Archive for City Scene

But there’s no place to park

Even today, in the midst of what could legitimately be called a downtown renaissance in Oklahoma City, there are people who won’t set foot, or tire, in the urban core because it will cost them something to park. I have always suspected that this excuse was standing in for another, and I may have been right about that:

I’ve long argued that complaining about “there’s no parking” or having to “pay for parking” is just a convenient scapegoat excuse people give when the product on offer isn’t a compelling enough buy. If your downtown doesn’t offer enough value vs. a suburban office park location, naturally employees having to pay to park sounds like a huge imposition. If an attraction is lame, then of course people don’t want to pay to park there.

When lameness goes away, the demand surges. A recent example:

Attendance at Indiana Pacers games has spiked this year. It’s not hard to figure out why: they started winning games and have a team that doesn’t repel fans. Not long ago their arena was so empty it reminded me of the old days at Market Square where they used to hang a curtain around the upper deck to screen off the empty seats. Those Pacers were a team of thugs that got involved with fights with fans in the stands at the game, and shootouts at strip clubs afterwards. They also didn’t do a lot of winning.

Parking charges on game nights remained quite hefty throughout. The fluctuations in attendance had nothing to do with parking and high parking prices aren’t preventing sellouts this year. The lesson is clear: create a compelling product in your downtown or business district and parking won’t be an obstacle.

Yesterday in Oklahoma City was cold and icicles threatened anyone who walked near a tree. The Toronto Raptors were in town for a game with the Thunder. Attendance: the same old 18,203 it always is. Did anyone complain about parking? Maybe some guy who left his car under a tree.

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Something to rail against

On the off-chance that you think our local transit mavens are just slightly deluded — well, imagine what it’s like in we-gotta-do-something Austin. Chris Bradford sends an open letter to City Council:

It is thus remarkable that Project Connect’s planners managed to choose the only sub-corridor — Highland — that lacks either a current or future Core Transit Corridor connection to downtown or UT. Airport Boulevard, of course, is a Core Transit Corridor. But it does not connect to downtown/UT, and there is no Core Transit Corridor connecting Airport to downtown/UT through the Highland “sub-corridor.” (Of course, Guadalupe-Lamar — the preferred alternative of many — connects UT and Airport quite nicely, but it appears to be off the table.) Choosing the Highland sub-corridor will require that our next high-capacity transit investment be made on Duval or Red River… Neither of these has been identified as even a future Core Transit Corridor.

Duval, if I remember correctly, has about 1.6 speed humps per block; the only advantage I can see to Red River is that you can occasionally see it from the upper deck of Interstate 35. Maybe they’re wanting to push 38½ Street as a connector.

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You ducks are expected to sit

A front-page (albeit below the fold) story in this morning’s Oklahoman described the horrors of a westside neighborhood, an area in which I used to live many years ago and which apparently has been heading into the ol’ porcelain facility of late.

The story (behind the paywall) was long enough to fill up page 2A, where I found this:

Oklahoman photo of Terrace Apartments in OKC

I ought to call up a local sign painter and ask what he’d charge for “SHOOT US, WE’RE UNARMED.”

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Where it all goes (’13)

Two things are notable about this year’s property-tax bill: the millage is up by a smidgen, and the value of the palatial estate at Surlywood is not exactly climbing. End result: the outlay drifted downward a bit. From the treasurer’s report that comes with the bill (last year’s numbers, as always, in [brackets]):

  • City of Oklahoma City: $126.58 [$133.46]
  • Oklahoma City Public Schools: $478.05 [$494.54]
  • Metro Tech Center: $122.50 [$128.87]
  • Oklahoma County general: $94.52 [$100.43]
  • Countywide school levy: $32.77 [$34.53]
  • County Health Department: $20.50 [$21.60]
  • Metropolitan Library System: $41.16 [$43.37]
  • Total: $915.88 [$956.80]

Last year’s write-up is here. The actual millage is 115.70, up from 114.71; highest millage on record was 117.58 in 2011.

