Saturday spotting (long hard climb)

Last year’s Architecture Tour was all over the map, mixing urban and suburban designs. This year, the title “Urban Life” was affixed to it, with the emphasis you might expect; in addition to the salutary effects of infill development, this saved a lot of gas, since I didn’t have to trek all the way out past Memorial Road. In the order viewed:

1) 1712 NW 16th Street
The first of two projects in the Plaza District, the Struble Studios building is a reclamation of a 1924 commercial structure, now in the process of getting an interior built. The exterior has a brick façade that had been painted over; to restore it, they simply turned the bricks around to present a fresh face. Ingenious. The renovation extends to two adjacent storefronts, though only this one was open for the tour. Contractor Jeff Struble, who owns this block, has been doing home renovations in the adjacent Gatewood area, so working in the Plaza District seemed like the logical thing to do. Next Big Thing status? We’ll see.

2) 1701 NW 16th Street
In the 1920s, this was the New State Ice Company, and when’s the last time you had ice delivered? Exactly. New State, once owned by Anheuser-Busch, exists now only in old Supreme Court records: in New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, the company sought to enforce a de facto monopoly it enjoyed as a result of Oklahoma’s 1925 Ice Act, which declared the manufacture of ice to be a public utility and therefore to fall under the jurisdiction of the Corporation Commission, which had decided that there were enough ice makers in the city. In 1932, the Court ruled 6-2 against New State and overturned the Ice Act. The new owners of the building, Estrella and Mike Elliott, aren’t involved with ice, but they do have something cool in mind: they’re going to turn the storefront into the new Velvet Monkey Salon, replacing a smaller location at 1915 NW 23rd. (There are two other locations.) And the warehouse will be rebuilt as the Elliotts’ new home. Given its industrial past, you’d figure this would be a wide-open, expansive sort of place, and indeed it is; Brian Fitzsimmons (you’ll remember him from Okasian House on last year’s Tour) is thinking “sustainable,” reusing as much of the old stuff as possible. I asked him if the two big metal stars I found in the storefront area were from the old Plaza Theater, just up the street; he was surprised to find that they were there. (I am nothing if not a busybody at times.) Given Fitzsimmons’ knack for reconstruction, I expect this to be fabulous when it’s done.

3) 834 NW 7th Street
This got some coverage in the paper [link goes to PDF file] last week. Dennis Wells is building this house for himself and his wife Shellee; it’s basically a big concrete cube, which won’t even clash with the neighborhood. (The Okasian House is across Francis, halfway down the block.) The box is 40 feet square, so as to fit on to the 50×70 corner lot with appropriate setbacks. Two-thirds of the living space is upstairs; the entrance and a two-car garage are downstairs. “It’s going to be the architect’s ghetto,” quipped Shellee Wells about the neighborhood, which sounds about right to me.

4) 2200 Classen Blvd.
The Classen is the one-time Citizens Tower, south of the Gold Dome at 23rd and Classen; Robert Roloff designed it in the mid-1960s with an eye toward Frank Lloyd Wright’s Price Tower in Bartlesville. Richard Tanenbaum bought it in 2004, and after first planning about 100 condos, has turned the tower into 66 of what the Jeffersons might call “deluxe apartments in the sky.” Certainly the views are fabulous. We were granted admission to a tenth-floor unit, relatively modest but still decidedly upscale, and to one of the penthouses, which looks pretty much like you’d expect a penthouse to look. Amenities are everywhere and consistent with what you’d expect from a high-zoot hotel; rents are, well, not for the squeamish.

5) 1007 NW 14th Street
Actually, this is in the back of 1007; it started out as a detached garage behind Steve and Annette Jacobi’s house in Heritage Hills. It was in bad shape; the new garage looks much like the old one, except that it’s two stories now, and above it is a small studio apartment, about 600 square feet. The city’s Historic District mavens had to pass judgment on this rebuild; it made it through on the first try. I was most impressed by the cantilevered stairway on the building’s west side, which somehow looks like it was part of the original design, which of course it wasn’t. The interior on this one is still on the drawing board, but I expect it will be cozy and neat.

6) 111 Harrison Avenue
This long building in the Flatirons District, northeast of downtown, was the original headquarters of Mistletoe Express, OPUBCO’s erstwhile delivery service. The reconstruction, on behalf of developers Momentum Partners, was completed in 2006; the tour stop was just for the conference room near the entrance, which was created by Stan Carroll from salvaged steel and tempered glass, which isn’t anywhere near as easy as it sounds since you can’t alter tempered glass worth a darn. Still: sustainable, and attractive in an industrial sort of way.

7) The Brownstones at Maywood Park, NE 3rd and Oklahoma
I mentioned this high-end townhouse cluster once before, remarking on its use of insulated concrete forms, a greener sort of building technology. I hadn’t visited any of the units at the time, though; now that sales are going on, models were open. (Floorplans here.) These are big and pricey, and did I mention big? The smallest unit is 2½ floors, which from the standpoint of stair-climbing might as well be three; the top model is 3½ floors, which we’ll call four. The taller unit was fitted with an elevator, which none of us seemed to be able to figure out. I liked the looks of these; I’d have liked them even more had I much better knees and/or much more money.

8) Block 42, 301 NE 4th Street
I visited Block 42 on last year’s Tour, when it was still big boxes full of nothing yet already half presold. Now they’re expecting the last buyers to come on board this spring. The fountain out front was greatly appreciated on a hotter-than-expected April day, and the two units visited (both three stories tall) were nicely equipped, though after more rounds of stairs I was grateful to be finished with the tour and grateful that I live in a ranch house.

Elapsed time: just about three hours. Price was the same as last year: $12, a fraction of which goes to Calm Waters. Time, and money, well spent.

