I’m not a big believer in marking 9:02 a.m. on this infamous day. What does it represent? The moment a couple of murderers parked a Ryder truck on NW 5 and knowingly killed 168 innocent people all in the name of … nothing. It was mass murder. And an introduction to the tragedies we’re seeing with increasing frequency.
But 9:03 a.m. Now that’s something special. That was the moment we reminded everyone (as very eloquently stated this week by Patton Oswalt), there are far more good people than bad people in this world.
Recovery began at 9:03 a.m. I didn’t see hatred among the survivors that morning. There was love, compassion, and an overwhelming collective effort to start recovery as soon as possible. Race didn’t matter. Religion didn’t matter (at least not at that moment). Socio- and economic classes didn’t matter. Municipal boundaries didn’t matter. We were all in it together.
We’ve seen so many great revival stories downtown. But Automobile Alley will always hold a special place in my heart. Broadway was already a blighted, abandoned stretch of downtown that seemed to be going nowhere fast. But in the aftermath of the bombing, our community regrouped, and declared we weren’t going to let this tragedy stop us in our prior commitment to better ourselves, through beefing up public safety, through the zoo tax, the MAPS initiatives, the renewed emphasis on improving neighborhoods, the self examination of what parts of our city embarrassed us and the discussion on how to address such concerns.
So the bombing tore up what was already a blighted Broadway Avenue. Were we going to simply board back up the windows? Tear it all down?
Heck no. Today, Automobile Alley is a tribute to the community that, at 9:03 a.m. this day, in 1995, drew together and said “We’re not beaten. We’re Oklahomans. And we will come back back better and stronger.”
God bless all of you. I write this with tears in my eyes. I still mourn the senseless loss of 9:02 a.m. And I’ll never forget the recovery that began at 9:03 a.m.
Last winter there was an effort by never identified parties represented by restaurant and club designer David Ledbetter to open a restaurant? club? in a former dealership building at NW 15 and Broadway on the edge of Heritage Hills. The application to the city’s planning commission and board of adjustment called the establishment “Exhale,” and the plans included a layout that was first published here on OKC Central and was compared by readers to a floor plan commonly used by strip clubs and hip-hop clubs (Ledbetter incorrectly claimed to the Board of Adjustment I made such claims).
Heritage Hills mobilized. The Board of Adjustment learned the Exhale operators had not, as claimed, provided advance notice of their variance request on parking requirements for the site. The Board of Adjustment revoked their prior approval of the variance, and in February the application was yanked. The operators, who never identified themselves, made it clear on this site they were none too happy about the coverage, but never accepted my invitation to call and discuss their project.
Two things have since transpired.
First – A new “for lease” sign is up, and the broker is respected long time resident Chuck Wiggin.
Second – A longtime club space at the Will Rogers Shopping Center at NW 34 and Portland reopened as … wait for it … Exhale. Is it the same Exhale? I sent a couple of messages to their Facebook account, but never got a response. So I’ll include a link to that page, let you look at photos, promotional posters for the club, and decide how that matches up with the floor plans first posted on OKC Central.
Flaming Lips lead singer, creative class pied piper Wayne Coyne posted the following photo today on Twitter, showing the upcoming repainting of an old blank neon sign that is displayed prominently along NW 9 just east of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation and amidst some of downtown’s trendiest shops and restaurants. The sign is located outside The Womb, an art gallery Coyne started with local artists. This, my friends, ought to get interesting…
Designer David Ledbetter either misspoke at today’s Board of Adjustment, has a reading comprehension challenge, or has an interesting perspective on truth telling.
Ledbetter, to refresh memories, is the only name we have attached to the mysterious “Exhale” restaurant/bar being attempted at NW 15 and Broadway on the eastern edge of Heritage Hills.
When I first posted on this development, it was simply to note that it was going on without much notice and that it had passed through the Board of Adjustment without any comments from neighbors.
I never once in my post indicated that it would be a nightclub, hip-hop club or strip club (or for that matter a Rave club, Heavy Metal venue or a Drag Show club). These were questions and worries raised by readers as they looked at the posted interior designs and pondered the name on the application, “Exhale.” Read the previous post here.
I reached Ledbetter, asked if he could get me in touch with the operators. He declined, but agreed to show me the exterior designs and went on to tell me it was going to be restaurant and country-western performance venue. He also went on to say “Exhale” was not going to be the name, it was just the name of the newly formed LLC and it was a spur of the moment naming chosen by the owner to describe their sense of relief of moving forward. I reported back with Ledbetter’s information. But the questions and debate continued. Then a person identifying themselves as the manager of “Exhale” accused me of “stirring up” the neighborhood and said they would be contacting me. I invited them to do just that. No contact followed.
Then we find out that the operators did not send the legally required notices to neighbors for the Board of Adjustment meeting. The item was back on the docket today, and despite a request by Ledbetter to continue the action, the board rescinded its previous vote and reheard the application.
