Travel to U.S.: Oklahoma: Norman 3: Post-war Downtown
Downtown went into a long decline after the opening of Interstate 35 in the 1950s, though investors are trying to turn it around now.
World War II brought an economic boom to Norman, which had two naval air stations--one north, the other south of town. Despite their presence, downtown never was very imposing, mostly because interurban railroad service was very good and Normanites thought nothing of shopping 20 miles up the line in Oklahoma City. In the 1950s, Interstate 35 was built some two miles west of the railroad station, so through traffic bypassed downtown. Shopping migrated west. To speed traffic headed that way, downtown Main Street was made one-way.
Merchants struggled to survive, in this case by investing in the aluminum screening so popular in the 1950s. The building on the right is a bank and stands on the corner of Main and Peters, the town's "100 percent corner," at one time occupied by three banks. Two survive--remarkably enough, given the economic slide all around them.
The power of a handsome font to dress up a facade.
The Lockett Hotel was built on West Main Street in 1952. In the mid-60s it became the Coronado Inn Motor Hotel, but even Southwestern allusion couldn't save the property. In 1964 a Holiday Inn opened next to Interstate 35. The Coronado struggled on, but Howard Johnson came along in 1973, and a Ramada came in 1974. A year later, the Lockett/Coronado was converted to offices. Twenty-five years later, there would once again be a demand for downtown accommodation, but it would be met by an upscale B&B, heavy on the chateau-look and wanting nothing to do with the 50s.
Over on U.S. 77, the Cadillac-Oldsmobile dealership gave up the ghost--or, more accurately, moved to a site near Interstate 35. A muffler shop moved in. Few passersby seem to wonder why a muffler shop should have a showroom, but now you know.
Another little mystery: why a NAPA auto-parts store should have a rounded facade. A dentist is there now, but that doesn't help explain the mystery. The real explanation--obvious as soon as you hear it--is that this was a drive-in restaurant. So long as Route 77 carried a lot of traffic, the location made sense. As soon as Interstate 35 opened, the drive-in was doomed. (Talk about turnover. The site was residential in 1937 but became the Blue Goose Cafe in 1938. Between 1940 and '48, it was Harry's Drive Inn. From 1949 to 1955 it was McCall's Drive Inn. From 1956 to about 1963 it was Sims Drive Inn. In 1964 it was Salyer's Restaurant. When did it acquire this circular shape? Maybe during the McCall's era.)
In the last few years, considerable effort has gone into thinking about ways of rejuvenating downtown. Even when people come in to gut the structures, they're still trapped by those old, massive walls. Notice the steel beams supporting the upper floors. They're characteristic all along Main Street. The beams farther back are wood, because they don't have to support the weight of a brick facade.
A finished example.
A earlier and more barbaric attempt at rejuvenation, this time with suburban notions of light.
The old Woolworth's building.
The surviving logo.
There's a public role in downtown restoration, of course. One example: landscaping and construction of a path--Legacy Trail--along the old Santa Fe tracks.
Farther up the line.
New sidewalks in 2004, streetpaving was next.
After the upgrade: 2009.
Upstairs, many of these buildings have been empty for 50 years. That's changing.
An upstairs hall.
Newly refurbished apartment; the windows overlook Main Street.
There's an apartment at the back of the building, too. The window on the left overlooks a rear alley; that on the right overlooks the adjoining building and so has been fitted with translucent bricks.
The same treatment in the dining room.
The restoration hasn't touched the old floor or ceiling and has played with the walls.
A few blocks to the south, campus corner got a do-over with new paving and brick trim.
Between 1950 and 2000, the houses between downtown and the campus cycled down and up, both in condition and value. The steet trees have grown senescent and are not being systematically replaced, presumably because air-conditioning has devalued shade, which taxpayers are no longer willing to pay for.
New houses found their own into the fabric; here, from perhaps the 1950s, one of several experiments in Moderne.
More traditional bungalows.
A lot of money has recently gone into restoration and improvement.
Plenty of style to choose from.
The real-estate turnaround began in the 1990s, when proximity to the OU campus began to be seen as an especially good thing by faculty, staff, and even well-heeled students or parents of students.
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