear the sounds, and chow down on entirely too much food. Admission to the spectacle is free, though last year's excursion, including parking, noshing, and an actual art purchase, inflicted a $150 hit upon my wallet. Your mileage (and millage, I suppose) may vary.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:16 AM)
An April 19 roundup

Some of what's being said about today and what it meant to those who said it.

See-Dubya, Patterico's Pontifications:

They murdered 168 good people ten years ago today. And they disrupted the innocence of a fine old town that had nothing to do with the twisted politics of the terrorists. Oklahoma City and those people's lives were nothing but stage dressing in their ugly little fantasy ideology. OKC wasn't even my hometown, nor a favorite city — just a place I had lived near and come to recognize as an outpost of decency and civilization, of faith and honesty and hard work. It was the sort of sprawling all-American flyover town my classmates out on the East Coast didn't have much regard for, but for which I was desperately homesick.

Robyn, Shutterblog.com:

It's incredibly hard to believe that ten years have now passed. Seeing the footage and faces on television makes every raw emotion and nerve come flooding back once more. This wasn't something planned and plotted on foreign soil. This was something we did to ourselves. And it was the first time our midwestern — and American — innocence was truly shattered in the blink of an eye.

Frederick Ochsenhirt, A Bluegrass Blog:

I didn't have kids then, as our first was still four years away, but even then I understood that Oklahoma City was nightmare-inducing for those who did. The day care center was supposed to be a safe haven, a place of comfort during the time the kids had to be separated from the parents. Then on an April morning, it became a place of pain and suffering and death. Four and a half years later, when it was time for our little one to go to a day care center of his own, half a continent away in a place that seemed more secure, I still thought about Oklahoma City, but took comfort that I was in a different place, in a different time. Terrorists could never attack Washington, DC, right?

Chase McInerney, Cutting to the Chase:

Sometime that afternoon, rain began to fall. The nearby Civic Center had been transformed into a briefing area for media. It was there I joined other reporters converging upon then-Governor Frank Keating. And it led to a strange epiphany; I had considered myself a cynical and anti-authority contrarian up to that time, but I was almost flat-out ecstatic to see the governor of the state — as if it really meant something. For the first time in my life, I understood the impressive calming effect of leadership, and for the first time that day, I almost felt safe.

Don Danz, Danz Family:

Ten years ago today at 9:02 am I was sitting in my office in Oklahoma City when I heard an explosion that literally shook my desk. I was on the twelfth floor of a twelve-story building and my first thought was that a boiler had exploded on the roof or possibly a tanker truck had exploded at street level immediately in front of my building. I would have doubted the explosion could have come from a block away and thought it impossible that it had happened four blocks away.

I got up from my desk and walked out of my office where I met a coworker who had just left his office. I had been with the firm for just five weeks and asked my coworker jokingly, "Does this happen often here?" He smiled and responded that it did not.

Mike, Mike's Noise:

We had another staff meeting that afternoon. My boss was a little less sure of himself this time. He gave us a less-than-effective pep talk on the purpose of terrorism being disruption, and that we could defeat the plans of the terrorists by continuing to do our jobs and focusing on the work we had to do instead of being distracted by the confusion around us. One of my coworkers wanted to go donate blood. "No, we need you here," was the reply. In truth it would have been a pointless excursion. By Wednesday afternoon, lines of blood donors at the Red Cross were out the door. By that evening, they were turning people away.

What I said last year:

Spring in Oklahoma often brings us disasters. On this very date in 1970, the Chikaskia River, after three days of rain, rose three to six feet from its banks and washed away much of the town of Jefferson. In May 1999, tornadoes pushing the limits of the Fujita scale rolled through the Oklahoma City metropolitan area. The response is always the same: we take care of business, we mourn, we clean up, and we go on, because — well, because that's what we do.

If you have a blog post about the Oklahoma City bombing and its aftermath, feel free to TrackBack to this post.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:20 AM)
20 April 2005
What they said

A sampling of quotes from yesterday's memorial service downtown:

"I was struck by the words of one survivor who said, 'We can never forget. We don't even want to forget.' That's the spirit of the Oklahoma City National Memorial and it so perfectly reflects the character of the United States." — Vice President Dick Cheney

"Let us also honor those victims by looking to the future. Let us honor them by living lives of joy, of meaning, of love and fulfillment — the lives that they would want us to lead." — Governor Brad Henry

"Trees are good symbols for what you did. You can't forget the past of a tree. It's in the roots, and if you lose the roots, you lose the tree. But the nature of a tree is to always reach for tomorrow — and to always find regenerative power from season to season." — Former President Bill Clinton

"We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity." — Mission statement of the Oklahoma City National Memorial

And the National Memorial presented its first Reflections of Hope Award to the Voice of Afghan Women radio station in Kabul. The awards were created to honor "a living person or group whose extraordinary work has significantly impacted a community, state or nation" and "exemplifies that hope not only survives but also thrives in the wake of political violence." The station (at 91.6 MHz) first signed on in March 2003. The award includes a cash prize of $10,000.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:31 AM)
What bank is this?

Dan Lovejoy has something to ask:

[W]hat, in the name of all that is good in branding, would cause Coppermark bank to go through two name changes in the last two years?

First, they were Guaranty Bank. Meh. Nothing flashy, but a good, solid, banky name. Then they were Americrest — which sounds like patriotic toothpaste, for about five minutes. Now they are Coppermark — which is the mark a coppersmith puts on his work. And they're advertising that they've NOT been sold.

"At Coppermark Bank, we're still the same bank. The same branches — the same people — the same owners."

This question has been previously answered, by, of all people, me:

Americrest Bank, previously known as Guaranty Bank, is rebranding itself again, this time as Coppermark Bank. The "Americrest" name was coined when Guaranty planned to move into the Dallas-Fort Worth market, where a Guaranty Bank already existed; however, they ran afoul of trademark issues, and had to come up with yet another name. The name change was announced in November, but permanent signage is just now going up.

Satanic toothpaste, of course, is the AntiCrest. (Fedora reangling: Lileks.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:52 AM)
21 April 2005
Down the middle of downtown

ODOT says the rerouted Crosstown Expressway section of I-40, assuming Congress passes the necessary funding, will open in the fall of 2008, and the movers and shakers are pondering what's going to happen when downtown is no longer bisected by the Interstate.

Which, if you ask me, is a little silly, since they're not removing the old road, only downgrading it to a boulevard. The things they could have done south of the Crosstown, they could have done earlier; the change in the freeway route merely makes them easier to contemplate.

And I'm still vexed about the destruction of the Union Station railyard, which insures that if they ever do decide to build a passenger-rail system in the city, it will cost a whole lot more, since they will have to recreate all that infrastructure from scratch. There are philosophical reasons to dismiss rail transit — mainly, almost all such systems built recently are heavily subsidized because they don't earn back their costs in fares — but you could scrap the bus system for the same reasons, and nobody (well, maybe your friendly neighborhood hard-core libertarian) is arguing for discontinuing the buses. (Chris? Jacqueline?)

On the upside, this further enhances the reputation of downtown Oklahoma City as a place where things are happening, which is a few steps up from its immediate post-Pei Plan status as the Land of the Living Dead.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:51 AM)
23 April 2005
Saturday spottings (largely random)

How successful is the Festival of the Arts? People were willingly parking half a mile to the west, despite this area's reputation as Scary Person Central. (The $3 tab instead of the usual $5 didn't hurt either.) Brisk winds didn't discourage anyone either, from the looks of things.

I escaped from downtown up Broadway, mostly to see if they'd installed Chase signage at Bank One (they had) and if they'd started work on the restoration of the Skirvin (they had). Broadway was closed at NW 4th — I'd forgotten that this was the terminus for the Marathon — so I ducked back down Dean A. McGee, which between Broadway and Robinson now seems to be an empty concrete gulch, just about the last one remaining downtown.

Back up Walker to see the roundabout at Plaza Court, which is now open, and well, it seems awfully small. Then again, it's not supposed to have multiple lanes; you can't just barrel your way in if there's traffic. It was probably wise to put a stop sign at 9th and Walker, forcing drivers to slow down and look at the darn thing.

The First Commercial Bank building in the Asian District, with its vaguely pagoda-esque architecture, is just about finished, and it teeters right on the edge of self-parody. (And therefore it fits perfectly with the Milk Bottle, the Gold Dome, and other close-at-hand examples from the WTF? School.)

And I came home up May, where the Bank One branch just north of 36th was getting a fresh Chase sign. On a Saturday afternoon, yet. I get the distinct impression that the locals (so to speak) are looking forward to the imminent arrival of their New York overlords.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:16 PM)
26 April 2005
Very trolley yours

The Neighborhood Association at Gatewood has adopted a little wedge of frontage on Classen south of NW 18th, where they will build a small memorial to the Oklahoma City streetcar.

Before statehood, there was a trolley stop at this intersection; the new Interurban Park, named for the trolley line, will incorporate simulated tracks, a silhouette of a vintage streetcar, and a marker to explain the importance of all this to people who've never seen a trolley car before, or who think it's a retro-designed bus.

And who knows? This might conceivably be the first step toward the return of some sort of rail transit: reminding people that this city grew up with trolley lines.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:35 AM)
27 April 2005
Down and dirty

The city is getting ready to open up the Crosstimbers Motorized Off-Road Vehicle Facility on a square-mile section west of Lake Stanley Draper.

The facility sits between SE 119th and SE 134th, east of Midwest Blvd. and west of Douglas Blvd. Draper Concessions (near the marina, 799-0870) will handle day permits. An area for non-motorized off-road vehicles has been set aside east of SE 89th and Post Road.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 AM)
28 April 2005
Brother, can you spare a fiver?

The Downtown Guy wonders if the new "aggressive panhandling" ordinance is making any difference:

A friend told me he was downtown the other day, and was hit by four different transients in two hours. One made remarks about how nice this person's car was before asking for money, making him nervous about whether it would remain safe if the request was turned down. Another panhandler made a long pitch about needing money for medical help, while two others started walking at this person's side, trying to strike up conversations before making their plea.

At least two of these instances occured after dark. Police were nowhere to be seen. The downtown security ambassadors were nowhere to be seen. The new ordinance, therefore, was of little comfort to this visitor.

What's "aggressive"? This is the legal definition (§30-430, Oklahoma City Municipal Code):

(1)  Approaching or speaking to a person, or following a person before, during or after soliciting if that conduct is intended or is likely to cause a reasonable person to fear bodily harm to oneself or to another, or damage to or loss of property or otherwise to be intimidated into giving money or other thing of value;

(2)  Continuing to solicit from a person after the person has given a negative response to such soliciting;

(3)  Intentionally touching or causing physical contact with another person without that person's consent in the course of soliciting;

(4)  Intentionally blocking or interfering with the safe or free passage of a pedestrian or vehicle by any means, including unreasonably causing a pedestrian or vehicle operator to take evasive action to avoid physical contact;

(5)  Using violent or threatening language and/or gestures toward a person solicited which are likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction from the person being solicited;

(6)  Following the person being solicited, with the intent of asking that person for money or other things of value;

(7)  Speaking in a volume unreasonably loud under the circumstances;

(8)  Soliciting money from anyone who is waiting in line for tickets, for entry to a building or for any other purpose;

(9)  Soliciting in a manner with conduct, words or gestures intended or likely to cause a reasonable person to fear immediate bodily harm, danger or damage to or loss of property or otherwise be intimidated into giving money or any other thing of value;

(10)  Begging in a group of two or more persons in an intimidating fashion;

(11)  Soliciting any person within 20 feet of any outdoor seating area of any cafe, restaurant or other business, automated teller machine, mass transportation stop, public toilet or pay telephone;

(12)  Soliciting any person in public after dark, which shall mean the time from one-half hour before sunset to one-half hour after sunrise.

At least we're not proposing to license beggars.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:13 AM)
30 April 2005
Don't even think of parking here

Monday, the county's new Metro II parking garage opens at Hudson and Dean A. McGee. Eight stories tall, it holds about 1000 vehicles.

But not yours or mine. Every space in Metro II is reserved, either by local firms buying blocks, or by individuals paying $90 a month. (You can still park at the older garage, one block south; in fact, there's actually some space open now.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:42 AM)
3 May 2005
Entrance, stage left

It's rather a long distance — 22 miles — between the west end of the Turner Turnpike at I-35 in north Oklahoma City and the next gate, in Wellston.

Construction will begin next year on a new gate that splits the distance, to be built on Hogback Road, which passes under the Turner east of the Indian Meridian south of NE 164th Street.

Still undetermined is the amount of toll to be charged; for passenger cars, the 22-mile stretch to Wellston costs a buck, minus a nickel if you use PikePass.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:12 AM)
4 May 2005
Halfway measures

Telephone numbers that ten years ago were rendered as something like 555-2368 are now occasionally appearing with a dot instead of the dash: 555.2368. (This is even weirder-looking when the area code is included: 405.555.2368.) It's not a problem, though, since you don't dial the punctuation anyway.

Now comes a new wrinkle. A local property-management company is rendering in-between addresses in decimal form: they have, for instance, a 1-bedroom apartment, not at 221½ NW 36th Street (not its real street), but at 221.5. This could be troublesome, especially since the Postal Service has what it calls a "standard format" for just about every address to which it delivers, and the standard for this isn't 221.5, or even 221½, but "221 1/2". (Most of your automation systems don't support the ½ character, and the Postal Service loves automation systems: they make junk mail third-class mail profitable.)

When I lived in Charleston, South Carolina, there was a dealer in antiques at the east end of St. Michael's Alley, on the other side of 2. They duly reported their address as 0. The USPS can handle that, at least.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 PM)
8 May 2005
What the traffic will bear

And some days, the bear eats you. From OKCBusiness:

Despite being one of the three cities considered for the nation's seventh largest convention — the American Legion National Convention — Oklahoma City lost the bid this week to host the event because of the room charges of its downtown hotels.

David Kellerman, the director of the American Legion's operations in Oklahoma, and Christine Wise, the marketing director of the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau, confirmed the city was told it lost the [2010] convention for one reason only.

So the Legionnaires will go to Milwaukee, because:

Kellerman said Milwaukee's average hotel rate was $99.

He said he advised Oklahoma City officials that the city's proposal needed to ensure the downtown hotels — specifically the Sheraton, the Courtyard by Marriott and the Renaissance — didn't include room rates above $107. However, the hotels refused to budge from rates ranging between $124 to $154 a night, he said and Wise confirmed.

Hotels in the Reno/Meridian area were more competitive, but they're five to seven miles from the convention center.

We can argue that okay, we're new at competing for top-tier events, we haven't figured out the fine points yet. But we can only play that card once.

(Via The Downtown Guy.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:44 AM)
9 May 2005
Newbie syndrome

Over the weekend I mentioned the failure of the city to land the American Legion convention in 2010 at least partially because some people — specifically, the downtown hotel operators — refused to yield on their room rates.

If this Capital of the New Century stuff is going to catch on, the powers that be are going to have to realize that they're still babes in the woods at this level of competition. Mistakes will be made. There's one hard lesson to learn, and everyone who's in the business of promoting this city is going to have to learn it: you can't have everything your way.

A professional street-skating exhibition planned for the Mat Hoffman Action Sports Park down on the river may be moving to Edmond instead because Oklahoma City insists on enforcing a helmet rule on the pros, despite the markedly-lower risk presented by the style of skating involved.

Repeat after me, Parks Commission: you can't have everything your way. Nobody is going to believe that this town has anything to offer if everything that is offered comes with strings attached.

What will we miss out on next?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:13 AM)
10 May 2005
Put another nickel in

You don't remember Carlton Cole Magee, but you almost certainly have seen his invention (U.S. Patent #2,118,318, granted in May 1938).

Some years earlier, Carl Magee had wound up on the traffic committee of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, and one of the problems on his plate was the tendency of people who worked downtown to use up the available parking spaces, leaving few or none for retail customers.

Magee's solution was both elegantly simple and incredibly annoying, at least at first: the city would install meters of his design alongside the streets, which would collect a small fee in exchange for a short period of time. The very first parking meter went into service on 16 July 1935; Park-O-Meter, a firm partly owned by Magee, started up shortly thereafter.

There's no doubt that Magee understood the revenue potential of his little box on a pole: his patent application specifies that the device is for "measuring the ... use of parking or other space, for the use of which it is desirous an incidental charge be made upon a time basis."

Oklahoma City is currently upgrading its downtown parking meters, which gives The Downtown Guy an idea:

[W]hy not re-install either the original parking meter or a duplicate of it where the world's first parking meter stood — at Park and Robinson. Install it, charge the original rates for this meter and this one only, and put up a sign next to it explaining that the world's first parking meter was invented and installed here. I know, we're not supposed to like these gadgets, but they're a fact of life and why not give tourists and visitors a whimsical chuckle and picture spot while they are here?

Works for me. I suspect that people's irritation with meters will subside, at least temporarily, when they see that very first meter in action.

Incidentally, POM Incorporated, descended from the original Park-O-Meter company, still makes parking meters — in Russellville, Arkansas.

(Ronald B. Luttrell II, who died in 2000, was working on a book about the history of the parking meter; I have borrowed liberally from his notes, some of which are collected at The Parking Meter Page. A few minor changes have been made since the original post.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:01 AM)
11 May 2005
It stays with you

Saw this on the woefully-underused Oklahoma City craigslist:

I miss snow cones, Robertsons' beef jerky, REAL barbecue, thunderstorms, crickets, 23rd street piercing studio, Gary England's tornado alerts, Garfield's perfect margaritas, Sonic (oh my god! to have a blue coconut slush and some onion rings right now!!!), sweet tea, skinny dipping in shawnee lake, the okc zoo, funnel cakes, Henry Hudson's...

And all my friends and family!!!!

I am somewhat surprised to hear that Sonic hasn't made it to Portland, Oregon yet. And no doubt some people are surprised that it's possible to miss a place like this, especially if you're twenty-four years old; their reaction is closer to this.

On the other hand, I expect some people to be surprised that Oklahoma City has a craigslist, even though I told you back in February, and I was hardly the first to notice it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:31 AM)
12 May 2005
The city as amusement park

San Francisco, says Joel Kotkin, is an ephemeral place, a city devoted to "stylish living" above all else:

The ephemeral city differs dramatically from traditional urban centers. No longer populated mainly by middle class families and a diverse set of industries, it is dominated by a wealthy elite, part-time sojourners, hordes of tourists and those that serve them.

And its political climate, says Kotkin, runs "from left-liberal to left-lunatic," which would ordinarily suggest a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth over job losses — 13 percent in the last five years — and recent declines in "diversity," because urban ethnics can no longer afford to live there. Instead, San Francisco worries about shopping bags and the possibility that a person addressing the Board of Supervisors might commit a verbal faux pas.

For some inscrutable reason, this sort of circus is being held up as a role model for the rest of us. Kotkin reports:

San Francisco is not alone in building an ephemeral economy. Montreal, Berlin, Boston and Portland, Ore., all display signs of constructing an urbanity based on hipness, art and culture. Like San Francisco, these cities attract large numbers of young, educated people with their notable street life, entertainments and nice architecture.

Less reasonable are the attempts of other, less favored cities — places like Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore, Manchester, Vt., and Oklahoma City, even Aarhus in Denmark — to peg their futures on becoming hip cultural centers. Some, adopting popular development guru Richard Florida's notions that having lots of gays is key to making your city successful, have decided that they, too, need to get more gay.

Will this strategy succeed in the boondocks? When a reporter from Oklahoma City tells me of the city fathers' dream of attracting hip, cool people, including a large contingent of gay people, to create a Sooner State Castro district, I can answer with one New York word — fuggedaboutit.

You might think, or I might, that if Oklahoma City really wanted to attract gay people, the city would have mounted a campaign against State Question 711 last year. And besides, however popular Dr Florida's notions may be these days, they seldom translate into actual economic success.

Some of our "emerging professionals" bewail the fact that Oklahoma City doesn't seem to be transitioning into a vacationland for lawyers in love. Right now, I'm more interested in whether they can keep the sewer lines from backing up.

(Via Matt Rosenberg in not-always-delusional Seattle.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:37 AM)
14 May 2005
A little less service

A couple of weeks ago, a local auction house put up a banner at Harper's Sinclair station at NW 63rd and May, announcing that the property would be sold in June.

What I didn't notice was that Harper was no longer posting gasoline prices, which at the self-service pumps had been consistently one cent below those of the Shell station across the street. Turns out that Harper's was no longer selling gas; the service bays, which are still open five days a week, will close before Memorial Day.

Jim Harper has been running this station since 1957; once it's out of his hands, he and his wife are going to hit the road in an RV.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:25 AM)
16 May 2005
Not including shelves

Two weeks from tomorrow, Oklahoma City will auction off the old Downtown Library building at 131 Dean A. McGee. The city has set a minimum bid of $950,000, and The Downtown Guy thinks they'll get it:

Will the city get $950,000? You bet. The question will be what will happen to this property under private ownership. I could see the property being renovated into lofts. But its historic credentials are flimsy at best. It's a rather forgettable 1950s-era piece of architecture, an Eisenhower mentality where function was more important than design (though certainly that thinking didn't prevent other stunning examples of Atomic and pop-Americana design during that same period).

So, if it were to be torn down, especially if you could get it consolidated with the old bank drive through next door, you could end up with a pretty great project in the heart of downtown. What would I build? Retail/housing for sure.

I think I'd miss the old Fidelity (now Bank of Oklahoma) drive-in: when it was built half a century ago, it was a model for the way these things ought to be done, and it still looks pretty good today. On the other hand, there's a real question of whether you can put up a big-enough structure on the existing library lots: the library itself was only about 64,000 square feet, which wouldn't allow for much in the way of residences (since you'd presumably need an adjacent parking facility), and while downtown retail is certainly something to be desired, the 100 block of Dean A. McGee (or the 400 block of Robinson) is not going to be the first place anyone looks for it.

One thing's for sure, though: we don't need any more office space downtown, at least right this minute.

Update: One bid received, below the reserve price: the city will now try to sell the building outright.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:02 AM)
21 May 2005
Patches, I'm depending on you

Tuesday night at the City Council meeting, City Manager Jim Couch will report on the Pothole Posse, which has been working overtime since spring to repair some of the more egregious gaps in local pavement.

This statement in the original press release perturbed me somewhat:

Crews can repair up to 400 potholes a day and will pour 30 to 40 tons of asphalt each day.

Four hundred potholes require forty tons of asphalt? It takes 200 pounds of I Can't Believe It's Not Tar!™ to fill just one of the four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire along 50th between Penn and May?

Here's what the City Manager's report says:

Since the initiation of the Pothole Posse, crews have completed 1,402 work orders by patching 12,845 potholes with 1,274 tons of asphalt.

Which is, by gum, 198 lb 5 oz per hole.

Evidently I don't know my asphalt from a hole in the road.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:49 AM)
Saturday spottings (trippingly on the tongue)

I haven't done a lot of Spottings lately, mostly due to the pressures of what we laughingly call Other Things, but there's still plenty going on. Bricktown traffic was unusually heinous for a hot Saturday afternoon; judging by the parking distribution, I'm guessing the major contributor was Sith happening at Harkins.

There was a blurb in the Mid-City Advocate this week about the new bank branch in the Asian District — yes, it does have a multilingual staff — which got me to thinking about the possibility of ghettoization: are we boxing our ethnic communities into neat little zones?

But perhaps I needn't have worried. A couple of weeks ago, the Walgreens at 50th and May put up some signage in Vietnamese; today I saw Spanish signs at a laundromat on NW 23rd in the south end of Bethany. Whatever boundaries we might imagine, they don't actually exist.

There was a little clothing store on 23rd east of May, which has recently relocated to a space just west of Portland. Their old marquee, however, remains, and it still asks: DO U LISTEN?

And while we're speaking of May, there's a new restaurant going in, replacing the short-lived Uschina buffet, to be named for its location at the light at 57th. Technically, this is half-true: it's at a light, and it's north of 56th, but the intersection is actually United Founders Boulevard. (And it's just as well; were it at 59th, a truly hellish crossover, nobody would ever get into the place.)

(Update, 1 am: At least part of the crunch in Bricktown was the Redhawks game, for which over 10,000 tickets were sold. The Birds lost to Salt Lake, 9-1.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:58 PM)
26 May 2005
In the middle of things

The schedule is up for this year's deadCENTER Film Festival, which kicks off Thursday, 9 June. It's the fifth year for deadCENTER, and over 100 films have been selected for inclusion.

What? You didn't know we had a film festival? Sheesh.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:28 AM)
27 May 2005
Bumps? We got some

Urban thoroughfares in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area are the 10th worst in the nation, says The Road Information Program. Tulsa's are a smidgen less horrible, at 18th; the absolute worst, says TRIP, are in Kansas City.

The complete report is here [link requires Adobe Reader].

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:08 AM)
28 May 2005
We tilt this city

The rumblings began, I think, with Bass Pro.

The sweetheart deal that the city struck with Bass Pro Shops to locate a store on the edge of Lower Bricktown came in for some criticism, which largely subsided after a while and the store started producing revenue close to projections. Still, it's Bass Pro, which caters to guys in flannel shirts who might own rifles and think sitting in the middle of the lake with a line over the side is fun, and this just irks the sort of young trendy types who believe that Bricktown ought to be their own private preserve, a row of bars, upscale shops and more bars, who aspire to have Bricktown become the local equivalent of Dallas' West End or Deep Ellum and worry that any development of which they do not approve is a sign of creeping Lubbockization. The last, or at least next-to-last, straw was the hint that John Q. Hammons Hotels was contemplating dropping its plan for an Embassy Suites in Bricktown and replacing it with a presumably less-prestigious Residence Inn. Good God, this is the sort of thing they do in the (gasp!) suburbs!

Not that this mindset is limited to this part of the world, as Andrea Harris knows perfectly well:

I know, because I tried to be like that: I'd go see boring indy bands in gay bars play sub-par pub rock and try to hide the fact from myself that the cover band at the suburban dance bar I and my friends used to go to in the early 80s was at least as talented, if not more so, than the indy band; I'd go to the tiny room behind the railroad tracks where the art crowd gathered to watch foreign films, and tried to ignore the fact that a soap opera isn't any more interesting or original when done in black and white, spoken in Czech and spiced up with exposed breasts; I'd go eat at the French restaurant and pretend that snails in garlic-flavored oil and fungus dug up by pigs were not foods inherited from a poverty-stricken, starving peasantry, and that the salad I'd just finished consisting of a plate of warm lettuce was just fine; I'd go to old warehouses converted into "alternative" art museums to look at displays of cardboard boxes containing battered dolls with knitting needles stuck through their eyes and red paint poured all over them and tried to squelch the memory of my sister and I doing the very same things to our dolls just for fun before throwing them in the garbage.

I bring this up because this is the opening day of the Paseo Arts Festival, and while this is a quintessential "urban" event, it's worth remembering that the Paseo, now an established artists' district, started out as a shopping center back in 1929.

Cities don't always grow and develop in the directions we'd like. Stores close here and open there; neighborhoods rise and fall. Official proclamations have little or no effect: there's nothing to stop someone from opening a Mexican restaurant in the Asian District. If your biggest fear is that you'll take a date to an upscale club in Bricktown and you'll run into a bunch of tourists from Woodward on their way to Toby Keith's, perhaps you need to rethink your definition of fear.

(Update, 10:45 pm: The Downtown Guy reprints this screed, and notes: "Everything I've heard about the Embassy Suites ... that is being downsized to a Residence Inn [is] because John Q. Hammons couldn't get a deal to build a garage across the street." I can believe that.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:43 AM)
Derailed

Well, this is depressing: the monorail at State Fair Park is being dismantled.

Apparently maintenance costs are soaring, ridership has been decreasing, and the train will just get in the way of the scheduled renovations of the park. The train itself is supposed to be auctioned off next week.

Then again, Matt Deatherage noted last year:

They told us last year was the Monorail's last year, that the track was going to be taken down, but it was there again this year. I felt betrayed.

The monorail was built in 1964 for the city's 75th anniversary, more or less simultaneously with the development of Fourteen Flags Plaza.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:12 PM)
2 June 2005
Permanently grounded

Oklahoma City's Downtown Airpark, across the river from the west side of downtown, is apparently shutting down: the company's offices, on site and at the Clarence Page Airport on the city's far west side, have been closed after 58 years of boom and, more recently, bust.

For the time being, landings and takeoffs will continue, though neither maintenance nor fuel will be available on site.

This could be a blow to the ongoing development along the Oklahoma River, just to the north: access for general aviation could have been a major asset. On the other hand, the land itself might be worth more being used for something else.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 AM)
The answer is still 42

Well, an answer, anyway. Developer Grant Humphreys has a plan for the eastern edge of the Flatirons District, east of downtown and north of the Deep Deuce area: Block 42 will incorporate about thirty upscale residences — 1560 to 2728 square feet — at prices averaging around $270,000.

This might well fit into the Master Plan for The Triangle, as proposed by a group of developers. And with the demand for downtown housing projected to grow substantially in the next decade, Block 42 is coming along at the right time; assuming final approval by the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority within 60 days, Humphreys says the first units could be ready next summer.

Still: two hundred seventy K? I know that they're wanting to attract the young urban professional type (I'm trying my best to avoid the Y word), but I suspect that these homes will likely go to more settled folk, possibly connected to the medical-research complexes on the other side of I-235. And anyone willing to trade off floor space for view can buy in at The Classen for $150-200K.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:25 AM)
3 June 2005
White with fright

An anonymous observation from craiglist:

tell me why all the white people that live outside okc are scared to live downtown. i had a party once near the paseo area and all my friends from the mwc/choctaw area arrived wide eyed and freaked out because of the black people along 23rd street (it was a friday night).

Must be Choctaw. Midwest City is even blacker than OKC (19.5 versus 15.4 percent, per city-data.com). I guess some people are, you should pardon the expression, easily spooked.