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Non-vertical integration

News Item, Monday: The Oklahoman is returning to downtown. Century Center, 100 W Main, is set to become home to The Oklahoma Publishing Company, The Oklahoman and NewsOK by September 2014, subject to remaining government approvals. About 350 employees will make the move, while the production operation will remain at Britton and Broadway.

Top Ten rejected names for the new Opubco complex downtown:

  1. Gaylordia
  2. The Dwarf Tower
  3. News’ Last Stand
  4. FAO Schmucks
  5. Steve Lackmeyer’s Lunch Room
  6. Stage Center East
  7. Soon to Be a Steakhouse
  8. TIF Central
  9. Darth Mall
  10. Oklahoma City Times Square

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Around the corner

Once in a while I will brag on this neighborhood, a neat little postwar strip (two blocks wide, half a mile long) about four and a half miles from the middle of town, an area I always assumed would be beyond my resources ever to live in. (I’ve now been here almost ten years. Go figure.)

This particular house, now being offered at about $10k less than I might have guessed, is probably a cut above most of the single-story houses within a half-mile radius, and it’s been done up nicely. It’s owned, of course, by someone I hate to see leave, but life is like that sometimes.

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Not as a renter

A fellow I follow on Twitter has set up a blog called 1845 Park Place, which is the address of the house he just bought — “Right between Chance and Luxury Tax,” he says, which grabbed my attention right there. (Technically, it’s between Kentucky and Indiana, but you don’t have to know that.)

And actually, that’s a promising location, between NW 10th — a corridor that’s been improving of late, at least in this area — and the Plaza District, which is rapidly becoming the place to be.

This subdivision — Classen’s Cream Ridge — dates back to 1916; the house in question is your basic one-story bungalow.

It’s the guy’s first house, so I imagine he’ll have lots to say as he turns it into his Dream Home.

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The cycles come around

You’re never going to get everyone in this town onto bicycles, but this is a heartening sight just the same:

It doesn’t hurt that it’s actually mid-September, which means the heat usually is not enough to blowtorch the tops of your arms. (I said “usually.”)

And it proves that the nascent bike-share service begun in the spring of ’12 has had a measure of staying power, despite an abundance of naysayers.

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And not a moment too soon

Respondents to Oklahoma City’s annual survey (you can see it as a PDF, if you’re so inclined) are generally pleased with city services with a couple of notable exceptions: the transit system is inadequate, and the streets are worse.

One of the worst streets, however, is about to become less so:

Look for the work to start in January on rebuilding four miles of May Avenue between NW 36 Street and Britton Road. Roadbed will be reconstructed, wheelchair ramps will go in at 14 intersections, and the street will be resurfaced with asphalt. Drainage will be improved on the west side of May between Summit Place and Britton.

Drainage would first have to exist in something other than Public Works’ imagination for it to be “improved.” I’ve always assumed that this was their way of telling southbound drivers that they’ve just left The Village.

Cost of the project: $3.8 million. That’s $950,000 a mile. And they’ll have to do it again before the decade is out. The Feds — meaning, of course, people from Fairbanks to Fargo to Philadelphia — will put up 80 percent of that.

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Lox will be opened

From Steve Lackmeyer’s Q&A session yesterday:

Jane [10:52 a.m.] What type of cuisine would you like to see Good Egg or Chris Lower bring into the city center (between 23rd and i40) next?

Steve Lackmeyer [10:52 a.m.] I challenge them to figure out how to create a genuine Jewish deli to Oklahoma City.

Hey, if it works in Noshville…

They slaved over a hot stove all day. Eat something.

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Perhaps not entirely symbolic

The Love Tree

Says a real-estate agent of my acquaintance:

Story goes … everyone who has lived in this home has moved in single and moved out married. These two trees have intertwined as they have grown and are known collectively as the #lovetree.