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Saturday spottings (fields of clover)

I mean, it’s everywhere: purple molehill majesties, strutting their stuff before the serious greening starts in. After a year and a half of obsessive (and none too inexpensive) weed treatments, I managed not to have any of it this year, although the clover might be preferable to the occasional bare spots.

Seen at 38th and May: an actual lemonade stand, manned by a couple of kids, with adults watching from the wings. I caught a glimpse of it only in passing, but I’m guessing it was some sort of charity fundraiser, perhaps sponsored by the state Baptists, who own the building on that corner.

I’m trying to get a fix on one aspect of grocery-shopper behavior. For most things, I go to the Crest store at 23rd and Meridian; some items it doesn’t carry I find at the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market at 23rd and Pennsylvania. These stores are about three miles apart, and their demographics are roughly similar, with the Wal-Mart having a few more Asians, the Crest a few more Latinos. Ethnicity, however, likely doesn’t explain this: at Crest, just about every last shopping cart is returned to the racks in the parking lot, while at Wal-Mart about a third of them are strewn about the lot, seemingly randomly. For now, I’m thinking that it’s simply a matter of staff attention: I almost always see someone rounding up the baskets at Crest, and if I see him, someone else does too, and maybe that someone else is thus motivated to leave his cart in the proper place to be picked up. I seldom see anyone policing up the Wal-Mart lot. If you have a better explanation, I’d like to hear it.

Note to Casual Male XL: You cater to, well, XL guys. Is it really wise to push the racks so close together that we can’t get between them without knocking something off a hanger?

Hummer H2 and H3 models have largely supplanted the original H1 bruiser, which is no longer being sold at retail. Still, almost 12,000 H1s were built, and one of them today turned up at Circuit City, its driver deftly managing to squeeze its 86.5-inch width into a suddenly-undersized parking space while I watched from the next row. (My own car, which strikes me occasionally as Too Darn Big, is a mere 70.2 inches across.) Nicely done, although the image of a Disneyfied dancing elephant stayed with me all the way across the Northwest Distressway.

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Saturday spottings (not a Hickey in sight)

They’re clearing off the lot on the northwest corner of 39th and May, which means that there will probably never be another Dodge dealership at that location.

In the 1990s, Lynn Hickey Dodge had grown to be the largest Dodge store in the world, mostly by changing the Standard Rules for Dealerships:

Recognizing that car buying was one of the two most important decisions that a consumer makes, he disabled the PA system on the lot and gave all the salespeople pagers. He recognized that the constant interference from loud speakers and nonessential announcements interrupted the concentration of the customer at a time when concentration and focusing was upon a critical task. He also was one of the first automobile dealers to discontinue classified advertising in the newspaper, since in the automobile business this is another cause of clutter and confusion for the car buyer.

[From Marketing to the Mind: Right Brain Strategies for Advertising and Marketing, by Richard C. Maddock and Richard L. Fulton (Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 1996).]

This is not to say that Hickey was above wacko promotions: his TV ads were legendarily weird, if not in the Cal Worthington league, and he had folks like Evel Knievel come to the lot. Stories swirled around Hickey, not all of them favorable, and in 1996 he sold out. The new guys promptly reinstated the PA system. (In fact, as late as 2004 folks in the southern section of my neighborhood, which is not so far from the lot, were complaining about the noise from the speakers.) Bob Moore, the last owner of the franchise, moved the Dodges to the Chrysler-Jeep lot on the Distressway, and the place has been vacant ever since, though Tom Park, Hickey’s TV mouthpiece for about a decade, has had no trouble finding work.

Now the ‘dozers have come, and the For Sale signs are up, and I have no idea what’s coming. My guess: a retail strip mall, since there isn’t one of those to be found on May Avenue for, oh, almost half a mile in either direction.

Or nothing at all may be coming. The last bits of Harper’s Sinclair at 63rd and May were removed almost a year and a half ago and nothing’s happened on that corner yet.

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Saturday spottings (let there be style)

The Oak Park addition to Oklahoma City, more or less 6th to 8th, Lincoln to Kelley, has been around for awhile; the older homes in the area date to the 1920s. In recent years, Oak Park was also the location of the infamous Bradford Commons apartments, which have since been scraped away. You can’t get to it from Lincoln — both 5th and 6th dead-end before they ever reach Lincoln — but if you’ve driven northbound on Lincoln in the past couple of years you’ve probably seen this:

614 NE 6th St

This is 614 NE 6th Street, built in 2005 and, to me at least, somewhat reminiscent of Stage Center, which was being constructed (and hotly debated) when I was the new kid on an OKC city block. Think modular: each section has its own distinct purpose. It’s up for sale at this writing, and here’s some of the pitch:

The location allows the owner to enjoy the expansive landscaping and urban feel of Presbyterian and the OU Medical Corridor, while the surrounding commercial structures allow for the rhythmic architecture of the home. This great site location also allows the home owner amazing surreal views of the downtown OKC skyline.

If you’re down in the yard, as I was, you get some very real, if not so amazing, views of the Presbyterian Research Park. And to your east are some of those aforementioned older homes.

Still, I admit to being swept up in the sheer effrontery of the place: there’s a lot to be said for having the most distinctive house on the block. And there are genuine selling points:

Modern design aspects incorporated aesthetics that are pleasing to the eye with some real visual punch. Block glass in the garage arranged in a design gives I-235 North travelers an artistic show of lights from the freeway. The backlit wall glows at nighttime, but remains nice and cool during the day due to the use of concrete and stucco. Urban living with a double car garage and storage is almost unheard of. The simple symmetry of the home runs true throughout. A solid rectangular stucco wall slices across the entire expanse of the home. Rectangular shapes and thickness of materials are also uniform throughout the home. A “floating” l-shaped glossy black staircase and few walls keep the home open and airy. Rectangular bronzed steel windows placed higher up on many of the exterior walls allow billows of light to stream in at any hour of the day. The dramatic elevation very carefully frames the sky with the windows which is most apparent in the upstairs master bedroom where one really does get the feeling they’re sleeping in a tree house. All the windows are casement allowing you to open up and enjoy cool north/south breezes.