And anyway, there are plenty of streets I think are scarier than 23rd. NE 10th, before it peters out west of Martin Luther King, often gives me the creeps, but then the last near-death experience I had in a car was along 10th, so take this with large quantities of sodium chloride.

NE 4th, late at night — which was my commute back in the middle 80s when I lived in the northeast quadrant and worked swing shift downtown — has a sort of not-even-vultures-will-live-here quality to it, and it still has EPA Superfund sites on it, making it seem even worse than 10th, which used to have one (the old junkyard east of Bryant), which since has been capped and taken off the list.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:31 AM)
Stale turnover

You can hardly blame Dan Dill. At the end of 2004, he snapped up Heritage Park Mall for $4.1 million; a brace of California investors has now taken it off his hands and given him a tidy profit for the brief period he owned it.

The $7.8 million price is still below the appraised value of the mall; tenants are still waiting to see if anything improves. I'm starting to think it may be too late, myself: the focus of new activity in Midwest City is far to the south, with a not-quite-Super Target, a Lowe's, and a Kohl's all taking spots on the north side of SE 29th east of Air Depot, and a new Sheraton hotel near I-40 and Sooner Road. None of these is within two miles of the mall.

Well, there's the new Wal-Mart Supercenter at NE 23rd and Douglas, but that's even farther away.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:39 PM)
4 June 2005
Bricktown evolution

Last week, I posted this business about one particular local mindset that perplexed me: the notion that the Bricktown entertainment district, rather than being allowed to evolve, should be given a sharp push — presumably according to some, um, "intelligent design" — in the direction of young and hip and "urban."

The Downtown Guy brought this notion in front of his readers, and the discussion there has gotten interesting. A few excerpts from his commenters, very slightly edited by me, and my responses thereto:

Certainly, there are people who do not get or like the young trendy professional or creative artists that are attracted to more adventurous activities and design. But outlets for these people are in short supply in Oklahoma. And urban settings are generally where you find these people in other cities. So, it made sense that if we were trying to improve our city and downtown it would be with new and original developments. Let's face it, for the person in the post running down the art world [this was the lovely and talented Andrea Harris, whom I quoted in my original piece], OKC was already a haven for that individual. Anyone who is satisfied with large corporate mega-retail, black top landscaping, and prefab restaurant design should be happy with developments in OKC already and have no reason to leave the suburbs in the first place.

Nothing at all wrong with originality. But I'm not at all persuaded that originality, in and of itself, is necessarily an unalloyed boon; the farther out on the weirdness asymptote you go, the smaller an audience you can expect. While I'm not at all disinclined to see edgy and unorthodox developments in a town that has damned few of them, I believe that these things take root and grow on their own: you can't really direct the process from outside.

It has always been the core city's role to move the region's cultural curve. If the suburbs are meant to be "safe", it's the inner city's role to experiment and push the tastes of the rest of the region. I think dustbury jumps the gun in assuming that the "young trendy" types want to make it their preserve, when most consider it to be a tourist area. The fact is, Bricktown is successful because it appeals to all people — families and yuppies, the pubcrawlers and sophisticates, the active and passive.

Apart from my gun-jumping, this neatly encapsulates the issue here: Bricktown's success is due to its ability to draw people who think of themselves as suburbanites in addition to those who consider themselves urban in orientation. It's an uneasy balance, and maintaining that balance is, I think, more important than trying to push the district a notch or two toward either side.

As for some ideas of future tenants, here are some things that have worked in touristy areas of other cities: a Galleria, shops unique to Oklahoma heritage, Dave and Busters or GameWerks, high-end shopping or just plain different shopping than other parts of the city such as Neiman-Marcus, Saks, Nordstrom, Marshall Fields, etc. Weird little record stores like Waterloo Records, pool halls and other recreational activities, more GOOD live music, maybe an IMAX, what about an Apple Store those are cool. Maybe miniature golf, those oddly enough seem to make millions in places like Myrtle Beach, SC. What about ferris wheels and a boardwalk like Navy Pier in Chicago? And why is an area that some are trying to bill as "upscale" only seemingly able to support sports bars and steak houses? More often than not anything ethnic seems unsupportable there (see: Indian, Chinese, and Japanese).

I've been to Waterloo Records in Austin; I spent rather a lot of money last time I was there, in fact. The closest music outlet to Bricktown is a CD Warehouse in Automobile Alley, and while I'm glad it's there, it's simply not in the same league. I don't see Neimans or Nordstrom making any moves in this direction, though Saks has a Tulsa store (in Utica Square). Some greater restaurant variety would indeed be welcomed; right now, if I'm thinking dinner date, I'm more likely to go for Western Avenue than Bricktown.

Some folks seem puzzled, or perhaps angered, that Bricktown has Bass Pro instead of Versace. Why the Bass Pro? It's Oklahoma: by definition it is not "upscale"! This state is about something different, and will be for a long time. Part of it is money (probably most of it) and, mixed in with dollars, is culture. Yeah, that's all going to change, eventually (some friends toured a few million dollar homes in Rivendell last weekend: million dollar homes SOUTHSIDE!) but it will take many years. Did other funky downtown areas just appear overnight? Of course not. One respondant mourned our dissimilarity to Austin: I was there a few weeks ago, and 6th is indeed ultra-funky, but I was told (and have read) that's it's been like that for at least thirty years.

It has. (I started at UT Austin in 1969, and Sixth Street was already moving towards funkiness.) And time is always a factor: it took about thirty years to turn a decaying uptown corridor into the Asian District. Still, I think "upscale" is, well, "scalable," if only because having a great deal of disposable income is simplified by not having to spend an ungodly amount of money on housing, one of the major draws of this part of the country. (Yeah, you probably won't earn as much, either, but the Feds will be taking less away, which surely helps.)

As far as the quality of food in Oklahoma City: it can be hard to find good food even in a place like Manhattan. The trouble with Manhattan is that a lousy meal there costs $60 instead of the $15 it might cost here.

No argument from me.

And, to close out, something I probably should have said, but didn't:

There's no point in running around demanding that niche interests have mass appeal and any uncouth and vulgar development should be stopped. Equally annoying is the hostility from the other direction, demanding that these damn nonconformists just shut up and go to the damn Wal-Mart like everyone else. Both perspectives are elitist and counterproductive. This is a big city. Both Toby Keith (last seen shaming Chevy truck buyers nationwide) and Wayne Coyne (of the Flaming Lips, last seen walking across an audience in a giant plastic bubble) live here, and have done so without incident for many years. By the same token, the same crop of post-MAPS private investment brought us both Bass Pro and the excellent and very hip OKC Museum of Art. Irene Lam saved the gold dome, while her husband does LASIK for rich Edmondites.

I'll drink to that. Even in a Bricktown sports bar.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:17 AM)
8 June 2005
Comparing notes

The Oklahoma Gazette's OKG Free Classifieds, one has to assume, is an effort to fill a niche that in most metro areas is occupied by craigslist.

It might actually be working, too; last time I looked there were 200 postings to the OKC edition of craigslist, but 371 to OKG Free.

Still, there's plenty of room for both, I think.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:22 AM)
At least one of these is medicinal

Macaulay Culkin, busted last year on I-44 near the Kelley Avenue exit, entered a guilty plea today to misdemeanor charges of possession of controlled substances — Xanax and marijuana — and was given a one-year deferred sentence on each of the two charges. Culkin also paid $940 in court costs.

Culkin and friend Brent Tabisel were driving to Los Angeles from New York — Tabisel was at the wheel of their rental car — when they were pulled over for doing 70 mph in a 60-mph zone (yeah, right) and making an improper lane change.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:18 PM)
10 June 2005
Securing the Bricks

There is no shortage of fire stations in the central part of Oklahoma City, but the growth of the Bricktown district and points to the north and east has suggested to City Council that maybe there ought to be one more; this week, the Council has decided to hire an architect and start the ball rolling for a Bricktown fire station.

Existing fire stations near downtown:
No. 1, 820 NW 5th
No. 4, 100 SW 4th
No. 5, north end of Winans Park (NW 22nd and Broadway)
No. 6, 620 NE 8th

A police substation is under development at 219 East Main (the old Rock Island depot), replacing the temporary location on Sheridan near the canal.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:03 AM)
11 June 2005
Our fumbling renaissance

A chap named The Old Downtown Guy can be seen occasionally commenting on the blog of the presumably younger Downtown Guy, and TDG the Elder was accorded space to write a post of his own, which I excerpt here:

[A] conversation ... was going on here about the sort of new stores and restaurants that might be placed in Bricktown to attract the patronage of Richard Florida's "Creative Class" and whether there is a way to encourage development in that direction. It is my experience that people of all ages, backgrounds, life styles, creative class or otherwise, congregate to do things that they share a common interest in; in places where that common interest occurs. Case in point; last evening's OKCMOA-supported deadCENTER film festival. Call it diversity in action if you will. The edgy clothing shops, vegetarian restaurants etc. discussed in earlier posts about Bricktown development are a byproduct of having sufficient cultural stimulation to attract a critical mass of people to provide the required consumer market. It's just a sidebar to "retail follows roof tops". That stimulation is constantly shifting, an ongoing series of things and might be a film festival, music festival, art festival, a competition at our new first class skateboard park or any number of people oriented events. I really believe that the market place will, in time, take care of the consumer needs.

Links added by me. The marketplace does work: if there's enough of a demand, eventually there will be a supply. TDG the Elder understands:

Trying to force the development of particular kinds of stores, restaurants and shops a la a Disneyland type of approach is ultimately doomed to failure, except in a very select few cases. As citizens, we can best direct the development of our city through our involvement in the political process. By demanding quality civic government that builds well designed appropriate public sector projects and provides services to fulfill basic community needs. And, we can encourage good public policies that facilitate the private development of venues where stimulating human activities and interaction can occur; the ways and means to nourish our minds and spirits. The market place is well suited to serve the physical wants and needs that we support with our collective disposable income. Having said that, I'll add that I can stand on either side of the discussion of whether or not it was a good idea for The City to underwrite Bass Pro as a way of jumpstarting lower Bricktown development. Cities are uniquely complex in their evolution and exciting to watch.

And for every couple of steps forward, there's one step back, or occasionally to the side, a series of motions made more interesting by the fact that not everyone agrees on which way we're going in the first place.

Finally, The Old Downtown Guy calls for the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority to quit hiding in the shadows:

Bad public policy and wrong headed thinking by the OKCURA almost slammed the door in the face of the Oklahoma City Art Museum's decision to move to its present location by quietly seeking to raze the Centre Theater building and install a surface parking lot convenient to City Hall. Only a monumental effort on the part of a handful of unsung heroic citizens prevented an unimaginable tragedy for this city. The Oklahoma City Museum of Art now stands in its perfect location.

Little of value grows where no sunlight shines.

The Authority is a public body, but over the past forty years it's managed to reduce its accountability to the public to near zero. City government otherwise is open to scrutiny; it's time to open up the Authority's agenda and proceedings to the rest of the world.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:52 AM)
Saturday spottings (mutatis mutandis)

My first place of my own (neither college dorm nor Army barracks counts) was a one-bedroom flat east of NW 23rd and MacArthur. And indeed a number of firsts took place therein, some of which are none of your beeswax, but I didn't stay there too awfully long: I had to learn how to undertake the responsibilities of Family Man, and they were too large to fit in the space available. It's still amusing to drive past there, though; the "distinctive" architecture is a hoot, and unlike most complexes in this neck of the woods, the name remains unchanged after all these years, even though a new management company has assumed command.

Finding something that hasn't changed in thirty years is obviously not impossible, but it's not the easiest thing to do either. Sometimes you're grateful for the change: the bar previously known as The Dirty Hoe has somehow mutated into Thirsty Mike's Sports Bar. Sometimes the change is demanded: Shogun Steak House of Japan (NW 118th and May) has an ad in the Sunday Oklahoman asserting that a similarly-named restaurant in Norman has no legal rights to the name. And sometimes I don't know what to think: the not-yet-opened Light at 57th eatery is now bearing a sign marked "Nancy's 57th Street Lighthouse," for which I claim no credit whatsoever.

I did pass by the old AT&T facility on Reno east of Council Road, which has been sitting empty for a scary length of time. There's a banner up promoting the warehouse as a distribution center, which makes sense, and another one pointing to a Web site devoted to the plant and the eventual sale thereof. To be honest, I can't see it going as a unit: I think they're going to have to subdivide it — the actual manufacturing facility alone is over 1.1 million square feet, nearly a third as large as the mammoth GM plant on the southeast side.

Which leads to another question: What happens when GM leaves town? (Which they will, almost certainly; despite having shed over 130,000 workers in the past 15 years, the General still has far too much excess capacity, and it's a safe bet that there won't be any concessions from the United Auto Workers between now and contract expiration in 2007.) My own personal belief is that GM as we know it is beyond the dinosaur stage and should be put out of its misery; any of the brands it owns which are worth keeping alive should be spun off. (Not so fast there, Buick.) After all, except for Saturn, they were all independent companies to begin with, and maintaining the current status quo as some sort of homage to Alfred Sloan and/or Billy Durant is no longer an option. And once GM is out of the picture, I'm betting, Oklahoma City Assembly will reopen, putting together Chevrolets — or Hyundais.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:56 PM)
14 June 2005
For your consideration

The eleventh item on the Oklahoma Gazette's "The Best of OKC" ballot is "Best blog," a category they didn't even have [link requires Adobe Reader] last year.

Now I've read the Gazette long enough to know that they pull in some extra ads during the issues the ballots are circulated, ads from firms and services hoping you'll remember their names when you complete your ballot, and, if you're really lucky, explaining why you should.

You won't find this sort of thing here, not because I'm a shoo-in, which I'm not, but because for every reason I could think of why you should vote for dustbury.com for Best Blog — well, here are the Top Ten reasons why you shouldn't:

10.  Does anybody understand those damn category names?

  9.  Inadequate coverage of busty lesbian ninja pirates.

  8.  Gets enough free publicity already.

  7.  Lamest post title in the history of blogdom.

  6.  Has the temerity to invent forms of profanity instead of sticking to the tried and true.

  5.  Constantly whining.

  4.  Can't pronounce a simple name like "Xrlq".

  3.  Hardly an inimitable style.

  2.  Still hasn't gotten around to naming She Who Is Not To Be Named.

  1.  750,000 people can so be wrong.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:07 AM)
15 June 2005
Paul paid; Peter waits

Midwest City borrowed $30 million from the city's Hospital Authority to cover some of the costs of the ongoing redevelopment of SE 29th Street. The transaction drew a court challenge, which got all the way to the state Supreme Court, who ordered an election, since the Midwest City charter specifies that hospital funds can be spent only on the hospital (imagine that), unless the electorate should choose otherwise.

The electorate did choose otherwise; voters gave nearly 3 to 1 approval to the fund reallocation yesterday.

The old Target store at 7601 East Reno — Target is moving to the new 29th Street — reportedly will end up in the hands of Midwest Regional Hospital, to be used as a clinic; I assume that this is a wholly-unrelated deal.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 AM)
17 June 2005
Newly historic

The State Historic Preservation Review Committee is evaluating sites to recommend for the National Register, including the Edwards Neighborhood, north of NE 10th and Grand, the first postwar suburban development on the city's largely-black northeast side.

Also up for consideration are the Sieber Hotel in midtown, and the Will Rogers Park Gardens and Arboretum near NW 36th and Grand.

The Committee will meet on 21 July at 10 am at the Oklahoma Historical Society, and the meeting is open to the public. (If you'd like to nominate a site, here are the rules.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:25 AM)
18 June 2005
Filling a big box

The city of Edmond was fretting.

Wal-Mart was building a new Supercenter near I-35 and 15th Street, and initial opposition from area homeowners had been largely answered, but one question still remained: What happens to the old store at 33rd and Broadway?

The answer came from Jackson Development, developer of a number of shopping areas in town, which will buy the box and convert it to an upscale strip when Wal-Mart officially moves next summer.

Those who worry that the American landscape is being converted into an endless stretch of "empty, hulking husks of abandoned Wal-Marts" will have one less husk to count.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:44 AM)
Saturday spottings (NBT edition)

So much is going on in the city these days that trying to guess the Next Big Thing has become almost a cottage industry; ascertaining Things that are Big is not too difficult, but schedules change, finances shift, and all manner of stuff transpires, making the determination of Next tricky at best.

Still, twenty years ago no one imagined any Big Things at all for anywhere in the city, let alone the near-northeast sector, which is about to become seriously hot, and not in the scorching-summertime sense.

Beacon of Hope at Stiles ParkAnd right now, the hundred-foot-long tube sticking out of the center of Stiles Park on NE 8th Street invites more questions than it answers. But the Beacon of Hope, the centerpiece of Founders' Plaza, due for completion Real Soon Now, is, I suspect, going to draw far more attention to a part of town that is today largely overlooked by many of us. At least, it will when it's dark outside. (Photo borrowed from DowntownOKC.com. I described this project to my daughter, who asked: "Can it be used to summon Batman?" Um, no, I don't think so.)

Banner seen on a clinic on Classen: "CAR ACCIDENT / No Appointment Necessary." Thank goodness. I'd hate to have to schedule one of those.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:52 PM)
20 June 2005
Dead man (not) spending

In the summer of 2001, Raymond Young — he was the "Y" in TG&Y — signed a donor letter of intent for the YMCA's local campaign, pledging $1 million over five years, to begin when construction began on a new southside Y.

Construction began on the Earlywine Park YMCA at SW 119th and May last October, but Young's estate balked at forking over the first $200k installment:

Michael Hovastak, the attorney representing Young's estate, said the letter of intent that Young signed is not binding and no plan exists to donate $1 million to the YMCA. Hovastak said a letter of intent is a statement for future intent.

"The letter of intent says payment begins when construction begins," Hovastak said. "Of course, Mr. Young died two years prior to any construction. Under the law, dead people cannot enter into contracts, so the letter of intent basically died with him."

Which was 23 March 2002.

Attorneys for the YMCA have filed a petition in Oklahoma County District Court asking for a ruling.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 AM)
21 June 2005
We love this bar

If you live here and your musical tastes extend beyond the two standard types — country and western — you might be one of those folks who is utterly appalled that lower Bricktown is being invaded by Toby Keith. "Just what we needed," you mumble, "something else to make us look like a buncha hicks."

Believing as I do that our culture (not to mention politics) is best served by a studied indifference to what is represented to us as world opinion, I'm happy to see Toby pouring some dollars into the old hometown, and I care about cool only to the extent that it prevents perspiration.

And The Downtown Guy, generally an astute observer of local trends, sort of concurs:

[T]he more I think about Toby's place, the more it seems fitting that it be the first theme restaurant for Bricktown. While some of us long for downtown OKC to be something more cosmopolitan, at the end of the day, we're Oklahoma. Toby Keith is definitely a part of that.

And it's not like Toby Keith is going to prevent anyone from going to the Philharmonic. You want to see some real hicks? Take a gander at Fred Phelps and his entourage.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:38 AM)
23 June 2005
They say the neon lights are bright

A suggestion from NewPlains:

[H]ere's an idea for Automobile Alley: why not convince OU, UCO, OSU (and maybe OCU and OCCC) to consolidate their art schools into a single downtown art campus based in one or more of the old dealership buildings? Art programs require lots of studio space and facilities suitable for things like glass blowing and sculpture, which are hard to accomodate in campus buildings. I think those old buildings would be great for that, and with the Paseo, Midtown, and plenty of lofts nearby, housing wouldn't be a problem. It would give them much needed classroom space on their main campuses, and defray in four or five directions the costs of the facilities necessary to get their art programs accredited (which, amazingly, none of the above are). I think that area would be perfect for something like that, maybe modeled on the downtown consortium.

It makes a certain amount of sense. A couple of galleries have already opened along or just off Broadway, and there's no reason we can't have an art presence downtown besides what's in the officially-proclaimed Arts District.

But none of those university programs have full accreditation? Really? The mind reels.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:34 AM)
24 June 2005
The good life, with price tags

I suppose it's all in your definition of "living well," but according to Forbes, it takes about $200k a year to live "well" in Oklahoma City.

This assumes a house in 73142 (Gaillardia and its environs) running $850k or thereabouts, a place on Grand Lake, $18k a year for the family vehicles (type of vehicles not specified), $42k a year in educational costs (tuition and such), a $20k food budget divided evenly between meals out and meals in, and a mere $2000 socked away for emergencies.

I suppose it's a good thing I'm not obsessed with living well, or I would have sunk into despondency long before the end of the previous paragraph.

(Via Okiedoke. Remind me to buy Mike a beer.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:03 AM)
25 June 2005
Saturday spottings (judge not)

So I'm tooling up the Lake Hefner Parkway and not actually looking (much) at the blonde in the red Mustang convertible, when a member of the Anti-Destination League shows up in the lane ahead of me: a greener-than-thou Toyota Prius at a stolid 61 mph, impeding progress and probably proud of it. I noted that this was probably just my evocation of a standard stereotype, and such things have been wrong before — fercryingoutloud, I actually once knew a gay man who was an absolute slob, which conventional wisdom says is impossible, or at least unheard of — but it didn't stop me from uttering a few choice Anglo-Saxonisms as I passed the little electric wheezer. (Speed limit on this section of the Parkway is in fact 65 mph.)

Northwest 122nd Street this far west has some weirdnesses. It hadn't dawned on me, for instance, that the new John Marshall High School is going in next door to a station of the Oklahoma City Police Department. (Write your own joke.) And while fancy subdivisions continue to sprout, occasionally there are traces of what used to be; there's a working oil rig out there still.

I was out in this neck of the woods at the invitation of a reader who lives in the magical 73142 ZIP code, albeit in a house selling for less than half of the $850k suggested by that Forbes article. (And you know, if you can get something this spiffy for $350k, it's very hard for me to imagine something worth half a million more.) Said reader took exception to some of the assumptions in that piece: for instance, we're talking a family of four here, two of whom are teenage boys, and they don't spend anywhere near $20k a year for food. Bargain hunters, of course, exist in all income groups, from lowest to highest. ("As does profligacy," I said sadly as I wrote the check to the supermarket this afternoon.)

The advantages of living behind a gate? "Where we used to live, we were vandalized just about every week." New Urbanists and such hate gated communities because they insulate their residents from the common folk; I rather suspect that there wouldn't be such a demand if so many of said common folk didn't act so, well, common.

And eastbound on Memorial Road at a crisp clip, I was passed up by someone in a big hurry — in a Toyota Prius. Under the circumstances, I suppose I should have apologized for driving too slowly.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:31 PM)
26 June 2005
Get looked @

Look@OKC, the Hip or Die section of NewsOK.com, is looking for a few good bloggers.

No, really. Here's the pitch:

Look@OKC is looking for young adults in the Oklahoma City metro area to become trusted bloggers for the community.

We want sports bloggers, local music bloggers, movie bloggers, television bloggers, video game bloggers, night club bloggers, single bloggers, married bloggers, dating bloggers, exercise bloggers, job bloggers, shopping bloggers .... The list goes on.

We might even want bloggers who still live with their parents and refuse to find a real job. Could be interesting . . . who knows?

If you have something interesting to say, and have the commitment to say it on a regular basis, then you might have the ability to become a Look@OKC blogger.

It can't hurt, can it?

Not being a "young" adult, except in comparison to the likes of Methuselah, I don't qualify for this sort of thing, but I'm willing to bet I have a couple of readers who might be interested. If you are, go here and apply.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:42 AM)
27 June 2005
Themes like old times

The Downtown Guy drops into Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill, and lives to tell:

The prices are on the high side, but the portions are huge. (samples from the menu: Cheeseburger and fries, or a chicken sandwich and fries, $8, BBQ chicken, $13, 16 oz chicken fried steak, $14) At least while you've waited, you've had a chance to survey all the odd décor that's to be expected in a theme restaurant. Country music plays over the speakers (no live music until long after the dinner hour), while redneck programming (NASCAR, sports, country music videos) play on several televisions.

The food is damn good. And it should be for the price. Service improved dramatically once seated.

Which, at the moment, is the weak point:

Would I have left if I had been told the wait would have been an hour? Yes. But I would have come back. Despite the good food and service once seated, I left still upset over how I was treated at the start. And it's still very upsetting that the hostess deceived me on my place on the list. As a customer, I should be allowed some control over how long I'm willing to wait. If I want to wait an hour, I will do so and I won't complain.

It's not like anyone has ever had to wait to be seated at an Oklahoma City restaurant (cf. Molly Murphy's), but really, they know how long it will take to get you seated, and they should be able to tell you that up front.

Still, I'm just happy to hear that the food isn't terrible, as it too often is with "theme" eateries. Then again, Toby tends to get his way.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:23 AM)
29 June 2005
Dancing downtown

Last week, I made this sort of noise:

A couple of galleries have already opened along or just off Broadway, and there's no reason we can't have an art presence downtown besides what's in the officially-proclaimed Arts District.

And in addition to said galleries, we're now looking at a school of ballet.

BMI Systems, which has been dealing in office equipment in the city for nearly 50 years, is located at 913 North Broadway in Automobile Alley. BMI is out of space, and they've bought the building across the street, which isn't just "the building across the street," but the fabled Greenlease Moore dealership at 914-920 North Broadway, which sold Cadillacs from 1921 to 1938.

How does this contribute to the art scene? BMI is going to occupy the ground floor only; the third floor will be subdivided into two apartments and a 7,000-square-foot dance facility for the nascent Oklahoma City Ballet Conservatory, headed by Alexa Fioroni, who studied at the Paris Opera Ballet and who has been giving private lessons for the past seven years. Fioroni, interviewed by the MidCity Advocate, says it's an idea whose time has come:

Oklahoma City seems to have a hunger for a ballet conservatory and seems to be ready to at least try it. What's really exciting is to be able to offer my students the knowledge and guidance to help them with where they want to go.

How many students will be admitted to the Conservatory is not yet known; Fioroni has been working with ten or so.

And those two apartments — presumably 3500 square feet each — ought to be really spiffy. TAParchitecture is overseeing the building's transition; the Urban Design Commission has approved most of TAP's proposals, and construction should begin later this year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:24 AM)
30 June 2005
Big doings in Midwest City

The big story reported here is the Sheraton in Midwest City, actually owned by the city and built adjacent to the Reed Conference Center in an effort to pick up some sub-convention level business; it should open this fall at 5750 Will Rogers Road, east of Sooner and north of I-40.

But this is what got me:

The council rezoned 5701 E Reno to include commercial and single-family residential uses. Current plans manager Ron Green said the owner of Anthony's TV and Appliance Inc., is moving into the building on the northeast corner of Sooner Road and Reno Avenue. The owner wants to move his home to the upstairs portion of the business, Green said.

Now that's devotion. The building in question was a Venture discount store, later a K mart, and most recently some sort of flea market. Anthony's has moved before; if I remember correctly, they used to be on SE 15th east of Sooner, and then relocated to Del City on SE 15th and I-40, east of Vickie (once a Hudiburg auto dealership).

And it never occurred to me that the building even had an upstairs; I keep getting this vision of kids going "Daddy, can we go downstairs and watch the big-screen TV?"

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:23 AM)
1 July 2005
Simplicate and add lightness

There are more than a dozen zoning districts in central Oklahoma City, each of which has its own particular (and sometimes peculiar) set of rules.

That's about to change:

City planners [have] debuted a working draft of an ordinance they believe is needed to make it easier to develop in downtown Oklahoma City.

As presently written, the ordinance reduces the number of zoning districts from 15 to two in the area bordered by NW 13th St. to the north, SW 10th St. to the south, Centennial Expressway (I-235) to the east and Western Avenue.

The districts would be called the Central Business District and the Downtown Transitional District, which would wrap around the CBD and encompass areas south of the Oklahoma River.

The ordinance also establishes design criteria for the districts and creates a new seven-member Downtown Design Review Committee to review all development requests for them.

Public hearings will be scheduled for this summer; the new rules, with modifications if any, are expected to take place this fall.

This will definitely be an improvement when it comes off; the city has more than two dozen different zoning types and overlays and whatnot, and too often that array of regulations discourages redevelopment of an area that could use it.

(Spotted last night by The Downtown Guy.)

Addendum: Steve Felix would like you to know that Simplicate® is a registered trademark of Steve Felix.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:27 AM)
3 July 2005
No deposit

Spotted by LilRed on the Kilpatrick Turnpike, this perhaps-misleading sign:

Failure to pay toll strictly enforced

So if you throw a Sacajawea dollar into the basket, expect to be pulled over for not failing to pay the toll.

Hey, I can dig it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:16 PM)
16 July 2005
Ancient Chinese secret

The Downtown Guy has a wonderful (and gloriously long) piece about the oft-rumored Chinese "underground," a network of tunnels under downtown Oklahoma City used by immigrants from China during the first half of the 20th century.

It's apparently not just a rumor after all.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:41 PM)
20 July 2005
Tanenbaum to register "The" as trademark

Okay, that's a fib. But Richard Tanenbaum, having succeeded with The Montgomery and currently working on The Classen, has come up with yet another project which will be pitched as "the" place to live.

The Lincoln at Central Park, says a Tanenbaum official, "a wonderful multifamily residential community nestled in a beautiful wooded area and offers a great alternative to the long drive from our competitors located on the outskirts of the city." It's a nice area, topographically speaking, north of NE 50th and west of Lincoln Boulevard, and it's a short hop to major attractions in the city. (And an even shorter hop to the late, lamented Sleepy Hollow restaurant, which never got much drive-by traffic after Route 66 was realigned.)

If this works out, and with Tanenbaum you have to assume that it will, there will eventually be nearly 800 apartments available at The Lincoln; there will be 276 in the first phase.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:10 AM)
24 July 2005
Architectural diversity

It's a good thing, says the Downtown Guy, that we have multiple developers working on downtown residences:

I hate driving through neighborhoods built these days, where all of the homes are "McMansions" — tributes to the safe but bland Dallas style design. In 50 years, people will still love driving through Heritage Hills. I doubt there will be much interest in driving through Gaillardia.

I love the variety. I love the clash of visions. I love the buffet of artistic urban murals.