I don’t know about you, but were I in the market right about now, and had I the wherewithal, that might almost be enough to get me to buy, all by itself. But that’s just the kind of doofus I am.

Besides, I know the houses in this neck of the woods, it’s a style I revere, and it’s an open house tomorrow (25 August).

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Urban 2.0

The politicians have had their shot at the cities. Now it’s the coders’ turn:

The phenomenon of the software khans starting to deploy their vast oceans of capital into remaking the American public square is just beginning to grow. [Zappos' Tony] Hsieh in Vegas, Quicken’s Dan Gilbert in Detroit, and others are beginning to take advantage of the devastation that the Blue State model has wreaked on America’s cities (and, not incidentally, at the same time lowering property acquisition costs dramatically) in order to build new visions of urban organization and structure.

The Millennials who will live and work in these new places are famously cooperative, collaborative, and group-think oriented. These new urban approaches will cater to those tendencies.

Here in the Big Breezy, where urban decay is (mostly) pushed off to the side, we’re not seeing exactly this sort of renaissance — after a couple of successful rounds of MAPS, the third is somehow provoking fractiousness — but we have those Millennials in place, so we may get similar results, if there are indeed any results to be had. And besides:

[T]his is the sort of change I would expect to see as the bankruptcy of the American political model becomes more apparent, and the wreckage created by it becomes more widespread.

And frankly I would much rather see this coming from the gazillionaires of tech than from the hapless, pathetic dinosaurs of Washington, D.C.

Silicon Valley is famously blue; replacing the old-think, Democratic Party version of blue with the high-tech New (Somewhat) Blue almost has to be an improvement.

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Columbidae trip

Something else I didn’t know about this town:

In 1973, the American Pigeon Museum and Library was established. Twenty years later, they purchased 10 acres in Oklahoma City and just last month moved into a brand new building that will open to the public early next year.

It’s located just south of NE 63rd Street and west of Bryant Avenue, and it has an extensive collection of pigeon equipment clocks, bands, trophies and paintings. It also has a lot great military photographs and Army pigeon corps equipment from both world wars including message holders like the one Cher Ami carried through whizzing bullets and battlefields of lore.

Despite her name, Cher Ami was a hen, and this is the message she was bearing:

October, 1918: Trapped behind enemy lines in Charlevaux, France, and surrounded by hundreds of German troops, the few hundred surviving members of the Lost Battalion soon had another problem to deal with in the form of friendly fire. His men rapidly succumbing to the onslaught and with two birds already shot down, Major Charles Whittlesay dispatched a frantic message by way of their last surviving homing pigeon, ‘Cher Ami':


When the pigeon miraculously arrived at the division headquarters 25 miles away he had been shot in the leg, breast and eye, and thanks to his efforts 194 members of the battalion were subsequently rescued. Cher Ami died from his injuries six months later, but not before being awarded the croix de guerre for heroic service.

This is, in other words, not the bird that crapped on your car ninety seconds after you washed it.

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Some like it squat

I have long suspected our New Urbanist types of having a vertical bias: anything spread out horizontally, to them, smacks of the hated suburbs, and they’d cheer anything built on the old Stage Center site so long as it’s at least twenty stories.

Certainly short-ish and squat isn’t going to save the old Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago:

Prentice Women's Hospital building

A distinctive cloverleaf-shaped icon in Chicago, Prentice Women’s Hospital was designed by architect Bertrand Goldberg and opened to international acclaim in 1975. The hospital relocated in 2007, leaving the distinctive structure vacant. A strong coalition of preservation groups, architecture and design organizations, and internationally-recognized architects and engineers demonstrated several viable reuses for the groundbreaking Modernist treasure that made it the centerpiece of a cutting-edge Northwestern medical research facility. In spite of a unanimous vote of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks that Prentice met the criteria for a Chicago Landmark, the Commission ultimately sided with Northwestern University and cleared the way for demolition of one of Chicago’s most unique buildings.