(If you’re interested: view from the southwest corner and the garage on the north end.)

I think what I like about this general sort of design is that it’s unabashedly utilitarian without even the slightest nod to the Socialist Realism sort of stuff that got passed off as urban architecture a generation or two ago, the interchangeable proletarian barracks that were functional only because they wouldn’t dare be anything else. It’s probably not “beautiful” in the traditional sense, but it certainly draws the eye. (For comparison, you might want to see what I said about 715 North Francis and 33 NE 7th.)

I was squiring an author around town a couple of years ago, and part of the trip went up Classen, past the missile gantry of The Classen (at 22nd), the Golden Dome (at 23rd), and the Ginormous Milk Bottle (at 24th). She gave me a look which translated into “What sort of creatures are you, anyway?” Obviously, we’re the sort that like cool stuff, which makes sense considering that we started out in 1889 huddled together in a bunch of tents; and after a couple of decades of blanded-out suburban châteaux, I’m positively delighted with the idea that we’re building cool stuff again.

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Saturday spottings (transitional period)

I hadn’t done one of these for a while, and the weather didn’t look like it was going to turn horrid on me, so out I went — though the first order of business was to do the grocery shopping, and sometime during the past week the store I used to go to turned into a store I won’t ever go to again.

The Homeland that used to be an Albertson’s hasn’t changed much: prices are within a few percentage points, generally, and other than a switch from one store brand to another, the shelves look much the same. But somebody isn’t sweating the details: an access point in the floor near the meat counter, normally screwed down tight, wasn’t for some reason, and some poor woman rounding the corner knocked the metal lid out of position, something that couldn’t have happened if it had been screwed down tight. I don’t think she was injured — the cart caught most of the impact — but still, this is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Worse yet, getting the sale price on sale items is apparently contingent upon possessing one of their cute little datacards, and I object to this on a couple of grounds: first, I resent the idea that I should pay more for something because I’m not giving them personal information; and second, at some point there will be another Democratic administration — they can’t lose all the time — and some miscreant thereof will decide that in the interest of keeping down the health-care costs they just inflated to Hindenburg size, it will be necessary to tap into supermarket records to see what people are eating and take the appropriate action, and I simply refuse to expedite the collection of this sort of data. So as of next week, I’m looking for a new grocer, and no, I’m not considering Wal-Mart.

McGehee, responding to this post, asked: “Well, in my mind ‘estate’ in this context implies a house on a fairly sizable piece of land. Is there any correlation between the terminology and the size of the yard?” I was unable to coax this information out of the Cleveland County Assessor’s Web site, so I drove down to the subdivision in question, which is just west of the mostly-deserted South Lakes Regional Park (on the other hand, Earlywine, on the opposite side of I-44, was pretty busy). It’s hard to tell, there being relatively few structures so far, but it looks like the estates are farther apart than the villas, which indeed suggests that they’re on larger lots. Incidentally, there’s another community of “villas” a couple of miles east on 119th, which was locked behind a gate but which looked awfully condo-esque to me.

Back through downtown, where the Reggae Fest is going on, and apparently also some sort of Southern gospel gathering. I admit, I saw lots more folk in their Sunday best than in rasta regalia. And I took a look at the slightly-renamed Legacy at Arts Quarter apartments just north of the Civic Center, which came under fire from some of our New Urbanists for not looking, well, urban enough. Given the total lack of setback from the street, and the fact that the buildings mostly mask the parking garage, I think they fit in well enough, and they were sensible enough to save the lower level for retail. (Local favorite Velvet Monkey has already taken part of the area for their third salon.)

Also downtown, the Kerr-McGee block letters have been scraped off the stone in preparation for the arrival of SandRidge Energy, which bought the old KMG HQ from Chesapeake Energy about three minutes after Chesapeake acquired it from Anadarko Petroleum, which took over Kerr-McGee some months back. Also included in the deal is Kerr Park, which is in need of some TLC.

And somewhere around town is a woman with really dark sunglasses and a pink scooter. I spotted her today on 50th near Independence. If you check the back tire on this particular vehicle, you may well find tiny little pieces of my heart stuck in the tread.

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Saturday spottings (discontinuity)

Once again, Beverly Bryant has an interesting cover story in the Oklahoman’s real-estate section, and once again, I go check it out. Here’s the premise:

Las Rosas is breathing life into a part of the inner city that has struggled for years. Long-neglected, overgrown property near SE 25 and Lindsay is now a housing addition that is adding to the sense of renewed vitality just southeast of downtown Oklahoma City. There were no sewers, water lines, roads or streetlights in the 50-acre parcel across the street south of Schilling Park and Wheeler Elementary School when the project was conceived.

As it happens, I’d mentioned Las Rosas in Vent #518, back in January:

[I]t’s reportedly quite nice, especially considering where it’s located, but not everyone is in a position to buy a new home for even as little as $100,000. I’m starting to think that the city should buy up a bunch of fairly dilapidated structures, such as the ones that were presumably bulldozed to make room for Las Rosas, and sell them off for next to nothing to people who are willing to fix them up and live in them. There’s plenty of housing stock in this town, and some of it is even affordable; we’ll do our lower-income households far more good by giving them a chance to own something than by issuing them a stack of Section 8 vouchers.

What was bulldozed for Las Rosas, in fact, was a refinery: no residential units had ever been developed on that tract. (That’ll teach me to presume.) Aside from that, we’re talking serious contrast here. To the left, something “fairly dilapidated” with a For Sale sign out front; to the right, a new home in Las Rosas. Distance between the two: about 2000 feet, and an eternity.