I know the feeling. There are eleven houses on my block — four on the north side, seven on the south, as if that weren't weird enough — and no two of them look alike. Head eastward and turn north on Miller and the variety is mindboggling. (Another reason why I'm here and not somewhere else, despite the higher-than-anticipated hit to the pocketbook.)

There's more to making a neighborhood interesting than three basic floor plans with two optional elevations.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:08 AM)
Have you seen these jeans?

From the ad copy in the Gazette:

After seeing Neves denim at Fashion Week in Los Angeles, Women's Wear Daily hailed the brand as one of the next hot denim lines. That's pretty cool considering they were created by the designers at Blue Seven, right here in Oklahoma City.

Not being inclined to peel off nine hundred bucks for an online subscription to WWD, I'm going to have to rely on the kindness of readers to tell me their reactions to these presumably-pricey-but-what-the-heck jeans, which on their disembodied print model do seem to look pretty good.

Neves' most visible product, up to now, has been the Tie Watch, which deserves some sort of recognition as a simple, effective accessory with a high WTF factor. And of course, I'd like to drum up support for local producers of merch, especially those just around the corner from me, on general principle.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:09 AM)
28 July 2005
OKC wants you to buy a house

Since much of the focus in the press (and occasionally on this site) has been on high-buck urban living, I figure it's about time to mention some local residences that can actually be purchased by mere mortals. Last December I wrote about one of the city's efforts to create some affordable housing; the specific instance was a group of six new houses along NE 5th Terrace between Washington Park and the Health Center area.

This is apparently going well enough to justify further investments. The city has teamed up with MidFirst Bank, which provided a line of credit for those first houses, to help move old housing stock in the central city (NW/NE 50th to SW/SE 59th, Portland to Bryant) through a combination of two loans to buyers, one from MidFirst to buy and one from the city to rehabilitate, and here's the punchline: the loan from the city does not have to be repaid so long as the buyer owns and lives in the house. Participants in the program can earn no more than 80 percent of the local median and will have to meet MidFirst's credit standards, and the city will assume the hook for a maximum of $33,500.

Other programs are being developed. At the last meeting, City Council approved a contract with Mustard Seed Development Corporation, a faith-based organization in the Old Britton area, for construction of three new homes west of NW 88th and Walker, and a couple of houses owned by the city were turned over to Habitat for Humanity.

In 2000, 59 percent of houses in Oklahoma City were occupied by their owners, a touch below the national average of 66 percent. The city evidently thinks that it's worth the effort to bring up that percentage, and I'm inclined to agree.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 PM)
30 July 2005
Saturday spottings (short version)

I'm not quite back into my full Spottings groove yet, but here are three items I thought noteworthy.

There's a lovely "Historic Capitol Hill" sign at 25th and Shields; if it has any sisters in the neighborhood, I didn't see them. As for 25th itself, it was incredibly busy, with all the diagonal parking spaces filled, a couple of fellows handing out handbills for a show, and lots of pedestrian traffic. I think we shouldn't have to worry about the area becoming a ghost town. (On the other hand, Robinson Avenue through this section, a particular bête noire of The Downtown Guy, is still pretty scuzzy.)

In case you were wondering, the street address of the Gold Dome is 1112 NW 23rd. There's new signage to tell you this, with slots available to identify future tenants.

And for some reason, half the houses in the 700 block of NW 22nd — between Lee and Shartel, at the far north end of the Mesta Park neighborhood — are for sale. I'm almost afraid to ask why.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:55 PM)
1 August 2005
The Central idea

Back in the days when entire pages of the daily newspaper were given over to Statements of Condition published as advertising by local banks, I used to see this particular proclamation (paraphrased slightly due to failing memory) in small print:

The preceding is the sum of 38,911 accounts. This large number of depositors makes for stability. We invite YOUR account.

This was the tagline at Central National Bank, which began as a Depression-era Morris Plan office, making small loans to individuals and businesses outside the usual banking channels, and eventually becoming big enough to seek a bank charter of its own.

And while Central never rivaled the downtown Big Two, First National and Liberty, in assets, it had more account-holders than either: its focus on smaller accounts attracted people and businesses who thought they would get the back of the corporate hand from the tower-dwellers.

The bank continued to grow, and eventually it spawned a corporate cousin (branches were illegal in those days, and never mind the reproductive process) with the unwieldy name "Friendly National Bank in Southwest Oklahoma City," on the new Southwest Expressway (I-240) at Pennsylvania. Eventually Central wearied of downtown and set up an ultra-modern (for its time) facility at 6th and Classen.

When the banking laws were loosened, Central and Friendly were takeover targets, and eventually they fell into the hands of then-Ohio-based Bank One — before the acquisition of downtown giant Liberty. And once Bank One took over Liberty's tower space, offices deemed superfluous, including 6th and Classen, 37th and May, and the 23rd and Classen Gold Dome (which Liberty had acquired with the original Citizens National Bank) were shed.

Bank One itself, of course, eventually was taken over, by J. P. Morgan Chase. But I remember getting something of a twinge when I visited a one-time Friendly facility on the southside and shoving my Chase card into the same slot which used to accommodate Central's infamous mid-1980s That ("Twenty-four Hour Automatic Teller") Card.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:44 AM)
2 August 2005
On the ostensible upswing

A quarter-million dollar updating of Balliet's at 50 Penn Place prompted these observations from Mayor Cornett:

The perception that Oklahoma City is a value-oriented market is outdated. What we notice is that higher end opportunities are doing better than they ever have, whether it be higher end concerts at the Ford Center, upper-end restaurants or higher-end retail such as Balliet's. A lot of tourism and retailers are seeing we've got to reinvest in what we've got.

It's not that outdated, sir; the 250 large Balliet's is putting into its store is roughly equivalent to a slow week at Wal-Mart.

Still, if we're going to have this upscale stuff, and lots of folks (including myself, I admit it) are hoping that we are, we do have to make those investments.

Cornett continues:

When stores like Neiman Marcus or Nordstrom look here, they don't find strong enough demographics to support their stores. So we have a vacuum. We do, however, have very fashion-driven consumers, and we have enough customers to support such shopping on a smaller scale.

Patience, good fellow. And it would help if we could get some higher salaries around here so we could afford to shop at Neiman's. (Macy's, of course, will be here shortly, the result of the Federated/May merger; the existing Foley's stores will be rebranded.)

One could argue, I suppose, that high-end retail and services are the very definition of self-indulgence. But entire industries, including the one in which I toil, are built on self-indulgence: the ascetic may have his philosophical points, but he doesn't bring in any revenue.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:54 AM)
Near to the madding crowd

One of the Two-Headed at LOOK@OKC (neither one of them signed it, curiously) proposes an actual Oklahoma City flash mob.

Seriously:

Am I the only one who loves this idea? I think the sheer randomness of it is what appeals to me. It's somehow beautiful ... this mass of humanity that for one brief moment, is interconnected in some common task. And it's just funny as hell. It can make a point, or mean nothing at all. As far as I know, OKC has not yet experienced the wonder of a flash mob. Come on, people ... let's plan one.

If the sheer randomness of it, or something else, appeals to you, by all means tell them so.

(Off in the distance, I can almost hear Darryl Starbird: "BE THERE!")

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:32 PM)
3 August 2005
Everything's waiting for you

The big news downtown today is the release of a new Downtown Housing Study, which says that demand remains strong, but that the danger of saturation lurks in the wings.

What would get people to move downtown?

According to non-downtown residents, the most desired housing is larger rented units with 2-3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Historical loft conversions are the most desired building type.

Only 34% would be willing to pay more than $950 per month. In terms of home ownership, this translates to about a $160,000 mortgage principal in the current lending market.

Secure parking is the most important consideration for potential downtown residents, followed by nearby restaurants.

Beginning with upscale housing should create an anchor for the neighborhood and create the image of a stable community. However, the survey indicates the broadest interest is for more affordable housing. A long-term mismatch of consumer preferences and residential product could lead to a reduced potential demand. Conversely, expanding the spectrum of housing to include additional moderately priced homes in future years should also increase absorption.

Who's downtown already?

82% of respondents who live downtown do not work there. For the majority, it is a lifestyle choice to live downtown, as opposed to the conventional wisdom that downtown residents want to live there because it is close to work or school or to avoid commuter traffic. In fact, OKC does not have the congestion problem that larger cities have and that facilitates living downtown and working elsewhere.

43% of respondents who live downtown have a post-graduate degree; 61% have at least an undergraduate degree.

Downtown residents are a varied group. Many are single or married with no children, or are over 50, retirees or divorced. Reflecting national urban patterns, not many families with school-age children live downtown.

This 43-percent post-graduate figure surprised me; it's about 4.5 times the national average. I attribute this to the fact that there really isn't any low-cost housing in our downtown core.

But what's really amazing is that only 18 percent of downtown residents actually work downtown. They're downtown because they want to be, not because it's convenient or because it might save them some commuting costs. This is a mindset I can understand, even embrace. On the other hand, I don't have a quarter-million I can drop on one of the new townhouses in the Triangle.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:40 AM)
4 August 2005
Go worst, young man

Patti Ratliff writes to the Oklahoma Gazette:

I think it's great that you do a Best of OKC issue, but what I would really love to see is a "Worst of OKC." An opportunity for the consumer to express bad service stories in the day of diminishing customer service!

And you know, if the Gazette balks at this, it's a golden opportunity for LOOK@OKC, which definitely needs to build some buzz if they're going to be the alternative alternative paper.

Either way, I'd love to see the ballot.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 AM)
From these mean streets

Fritz Kiersch took a few years off from directing to become professor of film and video at Oklahoma City Community College, but he's back on the set once again, and this time the set is downtown Oklahoma City.

Surveillance, starring Armand Assante, is the story of a security guard with a sackful of secrets. About half the film crew was drawn from OKCC's film/video students.

This is Kiersch's second film this year: The Hunt has just completed post-production and is scheduled for released in 2006. Gray Frederickson's Graymark Productions and distributor Image Entertainment produced both films.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:04 AM)
Valero comes to town

I'd seen a few Valero stations during this year's World Tour — even filled up at one, in central Connecticut — but I really wasn't expecting to find one at NE 63rd and Kelley today.

Turns out Valero is converting all the Diamond Shamrock stations:

Valero will retire the approximately 30-year-old Diamond Shamrock brand, and when the conversion is complete, the Valero brand image will be featured on 2,900 U.S. retail (company-operated) and branded wholesale sites. Putting Valero signs up at its stations stretching from South Dakota to South Texas and from Arizona to Arkansas will give the company a national brand presence for the first time.

Valero had purchased Ultramar Diamond Shamrock Corporation back in 2001 for about $4 billion, but this is the first step I've seen toward rebranding. Their acquisition of Premcor this spring gave Valero the largest group of refineries in the nation, surpassing even ExxonMobil, so I rather expect they won't be running short of gasoline any time soon.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:33 PM)
5 August 2005
Take a hike

How many of you know someone who never goes down to Bricktown because "you have to park so far away"?

That's what I thought.

Show 'em this.

(Which was prompted by this.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:59 AM)
Feed the children already

Mike at Okiedoke is alarmed by statistics which show that nearly 83 percent of students in the Oklahoma City school district qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. (The comparable figure for the larger Tulsa district is 78 percent.)

This might be less alarming in the context of where the Oklahoma City school district actually is: right in the middle of town, with an arm extending into relatively poor areas in the northeastern part of Oklahoma County. Much of the city proper is actually served by suburban districts: Putnam City, Edmond, Moore, Mid-Del, Western Heights, and 18 others.

Superintendent Bob Moore doesn't seem to be perturbed:

We have schools such as Monroe Elementary with 57 percent of their students eligible for the free and reduced lunch program with an API score of 1291 out of a possible 1500. That puts this school among the top ranking 35 elementary schools in the metropolitan area. Other top ranking schools with a large percentage of students qualifying for the free and reduced lunch program include Westwood Elementary, Ridgeview Elementary, Wilson Elementary, Rancho Village Elementary, Van Buren Elementary, Linwood Elementary, Johnson Elementary and Hawthorne Elementary. All of these schools have an API score of 1200 or higher and a free and reduced lunch student population of 60 percent or more.

Monroe, incidentally, is right down the street (two blocks) from me. It's not a poor area by any means — we're talking less than a mile west of 50 Penn Place — but still 57 percent of the students qualify for the lunch program.

Mike thinks this is a sign that the economy isn't all it could be, and of course it isn't, but it's not a sign that we're on the edge of collapse.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:02 AM)
6 August 2005
The logjam at 36th and I-235

Big neighborhood meeting Monday evening for residents of Crown Heights, Douglas Park, Edgemere Heights, Edgemere Park and Zachary Taylor neigborhoods, at First Christian Church, 36th and Walker.

The topic: the redesign of the 36th and Broadway Extension interchange. ODOT is pitching the idea that the widening of the Broadway Extension and the conversion of the offramps from one-lane loops to two-lane straight routes will cut down on surface traffic through the neighborhoods. The project will start this fall.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:59 AM)
Saturday spottings (updates and such)

It's still a bit bare down there, but things are taking shape along SE 29th Street where Atkinson Plaza used to be: Lowe's is ready, Target is almost done, and Kohl's is hiring. A Chili's is going up next door to the existing Santa Fe Cattle Co. steakhouse. The street itself has been widened to five lanes, and there's a turn-in with a light at Marshall Drive to reach the major stores from the east. (From the west, you come in at Boeing.)

At the far end, at Midwest Boulevard, the condemned Nissan dealership location is now being used by the Sheriff's office; the parking lot is full of squad cars. Fenton, which acquired Automax Nissan on NW 39th some months back, now has a Nissan store on the Tinker Diagonal, east of Automax's Hyundai lot.

Not a whole lot has changed at Heritage Park, though I noticed that someone had drawn some chalk lines around the more horrendous potholes, which perhaps means that they're actually going to be scheduled for repair.

A subdivision called Southern Exposure is going in at SW 89th and Walker, and lots are for sale, subject to the condition that any house you build be 2400 square feet or more. This is not unusual — I've heard of covenants requiring 3000 and more in various northwest subdivisions — but inasmuch as this is about twice the size of any place I've ever lived, and there were seven of us, I have to assume that people are willing to pay out the nose for the privilege of having more space to clean.

And Russell Stover, the candy firm with a retail store on Northwest Expressway east of May, is putting in an outlet store around the corner, on May near NW 56th, in a building last occupied by an independent auto dealer and which looks to me like it started out as a Kinney shoe store.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:03 PM)
7 August 2005
Building the faith base

Usually, church advertising in local newspapers is simple: there's generally a weekly "Worship Services Directory" or something like that, and various congregations put up a few bucks for a business-card-sized block. Once in a while, a church will buy a page for something out of the ordinary — a revival, say, or to take a stand for or against something — but by and large, it tends to be a low-key sort of thing.

This morning's Oklahoman, though, contains an oddity: a sixth of a page — about the same size as the bank ad below it — bought by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, and tagged "Ever Thought Of Becoming Catholic?"

This is the letter from Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran:

For 2000 years Roman Catholics have gathered together to worship God and to serve their brothers and sisters through an abundance of ministries and services for the needy and poor.

Our parishes are anxious to welcome you into their communities. For information about joining us please contact the Church nearest your home.

There follows a list of six local parishes; there are many more than that in the city, which suggests either that this ad is customized by location (more likely, since all six are north of the river) or that these six are particularly anxious for new parishioners.

Times do change.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:47 AM)
8 August 2005
Think domestic

Kerr-McGee is selling off its North Sea oil operations, suggesting that the Oklahoma City-based company is planning to restructure itself as purely a domestic producer.

Most of the KMG holdings will be sold to the A.P. Moller-Maersk group of Denmark, with the rest dealt to England's Centrica PLC. The total take is estimated at $3.5 billion; KMG will use the after-tax proceeds to pay down debt.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:50 AM)
9 August 2005
A Type O personality

In this month's Neighborhood Association newsletter, the address of the meeting location was printed incorrectly.

Turnout was about 50 percent higher than usual.

Next month, I'm going to suggest they put in the wrong date.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:57 AM)
Stretching the definition

Me, last December:

And apparently Bricktown, as a trademark, is far more extensible than previously imagined; there's an inn called "Bricktown Guest Suites" going in on SE Grand Blvd. at I-35, a good four miles from the downtown district whose name it borrows.

For instance:

City Beach and Old Smokey's Cajun Bar-B-Que Grill have opened at 3701 E. Reno, just east of Bricktown.

Bricktown extends to maybe Reno and Lincoln; we're talking the 600 block at the absolute outside. And 3701 isn't even in the city limits, fercrissake; it's in Del City.

At least they didn't hang a Bricktown name on it.

(Spotted by The Downtown Guy.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:56 PM)
10 August 2005
A degree of surprise

One of the things that "everybody knows" is that we have a horribly uneducated workforce in this town and therefore we don't earn much and our per capita income numbers look bad and therefore we get no outside investment and so on and so on and scooby-dooby-doo. (Bless you, Sly.)

Business Facilities magazine begs to disagree. Here's what they did:

[W]e took a look at the percentage of workers (25 years and older) in cities across the U.S. that have completed high school and a four-year college. A better rank in these percentages increases your chance of getting more attractive resumes on your desk rather than fewer.

We also looked at the momentum that cities have in increasing their degree holders, to give credit to cities that are making strides in increasing the value of their workforce through education.

Numero Uno, to no one's surprise, is Minneapolis. (One has to go to school to learn Minnesota Nice, after all.) But here's Oklahoma City tied for 18th in the nation. Who'da thunk it?

State Secretary of Commerce and Tourism Kathy Taylor, for one.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:22 AM)
13 August 2005
The lights are on

The Metropolitan Library System is installing Wi-Fi hotspots at 12 of its locations in the county. The expense, they reason, will be largely offset by not having to buy so many actual computers in the future. The network will be open to library visitors whether they have a current library card or not, which will simplify matters for travelers.

The same filtration used on MLS' hard-wired machines will be used on the Wi-Fi network. MLS says the service will be rolled out at all twelve locations on Monday at 9 am.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:59 AM)
By extension

Richard Mize, Real Estate Editor (now there's a title) at The Oklahoman, has taken note of the growing tendency of firms nowhere near Bricktown to make use of the name, a tendency you may have read about here or even here.

Part of the problem, if problem it be, is that the definition of "Bricktown" is sort of murky. In the strictest sense, Bricktown is that area covered by the Bricktown Urban Design District zoning. But the city is redefining its zoning districts downtown, and I-40 is probably a more reasonable southern boundary anyway — until, of course, they move I-40 half a mile away.

And Mize wonders if "Bricktown" will become shorthand for the entire city, in the manner of "Motown" or "Tinseltown" or "Beantown." In a word: no.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:21 AM)
17 August 2005
The people have spoken

Congratulations to Phil and Drew (and Kaci, too), winners of Best Blog in the Oklahoma Gazette's Best of OKC competition.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:11 AM)
Sheehan events

AP reports that Vigils for Cindy Sheehan will be taking place this evening in Oklahoma City, one of which will be at the Capitol.

Democracy for America, MoveOn and True Majority are the major organizations behind the vigils. The Capitol event begins at 7:30.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:39 PM)
18 August 2005
Oklahoma City vs. Tampa

A comparison, posted on craigslist by someone who's moved to Florida:

Call-center wages: OKC, $10/hr; Tampa, $8/hr

Amusement parks: "I could go to Frontier City twice a week for a year compared what one trip to Disneyworld, Epcot Center, Universal City and Busch Gardens would cost."

Sushi: "... have been to 4 different sushi restaurants in Tampa... none compare with Sushi Neko. How does a restaurant 500 miles from the ocean have better raw seafood than one that is almost within walking distance of the damn ocean?"

Bars and nightclubs: "... nothing beats a beachfront bar, where the waitresses and bartenders wear bikinis.... oh wait those arent in Tampa... they are across the bay in St. Pete and Clearwater... 25 miles away or an hour and a half on a busy day."

Traffic: "... been on I-44 and I-35 over by Mathis Brothers during rush hour? That is every major street in Tampa everyday during rush hour.... and rush hour last 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the evening...."

Real estate: "... you buy a $125,000 house in Oklahoma City you get 3 bedrooms, two baths and two car garage....in Tampa you get 2 bedrooms, 1 bath and a carport... NO CENTRAL AC...."

A couple of notes:

Mathis Brothers is actually near the I-44/I-40 interchange.

Frontier City, which hasn't been updated since the Spanish-American War, isn't that much fun these days. (Which may or may not have something to do with Daniel Snyder's tender offer for Six Flags, Inc. shares in the hopes of replacing the top company officials.)

And anyway, this Tampa transplant isn't too unhappy these days, because of the following:

fresh Seafood (except Sushi)
Art Galleries and Museums
concerts .... major concert almost every weekend
and Key West is only a day away.

And this:

Come mid-January when it is 20 degrees in Oklahoma, I am going to be sitting out on the beach in my shorts with a cold drink in my hands saying to the bikini clad waitress who is bring[ing] me a re-fill..."Gee it is kinda cold today... what is it only 75 degrees?"

Now that we can't top.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:22 AM)
20 August 2005
One week from today

Tony Newcomb, legendary dealer in fine sportswear (last time I heard the name, I immediately thought, "Tony Newcomb shirts?" and yes, it was), is holding his 25th annual Chili and Moonlight Party next Saturday at the Elks Lodge, 4711 North Tulsa Avenue. And he's serious about the chili; there will be a full-fledged chili cookoff according to CASI rules. Add live music from the Fifties through the Seventies, and you've got one heck of a bash. (Bring blankets and chairs and coolers — no glass — for the concert.)

For more information, call 405 760-9263 or 405 232-0022.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:18 PM)
Saturday spottings (vacancies)

It's still a bit unnerving to round the curve westbound on 63rd at Classen and see the empty space where Wendy's and Laredo's used to be. I'm sure the additions to the Chesapeake campus will be quite lovely, but one does get used to things. (And speaking of "quite lovely," my arrival at this intersection coincided with the arrival of a member of Pearl's wait staff; I nearly missed the changing of the light.) There are still lots of Wendy's around; Laredo's will return once their new place (5111 Classen, in between the Belle Isle IHOP and Horn Seed Company) is finished, which may take a while, since it's scarcely even started.

Speaking of open spaces, there's rather a lot of them on NE 3rd downtown: apart from the deliberately (I'm guessing) anonymous-looking Untitled (ArtSpace), it's a stretch of parking lots all the way to the Deep Deuce Apartments. Which reminds me: There's a little storefront smack in the middle of the Apartments, between 2nd and 3rd on Central, which has gotten a couple of coats of paint but is otherwise unrestored. I don't know what you could put in a space that small, but I'd like to see that building put back to work, since it's one of the few structures remaining from the original Deep Deuce.

Signs are now up for Russell M. Perry Avenue, which is the new name for Stiles just south of NE 4th until some point where it mutates into Joe Carter Drive and travels through east Bricktown.

The former Trust House building at May and Wilshire is being gutted and redone for its new occupants: Mitchener & Farrand Jewelers, aka "The Jewelry Guys on May," who are moving two blocks north. I expect the new facility will be almost unrecognizable as the old Trust House, and I suspect this is exactly what the Guys want.

Finally, both a dart and a laurel, as Frosty Troy would say, to Galileo on the Paseo: the dart for failing to keep their Web site current, not good for a live-music venue, and a laurel for their new advertising tagline: "Independently owned, irresponsibly operated, since 1998."

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:35 PM)
21 August 2005
Subscribe or else

For the past two weekends, there has been a circulation representative from The Oklahoman posted at the entrance to my supermarket of choice, which was a problem only in that he was too close to the bank branch in the front of the store and tended to exacerbate bottlenecks in that particular aisle.

Until yesterday, when the store's newspaper rack contained, for the first time I can remember on a Saturday, no copies of the paper's "Early Bird" edition, which is essentially the Sunday paper minus the front page and some of the sports section.

It seems unlikely that OPUBCO would phase out the Early Bird. Historically, the paper has always been willing to hype newsstand sales, from the days when The Oklahoma Journal was new and OPUBCO was willing to cut its copy price by 60 percent to squash them, to a more recent scheme to increase circulation in rural areas by offering single copies outside the metro at half price.

But with circulation at most papers in decline — well, we'll see what happens next week.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:26 AM)
24 August 2005
We can dream, can't we?

A bit of fantasy from The Downtown Guy:

Me and Maurice Kanbar met over a few drinks — mostly some intoxicating substance called Skyy Vodka — and completed a deal for him to buy the First National Tower, old Braniff Building and Century Center Plaza. He's turning the first two buildings into condos, and will be converting the plaza into an indoor skating rink surrounded by shops and restaurants.

Of course, things could change once he sobers up.

Don't they always?

Seriously, somebody ought to do something with the First National Center. And while Century Center is scheduled for a facelift, there's still a lot to be done on the side of downtown that doesn't serve drinks.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:06 AM)
25 August 2005
You must be this rich to buy this ride

Six Flags, Inc. is for sale: the Oklahoma City-based theme-park operator, which has been in a financial hole for years and is facing a hostile takeover by Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, says it will take the highest bid, even if it's Snyder's. At current stock prices, the company is worth around $650 million; Snyder's Red Zone LLC is currently the largest single shareholder in Six Flags, with a stake of approximately 11.7 percent.

Two things can be expected from the eventual sale:

  1. The company will be put on a firmer financial footing than it's on now;
  2. Headquarters will almost certainly be moved out of Oklahoma City. (The financial offices are in New York.)

Six Flags did actually turn a profit last quarter and likely will do so again this quarter; attendance at Six Flags parks rose more than 8 percent during the first half of 2005.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:26 AM)
It's what's for dinner, I suppose

The Beef Jerky Emporium, now comfortably esconced in their new digs at May and Britton, will start selling something with a bit less jerk to it: genuine Omaha Steaks.

I don't expect the Omaha Steaks items to appear on the Emporium's Web site — after all, Omaha Steaks itself has a Web storefront — but it will be nice to be able to wander into the store and pick up a box or three.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:01 PM)
27 August 2005
Forecast: chili today

(Repeating this item:)

Tony Newcomb, legendary dealer in fine sportswear (last time I heard the name, I immediately thought, "Tony Newcomb shirts?" and yes, it was), is holding his 25th annual Chili and Moonlight Party [today] at the Elks Lodge, 4711 North Tulsa Avenue. And he's serious about the chili; there will be a full-fledged chili cookoff according to CASI rules. Add live music from the Fifties through the Seventies, and you've got one heck of a bash. (Bring blankets and chairs and coolers — no glass — for the concert.)

For more information, call 405 760-9263 or 405 232-0022.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 AM)
29 August 2005
Beyond mere readability

Mike says it's the "lowest-tech, crappiest sign" he's seen in a while, and I've got to admit, it's pretty shabby, especially for something that's supposed to encourage actual business.

On the other hand, it might be an improvement over some of the stuff that hangs out toward the curb on May Avenue, especially south of NW 36th.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:48 AM)
30 August 2005
Inner visions

This story from Green Bay, Wisconsin (hat tip: Tongue Tied) got me wondering:

People living on Green Bay's east side are sticking up for themselves after parents from Bellevue criticized the neighborhoods around East High School, labelling them "inner city."

The controversy started Wednesday night at a meeting over school boundaries. Parents from Bellevue had this to say about a proposal that would send their kids to Washington Middle School and East High School:

"If I wanted my child to go to an inner city school, I would have moved to the inner city. I don't need to be worried about that."

"If we wanted to live near East High, we would have paid a lot less for our house."

"I, like the other people here, spent the money to get out of the inner city and send my child to a better school."

Some east-side residents were offended. Others were mad. Most told Action 2 News they thought these parents just didn't have enough information. The principal of Washington Middle School even challenged the parents to come and visit for a day, then make up their minds.

Setting aside for the moment the idea that some people might use the term "inner city" as an alternative to "black," which seems unlikely in mostly-white Green Bay, I wonder: Where in Oklahoma City's six hundred square miles will you find the inner city? Downtown, obviously, but how far a radius from downtown? Within the I-40/I-235/I-44 loop? The Mid-City Advocate's delivery area (Reno to 63rd, Portland to Kelley)? The original 36-square-mile township (Reno to Wilshire, May to Bryant)? The boundaries of the Oklahoma City Public Schools district?

Where would you place the inner city?

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:20 AM)
31 August 2005
The Skirvin gets pricier

The $42 million price tag to renovate the downtown Skirvin Hotel, previously raised to $46.4 million, has now been upped to $50.4 million.

Construction-cost overruns are nothing new; perhaps more important, the city, which fronted $18 million for the project, isn't being asked to kick in anything further, and the current financial analysis suggests that the city will recoup its investment in full with little or no difficulty.

Developer John Weeman says the new Skirvin Hilton (as distinguished from the Hilton Skirvin, a name bandied about earlier) will be open by December 2006, in time for the state Centennial and the Big 12 basketball tournament.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:33 AM)
3 September 2005
Something's missing

The first two sidewalk plaques have been placed in Deep Deuce, in honor of James "Doughbelly" Brooks, guardian of Deep Deuce history and beaming presence at the Golden Oak Barber Shop, and Russell M. Perry, publisher of the Black Chronicle and operator of a statewide radio group. (A dart to Leland Gourley of Friday, who was so proud to be there, and who misidentified Perry as the publisher of the Black Dispatch.)

At the dedication ceremony, Mayor Cornett recalled some of the fabled places of Deep Deuce (all addresses are on NE 2nd Street unless specified otherwise), including:

  • The Aldridge Theater at 303, run by music teacher Zella Page Breaux; her students included Jimmy Rushing and Charlie Christian.

  • Ruby's Grill at 322½, despite its name and unassuming address a huge nightclub.

  • The Black Dispatch office at 324 (formerly a gas station), Roscoe Dunjee's pioneering newspaper. (Dunjee had originally set up shop on 1st.)

  • Anderson Building at 327, named for oilman Forest Anderson, which housed the Golden Oak.

  • Randolph's Drug Store at 331, possibly the state's leading soda fountain in those days.