Stage Center didn’t have “several viable reuses” proposed, and the wrecking ball is on its way. Will Prentice be saved? Not a chance. People want their tall, pointy stuff, and they’re going to get it.

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And that was the end of that story

Word got out Thursday night that Stage Center was doomed, and the death warrant was signed Friday:

The Oklahoma City skyline is set to grow again with plans set to build a high-rise tower topping 20 stories on the current site of the long-troubled Stage Center theater.

Rainey Williams, president of Kestrel Investments is set to buy the 3.15-acre property Friday morning from the Kirkpatrick Center Affiliated Fund of The Oklahoma City Community Foundation for $4.275 million.

The tower, which will front the Myriad Gardens to the east and the new John W. Rex Elementary to the west, will likely include retail on the ground floor and space for an anchor tenant and potentially other occupants on the remaining floors.

The one saving grace in all this is that an amazingly tedious 5400-post thread on OKCTalk that’s been grinding on for nearly a year and a half will finally screech to a halt.

From a different thread comes this observation:

Williams is a good guy and will do a good job, and prefers the background, but he’ll now forever be known as the guy who tore down Stage Center. Give him a chance.

Fair enough. Let’s see what happens.

Meanwhile, a friend of mine weighs in:

Design isn’t about appearance or beauty. If you want to create art, you can concern yourself solely with beauty or expression. If you want to design something, you need to solve a problem. In this, the designer of the Stage Center has failed. He has failed to solve the very first challenge of building — protecting the contents from the environment. He failed to design a building that could withstand the environment; he has failed to design a building that could be maintained by its owners.

It was a pretty good forty-year run, I think.

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North side story

East side, west side — who cares? People want to live on the north side:

Most people, knowing nothing else about a city, would rather live in the northern half of town than in the southern, says Brian Meier, associate professor of psychology at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. People tend to see the north as more desirable and affluent, in turn fueling stereotypes about where the rich and the poor live.

“For some reason, people see the north and south as very different,” Prof. Meier says. “When all else is equal, people have this bias to think that northerly areas are better or more affluent.”

Where does this location bias come from? Think “up” and “down”:

Although north and south are abstract concepts, we tend to understand them in spatial terms, with north meaning up and south meaning down. We then take it a step further and tie the two words to emotion, where up means good and down means bad — “feeling up or feeling down, on cloud nine or down in the dumps,” [Meier] explains. Pop culture furthers this idea; think of Billy Joel’s 1983 song about a blue-collar “downtown man” in love with a high-class “uptown girl.”

At some point, this directional metaphor becomes so ingrained in our minds that we can’t separate metaphor from concept, and north becomes good, and south becomes bad.

Gerardus Mercator never heard Billy Joel, but his map projection from the sixteenth century has the effect of making the northern hemisphere look more important than the southern, simply because far northern zones contain more actual land than far southern zones, and the projection exaggerates that disparity. (Greenland, for instance, appears to be larger than Africa, which is actually about 14 times the size of Greenland.)

Tulsans will happily point out that their south side is fine, thank you very much, but this is most likely a residual effect of Jim Crow.

(Via this Costa Tsiokos tweet.)

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Tall crib in Deep Deuce

Thunder small forward Kevin Durant continues to live large, but not that large. The County Clerk reports that Durant has closed on the purchase of two adjacent three-story townhomes in The Hill at Bricktown, at 420 and 422 Northeast 2nd. Each of these had been listed in the $900,000 range; Durant peeled off $1,769,000 for the pair, which I assume he’s going to turn into one humongous 7300-square-foot pad.

This will, of course, cut down his commuting time substantially, at least on game days; however, he’s not that much closer to the Thunder practice facility out on the Broadway Distention.

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Digital Botox

It’s a facelift for the Oklahoman, and editor Kelly Dyer Fry makes the pitch:

I hope you have noticed a difference in our style over the last several weeks. We know you are inundated with news throughout your day, so we are working hard to bring you new perspectives each morning. We want to focus on what matters to you, your family, your job and your community.

