Architecture: Mixture of styles, from Victorian to modern, are on display in MidTown
Urban block blends creativity, history
Renovation of a home by brothers became the fulfillment of a dying wish.
By Steve Lackmeyer
|Sunday, April 22, 2007
Edition: CITY, Section: SPECIAL SECTION, Page 16
OUTLOOK III SPECIAL SECTION
Imagine a block that features an early 1980s example of dense urban housing, a renovated 1925 two-story brick home, a couple of restored 1906 two-story wood frame duplex and to cap it off, a brand new “contemporary modern” home that is sometimes mistaken for a church or business.The mix is eclectic but very real. Welcome to the corner of Francis and NW 7, in the heart of MidTown’s cottage district. It’s a block that has captured the imagination of urban pioneers, and was one man’s final dying wish.
Architect Randy Floyd considers the two homes she owns with partner Michael Smith to be the best example of what her block looked like a century ago. The houses at 810 and 812 NW 7 were built in 1906 when the hill they went up on was considered “out in the country.”
“These homes were middle class,” Floyd said. “And in quite a few, the owners lived on the first floor, and they had rental units on the second floor. In our buildings, they had a 1,120-square-foot residence on the first floor and two rental units on the second floor.”
Saved from demolition
The two homes, which Floyd describes as “Territorial Victorian,” feature flat roofs and a soft pediment one might see in a Western movie. When Floyd and Smith first bought the properties, both the homes and the block itself were considered blighted.
Several of the homes on the block were torn down in the early 1980s to make way for decidedly modern structures that included attorneys’ offices at 719 N Shartel and the three-story Classen Glenn Condominiums at 901 NW 7 (both were designed by Beck Associates). Floyd suspects more structures like her own might have been torn down if not for the mid-1980s oil bust halting redevelopment of the block.
Floyd doesn’t mind the presence of the offices — she points out the neighborhood has always been mixed-use and she hopes to see more professionals decide to combine businesses and homes along NW 7.
The Classen Glenn Condominiums, an award-winning design by Beck Associates when it opened in 1985, looms large at the corner of NW 7 and Classen. The condos and law offices were the first projects for architect Don Beck, whose firm later went on to designing the Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library and the new Oklahoma State Historical Museum.
Beck recalled the developer of the condominiums once envisioned building more housing on the block but gave up when the oil bust hit. Some construction problems, most notably the lack of water splashing, have prevented the condos from reaching their full potential, Beck said.
“I like the forms of Classen Glenn,” Floyd said. “I like the big walls with holes in them, and I think modern is just fine. But when you look at all these houses, what do you see? You see porches with steps coming down to the street, you see sidewalks. But when you look at Classen Glenn, it’s totally walled off. If it had been built with a more urban sentiment, facing the streets, maybe our streets wouldn’t have been lost to the vagrants, prostitutes and drug dealers. They gave the street away.”
Neighbor and fellow architect Bryan Fitzsimmons is more complimentary toward Classen Glenn, which he notes hasn’t achieved the sort of sales prices under way at new downtown condominium projects in Deep Deuce and Lower Bricktown.
“Classen Glenn is very interesting, and I have high hopes it will prosper again,” Fitzsimmons said. “It has ahead of its time. It was the first high-density housing built downtown, and the city just wasn’t ready for it yet.”
But is the city ready for Fitzsimmons’ own home at 719 N Francis? Fitzsimmons admits his house, built in 2005, has been mistaken as a church and office building. He makes no apologies for his modern expressionist design, much of it geared toward his wife’s Vietnamese roots.
“We tried to mix up the cultures a bit — my modern tastes with a lot of dedications to her interest in numerology,” Fitzsimmons said. “It has her favorite color of red, a sign of good health, wishing luck others, and the angle of the wall is to the number 13 — her birthday.”
The stairwell in the home is four stories tall, and the front of the house to the top of the silver rooftop is 25 feet. The distance from the alley to the top of the stairwell, meanwhile, is 37 feet.
“Nobody can identify what it is,” Fitzsimmons said.
Yet another architect, Dennis Walls, has started construction on his own modern design home at 834 NW 7. Like Fitzsimmons, Walls’ design stands out from typical residential construction. Inspired by the work of architect Paolo Soleri, Walls describes his new home as a “plaster cube.”
“It’s going to be 40 feet by 40 feet, and 25 feet tall,” said Walls, who is an architect with Glover Smith Bode. “It’s set on cost efficiency. I was thinking economy of materials, with an industrial look on the interior.”
Both Fitzsimmons and Walls say they were inspired to build along NW 7 by Floyd and Smith.
“I went on an AIA (American Institute of Architects) tour when their homes were first gutted, and they were just starting work,” Walls said. “I thought, ‘Wow, someone is putting money in here, let’s take a look.’ ”
Walls doesn’t mind that the block features so many designs — the very quirkiness of the area was what attracted him away from the suburbs.
“I’m escaping the suburbs,” Walls said. “I don’t like the rubber stamp housing development, and I want to see some diversity. The building stock here goes from the law firm built in the late ’70s style to a Habitat for Humanity home. I could build whatever style I wanted without too much opposition.”
Phil Bewley wasn’t an architect, but he, too, marveled at the efforts undertaken by Floyd and Smith and also dreamed of becoming an urban pioneer. Floyd and Smith had just started renovations when Phil Bewley and brother Rick bought a four-plex at 712 N Francis that was built in 1925.
“My brother was obsessed with finding something downtown, something old he could bring back, with a view,” Rick Bewley said. “The house ended up needing an entire gutting, all the way to the inside walls where there had been several fires over the years. You could see on the second floor trusses where they had been repaired and spliced together.”
Just as the gutting was complete, financing was in place and renovations were starting, Phil Bewley got some bad news: He had brain cancer. In his weakened condition, he could only watch as his family and friends took over renovation of his dream home.
Phil Bewley moved in by September. He died Oct. 11 at age 52. Rick Bewley thinks his brother would be excited to see the continued diversity of the block, which is about to include a couple of new, modern homes being planned by Floyd and Smith.
“In his office he had all the articles that ever came out on MidTown pinned up on his walls,” Rick Bewley said. “He was a big fan of unusual architecture. Over the past 25 years, he did plastic work for architect Rand Elliott, so he was always in tune with neat new cool stuff.”