  • Calvary Baptist Church at 300 N Walnut, launching point for civil-rights activities.

There were many, many more, but with the exception of Calvary Baptist, which is now Covenant Life Center, the one thing they all have in common is absence: this block of Deep Deuce was bulldozed years ago.

It's wonderful to have people actually living in Deep Deuce again, and it's good to see the city remembering its heritage, but there's still the sensation that maybe they waited just a little too long to remember.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:26 PM)
4 September 2005
The Centennial Land Run

A proposal by The Downtown Guy:

Do an inventory of all the innercity homes owned by either the city or county; ask for volunteers to fix them up and make them livable; then make them available to people who have lost their homes on the Gulf coast. Make them pay only for the utilities, and require only that they maintain the homes and not create blight.

Call it the Centennial Land Run. After all, is there any place better than Oklahoma for making a fresh start? Has there ever been a better place?

It will take some bold steps through the city bureaucracy, but I like it. Certainly we've got the inventory of homes, and the city has been willing in recent months to take unusual steps to reduce it, which suggests to me that it can be pulled off.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:40 PM)
5 September 2005
The 23rd of never

I was out by Shepherd Mall today, and it occurred to me that I'd not actually been in the place for at least 15 years. Of course, now that it's been converted to the world's shortest office tower, there's little to attract random visitors, but I remember coming up there when I was much younger and thinking it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. (The greatest thing before sliced bread is still debatable.)

The city has been working on improving the general appearance of 23rd Street over the past few years, but the spiffed-up streetscapes end at Villa, on the western edge of Shepherd Mall. On an impulse, when I got home I decided to see if there are any plans to extend the beautification process, and sure enough, there are. In the proposed 2005-06 Oklahoma City budget document — they haven't posted the final approved version yet — there's this:

An important part of the City's program to enhance community appearance and renew inner city neighborhoods is the streetscape program, funded primarily through [General Obligation] Bonds. Next fiscal year projects will be started in several areas:
  • A streetscape project will begin on Classen Blvd. in the Asian District between N.W. 23rd and N.W. 30th and along N.W. 25th from Western Ave. to Douglas Ave.
  • An additional project on N.W. 23rd Street will extend from I-44 to Villa Ave.
  • N.E. 23rd will be improved from Kelley Ave. to Interstate 35. This project will include federal grant funding.
  • In the Midtown area, improvements along N. Walker between Robert S. Kerr Ave and N.W. 13th should be completed in the next fiscal year.

It's a little over a mile from Villa to I-44, and a mile and a half from Kelley to I-35, so this is a tall order indeed.

One other thing: I got lazy today and didn't bother to put on my usual shoes (various New Balance sorta-athletic types), and I discovered that my driving style is markedly different in sandals. I'm assuming it's because of the difference in foot pressure, but this seems too facile an answer.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:35 PM)
6 September 2005
Derailed, so to speak

The city and the Union Pacific Railroad are at odds again over the redesigned Walnut Avenue Bridge. Five months into the project, which is due to be completed next spring, the warring parties are still far apart on who pays how much for what, and the railroad is complaining that the city's design, which eliminates one side track, makes it unnecessarily difficult to switch trains below the bridge. The Corporation Commission agreed with the railroad and ordered the city to come up with an alternative design; the city responded with a design that relocates the single track for greater clearance.

Four years ago, the city wanted to demolish the bridge and put up a grade crossing; I can't help but wonder if maybe someone at City Hall is wishing they'd gone ahead with that plan.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
7 September 2005
Don't ask

Once a month the city picks up Big Junk from curbside, and in my neighborhood this happens on the first Wednesday of the month, which means that all manner of urban and/or suburban detritus is stacked up in people's yards awaiting disposal.

Usually I don't pay much attention to it, but this morning, someone had, not one, but two toilets, tank and bowl, sitting by the curb. Now there's nothing particularly unusual about having a pair of stools — a bath and a half was the norm for houses one size class larger than mine, even 60 years ago — but I shudder to think what would require that both be replaced at once. And if it's simply a matter of redecorating, well, I wish I had that kind of, you should pardon the expression, cash flow.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:06 AM)
9 September 2005
The first circle of Dell

A mere fourteen months after picking the site, Dell Inc. will be throwing open the doors to its new Oklahoma City customer-contact center on Monday. Dell CEO Kevin Rollins, Governor Henry and Mayor Cornett will be on hand for the grand opening.

A second building is already under construction at the Dell campus, south of the Oklahoma River and west of Portland Avenue.

Jeff Jarvis had no comment has a comment.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:15 AM)
10 September 2005
Saturday spottings (space considerations)

She was lovely, she was smiling, and she was driving a refrigerator, so naturally I had to talk to her, and that's why you're getting this report on an appliance-white Scion xB.

The top-selling vehicle at Toyota's youth-oriented brand — the Scion Web site is larded with annoying hip-hop effluvia to remind you of its mission — the xB is unmistakably and unabashedly a box, and Toyota was reportedly surprised that it was outselling its more-normal-looking cousin xA by two or three to one. What's more, its buyers are less likely to be 22-year-olds new to the automotive market than fortyish types who want practicality and don't want to pay out the nose for it.

So it was with this xB owner, who asserted that she could stash nearly as much stuff in the Scion as she could in her Suburban, and what's more, it drinks half the gas. She and the spousal unit prefer the Chevy for freeway duty, mostly because of that road-hugging weight, but most of the time, the fridge is more than adequate, which is a lot more than one expects for $15k right out of the, um, box.

Even feeding Suburbans is a little easier this week, with gas prices falling below $2.70 for the low-suds stuff in some parts of town; I'm not ready to characterize it as a free-fall, but I see a slow dropoff for the next couple of weeks as the Gulf Coast situation becomes less heinous.

Related, this sign on a church in Bethany: EVEN IF WE COULD DRIVE TO HEAVEN WE COULDN'T AFFORD TO GO. This seems a bit pessimistic for a Christian denomination, if you ask me.

There's a club on NW 50th called The Store, which sounds like the opening gambit in a domestic drama. ("Honey, where are you going?" "Oh, just to The Store.") Further down 50th is the Warr Acres line, and I noticed that they haven't updated the signs to reflect the new, higher sales tax — not that I really expected them to.

The west side of the city presumably continues to pick up Spanish-speaking inhabitants: I caught a glimpse of an electronic church sign displaying the word MIERCOLES. Wednesday. Of course. I doubt this is the situation that's causing the death of the Baskin-Robbins east of 23rd and Meridian — proximity to a Braum's is the more likely culprit — but I have no doubt that a lot more changes are in store for this part of town.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:10 PM)
15 September 2005
Four and forty-three

I was going to put something here about the acquisition of Oklahoma City UPN affiliate KAUT by The New York Times Company, which also owns NBC affiliate KFOR, but by the time I threw in everything I thought needed to be thrown, the piece had grown well over 5k, which suggested to me that maybe it might be better as a Vent.

And now it is.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:08 PM)
17 September 2005
Block party

For four decades, there's been a McLain in what is now Bricktown, ever since R. T. McLain ran the old Bunte Candy factory at 1 East Sheridan. There's no more candy, but the three sons of R. T. have been acquiring adjacent properties, and now they own the entire block, BNSF tracks to Oklahoma Avenue, Sheridan to Main. You've probably been there yourself: this block is the home of the Bricktown Brewery and Abuelo's.

And now the McLains have decided that this is the time to cash in, and the entire block is up for auction, with a minimum bid of $8 million and an expected take way beyond that.

The sale effectively spells the end to The Factory, a proposed redevelopment of the Bunte facility and the Sherman Ironworks (on the south side of Main) into mixed residential/retail/restaurant with a parking garage, a plan which went on hold when the McLains' onetime partner backed away.

But I'd like to think that there's a visionary with the resources to pull off something like that, who'll see the sale of the block as exactly the opportunity he was looking for.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:56 AM)
21 September 2005
Murrah revisited

For those of you who have been following Jayna Davis' exploration of possible links between radical Islamists and Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, Tapscott's Copy Desk has a brief summary of Davis' current version of events.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:50 PM)
23 September 2005
We live where?

Standardized postal addresses make life easier for big bulk mailers (like we can get any of our customers to use the farging things), but they can frustrate the people who actually live at those addresses.

Which may be why The Village City Council passed a resolution objecting to the practice of addressing mail to The Village as "Oklahoma City" (73120); the Postal Service, said a spokesperson, does not recognize The Village as a city.

Neither does USPS.com, evidently; I keyed half a dozen Village addresses into their ZIP lookup and came away empty-handed, or empty-formed, or something.

Bethany has its own post office, but its delivery area doesn't quite coincide with the city limits; there are a couple of nooks and crannies along the irregular town line which don't quite match up to the legal boundaries. And Oklahoma City being enormously spread out, there are extensive areas of the city where the mail goes to one of the suburbs, usually Edmond or Yukon or Spencer.

This is not exactly unheard of elsewhere. The New York post office serves Manhattan only; Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island have their own post offices, and Queens has a whole flock of them. The Los Angeles post office serves only the central area; the San Fernando Valley has plenty of offices of its own, as does the San Pedro / Wilmington / Harbor City area. And this doesn't even begin to get into Beverly Hills 90210 (which, if I remember correctly, will have an Inglewood postmark, just like Compton 90220).

But for sheer weirdness, you have to go to Nicoma Park, in the eastern half of Oklahoma County. They have a post office (73066), but it delivers only to boxes: street addresses are divided between Oklahoma City (73141) and Choctaw (73020).

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 AM)
24 September 2005
Maybe they'll rename it "The Harvey"

"Where the hell are these people going to park?"

That's the question raised by one soon-to-be-former tenant of the Park Harvey Center, which is morphing from a 17-story office tower into Richard Tanenbaum's newest residential development. There's plenty of space in the Galleria garage, but it's a block and a half away at best: the nearest entrance is on Hudson south of Park, and the Underground doesn't come within a block of Park Harvey.

Not everyone drives, of course, and perhaps this is Tanenbaum's target market: people who want to live where the presumed action is and don't want the inevitable hassle and expense of a motor vehicle. Such people do exist. But are there enough of them in Oklahoma City to fill up seventeen stories? I don't know, but I've learned not to bet against Richard Tanenbaum.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:45 AM)
The threat of Jersey devils

From Pavement Narrows, New Jersey, The Prop observes that it won't be all peaches and cream in the big Hornets bowl:

[H]aving a major league franchise in your area has its downside as well. It tends to bring the pork-barrellers, land swindlers and real estate moguls out of the woodwork. You don't want Donald Trump showing up in your fair city, do you?

This presumes that they were in the woodwork to begin with. The history of Oklahoma being rife with such characters, I'm inclined to think that it won't make much difference in the long run.

As for The Donald, well, there's a new billboard in the God series on the north I-44 loop. It says: "As my apprentice, you're never fired." Not as funny as "Don't make me come down there," but what the, um, heck.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:59 AM)
28 September 2005
She's back

The city has settled a harassment lawsuit filed by Staff Sgt. Paula Schonauer, a twelve-year veteran of the OCPD, who had claimed she was persecuted by fellow officers and banished to desk duty after her sexual-reassignment surgery in 2002.

The OCPD has already returned her to her beat; the city will pay her $4000 and will reinstate some lost days of sick leave. Schonauer, who has been instrumental in the Department's community-outreach programs, says she's just happy to be back at work.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:32 AM)
29 September 2005
The march of progress

2004: Burger King, NW 23rd and Meridian, with playground for the kiddies.

2005: Burger King, NW 23rd and Meridian, no more playground, but 24-hour WiFi.

New franchise owner David Ostrowe explains:

Our power user is someone that eats 19-plus times a month in a burger place and is between the ages of 18 to 35. We're trying to make our market suited and comfortable to that customer — someone who's maybe in town late at night on business, or who stops off on their way to work, or who is in college.

Hold the mayo on my Whopper, please.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 AM)
30 September 2005
Just don't say "beep for bucks"

Despite consolidations and buyouts, Oklahoma City is one of the more competitive banking markets; even big boys like Chase and Bank of America find themselves unable to dictate the terms for the rest of the industry.

Which is probably one reason why Barry Switzer and Toby Keith are pouring some dollars into a proposed new Oklahoma City bank, which will be run by Joey Root, late of Stillwater National and a friend of Switzer's.

Statewide, a lot of new banks, it seems to me, are put together with the express purpose of inviting buyouts by bigger banks; I don't know what Barry and Toby are thinking, but I figure at least they're investing in the local economy.

(To explain the title: "Beep for Bucks," according to the ads, was the process by which you operated the then-new ATM at the infamous Penn Square Bank, headed by Bill "Beep" Jennings.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:01 AM)
1 October 2005
Family Fun Fellowship foofaraw

A local public school — I'm guessing in Mid-Del — apparently has been soliciting student participation in activities at a local church, which prompted a debate on a local message board. (I am fairly confident I know which church is involved.)

The principal of the school says he's looking into how the church flyer got into school distribution in the first place.

And that's the problem here: that the school was actually distributing a church flyer, which appears to step over the line drawn by the Establishment Clause. I'm thinking that if they had simply parked a box of flyers in the hallway with a Take One sign, they might have been able to slide, but apparently they sent them home with the individual students, a distribution vector which always suggests Official School Business. ("Make sure you give this to your parents.") I have no problem with churches doing outreach to public-school students, but they can't use those schools as their agents.

(Update, Sunday: It ain't necessarily so. Read this.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:42 AM)
3 October 2005
The Ambassador needs a new suit

The Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau has, shall we say, a serviceable Web site; it's not particularly cluttered, which is good, but it reeks of 1999. (Which is to say, there's nothing on it that I, with my decidedly-limited portfolio of mad Web skillz, couldn't have done.)

Others take a dimmer view of it. This letter was sent by the techier-than-I Gerard Morentzy to the OKCCVB, and is reprinted with his permission.

Dear Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau, I was shocked to go to Oklahoma City's Visitors website at www.okccvb.org and see the site that promotes your growing city. I simply couldn't believe this is your introduction to your town. I was told I need to visit Oklahoma, and Oklahoma City in particular. I went to the site and saw this distorted picture of your city at the top of the page. What's that about? The picture size doesn't fit the space. The Oklahoma City 'logo'?? My god! That looks like something from 1975 — it's horrible! Bottom line: I was surprised at all the good things I am hearing about Okla. City and then see this horrible website. I travel often and visit many Visitors Center sites. I wonder if you realize how awful your site really is? For comparison in your region, I visited — and you should too:

I would hope that all the progressive things that I hear are happening in your city will eventually make its way to the Internet gateway to your city — the Convention and Visitors pages on the web are considered just that. You have much work to do.

Respectfully,
Gerard Morentzy

And while we're on the subject, a URL that might actually stick in the mind would be a useful thing to have. (They own visitokc.com, but I don't remember seeing it promoted anywhere.)

Why Topeka rates a (!), I don't know, unless it's because of that CSI episode.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:51 PM)
11 October 2005
Today's election

A lot of school districts are hoping to get bond issues approved, but here in the Big Town, unless you're in one of those districts, there's only one matter on the ballot: changing one line of the franchise agreement between the city and Oklahoma Natural Gas.

Under the current agreement, business customers who buy gas from an ONG competitor but still use ONG's pipelines — there are about three hundred such — don't have to pay the three-percent franchise fee. The new wording will specify that anyone using ONG delivery systems must pay the fee, regardless of the origin of the gas.

The new franchise agreement, if approved by voters, will be in effect for five years.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:20 AM)
Low turnout?

I don't recall ever seeing it this low. At 10:30 am I got to my precinct and cast ballot #6. The poll workers said they'd be surprised if they finished the day with a dozen. The Election Board, or somebody, really ought to put some thought into combining some of these issues, or, if they're sufficiently subcritical, figure out some way to postpone them to November.

(If you're thinking "What election?" read this.)

Addendum, 12 October, 1:20 pm: I'd say 2.6 percent is pretty low. The measure passed with about 62 percent of the vote.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:25 AM)
13 October 2005
On the upside, there were no lines

Ward 8 Councilman Pat Ryan thinks municipal ballot issues are too difficult to comprehend, and plans to introduce rules which would bring city ballot issues in line with state questions, which are limited by law in size and in reading-difficulty level.

I'd agree, generally, but I think the greater contributor to the miserable turnout Tuesday was the fact that hardly anyone knew there was an election going on: with no obvious proponents or opponents, there was no advertising, and while the Oklahoman devoted half a page to the matter Sunday, even deciphering the text of the measure, if you didn't see the "Vote Here" signs at your local polling place — or if you didn't read this — you likely never would have known.

I still think they ought to bundle these housekeeping issues and such and drop them on the November ballot with the stuff that (some) people actually care about.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 AM)
16 October 2005
North side, south side, all around the town

Ward 2 Councilman Sam Bowman has drafted a new city ordinance, to be considered by the Planning Commission at its meeting on the 27th, which calls for more sidewalks in Oklahoma City. [Warning: linked site likes to resize browsers.]

Under current rules, developers must build sidewalks along the interior streets of new developments. Bowman's plan calls for sidewalks along the arterial streets as well, and for the continuation of existing sidewalks into infill development in developed areas.

What's more, Bowman wants to see sidewalks placed along existing arteries. He cites May between 23rd and 50th (which is in his ward) as a particularly pressing need.

The area where I live was developed five decades ago. One quirk is that there is a sidewalk on the north-south street nearest to me (this would be Steanson Drive), provided for the residents of the apartments along that street. The sidewalk rounds the corner eastbound — and then stops. If any existing residential street ought to get a sidewalk, mine should; it connects to a major thoroughfare on one end (with a bus stop, yet) and an elementary school on the other. And there's lots of foot traffic.

But it's not likely to happen any time soon. If they continue the existing sidewalk along the north side of the street, they'll have to do some serious leveling: there's a decided slant to the terrain right in front of my house. And they'll have to take out an old elm tree that sits on the property line between my house and the next one to the east. (The alternative is to build the sidewalk on the south side of the street, which wouldn't connect to the existing sidewalk.) Neither of these operations is particularly difficult, and I am not inclined to raise objections to either, but I figure they'll go for more visible stuff in more prestigious neighborhoods first.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:43 PM)
19 October 2005
It's time to play Name That School

The Edmond school district is building a new elementary school at 17601 North Pennsylvania, and it doesn't have a name yet. They're taking suggestions here.

"Schools," according to the official suggestion form, "shall be named after the following:"

  • A natural event, feature or features
  • Memorials in honor of a deceased community leader, or a deceased national or state leader
  • Historical sites or events
  • Geographical locations
  • Landmark significance

Suggestions must be in before Monday, 31 October; the school should be open next August.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:03 PM)
20 October 2005
The Hill inches closer

The Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority has granted design approval for The Hill, an upscale housing development in the Deep Deuce area.

A description from the current Downtown OKC Skyline Snapshot:

The $40 million development features 170 well-planned and created urban homes ranging in space from 1,387 to 3,100 square feet. Amenities include rooftop terraces and balconies on a select number of homes. Every home features large living spaces, elegant living rooms, open dining rooms, gourmet kitchens, oversized bedrooms, generous closets and bathroom space as well as enclosed and attached double car garages. Also, on-site concierge services, fitness club with pool and spa. Homes in this private community come with individual monitored security systems. ADA homes available and WiMAX high-speed broadband give residents of The Hill rapid-fire links to the world. The Hill residential presentation captures the stylish architectural reverence from the 1920 and 1930 heydays of the famed Deep Deuce District, with historically accurate façades influenced by the prominent buildings of the time.

And we're all in favor of architectural reverence, especially if it's stylish. "What we want," said senior designer Rand Sisk, "is for these buildings to look as if they have been here for years."

Construction will begin after the first of the year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:16 PM)
22 October 2005
Super marketing

The lead story in tomorrow's Oklahoman business section is about the quest for a downtown grocery store and the inevitable Catch-22 (23.84 including tax) that's standing in the way: grocers won't want to enter the downtown market unless they're sure there are enough potential shoppers in the area, and folks won't move downtown unless they have some place to shop. (A sidebar includes a map of stores "within a 10- to 15-minute drive of downtown," which I think is somewhat suspect, what with its inclusion of places like the Mayfair Market, which, being just this side of 50th Street, is inevitably going to be low on downtown shoppers' lists. The Wal-Mart at Belle Isle is just as far north, but nowhere near as far west; it's basically a straight shot up Classen.)

The kicker to this story, by Steve Lackmeyer and Tricia Pemberton, is the hiring of a research firm by the city's Powers That Be (City Hall, the Chamber of Commerce, and Downtown OKC) to ascertain the best possible site for a downtown grocery store. There's an interesting remark from a partner from said firm, developer Larry Kilduff:

There has been a dis-investment in the urban areas to where you have a hole in the doughnut. But most of these areas still have the density that would support retail. In most of those cities, and Oklahoma City is no different, development has moved far enough away that you find the hole in the doughnut is large enough to support retail again.

Rising dough raises all hopes, or something like that.

In another sidebar, the possibility of a specialty store like Whole Foods or the H.E.B. chain's Central Market is explored. I suspect that one (not both) could do well in the area: there's a core of distinctly-upscale residents downtown, and the stores are sufficiently different from the norm to justify the occasional trip downtown from the 'burbs.

Last winter, I projected that the most likely location for such a store would be just north of Deep Deuce, in the general Flatirons area: new developments are planned for this area anyway, and there would presumably be fairly-easy access from I-235. If I'm correct, I plan to take as much credit for it as possible; if I'm wrong, well, at least I'll check out the new store.

(Update, 6:30 am, 23 October: The story is now online at NewsOK.com.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:07 PM)
24 October 2005
Timely messages

Last year at this time, I noticed this sign at the Kelly-Moore paint store near 23rd and May: 100% CARB FREE PAINT.

There have been various changes since then, but this past weekend, they'd pared their signage back to a single word: BOO.

Can't argue with that, either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:13 AM)
Does someone know something I don't?

Not that this is difficult or anything.

But I had a Google searcher last night arrive here looking for mel gibson's house in nichols hills oklahoma.

Mad Max beyond 63rd? The mind boggles. (And anyway, the Web site of the County Assessor's office didn't have any records for anything owned by Gibson or Icon Productions.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:04 AM)
26 October 2005
Get on the bus

"Real change, not spare change," says the Oklahoma City Homeless Alliance, and this is part of the plan:

How can you help the less fortunate among us while ensuring your gift does not contribute to unhealthy behaviors? The Homeless Alliance offers "Real Change" vouchers you can buy at cost to give to individuals who are panhandling for money on the street. Each voucher includes information on Oklahoma City's three general homeless shelters and a bus ticket to get there. Once at a shelter, the person will get hot meals and a place to sleep and will have access to a variety of other services.

Research shows that across the country, approximately 80% of panhandlers are not homeless. Moreover, studies have found that most of the time cash given to a panhandler will go to support a drug or alcohol habit — not to help the person access services he or she needs. Real Change vouchers allow you to truly help genuinely needy individuals while discouraging panhandlers who do not want real help.

A book of five vouchers costs $5; you can get them from the Homeless Alliance, 312 West Commerce Street, Oklahoma City, OK 73109, or at selected downtown office buildings.

Of course, there's always the chance that the recipients will collect bus tickets and swap them for something else. But Alliance executive director Dan Straughan isn't too worried:

There will be a black market for these things. Today in Oklahoma City, five bus tickets will get you a joint, or so I'm told. If we put 50,000 of these [vouchers] out on the street, though, that's going to really depress that market.

Run-of-the-mill panhandlers are probably not going to be happy with this program at all, which is another point in its favor.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:22 AM)
27 October 2005
From the Department of Major Upgrades (2)

I reprint (minus links and comments) this September 2004 item in full:

Tropos Networks has built a number of Wi-Fi systems for public-safety use, but they've never tried anything this big: a wireless network for the city of Oklahoma City, 600-plus square miles of spectacularly-irregular polygon.

The new network, which should be fully operational by the end of next year, will cost around $5 million. And no, there will be no public-access hot spots, at least at first.

Or maybe there will: Mayor Cornett is saying that while they're testing the public-safety network, the city will look into partnering with the private sector to set up a Wi-Fi hot zone centered on downtown. The Chamber of Commerce is already looking for those partners.

The proposed hot zone stretches along the Oklahoma River from the Reno/Meridian corridor to just east of the Capitol; it would include OSU/OKC, State Fair Park, the Stockyards, downtown, Bricktown, and the Health Center area.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:15 AM)
29 October 2005
Saturday spottings (in place)

Legally, it's the Hassaman Heights Addition, but for years it's been known as the Edwards Neighborhood: one block wide (Page to Grand), seven blocks long (NE 10th to NE 16th), it was the first step out of the "inner city" for Oklahoma City's African-American community. Walter J. and Frances W. Edwards made it happen. In 1937, they bought the tract, then largely outside city limits; city government wasn't about to provide city services beyond the boundary. (In fairness to the city, they didn't do it for the previous owner of the property either, and he was white.) So Mr. and Mrs. Edwards took responsibility for running utility lines and paving the streets. They set up their own construction unit to train young black men for the job of building houses in the area, and when FHA at first expressed no interest in providing financing for buyers, they made the mortgage loans themselves. By 1939, FHA had come around; by 1940, the neighborhood contained some 40 homes, including the Edwards residence on Grand south of 16th. This year, the Edwards Heights area, across I-35 and extending to Bryant on the east and Success St. (north of 19th) on the north, including Edwards Park, was added to the National Register of Historic Places, so it seemed like a good time to take a look at Mr. and Mrs. Edwards' original strip, which had been put on the Register in 1996, and to which I hadn't paid a great deal of attention since they'd put up the "W. J. Edwards" sign at the intersection of 10th and Grand.

From a purely topographical standpoint, northeast Oklahoma City is easily the most attractive of the four quadrants; it's got rolling hills and lots of trees, the latter partly because it's on the edge of the Cross Timbers region, before you start moving into grasslands, but perhaps also because it was considered an unnecessary expense to remove them. (Elsewhere, the converted farmland that is now the fringe of the city is breathtakingly bare.) Grand slides down a hill from 16th to 10th; halfway down is a church — Tabitha Baptist. Page, not accessible from 10th, climbs up the back. The houses are smallish but neat, typical single-story prewar design, though construction continued at a reduced pace throughout the 1940s. I'm waiting for the city to extend Historic District, or at least Urban Conservation District, zoning to the area.

Speaking of ethnic movement, you might suspect some near MacArthur just south of the Warr Acres line, where a dollar store proclaims on its sign: IF YOU CAN READ THIS SIGN, COME IN AND SAVE. Innocuous on the face of it, unless you've noticed the increasing number of Spanish-speaking folks moving into this part of town, in which case you might wonder just what the store is trying to say.

The city of Warr Acres itself has had to adjust its signage, after biting the bullet and raising the sales tax by a penny. The signs duly reflect the new 7.5 percent rate, and the word "STILL" now precedes the proclamation of "Lowest Tax Rate."

And it must be lead time, or the lack thereof, to explain the general absence of Hornets references on local billboards this close to the beginning of the season.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:12 PM)
30 October 2005
Nor are we broke, apparently

City government, crediting "careful fiscal management and some lower-than-expected costs," apparently finished the 2005 fiscal year (which ended 30 June) with $40 million in the General Fund actually unspent.

And they're going to spend $2.5 million of it on some street-resurfacing projects and sock away most of the rest for subsequent years. Given the condition of some of the streets in question — 63rd from Pennsylvania to May is utterly horrid — I think I'd forgive them for pulling another million or two out of the bag and taking on some other lumpy thoroughfares (like, say, 63rd from Pennsylvania to Western, or maybe 36th from Kelley to MLK).

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:40 AM)
3 November 2005
The light is on

Beacon of Hope at Stiles ParkLast night, for the first time, the Beacon of Hope sliced its way into the sky.

The Beacon, located in the middle of the circular Stiles Park (NE 8th and Stiles), is the centerpiece of Founders Plaza, a monument to the five men who put together what is now known as the Oklahoma Health Center. The one survivor of the five, Stanton L. Young, was on hand for the first-night celebration, and got to throw the switch himself.

The beam will run nightly from sunset to somewhere between midnight and 2 am. (This particular picture is from the architect's conception, and ran here when I visited the park on a Spottings tour this past summer. It was previously published by Downtown OKC.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:25 AM)
5 November 2005
Saturday spottings (get lost)

About the time the city announced that they had plans to change some of the downtown one-way streets, there was a piece in the paper about how tourists, despite the newly-installed Wayfinder system, were still getting lost, and one person was quoted as saying that downtown streets simply didn't make sense.

As a thirty-year resident, I was inclined to blow off that claim, until this evening right around sunset when I caught just about every freaking traffic light, and sitting at every other light, it seemed, was some poor soul peering into a map.

And well, yeah, it's a grid, but it's not an intuitive grid. Generally throughout the city, streets run east and west, avenues run north and south, but downtown blows this scheme to hell. Starting at the 200 block South and heading north, you cross Reno Avenue, California Avenue, Sheridan Avenue, Main Street, Park Avenue, Robert S. Kerr Avenue, Dean A. McGee Avenue, and 4th Street. The dividing line between North and South is not Main, but Sheridan; Main, in the grand scheme of things, is a fairly insignificant street despite its name. And there's the perplexing block offset: the 400 block North is not, as you might expect, between 4th and 5th, but between 3rd Dean A. McGee and 4th. No mere Wayfinder can help with this.

About 5:55 I was at 8th and Lincoln (that's 900 Lincoln, by the way) and had the absurd idea of going down the two blocks to Stiles Park and watching them turn on the Big Green Light Saber, a notion for which I berated myself with a couple of iterations of "Do people with lives do this?" When I got there, there were half a dozen people already on hand, waiting for the throwing of the switch.

(Another paragraph starting with A. Do people with lives write like this?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:25 PM)
8 November 2005
Future fire figures

Oklahoma City has thirty-five fire stations, which sounds like a lot until you remember that the city covers more than six hundred square miles. Is this enough? Should some of them be moved?