We are focusing on stories that have an impact. We want to bring you articles that help you understand, help you make sense of the world around you, and help bring you closer to the scene.

And by “you” I presume they don’t mean me, since I make a point of not being inundated by news, or even by “news.”

Which is why I was a fan of afternoon papers for so long: it’s much easier for me to give my attention to the product while sleepwalking my way through dinner. But that’s not going to happen ever again: news providers reason, probably correctly, that what with constant online updates, afternoon papers are deader than pocket squares.

And this bothers me:

We want to bring you stories with heart, stories with soul.

Screw that. I want to see some stories with brains. At least they’re occasionally importing some good stuff from the Tulsa World.

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Clothed all in Green

Now that Ed Shadid, who represents Ward 2 on City Council, has announced that he’d like the spot in the middle of the horseshoe, Mike McCarville is asking: “Will Dr. Ed Shadid’s involvement in the Green Party come back to bite him as he runs for mayor of Oklahoma City?”

It obviously didn’t hurt him when he ran for Council, and you may be certain that it was brought up. Now Ward 2, which is where I live, is perhaps a hair more, um, progressive than some other parts of town, but the ballot for mayor is officially nonpartisan. That said, if Mick Cornett — who, just incidentally, is a Republican — decides to go for a fourth term, he’ll be hard to beat, even if someone is unkind enough to mention that no previous mayor has served more than three terms. (Oops.)

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Put away that sprinkler

In case they didn’t make it clear the first time, the city has sent out a brochure linking back to their water-consumption site — and it’s a neat trick, putting a link in a brochure, n’est-ce pas? — saying straight out that watering restrictions are never, ever going away.

What they’re not saying, at least for now, is the actual aggregate lake level, which is presumably over 50 percent or we’d be in Stage 2 (two days a week instead of three or four). Canton Lake, tapped during the dry winter, is not much over 20 percent, though the local reservoirs are, um, flush for the moment, what with rains out the wazoo of late.

Oh, and I went to to see if there was any supplemental information to be had. There wasn’t, but there was this tornado-related announcement that struck me as a trifle, um, insensitive: “Call 297-1030 if your home was destroyed.” (This is the newly-minted Storm Debris Line, and rather a lot of folks have rather more storm debris than they’d like.) At least it’s not on the radio.

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The career path not taken

Reader Mark Eveleigh sent this along, and asked if by chance I might be going into the banking business:

JPMorgan Chase Bank sign

This is the branch at 6303 North Portland, which is supposedly important enough to house an actual JPMorgan facility, for the one-percenters who’d rather not deal with the peasants in the lobby.

But no, I don’t see myself as a banker, not even for a game of Monopoly®.

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Don’t put that there

In urban-development-speak, Houston has long been known as the definitive no-zoning town: you want to put a 32-story highrise across the street from a row of duplexes, City Hall has your back.

That’s the stereotype, anyway. What’s left of it is about to be shot into space:

Last month the City Council voted to update Houston’s development rules, extending to the city limits a push for single-family home density, among other changes.

To address concerns about incompatible development, the rewrite includes protections allowing neighborhoods to impose minimum lot sizes for up to 500 homes at a time, preventing the subdivision of lots for townhomes. The restriction, which can last 40 years, also would restrict any residential or vacant land to single-family homes, keeping out apartment towers and condominiums.

The city actually came up with the minimum lot-size rule in 2001; this is its first major extension. How it spreads:

Under the change to the ordinance, 10 percent of property owners in an area must apply, triggering a balloting process through which 55 percent of owners must vote yes to impose the restriction. City staff could revise an area’s boundaries to secure the necessary support.