When asked why neighbors thought it might be a nightclub, Ledbetter had this to say:
“The writer for The Oklahoman blog, on his post, he basically said it was going to be nightclub, and he further insinuated it was going to be a hip-hop club.”
Folks, read the previous posts for yourselves. Here and here. I did no such thing.
The Board of Adjustment vetoed the application for a variance on parking. But this deal doesn’t appear to be over yet. If by keeping readers informed of what’s going on in their neighborhoods is the definition of me “stirring up” residents, heck yeah, I’m guilty. I plead very, very guilty and I plan to commit this crime many, many more times for as long as I can.
Mr. Ledbetter, you’ve been in this business for a long time. I’m curious as to how the neighbors were not given legal notice on this project. I’m curious as to why, if this is such a wonderful, fine dining establishment in the works, that the operators won’t come out and talk to the neighbors, identify themselves and detail their business plan.
Next step: Exhale folks plan to apply for alcohol and beverage zoning at the Planning Commission on Feb. 23.. Ledbetter continues to insist this will be a restaurant, and not a nightclub. This story has not occupied much of time to date and has taken a back seat to other developments in the news. But with his misstatement at today’s meeting, Mr. Ledbetter has my full attention.
For the record, the neighbors who showed up at today’s Board of Adjustment pointed out the reason they think this is going to be a nightclub is because it has a large dance floor and performance stage with “snack bar” seating often found at strip clubs. It also has two bar areas.
See the plans below:
I met with the designer Dave Ledbetter this morning. He’s not ready for a full-fledged story. But he showed me computer animated renderings of the project. The name “Exhale,” he said, is the name of the company doing the project, but won’t be the name of the restaurant/club. Exterior rendering is an old west motif, somewhat of a nod to the original Oklahoma Station. The rendering shows the restaurant’s proposed name is “Broadway Station.” He also said the owners, whom he did not identify, are a Lawton family that did well in ranching and are pursuing their dream of owning and operating a country/western venue.
While Heritage Hills residents have been focused on the pros and cons of The Edge, an apartment complex planned for NW 13 and Walker, another development at NW 15 and Broadway appears to have escaped their notice.
This old car dealership building is up at Planning Commission this Thursday for an ABC (liquor) zoning. From the plans below, it looks like the restaurant/bar, “Exhale,” will be a pretty ambitious remodel:
Finally got to watch the presentation on the successful request for a variance on parking for this development at Thursday’s Board of Adjustment. Questions were asked about what kind of restaurant this would be – and the representative, restaurant and bar consultant David Ledbetter, responded it will be like “Babe’s,” a chicken chain in Dallas, during the daytime, and if I understood his answer right, Saltgrass Steakhouse, another Texas chain, at night.
That sounds like a pretty cool deal, if that’s all it is. But those I’m speaking to say this doesn’t add up. The stages, multiple bars, mezzanine, and even the kitchen size don’t seem to fit with these answers. I’ll be sure to keep everyone updated when I get some answers to all this.
FINAL UPDATE: We still don’t know what “Exhale” will be, but I just got off the phone with Dave Ledbetter, a well-respected restaurant consultant who is attached to this project, and his response to questions posted on this item, specifically whether it will be a strip club or hip-hop club, was “heavens no – it will not be a strip club or a hip-hop club.”
I hope to get more information for you on this project later this week.
Imagine a true draw for locals and tourists: start up a “Dad’s Slot Cars” shop just like the one in Chicago, only better. Because in an ideal world, this operation would merge with a new restaurant that recently opened up in Edmond, “The Fair.” Open this establishment along Automobile Alley, decorate the walls with photos of the area’s proud automotive history, and of course make sure you have the right entrepreneur/operator, and you may have a hit on your hands (this same mix, minus the Automobile Alley history, could easily be a hit as well in Bricktown).
Don’t say I never give you anything. Merry Christmas.
Meg Salyer was inquiring today about the Hale’s Photo Building on Broadway, noting she has yet to see any repairs started on the building that was almost placed on the city’s dilapidation list last month. City staff responded they believe the owner, Hugh Hale, has begun preparations needed to start, but was not aware of any other progress on fixing its caved in roof.
Hale received a 60-day continuance on the notice, but was also warned he won’t be given any further leeway. Councilwoman Meg Salyer made it clear Tuesday Hale is on a short leash…
“I don’t want to get to sixty days and learn nothing has happened at all,” Salyer said.
Credit Doug Loudenback for finding this great postcard of a century-old downtown building taken for granted and overlooked until it was gutted by fire earlier this year. Now we know the building at NW 7 and Broadway, owned by Nick Preftakes, is set to be torn down.
The following video by Will Hider takes a close look at the building, and includes a great photo of the Martinque in its heyday at the end of this clip:
The Hotel Marion at NW 10 and Broadway is probably familiar to most OKC Central regulars. It’s a heart breaker of a building that passed through several owners before landing with the MidTown Renaissance group a few years ago. Give Bob Howard, Mickey Clagg and Chris Fleming credit, they’ve shown their dedication toward renovating and properly restoring their older buildings, but the Marion is the one building that eludes even bravest of souls in the development world.