Today, City Council decided to hire an outside consultant to evaluate the placement of OCFD stations and speculate as to where stations should be added or moved. One move is already planned: Station No. 4, at 100 SW 4th, will be relocated northeast of downtown, though it will be up to the consultant to recommend a location.

The consultant will be expected to come up with five-year and ten-year projections, and, says the Request For Proposals, "analyze the potential to provide Emergency Medical Service (EMS) transport from fire stations." The city currently has about twenty Advanced Life Support companies.

One thing I'd like to see which isn't specifically spelled out in the RFP is whether the city plans to upgrade its hazmat capacities.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 PM)
10 November 2005
The Braniff will open once more

Last spring, I wrote up a paragraph about 324 North Robinson, the erstwhile Braniff Building, going to waste in the New Downtown.

No longer. Kerr-McGee, owner of the building, is going to have 324 and two buildings around the corner on Robert S. Kerr converted to medium-to-high-buck condos.

The oldest and smallest of the structures is 111 Robert S. Kerr, built in 1902 as the India Temple and originally designated 101 W. 2nd Street. The Shriners moved out around 1909 and the building became known as the Wright Building. The biggest of the three is 135 Robert S. Kerr, which dates to 1921, and which served Kerr-McGee as corporate headquarters from the 1940s until the early 1960s.

Architect Anthony McDermid first proposed the condo conversions to a Mayor's Conference in 2002; he says one difficulty will be pulling the concrete front off 111 and restoring the original surface.

The three buildings cover 270,000 square feet; only about 70 residences will be built, suggesting that they will be very large and presumably pricey.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:13 PM)
11 November 2005
File under "Always"

Robert Greenwald's documentary Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices will be screened in Fellowship Hall at Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City this Sunday; however, apparently all the available space has been reserved. Mayflower's Dr Robin Meyers talks about the film here.

Other area screenings will be in Piedmont and at UCO in Edmond on Monday; two scheduled for Norman are reportedly at capacity already. The production company offers a Web tool to find screenings in your neck of the woods. Of course, they wouldn't object if you bought a copy on DVD.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
The incredible shrinking Fed

The Oklahoma City branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City will be shutting down check and cash processing functions — these will be shifted to Dallas along with about 130 jobs — and will sell off its downtown building at 226 Dean A. McGee in favor of smaller leased quarters.

The remaining Fed staff will concentrate on analysis and projections. One question unanswered: will banks whose checks were processed through the Oklahoma City branch change their routing numbers? Dallas is in the 11th District, Kansas City the 10th, and the first two digits have always indicated the district. (Oklahoma banks are 1030 through 1039 or 3030 through 3039; should the numbers change, presumably they would change to something in the 1100s or 3100s.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:33 AM)
13 November 2005
Four years and counting

It's the fourth anniversary of MAPS for Kids, a massive upgrading of Oklahoma City schools funded by a seven-year, one-cent sales tax. The price tag for everything on the want list was close to $700 million; 70 percent will go to the Oklahoma City Public Schools, and 30 percent to suburban districts which extend into the city limits.

So what have we gotten for this incredible number of dollars? The Oklahoman dug up some numbers:

Before: Average age of a district school bus, 20 years.
Now: 2-3.

Before: Average odometer reading on buses, 300,000 miles.
Now: 25,000-30,000.

Before: Consistently got unqualified audit opinions.
Now: Two consecutive clean audits.

Before: Poor bond rating.
Now: Improved.

Before: Percentage of schools making adequate yearly progress on state-mandated tests: 54 percent of elementaries; 20 percent of middle schools; 20 percent of high schools.
Now: 96 percent of elementaries; 80 percent of middle schools; 67 percent of high schools.

It is of course true that spending a lot of money does not necessarily result in good schools. But this strikes me as a heck of a lot of progress in just four years from what was by all accounts a fairly horrid operation.

Some thoughts outside the box, from a principal who shall remain nameless:

Unfortunately, to think in a divergent way is not really supported in traditional public education.

In fact, it can make you downright unpopular with the status quo (or anyone who is commanding the direction in an educational enterprise). It is so much easier to educate as it has always been done with a "working harder, longer or better" mentality. For to think and act in a divergent way that challenges the status quo can cause one to be labelled as a problematic person (me).

I just thought I would throw that in ... just in case there is someone else out there who is thinking divergently. Divergent thinking and practices do not get supported (except at your own school with your own folks who see the simplistic beauty of practicing so that every child succeeds). And, there are no overnight answers ... it's one step at a time (and sometimes side-stepping to avoid the bureaucratic sludge in the middle of the road). I would be really worried about writing this if I thought anyone but my loyal faculty and staff might read this post; luckily, I think I am safe.

Let's hope some of that $700 million got spent for sludge removal.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:35 AM)
14 November 2005
Welcome to the Big Scrape

This morning at ten, groundbreaking ceremonies will be held for the new Interstate 40, a $360 million realignment of the Crosstown Expressway. The new freeway will be ten lanes instead of (mostly) six, and will run about five blocks south of the old one.

Presently I-40 through downtown carries about 150 percent of the traffic for which it was designed. The roadway is in bad shape, though the elevated deck itself seems to be holding up fairly well. (Rumors that the Crosstown is "crumbling" pop up occasionally; the lack of ongoing emergency repairs would seem to indicate otherwise.) The motivations for starting now, before all the funding is in place, would seem to be two: to hype a new and expanded downtown, no longer split by the old Crosstown, and to kill off any chance of a rail-transit system that might utilize the existing Union Station.

At least this won't take as long as the I-35 reconstruction project, which began under King George III.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:03 AM)
Well, they didn't call me

Today the city mailed out 3600 questionnaires in an effort to gauge satisfaction, or lack thereof, with city services. Everyone who was sent a survey was supposed to have gotten a phone call from Mayor Cornett, which I didn't, so I think it's safe to assume that I'm not getting one.

If you got one, I'd like to hear from you.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:41 PM)
16 November 2005
Foundation revisited

Is Kerr-McGee having a clearance sale? Last week they announced a deal to sell off three unused properties for residential conversion, and today the Urban Design Committee is looking over the plans for a new headquarters building for the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, to be built on a lot at 10th and Broadway that's being sold by Kerr-McGee.

The Foundation won't have to move very far — three blocks or so — but the new structure will give them twice the space they're enjoying in the old Kilpatrick Oil Company building off 13th. And when's the last time something was actually built on Automobile Alley?

The project architect is David Hornbeek of Edmond, one of the designers of the upcoming American Indian Cultural Center.

Update, 17 November: The Urban Design Committee has approved the plans, requiring only minor changes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:01 PM)
17 November 2005
Looking for a miracle on 74th Street

Once again, there is wailing and gnashing of teeth over the possibility that the General Motors Oklahoma City Assembly plant may be shuttered after new UAW contracts come up in 2007.

The problem is twofold: the plant builds SUVs (three-row Chevy Trailblazers and GM Envoys), which don't have quite the market share they used to, and when the product cycle for this model runs out, GM hasn't assigned a new product to the plant.

My own thinking is that there will be a temporary shutdown, followed by retooling and a new product line, probably in 2008. But right now, what GM needs is a massive hit in the car market — they're holding their own in trucks — and the Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky roadsters can't do it by themselves. To do this, GM is going to have to break open its estimated $30 billion nest egg and build something, as the Apple corps might have it, "insanely great," a car so compelling that no one can ignore it — and, just as important, that they don't have to sell at $3000 below sticker because they're piling up on dealer lots.

Update, 21 November: It's dead, Jim.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:04 AM)
20 November 2005
Split decision

The new John Marshall High School, at 122nd and Portland, is about four miles northwest of the old one, and some residents of that area complained when the site was chosen, fearing an influx of troublemakers. (By, um, coincidence, the school is more or less next door to the OCPD's Hefner Division HQ.)

To accommodate a second high school on the northside, boundaries were redrawn — the school board will vote on them tomorrow — but not everyone is happy with the new lines. One parent is quoted as saying that the new John Marshall location was chosen to "get rid of the riffraff," and argued, "This is going to be a total disaster for the black community."

I don't see how. The old John Marshall was about 76 percent black; the new one, says the planning director for Oklahoma City Public Schools, will be about 73 percent black. The new Eisenhower High School, to take over the eastern half of the old John Marshall territory, is expected to be 80 percent black. (Eisenhower used to be an elementary school, but will be duly expanded; as a PK-5 facility, it was about 85 percent black.)

Still, it's an interesting divergence of perceptions: some residents north of Lake Hefner are concerned that the riffraff are moving westward, and at least one parent is concerned that said riffraff are being herded into the east. Perhaps students should wear badges, identifying them as either "riff" or "raff."

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:09 AM)
21 November 2005
It's official

General Motors will shutter nine North American auto plants, including Oklahoma City Assembly.

The full GM announcement is here.

Robert Farago noted last week at The Truth About Cars:

[CEO Rick] Wagoner vows to cut 25k hourly employees by '08. Only GM's contract with the UAW prohibits plant closures until September 2007. And that means Wagoner actually intends to "idle" the excess workers, or try to lure them into early retirement. Either way, the employees will be almost as big a drain on GM's resources as if they were building cars no one wants.

The actual cut appears to be 30,000, but Farago is correct. From the GM announcement:

Given the demographics of GM's workforce, the company plans to achieve much of the job reduction via attrition and early retirement programs. GM will work with the leadership of its unions, as any early retirement program would need to be mutually agreed upon. GM hopes to reach an agreement on such a plan as soon as possible.

Translation: Do not expect 2500 Oklahoma City auto workers out on the street this spring.

Update, 8:50 am: WWMTD? If Mark Tapscott were running GM:

I would leak a draft of a bankruptcy filing, then when the media frenzy is well underway pick up the telephone and tell the UAW leadership they will determine whether the papers are filed or not.

Now that sounds like a plan.

Update, 12 noon: Can a buyer be found for the plant? Maybe. Certainly neither Ford nor DaimlerChrysler needs any more plant capacity, but I can imagine Nissan (which is relocating its US headquarters to Tennessee) or the Hyundai-Kia combine looking over the possibilities.

Update, 6:30 pm: J. M. Branum calls for a job action:

Personally I think the UAW needs to get off its butt and take some action with a real strike. Every GM worker nationwide should be walking off the assembly lines right now and refuse to let scabs into the plants, while at the same time consumers would straight up refuse to buy GM products. If this happened on a mass scale, I think GM would have to back down, but unfortunately I don't think this is going to happen. Because folks aren't willing to stick together (and I don't just mean autoworkers, but in other professions too), the Man is able to screw the workers.

Here's the United Auto Workers statement on the closings.

Update, 8 am, 22 November: Mayor Cornett keeps a stiff upper lip:

On the plus side, we have a lot of interest in Oklahoma City in general. We're always looking at our inventory, what we have to offer to corporate America. Being able to offer this plant at that location, on the interstate and next to Tinker, is very inviting. It also opens up a very qualified work force for someone else to come in and create some jobs.

And the one thing we learned from the Hornets deal is that Cornett can move in a hurry when an opportunity presents itself.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:55 AM)
23 November 2005
Own your own floor

The Metro man, subbing for The Downtown Guy, gets in a plug for 125 Park Avenue, an office building going office condo. Five stories tall, 125 will have a maximum of five owners: one per floor, though they'll sell you two adjacent floors if you're so inclined.

The slogan for 125 right now is "View. Location. Presence." Good things all; but if you had to go by their Web site, you'd probably question that view.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:21 AM)
The next flag may be white

About 90 days ago, I mentioned that Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder was planning a hostile takeover of Six Flags, Inc., the Oklahoma City-based theme-park operator.

Snyder apparently is going to go through with it; while his Red Zone LLC hasn't been amassing additional Six Flags stock, he's announced that he has secured 57 percent of the votes from shareholders for his slate of three board nominees. The new board would presumably then oust Chairman/CEO Kieran Burke and CFO James Dannhauser, after which former ESPN executive Mark Shapiro would replace Burke.

Six Flags had hoped to auction itself off in December, and is continuing to resist the Snyder plan. Shareholder votes will be in by the end of the year. I still believe that corporate headquarters will eventually be relocated, no matter who prevails in this struggle.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:35 AM)
25 November 2005
Warding off the beaver

Apparently you can't.

As part of the North Canadian Oklahoma River MAPS project, about 7000 trees were planted along the banks. You got your water, you got your trees, and inevitably, you got beavers.

There is no money in the tree budget to replace the two dozen or so trees that have had close encounters with teeth, but there is also no money elsewhere in the budget to stamp out the little flat-tailed SOBs, and there's not much enthusiasm in the city government for taking them on. Apart from the cost, picking on poor innocent gnawing critters makes for bad press, and anyway, it's not like this was an unpredictable event: young beavers migrate once they reach adulthood, and hello, here's a whole new ecosystem to play with.

So the beavers will be left alone, and that's fine with me; it will take them a long time to finish off seven thousand trees.

(Minor changes after first publication: see Comments.)

Update, 10 pm: TV news coverage, albeit with little bite.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:36 AM)
27 November 2005
On the outside looking in

John Sutter has a piece in this morning's Oklahoman which looks at the nine incorporated communities which exist as holes within Oklahoma City limits.

One issue for them is trying to retain an identity when their mail goes to somewhere else: only Bethany and Mustang have their own post offices. Still, if you key a Warr Acres or Nichols Hills address into the USPS's database, you'll get the correct town. (This didn't work with any Village or Valley Brook addresses I tried, all of which came back designated as Oklahoma City; I wrote about this phenomenon here.)

Sutter says that for these municipalities, existing as an enclave is "a challenge at best," which is no doubt true. However, the worst-case scenario — a "death sentence" — seems a bit far-fetched. He cites the case of the one-time town of Britton, incorporated well before the days of statehood and absorbed into Oklahoma City in 1950. This much is indisputable:

At one time, Britton had a bustling downtown scene centered on the intersection at Britton Road and Western Avenue, now in northwest Oklahoma City. The area struggles with high crime and failing businesses.

I suspect this is due more to changing demographics than to the changing of the guard. In retrospect, I think it might have been better for The Village, which was founded in 1950, and Britton to merge, but this wasn't in the cards: for one thing, Floyd Harrison, a central figure in the incorporation of The Village and the developer of Casady Square, didn't want competition for his shopping center from downtown Britton.

Then there's the case of Valley Brook, a quarter-section on the south side with a checkered reputation (speed traps, "gentlemen's" clubs) and presumably not much in the way of prospects: there apparently hasn't been a building permit issued there in a decade. Valley Brook doesn't have the money, the beauty, or the selectivity of Lake Aluma, an enclave in the northeast quadrant, but I suspect it has basically the same attitude: "Leave us alone." And I think it's safe to say that there's some of that at the heart of all of these communities, and the smattering of unincorporated areas that still exist on the city's fringe: they may not always be sure what they want, but they definitely don't want to be just another part of the city.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:29 PM)
28 November 2005
The wrong side of the TrackBacks

Sean Gleeson snags a picture of the Blog Building near NW 21st and Portland.

Obviously this place hasn't been updated lately.

(This is probably not the time to mention that this used to be, and for all I know might still be, the Odd Fellows' Hall.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:55 AM)
30 November 2005
White flags

The announcement was typically subdued:

Six Flags, Inc. (NYSE:PKS) announced today that the results of Red Zone's consent solicitation have been certified by IVS Associates, Inc., the independent inspectors of election, and that all of the proposals that were the subject of the consent solicitation have been adopted. As a result, Messrs. Daniel Snyder, Mark Shapiro and Dwight Schar have become directors of Six Flags, replacing Messrs. Burke, Dannhauser and Shuman, and Red Zone's other proposals, including the amendments to the Company's By-laws, have been adopted.

In other words, the palace coup is complete; Dan Snyder's group has positioned itself on the Six Flags board and will presumably remove the old Six Flags management team. (Previous coverage here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
8 December 2005
What the Chamber has in mind

Last night, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce held its annual banquet, and Chairman Fred Hall announced that one thing he wants for the new year is a new, or at least revised, county government.

After the abolition of the Oklahoma County Budget Board last January, a move widely viewed as payback for the county's addition of sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination rules, power in the county was essentially consolidated in a bloc of two Commissioners. Rep. Mike Shelton (D-OKC) subsequently offered a bill to let the state's two largest counties operate under home rule rather than under the state's county model; it didn't go anywhere. The Chamber, said Hall, will push for similar legislation in 2006.

Also on the agenda, initiatives more typical of a Chamber of Commerce: "branding" the city, expanding health-science and aerospace, tort reform, and elimination of the state income tax. (What would replace it? Who knows?)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 AM)
10 December 2005
You will be assimilated

Resistance will be overcome with large quantities of cash.

The Chesapeake Energy campus in Oklahoma City continues to grow; last week the company bought two office buildings along the south side of NW 63rd near Shartel. At the present rate of expansion, they should hit the Broadway Extension some time in early 2011.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:04 AM)
Monday, Monday, so good to me

Well, certainly not to me, personally, but you get the idea.

The city utility bill just arrived, and with it a copy of City News, a single-sheet handout that usually doesn't have anything I feel like discussing here. The operative word, of course, is "usually."

Oklahoma City offices, says City News, will be closed on the following days:

  1. Monday, December 26 (day after Christmas)
  2. Monday, January 2 (day after New Year's)
  3. Monday, January 16 (Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Day)

For five points, on which of those days, if any, will the city pick up trash?

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:39 AM)
11 December 2005
Why city schools matter

Tom Lindley's column in this morning's Oklahoman takes a look at Wilson School, north of downtown, and how it's coming back from the brink:

Since 1997, test scores at the school have risen from below the 45th percentile-range in reading and math to 84 percent and 88 percent, respectively, with the help of a curriculum that uses visual arts, drama and music to teach reading and math skills.

Teachers volunteered to work an extra half-hour each day so there is time to tailor the curriculum for each level of learning.

The volunteers include parents, alumni and neighborhood friends whose latest fund-raising effort is ambitious. The goal is to raise almost $700,000 to ensure enough classroom space to support the arts-based curriculum in Wilson's $3.6 million MAPS for Kids makeover, which will get under way next year.

The hope is that if the formula works at Wilson, where some kids go home to mansions and others to homeless shelters and where almost all the ethnic groups in Oklahoma City intersect, maybe it can hasten the return of the middle class to other neighborhoods.

The important thing here is that the good stuff at Wilson started happening before the facelifts and such. New facilities are wonderful (and, in the case of Wilson, long overdue) to have, but a prettier shell doesn't in and of itself necessarily indicate a better egg.

Still, MAPS for Kids was a vote of confidence by city taxpayers, and that confidence is showing up in test scores and in the Academic Performance Index; city schools know they're just one sector of the education marketplace, and they have responded, not by grumbling about the competition or by pointing to dark forces that presumably seek to undermine them, but by actually competing.

Lindley continues:

However, the fight for urban public education is not solely about finding a way to increase public school enrollment and economic diversity.

It also is about returning inner-city schools to a level of excellence they enjoyed decades ago, and it is about using diversity as a building block, not a wedge.

After all, when they dubbed the program "MAPS for Kids," they didn't specify colors.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:59 AM)
13 December 2005
We got your lofts right here

"Here," in this case, means NW 12th and Harvey, where a couple of buildings formerly comprising one end of Wesley Hospital are now gutted and awaiting condominium conversion. (The nearby Wesley Retirement Village, which occupies the hospital's main building, will not be affected.)

The new owners of the Harvey Lofts, who have other central-city residential developments in the works, hope to have at least some of the 16 units for sale by spring; the smallest, around 800 square feet, will be priced at $100,000.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:45 PM)
14 December 2005
Tenants, anyone?

Weird little contretemps at the City Council meeting yesterday. The Urban League is pushing for a cluster of 44 duplexes near NE 26th and Laird, a couple of blocks north of the Governor's Mansion, and the Council agreed to support it, giving the League a leg up when it tries to secure affordable-housing tax credits from the state's Housing Finance Agency. Willa Johnson, who represents Ward 7 on the Council, was on board with the proposal.

Enter Lenardo Smith, president of the Capitol View Neighborhood Association, and one-time candidate for Johnson's Council seat. He spoke against the complex, saying that they didn't need any more rental units in the area. Johnson shot back:

I appreciate your fervor and your passion about denying people an opportunity to live in an area where they might not be able to buy a home. I have fought for the last 13 years folks that come before this council talking about not wanting "those folks" in their neighborhood.

Smith's Association has rehabilitated three homes in the area for resale and would like to do more; Smith says he'd like to see more programs to help lower-income families buy homes instead of renting.

The Urban League's Valerie Thompson says that yes, these are rental units, but the 44 duplexes are intended as intermediate steps to home ownership:

We could build 100-plus apartment units, but we are choosing not to do that. We want to help people who are not in a position to own a home today establish a credit history, establish some equity to be able to purchase their own home.

How they will establish equity from a stack of rent receipts is unclear to me.

I'm not quite sure what to make of all this. Philosophically, I'm with Lenardo Smith: all else being equal, we should be encouraging people to buy rather than to rent, and I've seen the Association's show house, which was inexpensive yet spiffy. But is all else equal? I can't really blame Willa Johnson for her reaction: it's hardly news when residents of an area are worried about an influx of, um, "those folks."

On the upside, at least no one will be able to play the race card.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:03 AM)
You can have it, I don't want it

I guess they didn't love it anyway: Six Flags, Inc.'s attempt to auction itself off, and perhaps thereby thwart a takeover bid by Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, closed with no bids received.

Mark Shapiro has now eased into the CEO's chair, replacing Kieran Burke; new faces on the Six Flags board include former Interpublic chairman Michael Kassan, consultant / NFL quarterback / presidential candidate Jack Kemp, and Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

No word yet as to when the Six Flags corporate offices will be moved out of Oklahoma City.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:32 PM)
Thirty and holding

David Kent's third Department Thirty book, The Blackjack Conspiracy, is out now, and the author will sign copies Saturday afternoon at 1 at Best of Books in Edmond (1313 E. Danforth, west of Bryant). I may have to slip up that way myself, since I unaccountably haven't picked up this title yet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:04 PM)
15 December 2005
The gift you know can't fail

It was just a matter of time: the B.C. Clark jingle as a ringtone.

If you'd rather have, um, some other format, this is the page for you.

(Number of times I have sung this in public: one.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:09 PM)
17 December 2005
Settling at Six Flags

New Six Flags, Inc. CEO Mark Shapiro will be paid $1.05 million a year, about what his predecessor, Kieran Burke, earned as base salary — though Burke will get more than $9 million in bonuses and severance as he heads out the door.

Meanwhile, Rep. Ernest Istook says he's met with David Pauken, who sits at the right hand of Six Flags' new chairman Dan Snyder, and Pauken says there has been no decision made as yet on whether to continue to maintain the corporate offices in Oklahoma City or to consolidate them with the New York financial office. About three dozen people work for Six Flags corporate in Oklahoma City, not including the staff of the two local parks (Frontier City and White Water Bay) owned by Six Flags.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:09 PM)
Saturday spottings (wet ones)

Winter rain, pretty much by definition, is colder than any other rain you're likely to encounter, but it has one saving grace: so long as it's falling, you have no snow issues. And yes, there were occasional snowflakes in the mix this afternoon, but they were a distinct (not to say "white") minority. Besides, this is the most rain we've had in weeks; since the first official day of fall there has been less than an inch and a half, not to mention a smidgen of snow that melted down to Barely Damp.

I spent some of the day up in Edmond, to sample some of that soul-sucking conformity that, we are told, characterizes American suburbia, and it occurred to me somewhere west of Bryant on Second that it was the traffic, not the conformity, that was most likely to let the air out of one's soul. There are, nonetheless, a couple of things about Edmond (but only a couple) that bug me: too many streets called Oak Something or Something Oak, and too many houses with that fake-stucco stuff, which is to homebuilding what polyester is to wardrobes. (This latter, of course, is hardly unique to Edmond.)

The main reason I was there, though, I've already told you about: to snag a copy of the new David Kent thriller, The Blackjack Conspiracy, preferably while Kent was on hand to sign it. I did catch him offguard with one of my patented irrelevant questions: "So how long before you lose the radio voice?"

He blinked for a moment, then smiled and said: "It took me years to get it; it may take just as long to lose it."

Bookstores, of course, love these little signing parties, if only because they tend to attract characters like me who have never once left a bookstore carrying only one book. (Today: four books, $70.) And it's always nice to have something to read while it's raining — or worse — outside.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:26 PM)
20 December 2005
I won't dance, don't ask me

Fortunately, we still have Fred and Ginger, and better yet, we have them on the big screen: Swing Time will be shown at the Noble Theatre at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art Thursday and Friday at 7:30.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:18 AM)
22 December 2005
There will be no throwing of stones

Glass walls? Sure, why not? The Urban Design Commission has signed off on a plan to rework 1101 North Broadway, a 1920s Buick dealership, into high-zoot apartments under the name "Chandelier Building" — which, you have to admit, has more pizazz than "National Pawn-A-Car," the last occupant of the building. The developers will add three stories on the back, which is where those glass walls will come in.

The inspiration, says one of the developers, is New York's Hudson Hotel, which, say its owners, represents "the next generation of Cheap Chic — stylish, democratic, affordable, young at heart and utterly cool." Well, okay, if you say so. "Affordable," of course, is in the wallet of the beholder. But I never quarrel with "utterly cool."

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:47 AM)
29 December 2005
Boomtown on the Missouri

There's a billboard on Classen near 13th which reads Oklahoma City: Capital of the New Century, and there's nothing wrong with a little braggadocio here and there, but while we're getting used to laurels, we have to remember not to rest on them.

Consider for a moment that other city that starts with O:

In less than a decade, Omaha has transformed its downtown and riverfront, sculpting a skyline, constructing top-attraction entertainment venues, embracing the Missouri River, propelling the city beyond the promise of Leahy Mall's urban park and the bustling Old Market.

Always a business-oriented city hungry for growth and focused on development with laser intensity, Omaha aimed high, reached for momentum and found critical mass.

In 1996, business and government leaders devised a 33-block redevelopment plan they hoped would lead to $1 billion in construction within 10 years.

What they got was more than $2 billion in public and private projects.

Sound familiar?

We talk a lot about Tulsa and Kansas City, but let's not underestimate Omaha.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:16 AM)
30 December 2005
Adventures in the Urban Zone

I take this Table for One business very seriously: I truly hate eating alone, and when I have to, which is 99-point-something percent of the time, I'll either grind something out in the kitchen or grab a sack at the drive-through. Neither of these circumstances gives me any credibility as a food critic. (If you have to ask someone where you should eat, ask Sean Gleeson.)

Then again, 99-point-something is not a hundred, and when Dan Lovejoy suggested "Let's do lunch," and was willing to let me pick the location, I got to weigh two criteria — "What's different?" and "What haven't I seen yet?" — and came up with the idea of Café do Brasil, which vacated its old spot in the Victoria Building (18th and Classen) some months back and has now resurfaced at 11th and Walker.

The atmosphere, as you might expect, is cheerily-controlled chaos; among the proffered soups du jour was the ineffable "Cream of Something," which I decided I might want to pass up. What I did get was the Plato Sao Paulo, which is a bed of rice and black beans about yea high, overlaid with strips of chicken breast, diced red onions and tomatoes. Simple but effective. Dan tried out one of the specialty pies. We traded stories of perfidy at work, and pronounced ourselves quite full when the check (less than $20) came.

Not quite on the way back home, I remembered something that I'd read about in one of Downtown OKC's Skyline Snapshots:

Located at NE 7th Street and Oklahoma Avenue this 2150 square foot urban loft residence lies amidst a definitively resurging area. With the convenience of downtown accessibility and the proximity to Automobile Alley, Deep Deuce and Bricktown, this modern designed home embodies urban living while capitalizing on the Oklahoma City skyline views. The clarity and openness of its plan, flexible spatial organization, balanced proportions and outdoor living spaces truly exemplify the client's desire for a dwelling/studio concept. The easily adaptable, functionally flexible home is site specific with directionally framed views always providing a connection to the outdoors.

Status: Designed by J3 Architecture, this private residence is currently under construction with completion expected in March 2006.

So I drove to 33 NE 7th to see what was up, and while evidence of that definitive resurging is presently conspicuous by its absence, I am prepared to assert that even in its unfinished state, this is one cool-looking house, and I am prepared to envy the client who is undoubtedly paying big bucks for it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:07 PM)
31 December 2005
Speaking of independent film

The Oklahoma City chapter of Amnesty International has put together a package of seven films which will be screened the weekend of 14/15 January at the Norick Downtown Library. No admission will be charged; AI hopes to attract some new members and do the classic awareness-raising thing.

Here's the schedule:

Saturday, 14 January:

Sunday, 15 January:

* Democratic Republic of Congo.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:25 AM)
It all starts here, so to speak

Since the Arts Council of Oklahoma City devised Opening Night back in 1987, the number of folks who show up at the city's biggest nighttime party has generally been increasing, a trend I attribute to global warming. (Hey, it's December out there, at least until midnight.) My rule of thumb for guesstimating the crowd has been: take the temperature at sunset, in degrees Fahrenheit, and multiply by a thousand. This year, therefore, we should have about 55,000 folks milling about downtown.

This rule, of course, collapses when the temperature is near zero: even if glaciers are advancing down Broadway, there will still be a hardcore of partiers at Opening Night. And there's one new variable this year: Mavericks vs. Hornets at the Ford Center, which starts an hour earlier than the usual 7 pm (actually, closer to 7:12) tipoff, so as to give roundball fans some extra time to hit the streets.

The Opening Night events begin at 7 pm, and one button for six bucks gets you into as many of them as the laws of physics allow.

Update, the morning after: The Oklahoman reports about 65,000 people showed up.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:43 AM)
3 January 2006
Challenging the Crosstown

Some of my mumblings from last spring:

I took a spin over to Union Station, 300 SW 7th, which isn't the easiest place to get to in this city. (Robinson south from downtown, then hang a right on 7th.) In the hands of the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority, the station is serving as, well, not much of anything these days. (Amtrak's Heartland Flyer stops at the old Santa Fe depot north of Reno on E. K. Gaylord.) Virtually all of the vintage rail infrastructure is still viable, were the city to pursue a light-rail transit system, although it's scheduled to be trashed once I-40's Crosstown route is rerouted literally through the old railyard. ODOT, of course, insists that "the integrity of [the station] will be maintained".