Two homes

By the current standards of Oklahoma City development, the Las Rosas home is “affordable”; at $140k, it’s a good $40-$60k below a typical new home in the city. On the other hand, if you can afford it, you can afford three of those things on the left.

I like the idea of building in areas that most people wouldn’t give a second thought to, especially if they’re fairly convenient (downtown is a straight two-mile shot up Shields) and if there’s a serious effort being made to tap an underserved market (as you might infer from the name, Las Rosas is largely being pitched to Latinos). But my larger point remains: ultimately, fixing up the best of the left-behind homes may be a better deal in the long run. And no, the loss of that refinery had nothing to do with the fact that I had to pay $3.469 a gallon last night, my first forty-dollar tankful ever; it’s been closed a long time.

Of course, that was for premium, as Gwendolyn’s high-powered (for 2000, anyway) engine demands. Still, there are plenty of cars out there with even more horsepower, and I find it somewhat baffling that people will pay for it and then not use it. Coming up the Lake Hefner Parkway this afternoon, I was not exactly zipping along at slightly below the speed limit when I spotted a very long line of cars starting down the onramp from the Northwest Distressway. My first instinct, of course, was to get the hell out of the way, but wait just a moment here: shadowing my every move in the center lane was a spiffy new Lincoln MKZ, 265 ponies under its shiny nose, poking along just fast enough to keep me from easing in front of it in time to avoid causing grief for the first of the onramp arrivals. I didn’t have time to perform my usual perfunctory check to see if the driver was in fact awake and not on the phone; instead, I blipped Gwendolyn up to 5500 rpm (from 2500, including a 4-2 downshift) and pulled in front of the hot-rod Lincoln just in time for folks to merge. No harm done, but would it have killed the guy to speed up enough to open up a hole? You’d almost think he’d just been handed a ticket two miles back.

Elsewhere: once Famous Footwear’s store-closing sale is done, the only retailer remaining west of center court in Heritage Park Mall is EyeMasters. Everything else is gone. There’s still activity along the north-south axis there: both jewelers are open, as is the salon; the game shop had Wiis in stock; El Chico is still serving. But hang a left at the ATM, and you enter the Dead Zone. And there was a weird little contretemps in the parking lot: a couple of folks were busy sticking handbills under people’s wipers, and a young lady, cell-phone glued to her ear, approached the area where I was parking. Then from out of nowhere appeared a Security Dude, a sort of seven-eighths-scale Fred Thompson, complete with sequoia-sized cigar, who gave the girl the Evil Eye. She quickly changed direction. When I returned to my car 40 minutes later: no handbill. I suppose I should have swiped one to see what it was about.

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Saturday spottings (limited range)

By which is meant that I didn’t go much of anywhere today, but today still demands some sort of accounting, beginning at about 9:15, when I finally forced myself out of bed, mostly because I had to leave a bag of food for the postman. Local letter carriers were helping in a food drive for the Regional Food Bank; the usual person on this route comes by on Saturday between 9:30 and 10, and given the number of strays that wander about at night, I wasn’t about to put it out the night before, even though very few cats carry can openers and such.

In retrospect, I probably could have waited another hour before firing up the lawn mower: there was still a noticeable quantity of dew after 10. Then again, it had been twelve days since the back yard had been mowed, and it rained eleven of those days. I pondered briefly the possibility of getting some sort of Urban Wilderness designation, then remembered that I’d probably be spending the rest of my life getting permits for this or that. And it took 65 minutes instead of the usual 40 or so, mostly because I kept sinking into the ground.

The postman did pick up the sack, and one of the things he left me was a nice little card telling me about an Alaskan cruise this summer, aboard Holland America’s Amsterdam. I know from nothing about cruises, but I figured that if I wanted to go to Alaska, July was probably a good time to do it, especially in view of the fact that this cruise had been arranged by those wonderful folks at Bare Necessities. (Decision: Wait until I can talk someone into going with me. May take a while.)

I wandered over to the Post Office, where the Regional Food Bank’s trailer was picking up what the carriers were dropping off. I also splurged for some of those Forever Stamps, which were more impressive-looking than I had anticipated — or maybe it was just that I liked the idea of a stamp that says USA FIRST CLASS FOREVER.

I went on to the grocery — they, too, were taking donations for the food drive — and by the time I got back home, most everyone on the street had mowed out front. In keeping with my Rule of Lawns (never have the best, or the worst, lawn on the block), I wheeled out the mower again and knocked out the front yard, which proved to be marginally drier. I believe this is only the second time I have ever done both lawns in a single day, and I’d just as soon not have to do it again.

A few days ago on this post, McGehee had said this:

[Chicken] wings are so popular when sold separately (a compelling example of marketing if ever there was one).

And sure enough, in the grocer’s case, prepackaged wings were going for $1.99 a pound, thirty cents more than for thighs.

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Saturday spottings (organized for once)

This is the last day of Architecture Week, as proclaimed by the Central Oklahoma chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and for the fifth consecutive year they’ve held a Tour of Notable Buildings or something like that. So I set out on this cold February April day to see what they had to offer. In the order visited:

1) 614 West Sheridan Avenue
This newly-remodeled building along Film Row west of downtown is the home of Raffiné Interiors and Tietsort Design. The building itself goes back to 1950; this is the first major redevelopment in the area, and it serves as showroom for both Gus Tietsort and Raffiné’s Phillip Matthews, who provided enough input into the design to get credit alongside the architects themselves in the program, and, I think, deservedly so.

