Navigating districts: Urban revival leads to diverse area mix
Neal Horton saw the potential of historic urban districts in Oklahoma City, and he risked everything in launching Bricktown. Even as Bricktown was barely getting started, Horton shared a vision of an expanding and vibrant downtown that was unthinkable for many.
It was April 1982 and the oil boom was on the verge of collapse, with the Penn Square Bank failure to follow that July. Blocks and blocks of downtown had been reduced to surface parking and weed-filled lots as the Urban Renewal makeover had come to a standstill.
The areas known today as thriving destinations and neighborhoods — Paseo, Uptown, Deep Deuce, Automobile Alley, Film Row, the Plaza District and Midtown — were all blighted, crime ridden and filled with boarded-up buildings.
Yet Horton predicted a downtown with multiple districts, one that would stretch from Lincoln Boulevard to Western Avenue and potentially even Pennsylvania Avenue, and from the Oklahoma River to NW 13.
Horton got it right. But with so many districts, confusion is setting in. Locals think Skinny Slim’s, a popular bar and hub for soccer fans, is in Deep Deuce when it is in Bricktown. The Deep Deuce Apartments, meanwhile, were long promoted as being located in Bricktown when they are solidly in Deep Deuce.
For visitors and even locals, it’s easy to get confused over the boundaries of Uptown, Paseo, Midtown and the Asian District. And with Horton’s vision of an ever-growing urban core, even more new districts are set to be added to the mix.
Here's a primer for those who might wonder which historic district is which:
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Bricktown encompasses the city’s original industrial and warehouse district, built up between 1898 and the 1950s. Horton was impressed by one of the country’s first revivals of a historic downtown district in Denver’s Larimer Square. He saw a similar opportunity with the forgotten brick warehouses east of the BNSF Railway Viaduct that had served as the east boundary for downtown.
Horton got the project started, acquiring control of most of the core of Bricktown and started renovations on what would later become known as the Glass/Confectionery Buildings. His success in branding the area and raising awareness got the district started, though tough times led to bankruputcy for him and new generations finishing the job.
Bricktown is the best example of a mixed-use entertainment and historic district, with the historic side between Reno Avenue and Main Street now home to a mix of restaurants, bars, clubs, shops, offices, an entertainment center and miniature golf, the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, museums, apartments and music venues.
Lower Bricktown, meanwhile, is located between Reno Avenue and the Oklahoma City Boulevard and consists of buildings constructed over the past 20 years, including restaurants, the Sonic headquarters, condominiums, shops and theaters.
The Bricktown Canal runs throughout both Bricktown and Lower Bricktown.
Deep Deuce is often confused with Bricktown.
From the early 1900s through the 1970s, Deep Deuce was the historic home of the city’s African-American community, forged at a time when Jim Crow laws restricted where blacks could live, work, go to school and enjoy life.
The area historically encompassed the area north and south of NE 2 from about Walnut Avenue, east past Lincoln Boulevard.
The neighborhood was cut in half to make way for Interstate 235 and left blighted and deserted in the 1980s. A few historic structures survived, and, as Bricktown thrived in the 1990s, developers rebuilt Deep Deuce and it is now home to a diverse collection of apartments and owner-occupied town houses and condominiums, shops, restaurants, a hotel and grocery.
Confusion has lingered for years as to where the dividing lines are for Deep Deuce, Automobile Alley and Midtown.
The dividing line between Deep Deuce and Automobile Alley is NE 4 between the BNSF viaduct and I-235. This difference in district identity is increasingly important as breweries, food markets, offices and retail continue to pop up on the Automobile Alley side of the tracks while residential with some mixed-use is dominant in Deep Deuce.
Drive along Broadway and you’re in Automobile Alley, which is expanding north from NW 10 to NW 13 under the latest map drawn up by the Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership. Some along Broadway seem to think they are in Midtown, and indeed the sign markers for Midtown start just west of Broadway.