[Note: The first link in the above paragraph has been changed from the original post.]

Ground has been broken for the new road, but, as Zen master Yogi Berra might have said, it ain't over 'til it's over. I missed this last week — apparently it was in the Norman Transcript — but Doug Loudenback exhumed it for OKCTalk.com. Dig this:

A Washington, D.C., attorney, working on behalf of several central Oklahoma organizations, has filed a challenge to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation's Crosstown highway relocation project by objecting to the legality of BNSF Railway Company's line abandonment.

If the 2.95-mile stretch is permitted to remain abandoned, said Fritz Kahn, an attorney working on behalf of Common Cause Oklahoma, North American Transportation Institute and the Bio-Energy Wellness Center in Oklahoma City, construction would be allowed to proceed on a 10-lane Interstate 40 extension.

Backing organizations claim that to make way for the construction much of the infrastructure that would allow for the future development of a rail system would be destroyed, including a direct route to Will Rogers World Airport from Union Station in downtown Oklahoma City.

The NATI is Tom Elmore's group, which has been fighting this alignment of the Crosstown for years. I'm not even going to ask what the Bioenergy Wellness Center, which is a holistic-medicine/acupuncture place in the Asian District, is doing here.

The legal wrangling began Nov. 7, just days shy of the BNSF's approved abandonment date, when Kahn submitted a formal protest to the Surface Transportation Board. Though the line abandonment was approved in late November, Kahn has kept up his effort to fight the Surface Transportation Board's decision. Most recently, Kahn submitted documents to the board Dec. 23 detailing company names and situations he claims directly contradict BNSF's statements that the abandoned lines weren't used by local traffic.

"I came in on the 24th hour," Kahn said. "But what we were saying is that the notice to abandon the line should be vacated ab initio, because it contains false and misleading information."

John Bowman, project manager for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, said a main line and a spur will be allowed to remain at Union Station. Additionally, Bowman said, a Union Pacific rail line will be moved south of the station to allow for the installation of a second useable line in the event passenger rail activities return.

ODOT's argument has been that if we really want rail transit, well, we've got the Santa Fe station right downtown, though there is an abundance of neither track nor parking in the vicinity of the Santa Fe, and there'd still be the need to coordinate with Amtrak.

I'll say again what I said then:

I have my doubts that there ever will be a light-rail transit system in central Oklahoma, but I am quite sure that if there is, it will cost a lot more than it would had the Union Station railyard been left alone.

Which, of course, may be the whole idea: to make it too expensive to consider.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:16 AM)
4 January 2006
Decalcontented

Surlywood has one of those monitored alarm systems, with a phone connection, a battery backup, and a REALLY loud siren, which requires a permit from Oklahoma City ($20 initially, $5 a year thereafter). My annual permit expires at the end of December; on 26 November I sent my renewal application. (My bank reports that the city cashed my check on the 30th.)

The 2006 sticker has yet to arrive, so this morning I called the OCPD to see what was going on. Apparently the poor soul on the phone had been getting a number of these calls: as he tells it, they had outsourced production of the permit decals, and late last year they changed suppliers — and the new supplier is way, way behind. (I got the distinct impression that it wasn't the OCPD who wanted to change the contract.) In the meantime, he said, not to worry, and if by some fluke I'm written up for an expired permit, they'll take care of it.

I don't feel better, exactly, but at least I'm not alone in my plight.

Update, 5 January, 5 pm: The new decal has arrived.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:09 AM)
12 January 2006
ReGranding

Last spring, when I drove the entirety of Grand Boulevard, I noted that the pavement south of NE 36th Street was deteriorating, which could be taken as a euphemism.

The city has now decided to do something about it. From the Consent Docket from last week's City Council minutes:

Agreement with Oklahoma County Commissioners of Oklahoma County for Street Improvements PJ-OK-93, Grand Boulevard, NE 36th Street to NE 30th Street and NE 34th Street and Grand Boulevard to 510 feet east, January 3, 2006 through June 30, 2006.

This will be useful when they start seriously promoting this Adventure District business — the Oklahoma Railway Museum is right along this stretch — and it will make some of my drives home a little less stressful.

While we're discussing this area of town, I note with some sadness the closing of the Krispy King chicken joint on 23rd west of I-35. Popeye and the Colonel presumably are feasting on its bones.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:18 AM)
Let there be lights

OG&E, embarrassed by two much-publicized power outages in Bricktown, is taking steps to address the issue.

The first outage, on 17 December, lasted 3½ hours, and was traced to corrosion on a pole crossing arm near I-40. All such arms along this corridor have now been replaced.

The second, a two-hour blackout on 2 January, was blamed on a malfunctioning switch.

But the real problem, apparently, is that all of Bricktown is served by a single substation: when it goes, everything goes. The utility is planning to alter its grid to serve half of Bricktown from a substation on Classen west of downtown, and is contemplating the possibility of splitting the district into thirds, bringing in a substation from the Health Center area.

Capacity, said OG&E, is not the issue; it's a lack of backup.

Then again, after the first outage, they said that the issue was the failure of the Corporation Commission to grant the company the full amount of their most recent rate-hike request.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:33 AM)
17 January 2006
The royal flush

Today city crews will begin draining the Bricktown Canal and the Eastern Basin of the North Canadian Oklahoma River, a time chosen for minimum tourist impact. (If you're a minimum tourist, be happy that they're thinking of you.)

The bottom of the Canal will be cleaned of whatever debris and sludge has accumulated since the last scouring in 2004; it will take approximately two weeks. (Last time, says The Oklahoman, the stuff was six to twelve inches deep.)

The Basin work will take about a month and a half: a wall near Regatta Park will be rebuilt, and the Eastern Avenue Dam will get new debris traps.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:25 AM)
Dear Mr. Mayor

I think it's a swell idea that you're going to run for another term.

I think it's rather less swell that you're flirting with the idea of running for the 5th District Congressional seat 90 days after the election.

And a couple of your predecessors seem to agree.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:12 PM)
At the top of Midtown

City Council will advance $1.5 million from Supplemental CDBGs to support the renovation of the old Sieber Hotel at 12th and Hudson.

The two buildings, the hotel tower and the storefront, will be converted to approximately 38 rental units, with the first floor of the tower devoted to commercial space.

Cost of this project is just over $8 million; construction could begin by late February.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:58 PM)
19 January 2006
Dredge report

Some things I can understand them finding at the bottom of the Bricktown Canal: cell phones, sunglasses, car keys. I can even sort of imagine how the skateboard got there, and you can write your own story for the table and chairs from one of the nearby restaurants.

But a BMX bicycle? This has to be a Cruel Prank.

Oh, and there were a few fish, which have been transferred to Bass Pro Shops for the next 90 days. (The big ones will stay in Bass Pro's tank; the little ones, following classic sportsman protocol, will be thrown back.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:20 AM)
900 calories to open the door

Forty bucks gets you into this year's Chocolate Decadence on 9 February. It's a fundraiser for the historic Automobile Alley district, held in the Hudson-Essex building at 825 North Broadway, and all sorts of neat (and pricey) stuff will be auctioned off, but the drawing card is of course the chocolate, desserts from the city's finest eateries plus LIT's infamous Chocolate Martini.

I don't dare get within a mile of this event.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:36 AM)
20 January 2006
Slowly but surely

Arkansas-based Dillard's, Inc. has announced plans to close three of its department stores, including the Heritage Park Mall store in Midwest City, which will shut down in March.

No other Dillard's stores in central Oklahoma will be affected.

This announcement comes at a particularly critical time for the troubled mall's new California-based ownership, which has been seeking new tenants to fill its abundance of vacancies and is spending serious bucks on refurbishing the place.

I have to wonder if maybe the old-fashioned department store, as a concept, could be on its last legs, what with the rise of specialty retailers, online shopping, and that other Arkansas-based chain.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:23 AM)
26 January 2006
The Mayor likes his job

The Gazette reports that contrary to what you may have heard previously, Mick Cornett is not going to run for Congress.

Given the sheer number of Republicans who have expressed interest in the Fifth District seat being vacated by gubernatorial wannabe Ernest Istook, it wouldn't seem to make sense to add yet another one.

Candidates for Mayor of Oklahoma City must file by Tuesday.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:15 AM)
Life in the Big City

City Hall seems to be pleased with the results of a survey of resident satisfaction with city services, in which Oklahoma City was generally highly regarded by the respondents.

The condition of city streets, unsurprisingly, inspires the least satisfaction: 54 percent rated their reaction as "Dissatisfied" or "Very dissatisfied." Nothing else was even close. (Thirty-two percent viewed the condition of the public-transit system negatively.)

In an effort to get a better grip on individual sections of the city, I read the entire 164-page report, and a few things jumped out at me:

  • Fully 89 percent of the respondents had visited downtown Oklahoma City in the past year. Since only about a third had reported contact with city government, I have to assume that they didn't come downtown to pay their utility bills.

  • Compared with twenty other communities who took similar surveys, Oklahoma City comes off slightly better in most areas, though it's lagging in "overall image."

  • The most satisfied residents seem to be in the northern half of Canadian County; the least satisfied in the southern half of Canadian County and in the areas north and northeast of downtown.

  • Residents felt least safe in the areas bordering the Stockyards and just north of Moore. These areas also ranked lowest in satisfaction with police protection.

  • Except for the far southeast, residents were generally happy with trash pickup, less so with the curbside-recycling operation.

  • Most residents gave the city high marks as a place to raise children: notable exceptions were in near-southwest and southside areas.

The city has made the entire report available as a PDF file here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:29 AM)
27 January 2006
The Year of the Dog rolls over

After a successful run in Bricktown, Oklahoma City's celebration of Tet, the lunar new year, moves this year to the Plaza Conference Center, 4345 Lincoln Blvd., mostly because it holds about the same number of persons and will cost the sponsor — the Vietnamese-American Community of Oklahoma City — less money.

The official celebration is Saturday from 2 to 5:30, followed by a dance that evening; attendance in recent years has been generally around 3,000.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:21 AM)
Off the edge

His name was Nicandro Govea-Rodriguez, he was seventeen, and the week before Christmas he jumped off the overpass known as the "Fort Smith Junction", where I-35 and I-40 join together east of downtown for a mile or so.

Govea had been driving a van owned by a Texas construction firm working on the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Midwest City's northern edge; Maria Ruiz, a restaurant owner in Norman, offered to drive the lad's remains back to the other side of the Rio Grande.

The van, it was announced, had been stolen, but in Govea's personal effects an extra key was found, which suggested to Maria Ruiz that the company knew he was driving the van.

KTOK's Jerry Bohnen had some questions of his own:

Did the company know Nicandro Govea-Rodriguez was an illegal immigrant? Did it let him drive the van knowing he did not have a driver's license? Did it have other illegals on its payroll? Did it have worker's compensation insurance to pay for the boy's death if indeed he had permission to drive the van at the time of his death?

The Oklahoma Department of Labor has started asking some questions of its own. Deputy Commissioner Trey Davis:

If he was in any aspect on the job, whether driving to the job, or running an errand or otherwise in the scope of his employment, then my position would be that he would be covered by worker's comp and as such would be entitled or his family would be entitled to the death benefit.

And Congressman John Sullivan (R-OK), a critic of the Bush administration's immigration policies, adds that "There's no will to enforce any of these [immigration] laws."

A reader of this site wonders:

So, now I'm wondering, could there be ANY connection 'tween this story and the 18 loose illegals whose chase was responsible for the paralyzation of our local Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer (I DO hope people keep him in their thoughts!!)

I'm inclined to doubt it; while no one knows for certain how many people are here without documentation, I think it's a safe bet that there are too many of them to know each other personally.

Solutions? I wish. But the present approach to the matter of illegal immigration, which is basically "look the other way and hope nothing happens," doesn't seem to be working very well at all, and there's something deeply unsettling (not to mention incredibly expensive) about the idea of trying to build a wall between Us and Them, especially since the vast majority of Us seem to be descended from people who used to be Them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:45 PM)
28 January 2006
And they're out of here

As predicted here, the new management of Six Flags, Inc. will move its corporate headquarters to New York, and will sell off its Oklahoma City parks.

Frontier City and White Water Bay will complete their 2006 seasons before being put on the block; what happens after that is pretty much up to the buyers.

Update, 11:30 am: The question you really want answered is answered by new Six Flags CEO Mark Shapiro:

[Y]es, there will be room for Mr. Six, although he might find himself with a little more free time. Love him or hate him, Shapiro said the wacky octogenarian mascot helped raise awareness for the Six Flags brand.

Hold on a second. There were people who hated Mr. Six?

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 AM)
30 January 2006
Midtown defined

Last year the Midtown Redevelopment Corporation was willed into being, and I suspect that their first order of business was to answer the question "So where is Midtown, anyway?"

Their answer: 4th to 13th, Broadway to Classen, but pointedly not including Broadway itself, which is considered part of Automobile Alley, part of DowntownOKC's turf. This fills in the space south of Heritage Hills and Mesta Park nicely enough; it also overlaps (slightly) the Arts District, right around the Oklahoma City National Memorial. Inasmuch as no development is going to take place at the Memorial, I don't see this as being a major problem.

Following the DowntownOKC model, the Midtown folks have carved up their area into six districts, which I suppose I'd better learn.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:22 AM)
3 February 2006
The state of things

KGOU radio (106.3 in Norman, 105.7 in the city) will rebroadcast Mayor Cornett's State of the City address on Oklahoma Voices at 11 am Sunday. A transcript of the 18 January address is here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:06 AM)
4 February 2006
On the south side of the river

The former Downtown Airpark will be turned into a mixed-use urban development under the direction of Grant Humphreys, last seen starting up the Block 42 project east of downtown, which is going to look something like this.

Humphreys' Urban Form LLC bid $7.2 million for the bankrupt Airpark; they plan residential, retail, possibly lodging, an office or two, but, they emphasize, no casinos.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:10 AM)
Saturday spottings (on the march)

The Lakers game was sold out approximately nine minutes after tickets went on sale, or so the story goes, so I didn't have any compelling reason to go downtown today, but compulsion isn't everything, and I wanted to look over the old Downtown Airpark, which, as noted earlier, is about to be scraped away and replaced with one of those mixed-use developments you hear so much about in the trades.

Nominally at SW 16th and Western, the Airpark extends practically to the south bank of the North Canadian Oklahoma River; the OCPD uses the north end of it for a helicopter base, and now I'm wondering if they're going to move. Western on either side of this is fairly dreary, so new stuff this close to the river might well precipitate a general facelift for a half-mile or so in either direction.

Or maybe not. The march of progress goes ever on, but one of the things about marches, and God knows I did plenty of them in my day, is that you don't look down to see what's getting stepped on. Part of the old Riverside community, centered on SW 10th and Walker — the Community Center is just east of there, Little Flower Church just to the south — is being pretty well stomped by the coming of the New Interstate 40, which is, according to the maps, going to overlay SW 8th. What the maps don't tell you is how much of 8th isn't navigable anyway — railroad tracks slice through this part of town, and too many crossings cost too much money — or how much of the area has already been swept into oblivion. Blocks with one or two houses, sometimes no houses, lots of broken glass, the occasional abandoned appliance, stagnant water from a recent water-line repair: it's obviously not Katrina, but you're excused if you think it looks like it could have been one of her smaller siblings. "Every year," says Bob Waldrop, "Oklahoma City looks more and more like a Victor Hugo novel"; all this area lacks is a sewer big enough to chase someone through.

Then back north on Walker to the site of the much-delayed — ground was finally broken in late January — Legacy Summit at Arts Central apartments, nice enough but fairly undistinguished as urban residences go, which can serve as a reminder as spring and baseball season approach: Oklahoma City has hit quite a few home runs in recent years, but the conscientious stats guy will point out that there have been plenty of bunts, rather a lot of pop-ups to shallow right, and altogether too many foul balls.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:48 PM)
11 February 2006
On a wild Shatterday night

Try as I may, I can't seem to get my mind around this concept:

Ceramic corsets.

Then again, what would I know about either fashion or eroticism?

That said, Oklahoma City artist Nicole Moan, in whose oven these garments come to life, is one of only 60 designers (of around 5000 applicants) who will be featured in Swatch's Alternative Fashion Week 2006 next month in London. And of course, schlepping all this wear-ware to the UK costs money, so there's a traveling show/fundraiser called "See It Before London", which will culminate next weekend with a couple of shows: Saturday at Sober Grounds Coffee House (2808 NW 31st, just east of May), and Sunday at Café Nova (4308 N. Western).

If nothing else, this hammers a few more nails into the coffin of the Sleepy Town on the Prairie reputation this town has, um, enjoyed for the last 117 years, though I don't think it's enough to win over the likes of Charles Barkley.

(With thanks to Steven "Metro" Newlon.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 AM)
Hefner's house changes hands

The Oklahoma Heritage Association, which is moving to the former Mid-Continent Life building on Classen Drive, is selling their current digs to St. Luke's United Methodist Church.

Acquisition of the 1917 mansion at 201 NW 14th, once the home of Robert A. Hefner, will give St. Luke's the entire block, 14th to 15th, Robinson to Harvey. The church will use the upstairs ballroom for its new offices; downstairs will be used for weddings and community gatherings. The OHA has been offering tours ($5) of the mansion, which will presumably be eliminated when St. Luke's takes over, probably by the end of the year, so if you've ever wanted to see the place from the inside, you'll have to do it soon.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:41 AM)
13 February 2006
Ephemeral decor

Sculptor David Hayes, who specializes in abstract outdoor art suitable for public spaces, would like to place about forty of his works around Oklahoma City on a temporary basis.

The cost of the exhibition would be a smallish $112,000. Parks and Recreation says they can't afford it outright, but if sponsors step forward ... well, you get the idea.

Actually, this is consistent with city practice: they'll go for the really massive stuff like the Land Run Monument, but smaller things with lower perceived tourist value are often overlooked.

The local arts establishment, unsurprisingly, would like to see the Hayes project come off, and so would I. And perhaps oddly, its greatest effect might come on the day after it's removed — when we start contemplating what might fill in a space that we're no longer accustomed to seeing as empty, and we realize that we've given short shrift all these years to the purely aesthetic.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:57 AM)
16 February 2006
Tintinnabulationarily speaking

We're getting a bell tower along the North Canadian Oklahoma River near the I-35 bridge, courtesy of Kerr-McGee.

The 50-foot tower will play, probably through some electronic means (some of us are holding out for real bells, but that gets pricey), the classic Westminster Chime theme (E-C-D-G; G-D-E-C) on the hour, from 9 am to 9 pm daily.

The tower, designed to look like the mast of a ship, will cost about $80,000, most of which will be funded by KMG.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 AM)
A nod to Oklahoma's seafaring heritage

Jeffrey Loria, who owns the Florida Marlins and who used to own the Triple-A Oklahoma City 89ers, is shopping for a new location for his franchise, and Lieutenant Governor Mary Fallin reports that he's been thinking about coming back to Soonerland.

Says Fallin:

They are looking at several cities, but I think we are in the mix.... I thought, Why not Oklahoma City? We're filling the Ford Center for the Hornets and we ought to be able to convert that enthusiasm to welcome baseball, too.

Minor details:

  • We already had a facility worthy of the NBA. We don't have a ballpark suitable for MLB; the Brick is a wondrous place, as good as anything as you'll find in the minors, but it doesn't have anywhere near the capacity you'd want in a major-league park.

  • Is this town big enough to support two big-league teams? (And if you're thinking it is, what does this do to the argument that New Orleans, depleted as it is, can't handle both the NFL and the NBA?)

  • Jeff Loria almost makes George Shinn look saintly.

  • Does the phrase "too much too soon" mean anything anymore?

Fallin says she's going to be talking to the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and whatever interested parties happen by, in an effort to draw up a preliminary pitch.

(Obviously, if this does come off, the team will have to be renamed something a bit less, um, waterborne; suggestions are welcomed.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:46 PM)
20 February 2006
Fighting global warming

It's not generally known, but the Belle Isle Bridge on Oklahoma City's north side was originally designed as an environmental tool for use in the slowly-warming Arctic: once installed, it would trap ice particles and retain them as long as possible along its surface during the winter, thereby helping to keep the temperature down and the polar-bear habitat intact. When the Canadians refused to pick up their half of the development tab, the inventors abandoned the project and sold the prototype at a substantial discount to ODOT, which put it to use as a mundane transportation module.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:07 PM)
By night they make the bars

By day they don't make the cars (actually, trucks) anymore: General Motors Oklahoma City Assembly built its last Chevy TrailBlazer today.

Sounds like a good reason to go have a drink.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:09 PM)
25 February 2006
On the street where you live

I've never driven on Psycho Path in Traverse City, Michigan, but I have to admit, it is definitely a wacky street name.

Some of the ones I've encountered over the years:

  • Wasbee Range, Charleston, SC: A little cul-de-sac off Ashley Avenue south of Calhoun; legend has it that the streetlet was originally called Bee Range, but the name was changed after confusion with nowhere-nearby Bee Street.

  • East 38½ Street, Austin, TX: Exactly where you think it is, between 38th and 39th. Austin has quite a few "half" streets, but this is the only one which rates an exit off Interstate 35.

  • Edbillellis Road, North Charleston, SC: Presumably named for Ed and Bill Ellis.

  • Intersection of Antonio Parkway and Avenida de las Banderas, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA: I just like the idea of the corner of "Antonio" and "Banderas."

  • Triple XXX Road, Oklahoma City, OK: That's what the signs say, though everyone calls it "Triple X". It's a mile east of the Indian Meridian, which may or may not have something to do with its name. (Previously discussed here.)

  • Charles Hill Road, Orinda, CA: Not named for me. There's also a Circle. (I plan to snag photos on a future World Tour.)

A few other streets around town:

  • Federal Court: A cul-de-sac a couple blocks east of 5100 S. Sunnylane on Lunow Drive.

  • Rohan Road and Lorien Way: In the Rivendell subdivision between SW 119th and SW 134th east of May.

  • W. P. Bill Atkinson Quail Something-or-Other Parkway: Near 14700 N. Pennsylvania; the street sign gives up after the Q.

  • Buffalo Wallow Avenue: Off Highway 105, east of the Guthrie Golf and Country Club.

  • ITIO Boulevard: Acronym for "Indian Territory Illuminating Oil" Company, which started in 1901 in Osage country; owner H. V. Foster was the first to drill successfully in the Oklahoma City oil patch southeast of downtown. (The legendary Wild Mary Sudik was one of ITIO's wells.) ITIO eventually disappeared by merger into something called Cities Service, but that's another story.

  • Lois Lane: There are actually two of these, one a rural road off 15100 SW 59th, and another (designated East Lois Lane on my map) which sits between SE 29th and I-40 west of Post Road.

  • Abbey Road: Non-continuous residential street in The Village; once considered for my househunting. (Previously discussed here.)

And this will have to do for a Spottings for today; I'm sneezing so much I wouldn't be able to see through the windshield.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:39 PM)
2 March 2006
No surprise here

The SBC Bricktown Ballpark, following SBC's acquisition of AT&T and the assumption of its name, will be renamed the "AT&T Bricktown Ballpark" today.

Everybody, of course, will still call it The Brick.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:24 AM)
4 March 2006
Saturday spottings (the splits)

May Avenue, said local historian Roy Stewart thirty-odd years ago, "especially from Northwest Thirtieth on north, is a glaring neon alley," and while neon has become a specialty decoration instead of a standard sign component, the glare remains, from 30th to 130th and beyond — except at 8412.

The area north of the Wilshire twist and east of May, originally platted as "Nichols Hills Suburban" though it's not within Nichols Hills proper, was settled with smallish houses on medium-sized acreages (say, ¾ acre) from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. Most of them are still there, along Dorchester or Elmhurst or maybe Drakestone, but the homes fronting on May were removed years ago to make room for development.

Except, again, at 8412: the Farha house, owned for decades by interior designer Jan Farha, has remained on its tract all these years, surrounded by empty space, thwarting plans to develop the 8200 through 8500 blocks. But Farha is gone, and the property was sold off earlier this year; today the little 1937 house is cut in two and will apparently be moved somewhere else. (The Assessor's office has this photo on record; it presumably will be removed when the site is cleared and new construction completed.) I'll hate to see it go; there are relatively few green areas along May anywhere in the city, and I consider myself at least slightly blessed to live near one of them.

A little closer to home, The Original Fried Pie Place, on NW 50th west of Portland where 51st veers off at an angle, suffered a loss some months back when its sign split literally in two: the pole remains in place, but bent over, and the sign itself, now upside down and presumably not readable from the street, is now actually touching the ground. Yet the Place always seems to have customers, which suggests to me that perhaps they can afford to fix the sign, but it's drawing so much attention in its damaged state that they've reasoned, "Why bother?"

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:09 PM)
7 March 2006
Filling the middle of the horseshoe

Oklahoma City elects a Mayor today, and it's widely expected that the winner will be incumbent Mick Cornett.

Still, that's no reason to stay home. If you're backing Bob Waldrop or Joe Nelson, you need to be there for him. And if you're happy with Cornett, you need to tell him so.

This is technically a primary election: if no one receives a majority, the top two will face a runoff on the fourth of April.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:21 AM)
9 March 2006
Wanna buy a mall?

There's a distinct air of bogosity to this eBay auction.

Still, that's a sort-of-plausible price tag, and, well, somebody ought to do something with it — though the lister should have noted the upcoming departure of Dillard's.

Update, 10 March: Ja'Rena Lunsford of The Oklahoman checks it out, and it's legit, although what's for sale isn't the entire mall itself, but the north wing of it, which used to be a Montgomery Ward store. (The anchor positions — Wards, Dillard's, Sears — are owned separately from the rest of the mall.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:08 PM)
10 March 2006
Of bottlenecks and goosenecks

I tend to be impatient with other drivers, not because I'm in such a hurry myself, but because if the number of them is great enough, it is inevitable that among their number will be a member of the Anti-Destination League, waiting for the exact moment to cause brake lights to flash for miles at a time.

I was northbound on I-35 around NE 36th when the 60-mph traffic, which hitherto had been doing an actual 60 mph, abruptly dropped to about half that. No obstructions anywhere: just a League member, discovering he was in the wrong lane, and remembering that having a Plan B at times like this would get him drummed out of the ranks. (I couldn't tell if the miscreant was from around here or not; if he was, he had even less excuse.)

About 100 feet west of the Classen Circle, I was inclined to be a great deal more forgiving. The problem this time? Geese. A couple of dozen of them across three lanes, three more in the median, migrating north on foot. (This was right in front of Horn Seed Company, so maybe they were looking for dinner.) I don't know if these are the same geese which occasionally hang around Temple B'nai Israel, about a mile to the west, but I knew that if they were, it was pointless to try to distract them; I've tangled with them before, and they will not be moved. One woman actually got out of her car and stared, her face screwed into the very incarnation of "WTF?" I think she suspected, though, that she and her car were no match for twenty-odd birds with both size and attitude.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:35 PM)
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.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:06 PM)
12 March 2006
Get out of jail, not quite free

I've never had occasion to avail myself of their services, but it occurs to me that a bail-bond operation, to be successful, must be memorable: when you're likely to need them, your mind is probably on, um, other things, and research is not high on your list of priorities.

This is no doubt why Ken Boyer has all those vintage cars parked around town. One outfit that advertises on TV occasionally is 2 Blondes Bail Bonds (not to be confused with 4 Non Blondes), though I'm not entirely sure why lightness of hair is an advantage in this business. A firm with a small but eyecatching Yellow Pages ad is A-Bomb Bail Bonds, whose slogan is "We'll Blast You Out!" Then there's Nutt Bail Bonds: "We've Got the Nutts to Get You Out!"

Still, if your greatest need is for a number for that One Phone Call, perhaps the coolest of the bunch is Mickey Bail Bonds, which can be reached toll-free at 877-IBN-JAIL.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:55 AM)
13 March 2006
We never metaphor we didn't like

This Weetabix description of the City of the Big Shoulder Pads got me musing:

While San Francisco is a lithe, slightly aging woman sipping tepid green tea while looking out across the hills, Chicago is a plump grandmother of twelve singing in a Gospel choir before going home to cook up a nice plate of ribs. Or maybe Chicago is a beefy guy who smells a bit like sauerkraut and a bit like cigar smoke who wants to know how you like your dog. Chicago is a tough old broad, with visible roots and a harsh voice but she means well, really she does.

Chicago, of course, has had time to build up this kind of mythos, and enough people over the years to pass it on.

Is there a comparable description for Oklahoma City? Maybe. I see this town as a farm girl, used to fresh country air, at least when she's upwind from the livestock, used to simple, uncomplicated fare for dinner, suddenly faced with the task of picking out a prom dress and not having the slightest idea how she's supposed to look in it. You can tell her that her hair is pretty, that she can afford to take an inch or two off that hemline, and she might even say she agrees with you, but you can hear the butterflies doing barre exercises in her mid-section, almost loud enough to drown out her voice.

And yet when she finally puts it on, fills it out, makes it work, you know someone's going to fall for her — hard — and you just hope it's someone worthy of her.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 AM)
15 March 2006
Fiscal fitness

Standard & Poor's has upgraded Oklahoma City's bond rating to AA+, the second-highest rating on the S&P scale, a testimonial, they said, to a "diverse, expanding regional economic base that serves as the state's economic engine." With this better credit rating, the city will presumably enjoy lower interest rates on future bond issues.

The S&P analysts pointed to conservative financial management, low debt levels, and a "manageable" capital-improvement program.

The city's property-tax base (although technically the counties levy the actual tax) has grown 28 percent in five years, to $29.16 billion.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:11 AM)
17 March 2006
The Gleeson report

KFOR-TV sent a News Babe to talk to Sean and Phoebe Gleeson, and in the absence of any fresh Brad-and-Angelina updates, it rated a couple of minutes during the 10-pm newscast.