2) 719 North Francis Avenue
The Okasian House, as it is officially known, was designed by Brian Fitzsimmons last year to serve as home, office and workshop. It’s a fascinating admixture of classic minimalism and urban industrial grit: the north entrance takes you up a few steps and onto what looks like a length of rail surrounded by old railroad ties, a couple of feet above the courtyard, which is defined by a brick wall to the west and a stand of bamboo to the north. There’s also bamboo inside the house: it’s used for flooring, and it looks fabulous. Fitzsimmons built much of the furniture himself, and I have no doubt he could make a living at it if this architecture thing ever dries up. The kitchen is perhaps the least-cluttered I’ve ever seen, despite its wealth of equipment. A shot from the southeast corner reveals a tower of brick, metal and glass:

Okasian House

I talked with TiTi Nguyen, who shares the home with Fitzsimmons, about energy consumption, and she pointed out a number of features, none of them really huge, but in aggregate making a serious dent in the utility bills. (Sample: The larger windows are on the north and east sides, where they catch more daylight; on the south and west, where heat builds up in the summer, there is a smaller glass area plus louvers to ward off the sun.) What the home seems to lack in conventionality, it makes up for in sheer function; there’s even a secluded rooftop deck for watching the stars, as recommended by the Drifters.

3) 33 Northeast 7th Street
I’ve talked about this place before, even posted a photograph, so 33:7, as it’s apparently going to be known hereafter, should be familiar to regular readers. It’s a different take altogether on the industrial look: the living areas are darker-colored and seemingly warmer, while the studio in the north wing is light and airy. There’s also a marked lack of clutter, though owner Jason Blankenship hinted that out in the garage — well, think Fibber McGee’s closet. No one’s yet built in the next block, perhaps because no one knows quite how to top this. Here’s an unused shot from a previous visit:

33 NE 7th St

4) 301 Northeast 4th Street
This is the development known as Block 42, and it’s still under construction: visitors were duly issued hard hats. The ground was covered in wood splinters, which, it turns out, were ground down from waste building materials; given the recent heavy rains, I was grateful not to have to trudge through the mud. Developer Grant Humphreys told me that they’d already presold half the units, though they won’t be finished until October, and that he thinks that the green approach — Block 42 is seeking LEED certification for the entire project — is a major selling point. It may well be. One of the contractors told me that waste brick and such will be turned into subfill for the landscaping, which is an improvement on having it dumped somewhere else. Oh, and why “42″? I made some Douglas Adams reference, but no: on an early plat of Oklahoma City, this area is indeed described as Block 42, and the complex contains (of course) 42 units.

4) 1209 North Harvey Avenue
This 1935 building in Midtown, once a dormitory for Wesley Hospital staff, spent much of its later years boarded up: in 2006 it was subdivided and renamed Harvey Lofts. Seventeen units, 650 to 1300 square feet, were created; already twelve have been sold. One aesthetic issue with refurbishments like this is the question of how much of the original structure should be allowed to remain on display. Architect Brad Black decided to leave the original columns and the top few inches of the walls intact, a sensible and stylish approach. I suggested that I could see my daughter living in something like this; I was told that with one exception, all the buyers so far had in fact been under-30 professionals. One question asked by other folks on the tour: wouldn’t it be nice to have a freight elevator to assist in the moving process? (There’s a passenger elevator, but its capacity is less than half a ton.) On the other hand, most under-30 professionals I know (admittedly not a lot) tend to have relatively light furniture. Here’s a drawing of an overhead view (swiped from their Web site) which, at least from ground level, looked pretty accurate:

Harvey Lofts

5) 3100 Northwest 149th Street
This 2004 office was built for Howard-Fairbairn Site Design, which specializes in landscape design, and the first thing that struck me about it was the abundance of natural light, even on an overcast afternoon. (Of course, I work in a place where windows are even rarer than brainstorms.) Even the cubicles appear pleasant — low walls, presumably low levels of claustrophobia — and there’s the Best Break Room Ever, off to one side and opening to the outdoors.

6) 14900 Wilson Road
Tucked away behind a gate near 150th and Western, this 1965 beauty knocked me out before I ever got to the entrance: there’s a walled garden at the front, just about the entire width of the house. And width there is in abundance; once you open that entrance, you come upon a 95-foot gallery (with a travertine floor, yet) which connects all the major rooms. Only modest concessions, mostly in lighting and such, have been made to contemporary modernity: this is pure Sixties luxe, simpler than the occasionally-overwrought Fifties but far more livable than the abominations passed off as taste in the Seventies. I swear, I dreamed about this place once, and I’d never seen it before. It’s too big and too pricey for the likes of me — per Christie’s Great Estates, the house and its 2.3 acres can be had for a modest $698,766 — but there’s always Powerball.

7) 2532 Pembroke Terrace
George Seminoff, just out of OSU’s School of Architecture, designed this house in 1957, and it’s just undergone a golden-anniversary facelift. A classic ranch, roughly 2700 square feet, this house shows that Seminoff was a major Frank Lloyd Wright fan but open to a wide range of influences. The rooms aren’t the least bit square: 30- and 60-degree angles are everywhere. There’s what was described as the True In-Law plan: a wing with a bedroom, a bath, and an actual kitchenette (since removed). One place we dared not venture was into the library, which has cork wallpaper (!) and a leather floor (!!). Look up in the living room, and there are redwood beams; the cabinetry is ash. The walls are Venetian plaster and utterly gorgeous. And for fans of sunshine, as I am, there are new floor-to-ceiling Arcadia glass windows along the back of the house (a great view of the pool), the work of Gus Tietsort, whom you’ll remember from the first stop, and now we’ve completed the circle.

The tour itself was self-paced; I completed it in a Gilligan-standard three hours. (Five were allowed.) The $12 fee included a $2.40 donation to Calm Waters. A good way to spend a day, I think.

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Saturday spottings (to the east side)

I’ve written before about Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity and board chairman Ann Felton, who has built this chapter of Habitat into one of the most active in the entire nation, and today seemed like a good day to see what they were up to.