As city Planning Department spokeswoman Suzy Hartgrove said before the rewrite passed, “In Houston, because we’re not a zoned city, deed restrictions are the one thing that’s relied upon to keep your neighborhood consistent and retain that character. (Minimum lot size) is a protection that really is akin to a deed restriction that will be established for these neighborhoods that apply and are designated.”

My main problem with this measure is that bit about “City staff could revise an area’s boundaries to secure the necessary support,” which sounds rather high-handed of them, especially if you’re not one of the supporters.

Still, if you had illusions of Houston being a bunch of free-wheeling Texans for whom the sky’s the limit, you’ve just gotten a glimpse of the brakes.

(Via this Otis White tweet.)

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All for a gigabuck

Oh, how the times have changed. From this week in 2009:

The operative word is “No,” as in “no raises, no new services and no new positions” in the proposed $839.6 million city budget for next year.

With the local economy sucking less these days, OKC will be getting a few more cops on the beat, a few improvements in services, and a few more pounds of asphalt pressed into the lumpy edges of May Avenue. And, of course, it will cost more: the FY 2014 city budget comes to $1.027 billion. Who’d have thought this little burg could spend a billion in a year? Then again, this little burg now has 600,000 people, up twenty thousand from the 2010 Census, and we are a demanding lot. Sometimes.

(The entire 600-plus-page Budget Book, as a PDF.)

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Don’t even look outside

An operation called NeighborhoodScout has issued a list of the 25 most dangerous neighborhoods in the nation, and the Top Three are all in Detroit:

The study by analyzed FBI statistics from 17,000 local law enforcement agencies to pinpoint neighborhoods across the country with the highest predicted rates of violent crimes per 1,000 residents. Researchers drilled down deep into cities and towns to find specific census tract areas that had the highest rates of homicide, forcible rape, armed robbery and aggravated assault.

According to the study, the area east of the Barton-McFarland community in zip code 48204 is the most dangerous neighborhood in America.

The study said the chances of becoming a victim of violent crime in this west side community over the course of a year are one in seven.

In fact, Michigan dominates the list, with one more Detroit neighborhood, plus one each in Flint and Saginaw. Second place belongs to Memphis, which placed two on the list, plus one across the river in West Memphis, Arkansas. Also with multiple entries: St. Louis, Chicago, Houston and Indianapolis. And yes, there’s one in Tulsa: #24, bound by Peoria, US 75, and East 26th Street North. Your odds: one in fifteen.

Census tracts, used in the survey, do not necessarily correspond to neighborhood boundaries as locally defined. Here’s the complete Top 25.

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WaterCon 5

This April was among the wettest in history, but one damp month doth not a drought dispel, so the city has announced some new water-usage restrictions, which are not yet in effect but which may be imposed should lake levels — six lakes, three in the city itself, constitute the local water supply — drop alarmingly.

The current condition, hereafter dubbed Stage 1, calls for odd/even watering restrictions, which we’ve had since mid-January and which will continue until further notice.

Stage 2 kicks in when the lakes are half-full or less: you get two days a week to water. If lake levels drop to 45 percent, you get only one day; at 40 percent, hand watering only; at 35 percent, not even that.

The details are here. I am not surprised that action is being taken at this time, though I figured they might want some sort of economic disincentive other than mere fines — say, a progressive (in the literal sense) pricing scheme, similar to the one adopted in Austin in 2011.

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Unanswered sprayers

As a general rule, I don’t think much of vandals. Now imagine what I think of illiterate vandals:

Hassan Ahmed, the imam of the Grand Mosque, said he was the first member of his congregation to see the vandalism because he was first to arrive at the house of worship on Saturday.

He said vandals painted the words “Hale [sic] Satan” along with a four-letter profanity and a racial slur on the mosque’s exterior. He said the vandals also drew a phallic shape on the building.

I’m sure Satan is hale, even hearty; it’s not like he has to exert himself, given his abundance of minions, but it’s a pride thing, you know?

