View Full Version : Capitol Hill neighborhood redevelopment under way

Proactive Volunteer
02-24-2005, 08:41 AM
Thu February 24, 2005

Capitol Hill neighborhood redevelopment under way

By Sarah Kahne
The Oklahoman

Early in the 20th century, when the hustle and bustle of horses, automobiles and pedestrians first caused traffic concerns, Capitol Hill residents envisioned the area becoming the center of the metro.

According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, Benoni Harrington bought 160 acres of land in 1900 just south of the North Canadian River, which he envisioned would be selected for the grounds of the state Capitol. His vision proved wrong, but the name, Capitol Hill, endured.

Early urban rivals
Development of Capitol Hill was on par with the development of Oklahoma City proper in those days, and a rivalry developed between the residents on both sides of the river.

The metro's first zoo and public park opened in 1903 on the southern banks of the river, as did the Delmar Gardens amusement park. The amusement park, which included typical attractions for children, also boasted a racetrack, gambling and spirits for adult entertainment.

The following year, construction of the state's first Catholic high school, Mount St. Mary, was under way.

Incorporation for Capitol Hill came in 1905, as did establishment of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and the Capitol Hill Times.

Statehood brings changes
Statehood came in 1907 and spelled the end of Delmar Gardens. Historians said the benefits of statehood included a ban on gambling and legislated liquor laws, making profit margins slim for the amusement park.

But business and residential development on the south side was neck-and-neck with that of Oklahoma City. In 1910, Capitol Hill won the bid for the area's first industrial development Stockyards City. That same year, however, their northern neighbors won the bid for the state Capitol.

Capitol Hill was annexed by Oklahoma City in 1910, but an imaginary boundary segregated the two communities for decades.

The Oklahoma City Municipal Airport settled on the south side in 1911, just one year after the first airplane landed in the state on the future site of Capitol Hill High School.

"That imaginary segregation is diminishing rapidly," longtime south Oklahoma City resident Al Snipes, 83, said. "A lot of that resentment has dissipated. All of the old-timers holding onto those hard feelings are just about gone."

History of ups and downs
Snipes has watched the growth on the south side skyrocket, then slump and again regain strength. He joined the Capitol Hill chamber in 1947 and has been involved in lobbying local, county and state officials on a variety of projects, from improvements to the infrastructure and development of Oklahoma City Community College and South Community Hospital to riverfront development.

"I've just always felt a strong obligation to make south Oklahoma City the best place to live," Snipes said. "I've seen it grow from being very low-income groups to becoming more diverse and now including the highest income group in the region."

The chamber long since has adopted the name of South Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, the newspaper is now the Capitol Hill Beacon and Capitol Hill no longer is a city but a neighborhood. All three are celebrating their centennial this year.

Dave Sellers, publisher and owner of the Capitol Hill Beacon, said he's seen the fortunes of the neighborhood's downtown area at SW 25 and Commerce rise and fall. It was a bustling community in 1945, but in the 1970s, most retailers moved to strip centers and shopping malls, leaving much of the downtown retail space empty.

Capitol Hill is beginning to redevelop with the help of a Main Street program, he said. Sellers sees an opportunity to erase the long-standing opinion of some that the north side of town is better.

"It's certainly starting to change," Sellers said. "Southside development has continued to skyrocket and the river development will hopefully change that perception."

MAPS redevelopment
Snipes said passing the MAPS initiative was "the best thing" to happen to south Oklahoma City. The improvements and development along both sides of the river is the first step in making the metro a great place to raise a family and establish new businesses, he said.

Those improvements will continue to push development in all areas of the metro, Snipes said.

Joe Mendoza, director of the Capitol Hill Main Street program, said a streetscape project to be unveiled today will help bring development back to the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Revamping housing in Capitol Hill is the next piece of the puzzle, he said.

"We need to make living here as enticing as doing business here," Mendoza said.

Chamber officials also are looking to the future with diversity programs, small business opportunities and continued infrastructure improvements. They want to entice big businesses and industrial developments into the southern parts of Oklahoma City.

"In a way, the South Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce has come full circle," spokeswoman Laurie Steenbergen said. "As we have spent much of the last 100 years developing the greater part of South Oklahoma City, and now our focus has turned once again to the Capitol Hill area where it all began."

Despite the ups and downs experienced by south Oklahoma City residents, the future looks promising for the region. Oklahoma City Community College is one of the fastest growing junior colleges in the nation, the Will Rogers World Airport is expanding, upscale housing development continues and retail development along major traffic corridors continues.

"I can only imagine what Oklahoma City will look like in 50 years," Snipes said. "Within a few decades, I predict Oklahoma City will be the true center of America."

02-24-2005, 09:06 AM
As I always say about Capitol Hill... I will believe it when I see it. Probably looking down from my office in Heaven... If ever.

02-25-2005, 12:34 AM
One of the projects included in Proactive Volunteer's MAPS for Neighborhoods should include more improvments to the Capitol Hill area. I can see this are becoming quite a Hispanic market! Our city needs to take advantage of its cultural districts, pumping money into Little Saigon at 23d and Classen and a Hispanic District at Capitol Hill. We have so much potential in our nieghborhood communities. We just need to take advantage of it!

All I have to say is: MAPS for Neighborhoods! This should be MAPS III! An opportunity to improve our neighborhoods and beautify our city.

Hey, we focused on downtown in the 1st MAPS, why not focus on neighborhoods in MAPS III?

Proactive Volunteer
02-25-2005, 08:00 AM

With citizen input, we can bring updates to our neighborhoods, parks and neighborhood business districts!

Think about it....MAPS for Neighborhoods can only be as successful as MAPS and MAPS for Kids!