Turnout was pretty impressive today for the very beginning of the biggest project they’ve ever had: a complete subdivision. Hope Crossing is just west of Kelley between Wilshire and Britton, and eventually it’s going to provide housing for over 200 families. The First Presbyterian Church of Edmond is sponsoring the first house. This is the first time Habitat has had to assume responsibility for roads and utilities, and winter delays pushed back the start by a week, but I have faith in their ability to pull this off.

To get an idea of what Hope Crossing might look like when it’s done, I drove out to Spencer to see Douglas Meadows, where Habitat built 51 homes over three years. The addition sits between NE 45th and 46th just west of Douglas Boulevard; Donna Lane, which marks the western boundary, has been renamed for Ann Felton. And it looked pretty much as I expected it to look: small but neat houses, single-car garages, low on clutter, high on sunshine. There’s also a park with a playground, named for the late Habitat board member Keith Hickox, and maintained by the city of Spencer.

I’ve said before that topographically speaking, northeast Oklahoma City is the most attractive of the four quadrants; I’m always happy to see it getting a lift.

Closer to home, I got to see something truly hideous today: an actual 2007 Lincoln Navigator, Ford’s attempt to outbling the overwrought Cadillac Escalade. But while the ‘Slade is merely silly, the Nav is wondrous bad: the grille is in two sections, each trying to out-chrome the other, and the interior is exactly what you’d imagine for the 50th Anniversary Edsel. Lincoln will sell every one of these things they build, but they’ll snicker every time one goes out the door.

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Saturday spottings (in anticipation)

Nine days from now is the scheduled opening of the Skirvin Hilton, and it looks like they’ll come in on time: when I wandered by this afternoon, they were about halfway through the process of restoring the pavement in front of the entrance, which indicates that they’re not expecting any more heavy equipment on the site. From my first post on the subject, four years ago:

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.

And the city committed $18 million to the restoration of the hotel, which began in the summer of 2005. Total investment in One Park Avenue (which you have to admit is a pretty spiffy address) is $51.3 million. I have promised myself at least one night’s stay, probably this summer. If you’re curious about the early history of the Skirvin, historian Bob Blackburn can fill in the details.

Meanwhile, there’s apparently been a stay of execution for Purgatory, the one-time Episcopal church turned death-metal venue, which was slated for demolition last year and which now bears a modest (albeit red) For Sale sign out front. I’m guessing the plan for a strip mall on the site fell through. (Update, 26 March: And the wrecking ball has been summoned. Darn.)

And speaking of “fell through,” there are enough potholes on Classen near this site and for blocks to the south to make you wonder if your car is going to fall through the pavement.

Surely this has been up for a while, but I hadn’t seen it until today: a billboard by former DA Wes Lane, thanking the citizenry for allowing him to serve in that capacity through last year. There’s a small-print reference to Psalm 100 along the bottom; Lane was occasionally a controversial figure, and maybe getting out of the public eye was an opportunity for him to make a joyful noise. At any rate, it’s a classy gesture, especially in view of the general nastiness of the last electoral campaign.

Finally, a tip of the synthetic-materials hat to the newly-named Metro Alliance for Animal Life, about whose beginnings I wrote here (last paragraph).

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Saturday spottings (respotted)

Beverly Bryant gets the cover story in the Oklahoman’s Real Estate Magazine on Saturday, and today she hit an area I’ve talked about before: south of NW 10th near Blackwelder, legally the Neas Addition to Oklahoma City, which I described as “a relatively nice, if obviously not at all upscale, neighborhood.” “Nice,” of course, is in the eye of the beholder, but I saw this area as slowly improving. The new streetscaping along 10th, a gesture made by the city to discourage St Anthony Hospital from fleeing to the suburbs, helps somewhat, but it does nothing for the side streets, which are WWI-era narrow and often clogged.

Today’s story reports that Neighborhood Housing Services, an Oklahoma City nonprofit, is focusing on 7th Street; they’ve built three homes in the 1300 block, between Ellison and Douglas, to sell for $85,000. This is a bit high for the area — there are lots of $55k, even $45k houses nearby — but it’s only about half the usual price for new homes in central Oklahoma, and a check of some properties within a block or two suggests that prices in this area are rising a little faster than average.

The floorplan is a fairly simple one, with three bedrooms and two baths and a one-car garage: living space is about 1160 square feet. And we can expect more of these, says NHS’s David Ash:

For 2007, NW 7 is our main target. We will be going down the street to find dilapidated houses and empty lots where we can build new houses. We want to revitalize NW 7.

I drove down 7th from Ellison to Virginia, and I counted about half a dozen potential locations — which, of course, depends on one’s definition of “dilapidated.” (“Empty,” I figure, isn’t open to debate.)

I have to applaud this sort of thing on general principle, since I have long been persuaded that the best way to maintain a neighborhood is to maximize the number of homeowners therein, and not everybody can afford the mythical “average” home: the local median home price in the third quarter was just under $120,000. (This is, I must point out, pricier than any house on my block, assuming the real-estate firm that bought the house across the street from me doesn’t perform some massive upgrades before reselling. Of course, if they’re just going to use it as a rental — but let’s not go there.) Perhaps it will never be beautiful in the old Neas Addition, but it’s worth the effort to keep it livable.

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Saturday spottings (I thought I thaw)

One of the unfortunate facts of life is that while snow is white, and my car is white, the combination of the two is a dingy grey, and it got more so as the day wore on. I might have attempted to clean off the windows at the gas station, but the squeegee was still frozen solid inside the little bucket o’ slop they provide as a low-cost water substitute, so it’s another Windex Weekend.

I wasn’t too successful at dodging all the potential sources of slush, but I did manage to avoid hitting any of the fresh crop of pavement craters that have opened up this weekend, usually adjacent to previous craters which have been patched once or twice already. Most of the ones I found, to absolutely no surprise, were along NW 50th west of Pennsylvania, a stretch of road so legendarily bad that the city, which ran a small surplus this year, is actually promising to use some of the overage to fix it next year rather than wait for a city vehicle to disappear into a hole, never to be seen again.