This sort of, um, undocumented decoration is most commonly the work of the local Tagging-American community; however, no self-respecting tagger would turn in such sloppy work, so I’m having to believe that this is the work of some pissed-off drunk guy. And I’d hate to think that there are pissed-off drunk guys nearby; the Grand Mosque is just about one mile from the palatial estate at Surlywood.

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Loan extension

So I’m wandering into the Belle Isle Library on Saturday afternoon, and there’s a sign at the door to the effect that this facility will be closed for a couple of weeks for recarpeting. Which is a good thing, since the low-pile stuff they put down back in the Eisenhower administration is down to no-pile.

And then I calculated that given the usual two-week loan, the items I checked out that day would be due smack-dab (or at least smack-dab-ish) in the middle of that couple-of-weeks period. Do I drop them in the slot on the library wall? Don’t have to, said the staffer on duty at checkout: they’ll be due the Monday after they reopen, effectively giving me 23 days instead of 14.

Yeah, I know, but I had to ask.

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Please don’t go

How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Portlandia? This particular item comes from Long Island, but you can hear it in this town just as loudly:

Advocate: Let’s keep our young people from leaving! There’s a … brain drain!

Public: How do we stop it?

Developer: Build denser housing! Let’s make it … affordable! Walkable! Let’s make it … mixed-use sustainable smart growth … with a downtown, pedestrian-friendly feel.

Municipality: Development approved!

Seriously. You could sell the idea of an abattoir in Bricktown if you promise to make it “mixed-use.”

The inspiration for all this flapdoodle, apparently, turns out to be the Underpants Gnomes:

Phase 1: Create a cool city.
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Retain talent.

That will be $500,000.

Don’t get me wrong. I like busy street scenes and weird little shops and, yes, bike lanes. But the idea that the creation of busy street scenes and weird little shops and bike lanes will make Joe Average, Jr. shout “Huzzah! I don’t have to leave this crappy little burg after all!” is risible in the extreme, even if you trot out that half-million-dollar research study showing potential diminished crappiness.

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A man on a mission

There’s something in the Unwritten Law — I’m sure Murphy influenced it in his own inimitable way — which says that appliances are more likely to fail on weekends, when you can’t get someone to work on them. (I await a study which tries to explain this away by “Well, they’re used more often on the weekends.”)

My trusty old (9½ years) Kenmore duly filled up with water this morning, and then refused to do anything else. Now had I done my usual Thursday-evening wash, I might have simply shrugged, because I’d had enough stuff on the hanger to last me several days. But no, I blew it off, and now, I decided, was the time to panic.

Enter this guy, who listened to me whine, asked me to run a simple diagnostic, and then said he’d be out that evening. Which he was. For those keeping score: the switch that tells the timer when the lid is up or down had fragged. This is about a $40 part, so I figured, okay, $150 if I’m lucky. It could be worse, and anyway, if I take off from work for a day it will cost me about that much anyway. Twenty minutes and $115 later, good as new.

He asked if I’d seen him in the Yellow Pages, which I had; “but I also went out to see if you had a Web site.” He seemed surprised at that: hardly anyone, he said, used the site as a referral, and he was wondering if it was worth it. I assured him, that yes, it was. I did not, however, tell him that I was going to throw him a link. (And, yes, a tweet.)

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Saturday spottings (we got your sprawl right here)

One hundred thirty-seven miles.

This year’s Architecture Tour started in far-northern Edmond and ended in far-eastern Norman, leaving me with a real concern as to whether we’d make it to all seven sites in time. I needn’t have worried. Trini takes her job as navigator very seriously, and by the time we first entered the Norman Traffic Death March, we were practically assured of our completion ribbons. (Okay, we don’t get ribbons, exactly, but they mark off each site you visit with a highlighter, and this year they used four different colors.)