The unsatisfying thing about all this, of course, is that we'll probably never know for sure who turned in the bogus child-neglect report: DHS, said the reporter, doesn't have the resources to chase down bearers of false witness, and, well, we're not privy to the Last Judgment, except for our own.

On the upside, the Gleesons (all seven of them, though the younger ones got no spoken lines) came off as a traditional Big Happy Family, the sort that makes certain individuals (they know who they are) mumble to themselves about how glad they are that they didn't reproduce, a sentiment I am inclined to share.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:21 PM)
18 March 2006
Saturday spottings (in transition)

The rainfall today has just about equaled the rainfall from the preceding seventy-six days, which made for some interesting displays by the side of the road, what with the inability of the drainage system to keep up; southbound below Britton and May, water was six to eight inches deep in spots, and the usual 35-45 mph speed in the right lane generated sprays high enough to reach over the top of an Escalade.

The weather some weeks back caused some damage to Beverly's Pancake Corner at Northwest Distressway and Penn; the wind came through and ripped away the puffed-fabric-look awning across the top of the building. It's now been replaced, with a suitably anachronistic representation of Beverly's legendary Chicken in the Rough logo, just what this most ancient of area eateries — about a half-century old, it's the last survivor of the Beverly's chain, which dates to 1921 — ought to have.

No longer surviving, however, is the pastel-colored building at the southeast corner of May and Grand that sat empty for many years, which will be remembered by old-timers as the Girlie Pancake House ("They're Stacked Better"). Today the lot is just a sea of mud.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:42 PM)
28 March 2006
Hang a right on G. W. Patrick

The new Crosstown Expressway alignment will run about where SW 8th Street runs now, and one likely effect will be an expansion of the Central Business District southward, filling in the area between Reno and the new freeway that isn't already being used for downtown parking.

I'm thinking that when this happens, some of the numbered streets will give up their numbers for actual names, the way NW 2nd and 3rd mutated into Robert S. Kerr and Dean A. McGee.

But whose names? If it were up to you to rename, say, SW 2nd, whose name would you want on that sign?

To explain the title: Two communities were settled on the day of the Land Run, on opposite sides of Clarke Street (now Sheridan); the prime mover on the south side of the street, and the first mayor of the short-lived town of South Oklahoma, which extended south to the North Canadian River, was G. W. Patrick, who served about three weeks before the constant turmoil in the little community drove him to resign. In July 1890, South Oklahoma was annexed by its neighbor to the north. I don't think there's any chance that Mr Patrick will be remembered on a street sign, but what the heck.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 AM)
4 April 2006
Rate hikes in the pipeline

Oklahoma City's water rates have been rising at 3 percent a year; City Council is pushing it to 3.75 percent for the next four years.

Over the four-year period, the expected revenue increase would be just under $17 million; the city says that it's needed to keep pace with repairs and upgrades to the city's water system.

The current rate structure is here. It is not clear whether sewer rates will be increased commensurately; city trash service (which, on my bill at least, costs more than water and sewer) is not affected.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:10 AM)
8 April 2006
Hounded out of downtown

According to this thread at OKCTalk.com, Gardner Tanenbaum Group will attempt to buy the Union Bus Station at Sheridan and Walker. The plan is to build a new bus depot elsewhere and convert the existing 1941 building to retail or restaurant use.

The kicker here, of course, is "elsewhere." At the very least, I'd think an intercity bus facility ought to be located near local transit, which effectively means MetroTransit's Downtown Transit Center, on NW 5th between Walker and Hudson. Off the top of my head, I can't think of a location close by that would fit the requirements for a bus station. And if they move it south, to the Phantom Zone between the old and new I-40 alignments, it will be even farther away.

Maybe they're going to put Union Station to work as a bus terminal, since they can't bring themselves to use it for rail, as God and the Santa Fe intended.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:09 PM)
17 April 2006
Formerly the sticks

Judy Gibbs has a piece in The Oklahoman today about the steep growth curve in and around Piedmont, a municipality west of Edmond and north of Yukon. A resident is quoted as saying that yes, the 40-minute commute to downtown Oklahoma City is a drawback, but otherwise, everything is wonderful.

For the first half of the decade, Piedmont was the fastest-growing community in the state, says the Bureau of the Census. I've been saying all along that growth in the Oklahoma City metro is right in the middle and around the edges, but not much in between, and this fits the pattern.

Opponents of urban sprawl no doubt are appalled by this sort of thing, and point fingers at American practices that seem to encourage it. Yet sprawl exists worldwide; London has been expanding outward for centuries. Witold Rybczynski writes:

Sprawl is and always has been inherent to urbanization. It is driven less by the regulations of legislators, the actions of developers, and the theories of city planners, than by the decisions of millions of individuals — Adam Smith's "invisible hand." This makes altering it very complicated, indeed.

Especially since "altering it" would involve having to explain to happy Piedmont residents why they should give up what they consider a slice of the good life for the sake of [fill in name of dubious collectivist goal].

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:05 AM)
19 April 2006
A moment of silence

Like the tree, we say nothing, but we bear witness.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:02 AM)
A kinder, gentler siege

Simple: you stake out an empty house.

And think of the ammo you'll save.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:00 AM)
22 April 2006
Not exactly just up the street

"The Grand Manor," they're calling it this year, this year being the thirty-third in which the Oklahoma City Orchestra League is presenting a Designers Show House. The 2006 edition, like many of its predecessors, is in Nichols Hills; you'll find it at 1504 Huntington Avenue, east of Pennsylvania, overlooking Kite Park.

The house was built in 1935 and expanded over the years from about 4500 to (per the County Assessor) 10,775 square feet. (I mention this latter figure, partly because it's astounding, but also because my entire wedge of land is just over 11,000 square feet. Then again, the Show House, unlike my yard, is two stories.)

The Show House opens next Monday. I enjoy stuff like this because (1) occasionally I can pilfer a decorating idea, since I am apparently unable to come up with any on my own, and (2) I get to give thanks that I don't have to clean all of it. Besides, proceeds (admission is $15, $12 in advance) benefit the Orchestra League and ultimately the Philharmonic, which can always use the bucks.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:20 AM)
Saturday spottings (shiny)

Gloria Berkey has died.

You remember Gloria. She and her husband Jim operated the Trust House Jewelers, first in French Market Mall, later at Wilshire and May. For thirty-five years Jim and Gloria ran the store, and during most of that time they did their own TV spots, always formulaic, always ignored, and obviously not forgotten. Mitchener & Farrand, the store which now occupies the old Trust House space at 2844 West Wilshire, was thoughtful enough to remember Gloria on their sign today.

Farther south, the old KFC just north of 50th, near the Quasi-Super Target, is being redeveloped into something else, though what that something else might be is unclear just now.

Meanwhile, construction on the new Laredo's at Belle Isle reportedly has ground to a halt:

According to a subcontractor of VanHoose Construction, the owner lost a good portion of his backing and was unable to meet his obligation to the general contractor on the job.

The jobsite has been fenced off and construction has ceased.

After the general contractor files suit on the owner, what will most likely follow is foreclosure at which point the property will be up for grabs.

Possible explanation here.

Finally, I met up with Michael Bates today. He was in town for some Republican meetup, and he informed me that Tom Daxon will be taking over the chair of the state GOP, replacing Gary Jones. (Jones, says Bates, may run for State Auditor, a position Daxon held from 1979 to 1983.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:26 PM)
25 April 2006
Art, for Pete's sake

And Pete, along with 750,000 or so other folks, will be turning up at the Festival of the Arts, which opens today in downtown Oklahoma City and runs through Sunday.

The formula is familiar: 150 or so artists and their wares, a couple of hundred stage acts, and way too much food. But it's always fun, even when the weather is threatening, and the price of admission is right: zip. (Parking, of course, is another matter.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
28 April 2006
Being retired, as it were

Rumors are flying that Bridgestone/Firestone is about to announce the closing of the Dayton Tire plant on Oklahoma City's southwest side.

And apparently bling is a factor: the trend to bigger, bigger, farging humongous wheels is presumably working against Dayton, which builds no tire larger than 15 inches at this facility.

Dayton workers are represented by the United Steelworkers; their current contract, which was approved last June after two years on a day-to-day basis, expires this summer. The plant employs about 2000.

3:30 pm: Governor Henry says it's likely, but not absolutely graven in stone. [Video clip, preceded by brief ad.]

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:58 PM)
29 April 2006
Tearing down the Hellmouth

Once upon a time (let's say 1910) there was an Episcopal church near Belle Isle. After a few years, it was literally picked up and wheeled down Classen to just north of 30th Street. (Maybe "wheeled" isn't the right word; it was actually placed on logs, and rolled as they rolled.)

Half a century passed. The congregation made plans for a new building, a couple of miles to the west. Legend has it that a member of the church's clerical staff hanged himself in the sanctuary.

In the 1970s, the building became a theme restaurant; given its Gothic architecture, you can well imagine the theme. Eventually it mutated into a nightclub with otherworldly names like Infinity and Babylon. Finally, as Club Purgatory, it was turned into a death-metal (of course) venue, allegedly owned by a madman. Needless to say, it's believed to be haunted.

Ward 2 Councilman Sam Bowman never has been particularly fond of this building. "The place has been an on-and-off nightclub — and nightmare — for years," he said to the Mid-City Advocate.

And now the bulldozers are coming. Eventually there will be a little strip of small shops presumably more suitable for the city's Asian District. As of this writing, there has been no indication of a Demon Alert.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:28 PM)
30 April 2006
Number 33

Something in Steve Lackmeyer's Oklahoman piece on downtown residency today struck a chord around here, and after poking around the archives for thirty or forty seconds I turned up this, which contained a quote from Downtown OKC's Skyline Snapshot:

Located at NE 7th Street and Oklahoma Avenue this 2150 square foot urban loft residence lies amidst a definitively resurging area. With the convenience of downtown accessibility and the proximity to Automobile Alley, Deep Deuce and Bricktown, this modern designed home embodies urban living while capitalizing on the Oklahoma City skyline views. The clarity and openness of its plan, flexible spatial organization, balanced proportions and outdoor living spaces truly exemplify the client's desire for a dwelling/studio concept. The easily adaptable, functionally flexible home is site specific with directionally framed views always providing a connection to the outdoors.

Status: Designed by J3 Architecture, this private residence is currently under construction with completion expected in March 2006.

March has come and gone, and more or less so has April, but here's the situation, as described by Lackmeyer:

Designer David Wanzer found their spot at NE 7 and Oklahoma, a stretch of mostly vacant properties that was the Maywood neighborhood until it was cleared for construction of the Centennial Expressway. The lot was filled with brush and debris. Mosquitoes buzzed around abandoned tires.

The couple bought the lot just in time. As they closed on their property, Anthony McDermid, Bert Belanger and Pat Garrett were announcing they had bought and assembled dozens of nearby lots for development of a mixed-use town center.

The Blankenships paid about $3 a square foot for their lot, not cheap but less than the $15 to $20 a square foot now asked for land across the street.

The home, with its modern design, is still under construction, and the couple routinely entertain inquiries from passersby who want to know more about what they're looking at.

"They can't believe it's a house," Becky Blankenship said. "Others get excited, because they've seen this style done elsewhere, but not here."

At the time, which was around the end of December, I said this:

So I drove to 33 NE 7th to see what was up, and while evidence of that definitive resurging is presently conspicuous by its absence, I am prepared to assert that even in its unfinished state, this is one cool-looking house, and I am prepared to envy the client who is undoubtedly paying big bucks for it.

In a good way, of course. And the current Skyline Snapshot predicts a May completion.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:11 AM)
4 May 2006
Downright pesticidal

Yesterday, on the 16th floor of the City Place building downtown, a bottle of malathion was upended and crashed to the floor; the building was evacuated and 14 people were sent to the hospital.

This is fairly nasty stuff: I've had some squirted in my general direction (note: this is not the reason I am no longer married), and it was not an experience I would particularly care to repeat.

On the upside, the likelihood of a Mediterranean fruit fly infestation at the corner of Robinson and Park is now virtually nil.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:01 AM)
5 May 2006
It's as easy as 73125

The Board of Governors has given its blessing, so it's official: the US Postal Service will build a new sort-of-central processing facility in the Reno/Meridian corridor and close its 40-year-old bunkeroid building at 320 SW 5th.

The new complex, over 800,000 square feet, is more than triple the size of the old one. The move is expected to take place in late 2008, or about the time serious redevelopment will be going on between the old and new Interstate 40 alignments, suggesting that the Postal Service, assuming it doesn't find another federal tenant, will have no trouble selling off the downtown property.

Where the downtown Post Office (not to be confused with the Downtown Post Office, west of the Memorial, or the Old Downtown Post Office, lately the Bankruptcy Court) fits into the city's plans for the redevelopment south of downtown remains to be seen, but I think it's a safe bet that it just won't sit there.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:18 AM)
6 May 2006
It's another franchise election

If you're thinking "Didn't we just have one of these?" the answer is yes, we did, but that was for Oklahoma Natural Gas.

Now it's OG&E's turn. Tuesday Oklahoma City voters will pass judgment on a slightly-revised version of the 2001 franchise agreement, which will extend until 2031. There are a few interesting items on the table:

  • In 2001, there was some concern about deregulation of electricity and how far it would progress; the parties agreed to a five-year term at that time. Apparently deregulation isn't happening at the speeds anticipated, so it was deemed safe to go for a 25-year term — provided deregulation doesn't kick in, in which case the whole agreement is up for renegotiation.

  • Right now the city gets a credit from OG&E which is applied to the cost of powering city buildings. The new agreement permits that credit to be applied also to street lighting. The city says it expects to save about $1.2 million a year as a result.

  • OG&E will not be allowed to use any of its franchised rights-of-way for data services unless they're also being used for standard electrical service. (Meaning, I assume, they will be permitted to offer BPL services, but only to existing customers.)

Turnout for these things, of course, is woefully low.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:43 AM)
Who are these guys?

All we know is that they're from California and that they paid $21 million cash for the First National Center in downtown Oklahoma City.

Tim Strange of Sperry Van Ness, who handled the deal, says it "came together, from inception to closing, in 48 hours," which suggests that the Californians were really smitten with the place.

The original First National Bank building at 120 North Robinson was completed in 1931; the complex expanded toward Park Avenue in 1956 with the first of two add-on towers. (The second was built in 1974.)

While the Center hasn't exactly fallen into desuetude, it's only about one-third occupied; First National Bank itself failed in the 1980s, and today there is no banking in the fabled Great Banking Hall.

Downtown watchers are somewhere between guarded and giddy right about now.

Update, 8 May: These guys have been identified.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:28 AM)
8 May 2006
Go this way and that way

If you don't go downtown a lot, you never quite get the hang of the seemingly-random placing of one-way streets. Of course, it's not really random, but it's not particularly intuitive either.

Public Works Director Dennis Clowers, asked about this, offered up some good news: half of the one-way streets downtown will be converted back to two-way over the next five years. The only remaining one-way streets downtown will fall between NW 6 and SW 3, from Walker eastward.

Clowers made his recommendations to City Council last Tuesday; the city, I assume, will eventually put out a map of the proposed changes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:09 AM)
10 May 2006
On the ropes but not down yet

KFOR-TV news guy Brad Edwards, famous for his "In Your Corner" segments, now finds himself backed into a corner of his own. Monday he did a broadcast from his hospital bed; Tuesday he suffered an aneurysm and lapsed into a coma.

The culprits: endocarditis and vasculitis, inflammation of the heart and blood vessels by a bacterial infection.

KFOR has set up a forum for Edwards fans and well-wishers.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:22 AM)
12 May 2006
Replacing the Mick

With Mick Cornett now officially running for Congress, the logical question — apart from "What, is he nuts?" — is "So where's the next Mayor?"

It's hard to imagine any of the eight current Council members moving to the middle of the horseshoe, though if it came down to that, I think I could live with Sam Bowman from Ward 2, or maybe Patrick Ryan from Ward 8. (Disclosure: I live in Ward 2.)

Although if I had my druthers, I'd like to see Jim Tolbert, who ran against Cornett in 2004 after Kirk Humphreys took off in search of a Senate seat, try it again.

And a note to Persons Concerned: This is a non-partisan choice. Try to keep it that way this time, wouldja please?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 AM)
13 May 2006
Saturday spottings (sorta random)

The first bit of signage is up for American Indian Boulevard, at the exit from eastbound I-40. The new name, of course, is intended to bring some added attention to the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, which obviously won't be ready in time for the 2007 state centennial but which is going to be fairly spectacular when it does get done.

The Boulevard extends past the Center site all the way to SE 15th, which presumably will make things interesting for Eastern Avenue Video and Novelties (1109 A.I. Blvd.), which dates back to the days (that is, before Thursday) when this was still Eastern Avenue. Eastern north of I-40, you'll remember, has long since been renamed for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; the only stretches still officially identified as Eastern are north of Wilshire and south of SE 15th. I'm waiting to see which street in the city is ultimately renamed for Cesar Chavez.

Speaking of streets, the city's Pothole Posse has yet to find the monstrous semi-sinkhole I managed to miss today, in the middle of the intersection of Oklahoma Avenue and NE 26th. A couple of feet in diameter, easy.

The remains of Harper's Sinclair at 63rd and May have unceremoniously been hauled away; no indication as to what may replace it on this hugely-busy corner.

About a mile to the south, the former KFC between 50th and the Almost (But Not Quite) Super Target store is apparently being reworked into another chicken place — this time, a Popeye's. Inasmuch as this is barely half a mile from home, I could be in serious trouble.

There's a Bricktown Auto Center with a three-car showroom, including, for the moment, a classic mid-50s Chevrolet. Where in Bricktown is this? The answer is "Not"; it's actually on Broadway north of Automobile Alley, more testimony to the apparently infinite extensibility of Bricktown as a brand.

And a note to the lovely lady in the Infiniti who followed me through downtown and up Broadway: I know you weren't actually following me, of course. (Then again, when we both turned right on 23rd — but never mind. I'm just being silly.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:03 PM)
15 May 2006
In the Lord's corner

KFOR-TV newsman and "In Your Corner" host Brad Edwards, in a coma since last Tuesday, died this morning.

Edwards filed his last report from his hospital room the preceding Monday night. He had worked for Channel 4 for thirty-three years after serving in the Air Force as a military broadcaster in Southeast Asia; he was one of the last staff members who had worked for the station when it was WKY-TV and owned by the Oklahoma Publishing Company. (OPUBCO sold the station in 1975; the new owners took over in January 1976 and took on the call letters KTVY.)

(Previous coverage here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:32 PM)
23 May 2006
Where there is no fast lane

The Oklahoman reports that improvements to the Pennsylvania/Memorial intersection will cost around $1.5 million.

This is about $2.80 per city resident, which isn't an enormous sum, especially considering the city's budget of $750 million, but I'd happily pay $2.80, maybe even $280, never to have to go through there again.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:34 PM)
The limits of design

There's been a lot of second-guessing around town since an eighteen-wheeler jumped into the median and through the cable barrier on the Lake Hefner Parkway today. The truck hit an oncoming car, killing the driver of that car; a second car crashed into the truck.

The question for some is whether the cable barrier, manufactured by Brifen and discussed here, is inadequate to the task. I don't think it is. Granted, it didn't hold back the truck; on the other hand, had the truck met the usual concrete Jersey barrier, it likely would have bounced back into its lane and hit more cars. ODOT's Faria Emamian noted that the cables have taken some 400 hits since their installation in 2001, with no secondary collisions from bounceback; in the three years before the cables were put in, there were six crossover fatalities on the Hefner.

Short of filling up seven miles of median with foam, I really don't see what could have been done to ameliorate matters.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:32 PM)
27 May 2006
Saturday spottings (with dozers)

From this very department, December 2004:

Rumors that [Bradford] Commons would be sold have persisted, and KGOU radio reported this week that the University of Oklahoma, one rumored buyer, isn't interested. I haven't heard that the Commons are going to be Cabrini-Greened out of existence, but at this point, I wouldn't be surprised to see bulldozers heading down 8th Street.

They've been there, and for the most part, they've done that. About two-thirds of the ill-fated apartment complex has been razed in anticipation of expansion by the Presbyterian Health Foundation, which up to now has stayed on the west side of Lincoln. When I lived out northeast and worked downtown, I passed by this place pretty much every day, and I never quite imagined it gone; then again, by all accounts it had become a hellhole in recent years, and, well, you know how people feel about hellholes.

Another known but somehow still unexpected vacancy was at 10th and Martin Luther King, this big empty space where Douglass High School used to be. Of course, the new Douglass is just to the south, and eventually this space will be filled by new athletic facilities, but it's still jarring if you haven't been by there lately, which I haven't.

33 NE 7th St (artist's conception)After all this destruction, I was in the mood for some construction, so I made a point of checking, one more time, the new ultra-modern Blankenship residence going in at 7th and Oklahoma, which is just about complete. I still think it's incredibly cool, and I hope that it inspires others in town to build similarly nifty houses, if only because our really different-looking buildings (the Golden Dome, Stage Center, and such) tend to be public institutions rather than private homes, and had I a whole lot more money than I do, I'd like to live in something that doesn't look like anything else. (This picture is an artist's conception, snatched from Downtown OKC's Skyline Snapshot and cropped ever so slightly.) Not that I'm unhappy with where I am, which is one of the more charmingly eccentric single-story houses in town, but there's a lot to be said for going beyond charmingly eccentric to outright weird, especially if it's done well. (God forbid I should ever hire a decorator; she will wash her hands of me within mere minutes.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:50 PM)
28 May 2006
Darth Mall

You have to figure that when street gangs take over a shopping mall, that's it for the actual shoppers: they won't get near the place. No doubt this is why Sheriff John Whetsel has declined to fix the blame for yesterday's shooting at Crossroads on gang involvement.

Meanwhile, Wild Bill watches the video footage so you don't have to. One witness interviewed on camera:

I hear a shot pop off and next thing I know I see two comin around the corner. One got shot here in the shoulder from the back and he ended up layin inside the Garfield's entrance and then another one comes around the corner and he gets dropped in the back of the head. There's been animosity between them all day. It was either the Southside Locos and the Jaritos or the Centrals.

Then there's this:

Oklahoma City Police are well aware of how bad the conditions are at Crossroads. One of my instructors at school who is an officer with the Santa Fe Division told us in class that it was only a matter of time before a shooting happened at Crossroads. He said he could go in there at any given time and identify groups of gang members. On a couple of occasions, he has gone in there for lunch and could see the tension between the rival gangs. He also stated that the police have contacted the management and they act as if the police are over reacting and it is not a problem.

Crossroads has four anchor slots, three of which are filled with actual anchor stores. (A casual-clothing outlet doth not an anchor make.) With JCPenney reportedly planning a new store in Midwest City, the Crossroads location may become expendable; Macy's, which is inheriting the local Foley's stores, might also reconsider whether it needs this one. (Dillard's just closed Heritage Park and presumably is not in a mood to shut down more stores right away.) Add to this the trend away from enclosed malls in general, and you can start counting the days until this big box empties out for good.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:09 AM)
1 June 2006
Drinking out of the Tidal Basin again

Wonkette, reporting on the assault on an aide to Senator Jim Inhofe outside the Bricktown Ballpark:

If you name your nightlife district "Bricktown," you're just asking for shit like this to happen.

Now that's hitting below the Beltway.

I did like their article title, even though it will prevent me from using it myself: "Welcome to the OKC, bitch."

Then again, maybe it won't.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:23 PM)
3 June 2006
Saturday spottings (spirit of 66)

Route 66 Park entrance signThe City says that the new Route 66 Park is "Oklahoma City's newest recreational hot spot", and while it was certainly warm there today, the crowds were conspicuous by their absence. Perhaps they got lost on the way; the park's address — 9901 NW 23rd Street — is fairly simple, but you can't just head west on 23rd until you get to 9901: once you get past the 8600s you're in the middle of Lake Overholser. So you either come down Sara Road and turn back east, or you thread your way around the lake itself. I chose the latter, mainly because it gave me an excuse to cross the old 66 bridge north of the lake, which is now down to a 9-ton vehicle limit.

Route 66 Park observation towerViewed as a work in progress, though, Route 66 Park is seriously spiffy. There's a three-story observation tower, which unfortunately was locked when I got there; it's named for Cyrus Avery, acknowledged today as the Father of Route 66. On the plaza west of the tower is a "stamped map" — call it a horizontal mural — which depicts the path of the Mother Road from Chicago to the Pacific; Oklahoma, geographically and stylistically, is right in the middle. The park also boasts what the city says is its largest playground, which wasn't getting any noticeable use today, though cyclists were out and about all around. No fishing in the ponds yet: they have yet to be fully stocked. (There was plenty of fishing going on around the lake, but a marked absence of boaters; Overholser, in this regard, is the anti-Hefner.)

Elsewhere, I saw something I'd never seen before: a garage sale in Nichols Hills. It looked pretty much like any other garage sale, except that it seemed to be much, much bigger. And there was one sort-of-ingenious aspect to it: for signage, they'd hijacked a couple of political signs, stapling their sale notice right over the candidate's name. I think this qualifies as a mixed blessing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 PM)
6 June 2006
Down in the tubes

The City is asking for bids for the renovation of the pedestrian tunnels beneath downtown, and has issued bonds to cover the expense.

The estimated cost, says City Manager Jim Couch, is $1,627,179. [Link requires Adobe Reader.] The renovation will include new carpet, wall paint, lighting, portals, panels, signage, sound system, and upgrades of the electrical and HVAC systems. Also planned: sixteen above-ground kiosks.

Bids will be opened on the 27th of June. DowntownOKC's Dave Lopez is predicting completion by February 2007.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:32 PM)
16 June 2006
Thinning the flophouse herd

Greg Banta, lately the go-to guy for anything you need done in MidTown, last seen refurbishing the Plaza Court at the 10th and Walker roundabout, has now turned his attentions a few blocks eastward, buying up the Marion and Cline Hotels along 10th, both of which need considerable freshening to get to the "eyesore" stage.

Banta hasn't announced formal plans for the two buildings yet: the first order of business is to get at the interiors and see what, if anything, is worth keeping from these almost 100-year-old structures. One of the city's ongoing projects calls for turning 10th into a "medical corridor" with St Anthony's at one end and the Oklahoma Health Center at the other, and restoring buildings in between is a high priority with the city, so I expect Banta's efforts will be blessed by the Urban Design Commission without a great deal of fuss.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:42 AM)
17 June 2006
No, let's go this way

As previously reported, the city is changing some one-way streets downtown back to two-way. City Council next Tuesday is expected to approve the first batch of proposed changes, which include:

  • Robinson, 6th to 13th
  • Harvey, 6th to 13th
  • Hudson, 6th to 13th
  • 5th, Western to Walker
  • 6th, Western to Oklahoma

Note that 5th east of the Memorial will not be affected. No completion date has been set; however, funding ($1.4 million) is in place.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:28 PM)
Ride the mild surf

The Zeitgeist and I grow ever farther apart; I actually had to go look up what "wakeboarding" is.

That said, we're getting some of it next month: it's the First Annual (okay, a trifle presumptuous, but let's be optimistic here) Oklahoma River Wakeboard Series, starting 7 July on The River Formerly Known as the North Canadian.

For some reason, "New York's a Lonely Town" comes to mind:

My folks moved to New York from California
I should have listened when my buddy said "I warn ya" (warn ya)
"There'll be no surfin' there and no one even cares"
(My woody's outside) covered with snow
(Nowhere to go now)
New York's a lonely town
When you're the only surfer boy around

And now there's quasi-semi-surfing in Oklahoma. If this upsurge of kewlitude persists, it's going to be that much harder to pull off "But there's nothing to do!"

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:31 PM)
23 June 2006
The Mick begs off

This weekend's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered & Intersex Pride Parade and Festival is the nineteenth in Oklahoma City, and it's always something to see.

Something I saw perplexed me. On page 4 of Hard News Online's Pride Guide (pdf version here), there are welcome letters from Jim Roth (District 1 County Commissioner), John Whetsel (County Sheriff), Sam Bowman (Council Ward 2) and Ann Simank (Council Ward 6). Conspicuously absent: Mayor Cornett. Says an Editor's Note:

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett did not respond to Hard News Online's request for a welcome letter to be included in this Pride Guide.

Not even a perfunctory "Welcome to the city, and please don't litter." Sheesh. Hizzoner must really be sweating that Congressional primary.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:13 AM)
25 June 2006
Not from around here

The status of the Skirvin Hilton:

The inside of the hotel has been completely gutted, saving historic elements of course. The GM of the Skirvin Hilton told me that at the present time it looks like a bomb went off inside the hotel. Kim Searls [of Downtown OKC, Inc.] noted that he was not from OKC and that maybe he shouldn't be using those phrases.

I'm not quite sure what I think about that.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:12 AM)
26 June 2006
A brief history of the Renaissance

The "most massive quality of life package ever devised in this nation."

That's a tall claim, but Oklahoma City's MAPS delivered on its promises and then some. Here's an interesting perspective on MAPS from someone who worked to get the package passed by voters. This quote jumped out at me:

Nine projects totaling $329 million dollars and ... not related to directly recruiting a major employer.

Which may have been the genius of MAPS: we're going to do all these things, and none of them will be dependent on whether enough corporate money gets lined up.

Then there's this:

Promoter boasts of private investment of $140 million were wildly off the mark; they have topped $500 million.

I can only hope that the successor to MAPS, the $700 million upgrade to area public schools, will be similarly successful.

(Suggested by Matt Deatherage.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:26 AM)
28 June 2006
Those who remained

Kerr-McGee and its 200 or so employees in Oklahoma City will soon be gone; by contrast, about 300 former KMG employees will likely be sticking around.

Tronox Inc., the former Kerr-McGee chemical division, spun off from the parent company last year, is looking for local office space for its 200-member downtown staff. (Another 100 work at the former KMG Technical Center on NW 150th St.) They've been leasing space from KMG on a month-to-month basis; the 100,000 square feet they need would take up only about a fifth of the Kerr-McGee Center downtown.

