St. Anthony Transformation Key to Midtown Revival
Visiting Midtown today, it's easy to forget the neighborhood could have taken an entirely different direction in 2003 when St. Anthony Hospital contemplated a move to southwest Oklahoma City.
The historic Plaza Court building across the street from the hospital was empty and dark. Prostitutes and drug dealers frequented a motel nestled among the hospital's campus structures.
Boarded-up buildings, flop houses and dive bars had turned the neighborhood into a truly worthy candidate for a blight declaration.
Physicians were seeking to go to the suburbs, developers were offering incentives to the hospital to make the move as well, and civic leaders were stunned to learn St. Anthony was indeed contemplating abandoning its historic home for a new $250 million campus.
Civic leaders, led by then-Mayor Kirk Humphreys, made their best pitch to the hospital to stick it out. The city and county both pledged to assist the hospital in bringing the neighborhood back to life.
The turnaround was relatively rapid. Plaza Court and surrounding properties are now a bustling mix of restaurants, shops, salons, offices and housing. The area is home to both a YMCA and a bowling alley.
When I first started covering the plight of the neighborhood and the uncertain future of its anchor, about half of the hospital's patients were traveling from out-of-town.
If they exited from Interstate 235 onto NW 10, they passed the Packard Building at Robinson Avenue, which was then largely empty except for Pat's Lounge with a storefront consisting of plywood painted blue.
If they were exiting the old alignment of Interstate 40 onto Walker Avenue, they passed another stretch of vacant commercial properties and empty lots before crossing NW 10, the gateway to St. Anthony.
A walk to some of the doctor's offices, meanwhile, might have required passing the Brass Lantern Inn, which in 2003 drew 33 calls for police and where at least one slaying transpired.
Fifteen years later, the hospital campus - and Midtown - are an example of a successful urban makeover. Take a brief look at the transformation:
1898: St. Anthony is established as the first hospital in Oklahoma Territory. A traveling salesman diagnosed with malaria is the hospital's first patient.
The first home for St. Anthony was a two-story frame structure that opened July 18, 1898 at 219 NW 4. The current location began in 1899 with a 25-bed hospital (shown in the above photo) in the west portion of the square-block area bounded by Dewey and Lee on the east and west and NW 9 and NW 10 on the south and north.
St. Anthony Hospital underwent several expansions throughout the 1900s. In the above 1958 photo, Sister M. Agnes, administrator of St. Anthony hospital, digs up the "top floor" of a new $2.5 million wing for the building in an unusual ground-breaking ceremony.
2003 St. Anthony Hospital decides to stay downtown after weighing whether to move to northwest or southwest Oklahoma City. Planning begins for a $220 million master plan.
2005 The hospital starts work on a $30 million new surgery addition. The city completes the first phase of street improvements, which includes a roundabout at NW 10 and Walker.
2006 The hospital starts construction on a $15 million physicians' building, and $3 million new entrance and parking area, while the city is preparing to start work on a second phase of street improvements costing $3 million.
2014: Construction begins on the final phase of the $220 million master plan, emergency room and intensive care pavilion