The Del Rancho on Britton Road has closed, sort of. In fact, it’s moved across the street and down a block, and it’s no longer a traditional drive-in: the new facility is about the size of one of those seasonal snow-cone shops, and it has a drive-through and one curb-service space (if there are any others, I couldn’t see them from the westbound lanes). Cutting expenses, I suppose. Still, better this than tampering with the Steak Sandwich Supreme; it’s as sacred as the B. C. Clark jingle.

Bob Moore has relocated the Mazda dealership one very long block east to 130th and Kelley; as I passed it, I got the feeling that, given the vast sums I’d spent there, I’d financed this move myself. I’m not sure what’s going to happen to the former location, though it’s obviously being turned into something else; my best guess is that it’s going to house Moore’s Saab store, which is currently bunking with the Cadillac/Land Rover people down the block.

And around the corner from me, for a limited time only, are the remains of a snowman (he presumably looked better when he was new, but who among us didn’t?) carrying a sign which reads, prophetically enough, “The End Is Near.”

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Saturday spottings (fast and furry-less)

I suspect that it might have been actually safe to go to Heritage Park Mall in Midwest City on Black Friday; the day after, it was drearier than a pub with no beer. Will this be the last holiday season at HPM? Right now, I’m guessing 50/50. And if/when the place closes, I’m going to have to find another shop to do what’s left of my hair. (The turnover is probably ferocious: only twice in the last two years have I drawn the same stylist.)

I rounded the edge of town and headed back toward 240 Penn Park, a strip development that replaced (and then some) an old Wal-Mart near I-240 and Pennsylvania. When I lived on the southside back in the Pleistocene era, I thought that having an exit every half a mile along 240 was the very definition of coolness; now, decades later, it’s a whole string of accidents waiting to happen. There were definitely crowds on hand; I can’t swear that there were more people along Penn Park then there were at Crossroads Mall, three miles to the east, but stories of gang activity in the area certainly discourage me from setting foot in there.

And the circle ’round the city took me past no fewer than three of those Value Place “extended-stay economy hotels,” which aren’t what anyone would call upscale, but which, from the look of them, are a couple of orders of magnitude better than the places we used to call “flophouses,” a few of which I’ve flopped at over the years, and the price, starting at $169 a week, isn’t exactly harsh.

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Saturday spottings (early withdrawal)

Almost all ATMs around these parts are designed for auto, not foot, traffic, though I’m not above walking through a drive-through lane. The one I usually walk through, though, managed to escape my attention today at the supermarket — it’s on a pad in the parking lot, and I didn’t park particularly close by — which meant that I found myself down to $13 with raffle tickets to buy. 42nd and Treadmill, you see, is having a charity fundraiser, proceeds to go to a needy family, in which the one actual prize to be won is a paid vacation day. Dinner was likely to run $7 or $8 (wound up at $8.12), so padding out the wallet was something I had to do this weekend.

One reason I walk through those lanes is the placement of those ghastly yellow pillars that are supposed to keep you from driving into the machinery: if you clear them sufficiently to avoid shearing off your outside mirrors, you’d better have the reach of Yao Ming, or you’re never going to reach the buttons. Most of my Evil Downtown Bank’s machines are so designed, and I take a 34 sleeve, so I had to plan this trip carefully. Eventually it occurred to me that I’d never used one of the Evil Downtown Bank’s machines located downtown, so off I went to the middle of things, where I discovered, to my delight, a nice, wide lane and easy access and no one in front of me making six futile efforts to talk the cruel, heartless bastard of a machine out of a lousy twenty bucks, fercrissake. I will have to use this machine more often, since I can almost always think up some excuse to go downtown.

Northeast 3rd Street is closed just east of E. K. Gaylord; you can get to Untitled (Artspace) and an auto-repair shop in the first block, but that’s it. Beyond the barriers lies a construction zone, where the Brownstones at Maywood Park are going up. This is the first phase of development in the area unofficially known as the Triangle District; the Brownstones will fill in the space from NE 2nd to NE 4th, between the elevated BNSF tracks and Walnut. (The actual Maywood “Park” will be right in the middle, at NE 3rd and Oklahoma.) I noticed a sign promoting BuildBlock, which turns out to be an insulating concrete form, hollow foam blocks stacked up in the appropriate wall form, reinforced with steel rebar, and then filled with concrete. This system is being pitched as “earth-friendly”, and it certainly looks impressive on paper.

The original Maywood addition dates back to the earliest days of Oklahoma City, and includes the little circle now known as Founders’ Plaza at Stiles Park. Today’s I-235 slashes diagonally through the middle of Maywood, which no doubt inspired the Triangle name. The Brownstones have three floor plans, each named for a city father: the, um, budget version is the Shartel, which is 2½ stories and covers just under 2400 square feet. This is way more room than I need, but it’s about as small as you can get and still attract actual families (actual families who can afford a $600k home, anyway) these days.

More modest activity is going on in Midtown, where Greg Banta and company have started work on their newly-acquired properties on NW 10th. These should be pretty sharp when they’re finished, and perhaps will be affordable by mere mortals.

I wondered, taking I-40 west out of downtown, if maybe, with the massive changes that have taken place in the city over the last decade or so, we’re getting a trifle impatient: there’s so much still to come. Perhaps we’re forgetting how far we’ve come. (I was going to do a review of the new Steve Lackmeyer/Jack Money book, OKC Second Time Around, which remembers the Bad Old Days in great detail, but Doug Loudenback has already made a compelling case for it.) But I’m still persuaded that, with the possible exception of the actual 1889 Land Run itself, this is the most exciting time ever in Oklahoma City, and if a few things don’t quite fall according to schedule, well, we’ll get over it.