Among those confusing the two districts is Texas-based Kriya Hotels; the company states online that it is preparing to build a hotel at NW 6 and Broadway in … Midtown.
Some of the confusion is the result of politics and rivalries among property owners. For the past several years, the Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership has displayed signs in the area of NW 5 and Walker calling the area “Park Plaza.” It’s not a historic name, it’s not a name anyone uses, and the area that includes the Oklahoma City National Memorial and the OCU Law School has historically been considered Midtown and is listed as such by various online travel sites.
Park Plaza does not really exist. It is part of Midtown. And it’s a great brand to be a part of, with a mix of apartments, homes, restaurants including the historic Kaiser’s, the best thread of retail along Walker between NW 10 and NW 13, unique architecture and plenty of entertainment options. Midtown is also home to the area known as SoSA, the city’s most ambitious and eclectic mix of contemporary homes.
For those curious, Deep Deuce skews younger with its residents, while Midtown, which is adjacent to Heritage Hills, tends to go slightly older with more of a mix of Generation X and Baby Boomers. Midtown, however, has more restaurants and bars than Deep Deuce and covers a far bigger area geographically.
City Center, Arts District, Farmers Market
A new map being drawn up by the Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership does clarify other districts and acknowledges changing realities elsewhere. “CBD” long stood for Central Business District, but now it is far more associated with shops selling CBD oil. Say goodbye to Central Business District, and say hello to City Center.
Film Row will retain its historic status along Sheridan Avenue with its stretch of Art Deco buildings that were once film exchanges for many of Hollywood’s golden era movie studios. But under the Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership map, Film Row with its mix of creative firms and restaurants will join up with the Civic Center Music Hall and the Oklahoma Art Museum as part of a newly reconfigured Arts District.
The fledgling Farmers Market area, home to Urban Agrarian, The Power House and other shops and destinations, gets its own district. And with development underway west of Classen Boulevard, Iron Works District is the one name publicly pitched to date though others may soon counter with a proposal to name it the Sunshine District reflecting the one major anchor to date, the old Sunshine Cleaners building that is home to Stonecloud Brewery.
Monikers in Core to Shore Area
Permanent place names are being created in the rapidly developing area between Reno Avenue and the Oklahoma River — an area that in planning circles has been referred to as “Core to Shore.”
The 17-story Omni Hotel and the new convention center are rising up from the ground and the north half of Scissortail Park is set to soon open. And as they do, the area is now set to be called “Park Union,” a reflection of the park and its landmark Union Station.
Hubcap Alley will remain a point of historic reference along S Robinson Avenue between I-40 and the river, but the area will now be known by its historic name, Riverside.
The district map continues to sprawl, with the name “Mill District” tentatively set for the former cotton oil mill property south of Lower Bricktown, and Wheeler being built along the south shore of the river at Western Avenue.
The river also is home to the Boathouse District, sometimes also referred to as RiverSport Adventures, a mix of boathouses and outdoor recreational venues that is an unmatched 21st century urban amusement park.
Capitol Hill, Asian District, Uptown and Plaza District
Capitol Hill, which for decades was a separate downtown for south Oklahoma City, is in an ongoing transformation into a Hispanic district, much as the area around NW 23 and Classen is the gateway to the city’s Asian District, which is home to Asian markets, shops and restaurants.
Travel east on NW 23 between Classen and Broadway and you’re in Uptown, home to a variety of restaurants and bars and the revived Tower Theater. Make a turn north from NW 23 at Walker and one enters Paseo, which is the city’s oldest arts district dating to the 1970s and is home to a collection of established artists’ galleries, shops and restaurants.
One can also take Classen to NW 16, where the Plaza District has emerged as a second, decidedly funky arts district that is home to Lyric Theater and a string of quirky shops, restaurants and bars.
Expect more districts to emerge with redevelopment picking up along NE 23 and ongoing discussions about the future of the Oklahoma Health Center east of downtown. A growing population and place-making expansion from downtown is what Horton dreamed of long ago.