Hub Cap Alley pioneers: Storm nudges couple into going ahead with long-delayed project
Damage from an “inland hurricane” earlier this month is prompting owners of the almost century-old former Robinson Trading Post to begin rebuilding the structure across from the future south half of Scissortail Park.
Interior designer Vicki VanStavern and her husband, artist Don Narcomey, bought the building at 1100 S Robinson in 2012 when it became apparent it stood at the north gateway to the south half of Scissortail Park and a potential revival of what remained of Hub Cap Alley and the adjoining Capitol Hill.
The building stood empty for two decades, its upstairs badly fire damaged. The couple gutted the structure, braced the second-story walls and waited for development in the area to get started before they invested in their own renovation into a residence, retail and a gallery for Narcomey.
The couple weren’t looking to be the pioneers to getting the development started. But now, VanStavern said, they really don’t have a choice.
“The code people have deemed it dilapidated,” she said. “I have to agree with them at this point. We’ve been procrastinating for quite a while because the area was rough. But it’s time to move forward.”
The building is, at the moment, a one-story structure following the removal of what remained of the crumbled second floor walls following the storm.
“It was pretty upsetting to see the walls blown over,” VanStavern said. “In retrospect, we’ll have a better building in the end. We will have more insulated walls. We will have to find more bricks, and we’ve found some, and it will all be for the good.”
While cleaning up the debris and salvaging the brick, Midwest Wrecking owner Chris Kates suggested the couple reverse the brick face when they rebuild. The same tactic was used successfully by Jeff and Aimee Struble with a building in the Plaza District that had bricks with multiple layers of paint.
“The building had been painted and sandblasted so many times,” VanStavern said of the old trading post. “We had tried to use an environmentally friendly stripping.”
The couple’s plans remain as they were when they bought the building, though the residence upstairs, instead of becoming their own home, might end up being a vacation rental. The downstairs will be leased for either retail or offices. A smaller building to the east of the old trading post will be a gallery for Narcomey.
VanStavern sees the area recapturing its early magic with construction set to start on the south half of Scissortail Park and plans for a nearby Humane Society campus.
The two-story building and adjoining garage were built in the early 1920s when Robinson Avenue was part of U.S. 77 and was a busy corridor lined with garages, scrap yards and services for travelers.
From early on, the area between the Union Pacific and Rock Island Railway tracks and the river was known as "Hub Cap Alley."
By 1936, the Great Depression had taken a toll on the area and Goodwill Industries expanded into Oklahoma City by setting up shop at 1100 S Robinson in what was then described as a “moldy building” filled with an “unpromising looking pile of salvage.”
In later years, the property was converted into a garage. By 1995, it was making the city’s dilapidated list. The surrounding Hub Cap Alley that rose up during Route 77 days hung on, though it too faced an uncertain future with rerouting of Interstate 40 and plans to clear properties south of Robinson Avenue with Scissortail Park.
Now the south side of Hub Cap Alley is cleared and several of the scrap yards along the north side of the street have been bought by speculators, leaving only two left.
The days of waiting for someone to pioneer development along the old Hub Cap Alley are coming to an end, VanStavern said, concluding, “I’m it.”