Hmmm. I wonder if there's any thought of reclaiming the Kermac name once the KMG-Anadarko merger is complete.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:16 AM)
29 June 2006
If you love them, set them free

Six Flags didn't love either of its Oklahoma City properties, or so it seemed to me, but just the same, White Water Bay and Frontier City have been set free: an Oklahoma-based investment group headed by Ed Lynn and Franklin Boyer has acquired the two parks for an undisclosed sum.

Six Flags, once headquartered in Oklahoma City, relocated earlier this year after a buyout and vowed to concentrate on its bigger-volume theme parks, a business plan which essentially doomed the Oklahoma facilities.

Lynn, a director of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, owns the local Buffalo Wild Wings franchise.

Update, 30 June: Six Flags claims there is no deal.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:12 PM)
8 July 2006
Flash!

The sleepy 'burbs of The Village and Nichols Hills have been awakened by a visiting perv who apparently has been making the rounds for quite some time.

Typical incident:

A woman in the 1100 block of Sherwood Lane in Nichols Hills told police a man followed her to a parking area about 9 p.m. [Thursday], then exposed himself and began masturbating when she got out of her car. He wore only socks and tennis shoes.

I suggest that if you encounter this guy, you point and laugh; it should kill whatever groove he thinks he's in.

(And if you ever see me wearing only socks and tennis shoes, you'll see a lawn mower in front of me, and I'll wonder what you're doing peeking into my back yard.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:55 AM)
Saturday spottings (structural proficiency)

I hadn't paid too much attention to the auto-parts store going in at 3217 North May; another concrete fortress would scarcely be noticed on this stretch of May, especially with that new Lowe's just south of 39th pretty much finished.

Until I got this letter from a reader:

When did this happen? Maybe while I was out of town, I would have noticed right away as that was built as a Kip's Big Boy restaurant — the first in Oklahoma City. I have many fond memories of picking up the Big Boy comic book and sitting in there eating a piece of pie or having one of their thick chocolate shakes. Another building with great memories is gone. Ugh. Change ... sometimes I just hate it.

Kip'sThe most recent occupant of this space, the Classic Rock Café/Bora Bora, has since relocated to Walker just north of 23rd. There are still Big Boy restaurants in ten states; Kip's, which had the Texas and Oklahoma franchise, seems to have vanished altogether. (I remember eating at a Big Boy restaurant within the last few years; it was probably in Danville, Illinois.) This photo, of the sign at a Dallas location that was torn down last year, was taken for this Web site, specializing in "the super-cool modern coffee shop architecture of the 1950s and 1960s"; the writer also devotes a page to savaging so-called "Dallas-style" homes, rather a lot of which are being built these days in central Oklahoma.

33 Northeast 7th StreetSpeaking of homes, in previous editions of Spottings, I waxed lyrical about a new house being built at NE 7th and Oklahoma; the last time out, I said something to the effect that "had I a whole lot more money than I do, I'd like to live in something that doesn't look like anything else." Well, clearly it looks like something, and it's not like it doesn't fit in with the rest of the neighborhood, because there's nothing else around: most of this area was cleared off for the construction of the Centennial Expressway. And after all, it was conceived as a residence with studio, so it's going to be at least somewhat utilitarian. I still think it's neat.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:38 PM)
10 July 2006
Bau wau

John Owen Butler didn't much like this house:

Bauhaus? In Oklahoma? As my 19 year old daughter would say, ewwwh.

So he really won't like this one:

In the International Style

In Crown Heights, at 40th and Shartel. (Not my photo; this came with the draft report on Oklahoma City's Historic Preservation efforts, circa 2002. Except for tree growth and such, it looks about the same today.) And you know, I like pointy Tudor revivals as much as the next guy, but we're awash in the darn things.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:02 AM)
Snakes on a truck

Sources deep within 42nd and Treadmill report that El Jefe found one of these motherfarging reptiles pretending to be a suspension component.

Samuel L. Jackson was not available for comment.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:33 PM)
11 July 2006
Own your own floor (2)

Last fall you might have read about office condos at 125 Park Avenue downtown; each floor of the five-story building was for sale.

And they're being bought: a local attorney has closed on the first of them, and three more are under contract. The upper floors sold for $400,000; the ground floor went for $300,000.

The building's Web site hasn't changed much lately.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:03 AM)
19 July 2006
Let the grass die

The weather being what it is, you might have wanted to save what's left of your lawn. Well, forget it: the City Manager has ordered a ban on outdoor watering through midnight Friday, and is asking for voluntary limits on water use through the following week.

The city is building a new main parallel to the old 72-inch line from the Draper water plant. The old line seems to have become fragile of late: this is the third break in three months.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:05 PM)
21 July 2006
They barely missed him

The suspected Fridayland Flasher, also believed to have engaged in similar displays in the Tulsa area, was spotted in Broken Arrow yesterday, according to KWTV's morning Webcast; the B.A. cops pulled him over, he turned over his license, and then he drove off. Presumably he was dressed at the time.

Previous eyewitness reports that the perp was driving a grey or silver car were apparently accurate; "Steven Brazeal," the name on the license, was behind the wheel of a silver Chrysler Sebring.

Update, 22 July, 11:30 am: Brazeal apparently lives in the tiny town of Foyil on Route 66 east of Claremore; he is an actual doctor-type person, but the state of Tennessee has pulled his license to practice medicine there. It appears he's also been putting on a show in Texas. Tulsa County is filing charges against Brazeal, and Oklahoma County may follow.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:22 AM)
22 July 2006
Saturday spottings (the spread)

While researching this week's strange search-engine queries, I stumbled upon this one: places to eat in the 4000 block of East Reno Ave. in Oklahoma City. Not having a handy wiseass remark for this, other than to note that the 4000 block of East Reno is actually within Del City limits, I duly drove to the scene and determined that unless you can cadge a meal from one of the residents on the south side of the street — there are petroleum storage tanks on the north side — there is, in fact, no place to eat from 3900 through 4100 East Reno.

17 SW 171st StThis was opening day for the Southwest Showcase of Homes, a joint venture by the South OKC and Moore Homebuilders Associations, with 56 houses on display for the next eight days or so. As real-estate events go, this one has considerable longevity; I remember seeing a couple of these in the 1970s. The difference, of course, is that the new subdivisions are farther out than ever; you're looking at a house just west of Santa Fe on SW 171st Street. (This is an Aaron Tatum home; Tatum built one of the two Project Homes in the Showcase this year. Tatum also has background music on his Web site, so be warned.) The next section-line road south is Indian Hills Road, where Santa Fe turns into 48th Avenue NW, so this is practically in Norman. This particular subdivision is called Talavera, and it's not especially pricey as these things go; you can buy this house for $224,900. (I should point out that this house is not part of the Showcase, though there is a Showcase home on the next block north, and it's about $25k less.)

As always, I'm of two minds about these things. While Oklahoma City is reviled in some circles for its sheer sprawl, I'm happy to see people actually buying within the city limits instead of automatically opting for the suburbs. ("I take comfort in the fact that they're still in the city, no matter what their return address may say: we're all in this together, whether we live on 9th Street, 99th Street, or 199th Street.") On the other hand, you've got to be making a heck of a lot more money than I am to be able to afford one of these pointy boxes, and I'm quite certain that if I could afford one, I'd buy something smaller anyway. Then again, it's just me here; had I teenagers afoot, I might well want them as far away as possible without going outside the property line.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:59 PM)
24 July 2006
If only these lots were emptier

In my usual perfunctory scan of the real-estate ads, I spotted what seemed to be an awfully high price on a house at 1701 Windsor Place, near the southern edge of Nichols Hills — very few 1440-square-foot homes are worth $1.3 million — but then I got down to the fine print:

Price includes 6415 and 6417 North Penn and 1900 Huntington. Architects plans for luxury condos available for serious buyers.

Near 1701 Windsor PlaceSo they're going to tear down these four houses and replace them with condos. Okay, fine. Why sell the entire set of four parcels as a unit? (And is this price for after the condos are built? Zillow.com's estimated prices for all four, combined, come to only about $620,000.)

I drive past this block about three or four times a month; maybe I'm going to have to start watching this story unfold.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:06 AM)
26 July 2006
Best yard signs ever

If you've had to go down the eastern end of Northwest Distressway lately, you've seen literally (and litter-ly) hundreds of political yard signs, some of them so close together they're practically on top of one another and you can't read any of them.

A fellow at the Democrats of Oklahoma Community Forum spotted this one amidst the clutter one night:

These Signs Are Illegal

Unfortunately, it apparently disappeared an hour later. And a possibility presents itself: for the last few months, some local signmaker has been advertising on signs exactly like these, offering quantities of 200 or thereabouts. What if there are 199 more of these to come?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 PM)
27 July 2006
The Finley Bridge

It's named for Dr. G. E. Finley, who practiced medicine in Deep Deuce for over half a century, near the north end of it; two years ago, when it was still the Walnut Avenue Bridge, I made some reference to its closing.

Now that it's been restored and reopened, The Old Downtown Guy reveals the story of the tug-of-war between city officials, looking to save money, and preservationists, looking to save as much of the original bridge as possible.

Worst-case scenario? Ripping the bridge out entirely:

There had been about $1.2M in funds from a 1989 bond election set aside for a new bridge, but for some reason, Bricktown developer Jim Brewer was promoting the idea of replacing the bridge with a street, and had persuaded then-Public Works Director Paul Brum to support the idea. They insisted that the railroads were going to abandon the tracks and that there was no need for the grade separated crossing that the bridge provided. In fact, there had been no discussions with the railroads regarding future plans for the tracks in question.

Railroad matters, by law, must go before the Corporation Commission, and they flatly rejected the plan: the grade separation would have to be maintained. (This is the second time in a week I've had to say something positive about the Corp Comm. Hmmm.)

Incidentally, if you exit I-235 southbound at 6th Street, the offramp becomes Walnut Avenue: it's a straight shot right into Bricktown. The bridge has three lanes, two northbound, one southbound. Life just got a whole lot simpler for the folks buying into those new planned developments west of 235.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
29 July 2006
Don't mention if it's your birthday

Saturday, 9 September, there will be a reunion for employees of Molly Murphy's House of Fine Repute, the legendary Oklahoma City restaurant owned by Bob Tayar, who died last year after an auto accident in California.

"Lotsa tail to you
Until we meet again...."

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:53 PM)
2 August 2006
Juan de Fuca says hello

The Tropical Café in Edmond (Kelly south of 2nd), per their ad in this week's Gazette, is "Proudly Serving Seattle's Best."

This has, of course, nothing to do with the Sonics.

I think.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:14 PM)
5 August 2006
The animal shelter evolves

I didn't pay much attention to this when it showed up on craigslist earlier this summer:

Are you passionate about animal welfare? Does your heart ache for all the abandoned and homeless animals? Please help us make a difference by volunteering with the Oklahoma City Animal Welfare Division.

The Animal Welfare Division is responsible for public safety, animal care and protection. We partner with rescue groups, foster homes, volunteers and no-kill shelters to minimize unnecessary euthanasia and to promote the humane ethic. We are building a city in which pet ownership is a pleasure to the owners without becoming a burden to the community; in which owners, non-owners and animals alike are treated with respect; and in which animals are treated with kindness and compassion.

Our goal is to be "no kill" for placeable animals by 2010.

The business about "without becoming a burder to the community" made it to the city's Web site, but they aren't at all promoting the no-kill goal.

Yet. A friend of mine told me last night that Georgie Rasco of the Neighborhood Alliance asked her to become a member of their committee to push for no-kill. And it seems to me that if the Alliance is working on this, there's a better chance the city will get off the dime and start moving towards its stated goal.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:57 AM)
Saturday spottings (accelerated)

Old habits die hard. My previous motor vehicle (rust-preventative be upon her) had a superior chassis and not much of a motor; the proper way to deal with this sort of thing, of course, was to drive the living whee out of the car and enjoy flinging it about. I can't do that with Gwendolyn. Well, actually, I can do that, but she's so much faster — I've routinely shaved two to three minutes off what used to be a twenty-minute commute through moderate congestion — that it's an invitation to the gentlemen in blue with the rotating lights. More than once I caught myself doing somewhere in the low 60s in a 40 zone. Better that I should catch myself, though, than that they should catch me.

Speaking of catching, I was northbound on the Lake Hefner Parkway, a smidgen north of 63rd, when I caught sight of one of the weirder manifestations of Oklahoma's placement at the conjunction of every wind pattern on earth: an airborne plastic bag, wafting across the lanes at a height of, oh, three, maybe four feet.

And I caught it. Literally. On the passenger-side mirror. It wrapped itself around the structure and held on doggedly for two miles, shaking loose only after I'd turned eastbound (on Britton) and slowed to a comparative crawl.

Also: off to Midwest City today, partly to gauge the condition of Heritage Park Mall, which is no worse than it was last time, in the sense that I didn't notice anything else had closed. There's still the nagging question of how long you can sustain a mall built for 3.5 anchor tenants with one, and that one a Sears store, but I suppose that will be answered soon enough. Meanwhile, the newest dead corner is Reno and Midwest Boulevard, where both Target and Wal-Mart have abandoned smaller stores in favor of bigger ones elsewhere. The Target, I am told, will be converted to medical offices, which makes sense given its proximity to Midwest Regional Hospital, but no word on the fate of Wally World. Still remaining: Albertson's, a gas station with a McDonald's, a Carl's Jr., and a Walgreen's.

Just south of there is 250 S. Midwest Blvd., which has been about a dozen different eateries, none of which lasted very long. The Oklahoman noted this morning that it's been leased again, and this time it will be a chicken place. I think the only time I ever ate there was when it was a Dairy Queen.

On the other side of town, I got an answer to one of the dumber questions that had been tormenting me of late. The northern boundary of Mustang is SW 59th Street; Mustang, while it fits into the Oklahoma City street grid, doesn't use the city's numbers, instead using Oklahoma 152 (SW 74th) and Mustang Road as its axes. And as I headed west on 59th, I noted with some weird glee that the section of 59th east of Mustang Road was indeed posted "E. SW 59th St." And to think we have problems finding things on Grand Boulevard.

Also on Mustang Road, I discovered that the Force is strong:

For Sale sign

(Taken around the 2100 block South.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:18 PM)
8 August 2006
Open forum (maybe)

Press release from Sustainable OKC:

OKLAHOMA CITY— On Tuesday, August 8, 2006, at 7:30 p.m., Sustainable OKC and the Vivian Wimberly Center for Ethics and Servant Leadership at OCU will host the third event in their Smart Growth series: "City on the Move: Transportation in Central Oklahoma," a panel discussion on mass transit.

The panel will be held in Watson Lounge on the lower level of the Angie Smith chapel at Oklahoma City University. This event is free and open to the public. Doors open at 7:00 p.m., and the presentation begins at 7:30 p.m.

This panel discussion will explore factors that have influenced transportation in central Oklahoma, market and environmental forces that are affecting transportation choices today, and solutions to make Oklahoma City less dependent on the automobile.

The event, moderated by OETA's Dick Pryor, will include the following panelists:

  • John Dugan, Director, Oklahoma City Planning Department
  • Rick Cain, Director, Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority
  • Willa Johnson, Ward Seven, Oklahoma City Council
  • Dean Schirf, Vice President of Government Relations, Greater OKC Chamber of Commerce
  • Zach Taylor, Executive Director, Association of Central Oklahoma Governments

This presentation is the third in a series on smart growth organized by Sustainable OKC.
Date: Tuesday, August 8, 2006
Time: 7:30 pm-10:00 pm

Tom Elmore, who forwarded me this, notes:

Perhaps oddly, the panel is a rogues' gallery of some of those most responsible for fighting rational transit development over the years. These have also helped cover up reality and quash the truth about the need to save OKC Union Station's rail yard.

With the announcement this morning of the "little problem with Alaska oil production" and with it, likely higher gasoline prices, I'd say that those who'd like to talk to some of those most responsible for Central Oklahoma's lack of alternative transportation (and that the air conditioning in 25% of OKC's existing transit buses doesn't work[!]) will have a marvelous opportunity to do so Tuesday night.

So be it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:28 AM)
11 August 2006
I'll take Unreal Estate for $1000, Alex

A Rocket Jones observation:

Ever notice how when a new housing development is going up, if it's Something Estates then it's ritzy and pricey, and if it's Whatever Heights then it's always "affordable" housing. If I had the money, I'd do a development called Estates Heights just to see what would happen.

I wonder what he'd make of the Flats in Cleveland.

Actually, I live in Whatever Heights, and it's more or less "affordable" (despite what you may have heard), but it's not especially high, and you'd think one of the irreducible characteristics of something called "Heights" would be, well, height. Similar liberties are taken elsewhere in the city: "Bricktown" now apparently means "anywhere within a couple of miles of downtown," Flower Garden Park has been short on flora in recent years, and don't even think that the Northwest Expressway has anything "express" about it. (Well, there's Express Personnel, I suppose.) And I've grumbled before about Basswood Canyon Road, inasmuch as we have neither canyons nor basswood. What's more, someone had the temerity to name a moderate-to-high-zoot development "Rivendell", and I'm pretty sure it wasn't Elrond.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:16 AM)
Braniff grounded

Back in the spring of ought-five, I suggested that someone rework the old Braniff building at 324 N. Robinson, and before the year was out, Kerr-McGee signed on to a deal to turn the place into upscale condos.

But Kerr-McGee is gone — the Anadarko Petroleum takeover was approved by shareholders this week — and now the Braniff project has run into a snag:

"We expected to close today," said Anthony McDermid, one of the project's lead developers. "It didn't happen. It was a surprise to us. We spent a significant amount of time and resources on this."

A lawsuit filed Thursday in Oklahoma County District Court by McDermid and his partners allege they will suffer more than $8 million in damages if Kerr-McGee does not honor its part of the redevelopment.

But, says KMG/Anadarko, it's the fault of McDermid's Corporate Redevelopment Group:

"We have an existing contract with Corporate Redevelopment Group to build a parking garage that would be suitable to Kerr-McGee," [KMG spokesman John] Christiansen said. "After completion of that garage, Kerr-McGee has agreed to deliver to Corporate Redevelopment Group the certain properties identified for redevelopment. We are willing to perform under that contract."

Christiansen said Corporate Redevelopment Group requested changes in the contract conditions — changes he wouldn't disclose — that were not acceptable to Kerr-McGee.

Outgoing KMG chair Luke Corbett seemed enthusiastic about the project, but Corbett's no longer running the show.

Clearly something's happened here that we're not being told — yet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:27 PM)
14 August 2006
Wax tadpole: unbitten

My knowledge of Asian languages is pretty close to nil, but I can believe this:

New York City jewelry designer Jane Ko, 30, who is Chinese-American, has been approached countless times by sheepish and somewhat befuddled strangers and acquaintances who have asked her to translate tattoos that they once thought were Chinese characters for attractive concepts like "power" and "love" but now suspect might actually say "General Tso's Chicken special" or "gullible white boy."

So this story from last Thursday's Mid-City Advocate managed to catch my attention, albeit belatedly:

A new Chinese name adopted recently by Oklahoma City University is building momentum for the school across the globe.

Profound City University, or Ao Cheng Da Xue, is the new translation for OCU. Previously, the university used a literal translation of its name, which was often misunderstood. Julie Sinclair, director of international student services at OCU, explained that the literal translation for "city" referred to a small type of municipality that did not warrant respect. "It diminished our stature considerably," said Bernie Peterson, vice president for academic affairs.

The new name uses a Chinese word for a grander city. Additionally, the new word for "Oklahoma" doubles as a translation for "profound." OCU is the first university in Oklahoma to use the word "Ao" for Oklahoma, but that translation is recognized by local Chinese groups.

I should point out here that OCU isn't just screwing around with this stuff because it's on the edge of the city's Asian District; OCU's Meinders School of Business, for instance, offers an MBA program at the Tianjin University of Finance and Economics.

(Title explained here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:46 PM)
16 August 2006
How to be as cool as Sean Gleeson

Well, okay, let's not go overboard here. Nobody is as cool as Sean Gleeson, except maybe William Shatner. And the Shat can't teach you Web design.

But Sean Gleeson can, and he's filling up Web Design classes at Oklahoma City Community College. This is your one chance to partake of all that Gleeson goodness. (You didn't really want to wait another whole semester, now, did you?)

Details here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:07 AM)
Glides and slides across the floor

Chesapeake Energy's expansion in recent years has been reminiscent of The Blob: eventually it would engulf the entire city, and you'd see people running out of a theater — well, maybe the Will Rogers Center — screaming at the top of their lungs.

The question of "What are they thinking?" has been sort of answered: the company has requested Planned Unit Development zoning for its campus and points to the east, roughly from Western to Shartel, 59th to 63rd. (The city's Web site, on this type of zoning: "The PUD may be used for particular tracts or parcels of land that are under common ownership and are to be developed as one unit according to a master design statement or a master development plan.")

So what's the plan? The complex may eventually contain, says the zoning application, "up to 75 condos, restaurants and a heliport," though nothing is quite graven in stone just yet:

It still is unclear ... exactly how all the space will be used, said Tim Johnson, an engineer at Oklahoma City-based Johnson & Associates.

"The language in the PUD is specifically structured so that it allows flexibility within the plan," said Johnson, who wrote the application for Chesapeake. "Chesapeake does not have a hard and fast master plan.

"As the campus develops, they may stop with office buildings and move on with condos, and that would be a good mix in the campus setting. They want to take care of their employees, so we thought about restaurants and cleaners. But nothing is concrete."

I presume Chesapeake's acquisition of Nichols Hills Plaza, northwest of its campus, isn't mentioned in the application, since the Plaza is within the corporate limits of Nichols Hills and therefore outside Oklahoma City jurisdiction.

And I have to figure that prices for natural gas won't remain in the stratosphere forever, so Chesapeake may be pursuing this diversification just to make sure they remain a major corporate player.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:06 PM)
19 August 2006
Saturday spottings (you gotta look)

If there's a universal Guy Utterance, it's "Hey, watch this!" (If he asks you to hold his beer, trouble may be in the offing.) Close behind, at least among those who are single and straight, is "Where are all the women?"

Well, as of noon today, they were at Stein Mart. I wandered over in search of sheets and towels, and the place was like Estrogen Central: wall-to-wall women, twentysomething through sixtysomething, each of them presumably engaged in serious bargain hunting. I am no bargain, but I did say something to a clerk about coming down with Only Male In The Store Syndrome, and she smiled just long enough to give her a chance to remember the script: "Oh, but we have many customers who are men." Maybe some other day.

The other thought I had was "Does no one have a full-sized bed anymore?" The vast majority of the offerings, including the spiffy 500-plus-thread-count packages, were queen or king only, and much as I'd like to buy a new bed, I can't see spending that much money on something that benefits me only when I'm asleep.

This past spring, an almost-new sofa appeared by the side of the road, on Grand Boulevard just north of NE 29th. Over the months, it accumulated debris: first a discarded bottled-water container, then bits of blown-in paper. I wanted to get a shot of it last time I was by there, but Grand had been closed; the city was redoing the railroad crossing south of the Oklahoma Railway Museum. (This is presumably going to be part of the spur line from downtown, or at least Bricktown, to the Adventure District.) Today Grand was open, but the sofa apparently had been attacked by something: one of the cushions was ripped open, and there was a whole new layer of garbage at that end. Wee, and not so wee, forest creatures abound in this part of town, so I'm guessing it was one of them rather than the occasional fatigued pedestrian or cyclist.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:28 PM)
20 August 2006
In the zone, maybe

The MAPS for Kids folks send out an eight-page newsletter every quarter to let us taxpaying types know what we're getting for our $650 million, and this time around, in addition to a feature on the new Martin Luther King Elementary (1201 NE 48th Street), there's a chart for figuring out the John Marshall/Centennial (formerly Eisenhower) breakdown, and it goes like this:

If you live in the NEW John Marshall attendance zone:
  • 6-9 grade students will attend the new John Marshall High School, 12201 N. Portland Avenue.
  • 10-12 grade students will remain at the original John Marshall High School facility, 9017 N. University Avenue.

If you live in the Oklahoma Centennial High School attendance zone:

  • 6-12 grade students will remain at the original John Marshall High School facility, 9017 N. University Avenue.

If you live in the Eisenhower Elementary attendance zone:

  • Students will attend school in the old Hoover Middle School facility (2401 NW 115th Terrace), which will become Stonegate Elementary School once it's renovated.

Got all that? Me either. I last discussed this matter here; since then, rather a lot of things have changed besides the Eisenhower name for the new high school. There was a map floating around that detailed the various attendance zones, but I haven't been able to find it online lately. (You can always call the district office at 405 587-0000, should you need one.)

I complained a couple of years ago about the proofreading in the newsletter, and it's not much improved. Sample from page 2 of the current edition:

In the next two years, the north section of Oklahoma City will have two new high schools to compliment the new Douglass High School and the new U. S. Grant High School.

"Hey, Douglass! Looking good!"

(In passing: Managing Editor of the newsletter is Drew Dugan, whom you may remember from such wonderful House campaigns as "Mexican Meth".)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:40 PM)
22 August 2006
Meanwhile at the voting machine

Not much of a wait: at 5:15 pm I checked in at #375. For the brief period I was there, there were as many Democrats as Republicans — although two of each hardly qualifies as a valid statistical sample. The pollworkers seemed a smidgen cheerier than usual, perhaps because they'd been waiting all day to have as many as four people at the table.

If you're wondering why it took me an hour to post this, the few drops of rain that fell upon me during the afternoon commute provided just enough motivation for me to drag out the lawn mower and reduce the height of the weeds out front before the next round of stormage. Assuming, of course, there is a next round.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:15 PM)
24 August 2006
Reorient your sweet tooth

From last August:

Russell Stover, the candy firm with a retail store on Northwest Expressway east of May, is putting in an outlet store around the corner, on May near NW 56th, in a building last occupied by an independent auto dealer and which looks to me like it started out as a Kinney shoe store.

Which, as it turns out, it had.

Now the outlet supersedes the original:

Tuesday, the candy shop will close. The company has decided to move into a bigger building a few blocks north at 5704 N May Ave.

There's just one problem:

The 1959 bungalow is one of only three left in the United States — the others are in Tulsa and Chattanooga, Tenn.

The red brick bungalow, with the wooden shingles that have never let water leak, has been sold and is likely to be torn down, [store manager Deborah] Wilson said.

Inasmuch as the candy was originally sold as "Mrs. Stover's Bungalow Candies," this is even more distressing than it sounds.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:51 PM)
25 August 2006
His baggage, however, went to Newark

The Oklahoman is reporting that a passenger on a Phoenix/Charlotte flight was acting up. US Airways Flight 146 made an unscheduled landing in Oklahoma City, where the individual, described only as a male, was removed from the premises and turned over to the FBI.

Karen Carney, speaking for Will Rogers World Airport:

A passenger on board became disruptive — disruptive enough that the pilot determined they should make an unscheduled landing diverted here to Oklahoma City. It has landed. The gentleman was taken off the aircraft and is currently being interviewed.

The AP wire story says he got into an altercation with a flight attendant, and an air marshal "subdued" the dude.

Doesn't sound too horrific, but these days you never know.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:09 PM)
26 August 2006
Saturday spottings (close at hand)

We start today with the news that the house across the street remains unsold after four months and one change of agent. The price has dropped from an ambitious $99,900 to a perhaps-more-rational $86,900. (Zillow.com, still riding some sort of bubble, Zestimates it at $101,212.)

Also still for sale is the "Dream Starter" around the corner, originally offered at $114k, knocked back to $107k, and now a low, low $99,500.

The lowest price possible, of course, is free, and for the last couple of afternoons, there's been a free car wash of sorts: the sprinklers on the Northwest Expressway median between Penn Square and 50 Penn Place, aided and abetted by brisk southerly winds, have been dousing westbound cars stopped at the 50 Penn Place entrance with some serious water. (How serious? Convertibles in the outer lanes were hurriedly re-topped.) Red Carpet, just around the corner, couldn't have been happy with this development. But there was nothing today, though, perhaps because it's the weekend.

Russell Stover CandiesThursday I mentioned the impending move of the Russell Stover Candies store from their bungalow on Northwest Expressway to the "outlet" location they acquired last summer, near 56th and May. The old store, they say, will be razed, so I figured I'd better get a picture of it while it's still there. (Click it to enlarge.) Business was pretty good today, at least while I was there; a lot of the prepackaged stuff was going at steep discounts, though the candy out of the display case seemed to be at regular prices still. The "new" store, at the moment, is closed for remodeling.

Also moving slightly farther away from me is Zorba's Mediterranean Cuisine, presently at 46th and May and relocating to a one-time Monterey Jack's location just north of 59th and May. I sort of hope they retain some of Jack's pseudo-Mexican decor, just to confuse the patrons, but this is probably too much to hope for.

And west of there stands the old (United) Founders Tower, which is going condo. The Real Estate section of the Oklahoman on Saturday lists all the major city building permits, and nineteen permits, estimated value $450k each, have been issued, presumably one for each floor. (Nikz, the revolving restaurant on the 20th floor, isn't going anywhere except in circles.) If you haven't seen the Tower lately, it looks like this (photo by Roadside Architecture).

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:24 PM)
30 August 2006
Two Infinitis—and beyond!

I used to toss up a hand signal every time I saw a Mazda 626, to acknowledge our shared destiny as the few, the proud, the unrecognized, or some such silliness. Going from a relatively-unknown marque to a really-unknown marque has pretty much spelled the end of that activity.

Then I followed a Q45 into Nichols Hills today, and when we came to a four-way stop, the Q turned away, and there followed a sight I've never before seen: three other Infinitis were waiting their turn. Of course, this being Oklahoma, they were trucks: two QX4s and a QX56.

Also, if anyone cares, at least one 7-Eleven store (in the Village) is vending 87-octane unleaded for a comparatively-paltry $2.479, as of 6 pm today.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 PM)
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The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

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