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Saturday spottings (she said)

“What do women want?” asked Freud, and then proceeded not to answer his own question. Not that I have any answers. And American industry has not always responded well: for instance, the mid-1950s Dodge La Femme was as capable as any top-line Dodge of that era, but it was glitzed up with Detroit men’s ideas of girliness, with “accessories” such as a rain hat, bag and umbrella, which stored behind the front seat. The La Femme moved a mere 2500 copies in two years, or about as many workaday Dodges as fell off the transporter on the way to the dealership.

On the presumption that putting women in charge makes a difference, I betook myself to 10909 NW 36th Terrace this afternoon, a featured home in this year’s Parade of Homes, designed by a woman: Carolyn Schluter, head of Raywood Homes. Happily, she was on hand to take questions, and I took off my shoes — the place was apparently completed on Thursday and we didn’t want to mess up the floors — and took the Grand Tour. (If she had shoes at all, I never saw them.)

And if there’s anything especially feminine about this house, it’s flexibility. Men, according to stereotype anyway, want things in their places and that’s that. They, or at least I, didn’t anticipate Schluter’s “keeping room,” which is just off the kitchen — entirely too handy for those of us who are subject to snack attacks — and which she envisions as an informal gathering place for the family. It also makes a heck of a theatre: she’s built an HDTV into the wall above the fireplace, and you have to look to see the surround speakers. But I spent more time in the kitchen, largely because it’s actually designed with some sense of utility: there’s the ubiquitous island, yes, but it’s positioned to create distinct yet easily-accessible workspaces, a necessity for those huge family gatherings with too many cooks. The sinks are deep enough to accommodate any cooking utensil I’ve ever seen; the microwave is built into the far side of the island, on the sensible basis that it’s more likely to be used when there isn’t a major production going on elsewhere in the kitchen; the barrier between the cooktop and the island disappears into the countertop at the flick of a switch in case you need something just beyond.

Okay, this is gee-whiz stuff, which naturally appeals to guys, right? Maybe, maybe not. In the utility room, there’s a sink with a cabinet, and one drawer of that cabinet pulls out to reveal: a nearly-full-sized ironing board, which somehow was folded into half the space it ought to take up.

Out back, accessible from both the “keeping room” and the master bedroom (yes!), there’s a decently-sized patio with a built-in fire pit. There’s a smaller bedroom and a den/office up front; upstairs, two more bedrooms and an open area that could be a central playroom.

It is a measure of how well this floorplan works that I seriously underestimated the square footage, putting it around 2400. (The official number is 2859.) Too cozy to be that big, I misreasoned. The exterior is as pointy as the market demands, but the arch over the entrance is a nice touch, and the door is cut to match its curvature, which is even nicer. The price, $309,900, is a bit out of my reach, but I can’t imagine this place sitting unsold for too long. (Mental note: Buy winning Powerball ticket, commission slightly-smaller version of this house.) There’s an interview and a description of the home in the Real Estate section of the Oklahoman; you can read the text (no pictures, though) here.

And for the requisite Guy Thing for the week, if such this be: with the completion of a new facility for Firestone, their old service center, the last vestige of the old Atkinson Plaza, is finally coming down. (We do love us some wrecking balls.)

Lowest gas price seen: $2.039 for regular unleaded, at a 7-Eleven on NW 39th.

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Saturday spottings (full retail)

Generally, I avoid enclosed retail compounds, at least partly because of some as-yet-undiagnosed phobia, but mostly because what I’m looking for can usually be had elsewhere, perhaps at a slightly lower price. Still, I wound up at Penn Square today, mostly because the Foley’s signs have come down and the Macy’s signs have gone up, and I was curious to see if the store looked any different under its new branding.

The answer, apparently, is “Sort of.” There seems to be slightly less clutter, fewer displays sticking into the aisles, and there are areas of the floor where you can tell something used to be there and was taken away. Still, the market positioning — upscale, but not that upscale — remains much as it was. And there is logic behind this, I suppose: on the lower level of the mall near the Macy’s entrance, the local Mercedes store has parked a red C230, the bottom of the US Benz line, which practically defines that position, inasmuch as for about the same money you can pick up a top-line Hyundai with more space, more features, and a complete lack of gotta-have-it factor.

My actual shopping, I should note, was done in faraway Edmond, at another unlikely venue: Spring Creek Village, where I dropped in at the New Balance store, of which there are only two in the state. (The other is at Tulsa’s Utica Square, which seeks similarly-bucks-up customers.) Being a Target kind of person at best, I don’t normally feel 100 percent in venues like this, but I reasoned that I stood a better chance of finding what I wanted, which was a close approximation to my old-and-busted NB 572s, at an actual company store.

What I came away with was the 925, which seems to have been just discontinued in favor of the similar 926. It’s much like the 572, with a better-grade upper and more of a support system below. And, mirabile dictu, they had it in a 14 wide. I will, of course, keep these guys in mind when it’s time to replace my 587s. While I have a certain psychological resistance to paying a hundred bucks for a pair of shoes, the NBs I’ve bought have shown surprising durability, considering the minor detail that they have to haul me around, and I figure, for the 2½ years I expect these to last — I got nearly three out of the 572s — that’s a fairly-insignificant three dollars and change a month. (I have one other pair of NBs, a semi-dressy loafer whose number I forget, but given the number of times I do things that demand dressiness, they will likely outlast me.)

Spring Creek Village, incidentally, is very nice, decidedly low-key, and for me anyway, a more pleasant experience than any of the Big Malls, despite its lower concentration of bored young women in abbreviated costumes. (Note to Oklahoma City movers and/or shakers: You need a cluster like this if you expect to continue to compete with the ‘burbs for serious retail dollars, and slapping something down amid the clutter on Memorial Road isn’t going to do the job.)

Lowest gas price seen today: $2.169 (!) for regular unleaded, at 63rd and Meridian.

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