Brian Fitzsimmons, an architect who built his home at N.W. Seventh Street and Francis Avenue in 2005, needs only to begin mapping the neighborhood on a sheet of paper to tally the current number of homes in development.
“There are 18 projects on somebody’s drawing board,” he says, looking at his sketch. Three of those are his, along N.W. Seventh Street between Shartel and Francis avenues. As dilapidated properties along Seventh Street became available, they were acquired by those looking to build homes. The existing houses were razed, and Fitzsimmons began design work for the new abodes. All three are spoken for, and each will range from about 1,750 to 2,900 square feet.
“These houses are definitely suited to the individuals,” he says. Fitzsimmons was one of the Cottage District’s pioneers, along with architect Randy Floyd.
two dilapidated homes and converted them into modern living spaces on
Seventh Street. Dennis Wells, also an architect, designed and built his
home across the street from Fitzsimmons.
In the ongoing revitalization efforts, some houses have been converted alongside those with a modern flair. Beth Rutledge and her family bought their 1925 home in 2008. Just a stone’s throw away is a modern residence designed by Floyd that was purchased by Lee Peoples and Emma Rolls. Like many coming to the area, Peoples and Rolls had spent time in the suburbs but wanted to live in an urban area. The two lived for a time in the historic Gatewood neighborhood but were drawn to the Cottage District’s modern structures and unparalleled views.
“We didn’t want a historical home,” Rolls says. “We think they’re charming and beautiful, but they are a lot of work.”
While some like Peoples and Rolls might have reservations about moving with children to an emerging neighborhood in the Downtown area, Rutledge says she keeps an eye on her kids when outside, but does not feel it is an unsafe area.
“I wanted the whole urban experience for my kids,” Rutledge says.
With new houses popping up and word getting out about the sweeping skyline views from each, Scott Davis and David Leader began to eye the Cottage District. Both are from south Oklahoma City and lived in a suburban home there before renting an apartment Downtown to see if they liked it.
One thing led to another, and rather than build a new house, Davis and Leader purchased Wells’ and moved in earlier this year. Wells began plans for a new house down the block. After getting settled in, Davis, looking at the skyline from his balcony, says after years in the suburbs, he now can’t imagine living anyplace else.
“It only took a few months Downtown decide we were hooked,” he says.
Other concerns involve blight, a lack of streetlights and adequate sidewalks, and the need for improved alleyways. The latter issue was addressed in February, when the Oklahoma City Council approved $500,000 from Downtown tax incremental financing funds. The money was approved to fix alleys in disrepair that restrict or limit access.
Rutledge says she is thrilled that in recent months, more construction and renovations have been announced that extend the area north and east. She is also glad that some of the old homes are coming down in favor of new ones, and with them, new neighbors.
“This was filled with rundown homes, and it was an eyesore,” she says, looking east. “In the last few months, so much has changed.”ORGANIZING SPONTANEITY
Bill Bleakley will be moving to the Cottage District, and praises the spontaneity of the neighbors who continue to foster creativity there. Working with city officials, he and his future neighbors are identifying their needs as they move forward.
In the past few decades, when the formation of neighborhood associations flourished in the city, Bleakley says the Cottage District area remained unorganized.
“Now, the new residents find themselves engaged in addressing infrastructure needs, design issues and planning considerations,” he says.
He also says there is a consensus in the neighborhood that the name Cottage District will need to be changed as the area moves forward.
“The area’s emerging transformation is anything but a quiet area of cottages and bungalows as its current name implies,” he says. “Instead, the area is being transformed by some of the city’s creative architects and their clients into a dynamic array of dramatic restorations and modern new designs.”
Editor’s note: Bill Bleakley is president and CEO of okcBIZ and its parent company, Tierra Media Group.