Downtown Brainstorming is just that – using the collective experience, observations and imagination of OKC Central readers to help solve problems such as the Marion. It will be done when the key decision makers indicate they welcome such input, and in this case, we have the go-ahead from Mr. Howard himself.
Before getting into the complications surrounding the Marion, let’s revisit some stories about the hotel’s history that help show why it deserves a new shot at life.
The hotel was built in 1908, making it, I believe the oldest surviving structure downtown after the razing of India Temple last year. In 2006, after the building was bought by MidTown Renaissance, I heard from one of the descendants of the hotel’s original owners. J. Malcolm Haney’s grandmother, Bess L. Haney, operated the hotel from 1946 to 1971.
Malcolm correctly recalled the hotel’s east facade for years had a sign that boasted it was “The Nicest Small Hotel You’ll Find.”
“This place has a very special place in our family’s past,” Haney told me. “Our safe haven was staying at the Marion with Bessie in room 110, which had two single beds … Many of Bessie’s rooms were occupied by permanent residents, including three terrific small apartments in the basement. It was the last place many army recruits stayed before they shipped off to boot camp because the U.S. Army recruiting center was across the street.”
Haney’s cousin Bob Villareal recalled the hotel’s telephone booth had a ventilation fan that turned on upon entry.
“You could put your finger in the fan without injury,”
Villareal said. Villareal still remembers the hotel’s corner room, home to an old radio and his grandmother’s parakeet. Photographs from Bess Haney’s lifetime were displayed throughout the hotel.
“I’ll never forget the smells in that old place,” Villareal said. “There was a certain aura about the hotel that’s hard to put in words, but it always felt peaceful and happy. Of course, it was never the same without Bessie. She was the heart of the Marion.”
More recently, my worthy competitor Brianna Bailey at the Journal Record shared even more about the hotel’s history. She shared how the Marion was next to an Army recruiting station, and the Haneys saw countless young servicemen from across the state off to the Vietnam and Korean wars over the years.
Malcolm Haney told Brianna about how the hotel’s old-fashioned soda pop machine that would dispense soft drinks in glass bottles for 10 cents.
“Bessie had an old-fashioned telephone switchboard and would patch people through to the rooms,” Malcolm Haney said. “It was a warm family place and Bessie was the matriarch of the family.”
So what went wrong?
Haney told Bailey that time was the enemy with downtown descending into decline in the 1970s. Chain hotels drew customers away from the Marion.
“Bessie fought the battle of any small hotel operator against the large chain hotels and she fought the downfall of downtown of ’60s and ’70s,” Malcolm Haney told Bailey. Bess Haney’s five children asked their then-elderly mother to retire from the Marion in the 1970s, and she died in 1984 at the age of 95.
So we have a nice historical, architectural gem with a warm and fuzzy history to make us all go “awwwwwwwwww.” With that done, let’s get the harsh slap of reality started.
The building is a mess. The interior consists of rotting wood. The roof is barely there. As I pointed out on this blog a few months ago, the dreadful appearance of jigsaw cracks has emerged along the building’s corners.
Here’s the good news: Bob Howard KNOWS he’s going to lose money with this building. He is no fool. And as Rep. David Dank pushes to eliminate historic tax credits, understand it’s buildings like this that become impossible to save without such assistance. Tax credits saved the Skirvin hotel. Tax credits saved the Gold Dome. Tax credits saved the Sieber.
But tax credits won’t save the Marion. It’s just not enough. Howard says he’s prepared to make this his contribution to the community. He appreciates the history and architecture of the Marion. And if money were the only concern here (understand, however, Howard isn’t going to bankrupt himself on this either), then I doubt the Marion would be our first Downtown Brainstorming candidate.
Talking to Howard and his partner Fleming, it’s clear that one risks killing the Marion if one is to save it.
The interior must be gutted. That means that support beams must be put in to prop up the facade walls much as Marva Ellard did with the old grocery building section of the Sieber. But the Marion is a very tight spot, locked in by properties with different owners.
It is surrounded by occupied buildings, and the parking is heavily used by the law firm to the west. The street, NW 10, is a major corridor that would be a nightmare to shut down, if city folks were willing to even entertain such a move. And even if the Marion had some working space around it, the engineering on this is a puzzle.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; the readers make OKC Central special. The conversations are a step above what’s found elsewhere on the ‘net, including the comment sections on NewsOK. I’m proud of that, far more than anything else I’ve accomplished with this site. You’ve been around the world. You’ve followed urban design closely. You’re argumentative, but respectfully so. You bring new ideas. You love downtown Oklahoma City. You’re proud of what’s been done. You’re not satisfied that enough has been done. You’re always pushing for it to be better. And you want to solve downtown’s biggest problems.
Here’s your chance. Are there landmarks elsewhere in the world that have had similar challenges? How were they overcome? What can be done to make the Marion a feasible renovation?