Given the geography involved, we followed the ticket order exactly, and this is where we ended up:

1) 1701 Woodhill Road, Edmond

Hiltgen Home

The owners of this stone-over-wood-frame Colorado contemporary, circa 1976, started planning to remodel in early 2009; then a rare late-winter tornado took out 75 percent of the house, and they were more or less forced to update everything ahead of schedule. The exterior was pushed about one notch in the direction of Rustic, though the fittings are clearly contemporary. (Here’s how it looked before the reconstruction.) Positioned on top of a hill at the end of a twisty road, it’s the sort of house you hope your eccentric aunt leaves you in her will.

2) 1000 Northwest 37th Street

7 at Crown Heights

You saw 7 at Crown Heights, to give it its formal name, on last year’s tour; the exterior is much the same as it was then, but the interiors have been filled in nicely, and the courtyard and pool are now finished. The “7” designation comes from the fact that there are seven units, spread over two buildings at a right angle to one another. It still amazes me that the city ever wanted this torn down.

3) 430 Northwest 12th Street


It wouldn’t be an Architecture Tour without something from Brian Fitzsimmons. This year’s former sow’s ear is a Midtown two-story office building, dating to the 1950s, somewhere between retired and ruined. Fitzsimmons’ silk-pursification was audacious enough to add a third story and recasting the building into 26 apartments, not all of which are flats. We saw a unit facing downtown, and the view of course was fabulous. (Covered parking, we are told, is in the works.) As always with Fitzsimmons, natural light is a given; every angle is chosen to maximize the value of incoming sun without boiling you to death in the summer, which is why there is as little glass as possible on the east and west ends.

4) 123 Northwest 8th Street

Lingo Construction

Perhaps by coincidence, Lingo Construction, whose offices you see here, is doing the heavy lifting on 430 NW 12th, supra. This was a 1930 auto-supply operation — being around the corner from Automobile Alley made that almost a given — and its redesign is an ingenious combination of both vintage and vintage-looking structural components, either exposed or, as in this shot, covered with clear polycarbonate. On the east exterior wall is some sort of faded-beyond-recognition painted advertisement, presumably for something automotive, a reminder that this is downtown, dammit, and we don’t cover things up with EIFS if we can help it.

5) 1729 Northwest 3rd Street

WestTown Campus

I wrote about this neighborhood back in 2004: “Professional worriers, faced with a few blocks like this, would undoubtedly start screaming ‘Blight!’ and calling for intervention.” One of the problems is that gentrification of downtown has gradually pushed much of the city’s homeless contingent to the near west side. The Homeless Alliance operates WestTown Campus, which consists of two structures, a Resource Center (seen here) and a similarly designed Day Shelter. The idea was to make it look like less of a large impersonal institution, and I believe they succeeded.

6. 1009 Woodland Drive, Norman

Woodland Residence

Brent Swift, who owns 7 at Crown Heights, also owns this Mid-Century Modern house in near-west Norman, a lovely little L-shaped ranch (not entirely unlike my own) with a lot of improvements made and a lot of accumulated non-improvements removed. The west wall of the east wing is set off with a line of exterior windows each set at about a 25-degree angle, with concealed storage space along the entire hallway. Trini spotted a For Sale sign; I think she’d have bought it if she’d thought the check would have cleared.

7. 3200 Sexton Drive, Norman

Underground Loft

Just the idea of an Underground Loft is intriguing, and this home, built into the side of a hill off a gravel road south of Lake Thunderbird, is fascinating because of its origins — the original architect wanted the advantages of semi-buried construction, but he wanted the place to look absolutely ordinary otherwise. The current owners have redone it to look more like the concrete-and-steel “bunker” that it really is. (We looked at vintage photos on display, and the major virtue on display is innocuousness.) This old-construction look gives the interior the appearance of, yes, a loft. The owner told us that he bought the place more or less on sight, despite not at all being in the market at the time; he saw something in it that no one else had.

(Photo credits: 1, yours truly; 3, rendering by Brian Fitzsimmons; 5-6, Joseph Mills Photography; others furnished by Central Oklahoma Chapter, American Institute of Architects.)

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