The Tale of JFK How the plight of closed schools can make or break a neigh­bor­hood

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - BUSINESS -

With an­other round of Ok­la­homa City school clo­sures be­ing eyed amid shrink­ing en­roll­ment, the John F. Kennedy neigh­bor­hood is emerg­ing as an ex­am­ple of the re­birth that can oc­cur with suc­cess­ful re­de­vel­op­ment of closed cam­puses.

The for­mer Page Wood­son school, pre­vi­ously home to the his­toric Dou­glass High School, stood boarded up and blighted for 25 years but now is win­ning ac­co­lades from the Na­tional Trust for His­toric Preser­va­tion.

An­other closed school in the neigh­bor­hood, the for­mer Dun­bar El­e­men­tary, is be­ing con­verted to a new devel­op­ment to be named Dun­bar Com­mons, apart­mentstyle liv­ing re­served for in­come-qual­i­fied ten­ants.

Dun­bar, built in 1932 at 1432 NE 7, was still open when the re­vival of the John F. Kennedy neigh­bor­hood took off in the early 2000s af­ter years of stag­na­tion and a strug­gle to re­cover from mis­steps by the Ok­la­homa City Ur­ban Re­newal Au­thor­ity.

Lots cleared by Ur­ban Re­newal in the 1970s started draw­ing buy­ers and home­builders in the early 2000s af­ter the au­thor­ity shifted its strat­egy to sell­ing in­di­vid­ual lots as com­pared to seek­ing large scale devel­op­ment.

When state trooper Wayne Linzy took a shot at be­ing the first to build his own home in the neigh­bor­hood, the area was still in bad shape with a poverty rate lin­ger­ing at 39 per­cent.

Af­ter the city spent

$50 mil­lion re­mov­ing hun­dreds of homes in the neigh­bor­hood, the dream of cre­at­ing a model in­ner-city com­mu­nity one mile east of down­town had fallen far short. Linzy was tak­ing a bet on an area that at best was a hodge­podge of low- to mod­er­ate-in­come homes built be­tween the late 1960s and early 1980s with hun­dreds of empty lots.

But Linzy had grown up in JFK, and his mother lived just one block from where he built his cus­tom home. Fif­teen years later, Linzy’s home is sur­rounded by hun­dreds of new houses and du­plexes in what is con­sid­ered the up­per sec­tion of the neigh­bor­hood.

The mo­men­tum has con­tin­ued, though some po­ten­tial home­buy­ers have told me they looked else­where af­ter Dun­bar closed in 2010. As it stood empty, van­dals broke into the build­ing, set fires and left their marks.

Now the school is un­der new own­er­ship fol­low­ing a sale to Com­mon­wealth of Fond du Lac, Wis. Aided by an ad­di­tion to the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places and his­toric tax cred­its, con­struc­tion started over the sum­mer on con­ver­sion to the 52-unit Dun­bar Com­mons apart­ments.

The af­ford­able hous­ing will come with ameni­ties in­clud­ing a com­mu­nity room, busi­ness cen­ter, fit­ness cen­ter, safe room, gar­den and a walk­ing trail around the fouracre cam­pus.

The Dou­glass at Page Wood­son, mean­while, is spark­ing a sim­i­lar spurt of devel­op­ment in the lower part of John F. Kennedy.

Long seen as an elu­sive if not im­pos­si­ble tar­get for re­de­vel­op­ment, Ron Brad­shaw bought the prop­erty and spent months talk­ing with area res­i­dents and civic lead­ers to en­sure he hon­ored the his­tory of the school and de­signed a project that would re­spect the area’s past and fu­ture.

Built in 1910 as the Page Wood­son School, the for­mer all-white el­e­men­tary school was re­named Dou­glass High School in 1934, when it tran­si­tioned to serve the city’s African Amer­i­can stu­dents.

Dou­glass be­came a cen­ter for progress dur­ing the Civil Rights Move­ment and fre­quently housed meet­ings of fig­ures such as Thur­good Mar­shall, the na­tion’s first African Amer­i­can Supreme Court jus­tice.

White flight and a lack of in­vest­ment in the east­side led to an ex­o­dus of fam­i­lies that prompted the clos­ing of Page Wood­son in 1993.

Brad­shaw’s Colony Part­ners, work­ing with Smith Dalia Ar­chi­tects, launched a restora­tion of the build­ing’s his­toric fa­cade, its au­di­to­rium and hall­ways, while con­vert­ing it into 60 af­ford­able hous­ing apart­ments.

The school is now at­tract­ing young cou­ples who are choos­ing to build homes around the cam­pus while the re­stored au­di­to­rium is be­com­ing a com­mu­nity gath­er­ing spot for fo­rums, films, per­for­mances and ral­lies.

“Page Wood­son School has been given a sec­ond life,” Brad­shaw said as he re­flected on the years­long devel­op­ment. “Along the way, this process taught us some­thing about com­mu­nity. We thought we were the own­ers, but soon found out that there were many own­ers and we were just for­tu­nate enough to be stew­ards of this restora­tion.”

The project is also get­ting no­ticed in the preser­va­tion com­mu­nity with the Na­tional Trust for His­toric Preser­va­tion award­ing The Dou­glass at Page Wood­son the pres­ti­gious 2018 Richard H. Driehaus Foun­da­tion Na­tional Preser­va­tion Award.

Given each year at the end of a ju­ried com­pe­ti­tion, the awards are be­stowed on his­toric preser­va­tion ef­forts that demon­strate ex­cel­lence in ex­e­cu­tion and a pos­i­tive im­pact on the vi­tal­ity of their towns and cities.

Stephanie Meeks, CEO of the Na­tional Trust, noted the Dou­glass at Page Wood­son was hon­ored not just for the restora­tion, but also for Brad­shaw’s ef­forts to put the com­mu­nity first as part of plan­ning the devel­op­ment.

The John F. Kennedy neigh­bor­hood is now seen as one of the top emerg­ing neigh­bor­hoods sur­round­ing down­town. With the schools turned into as­sets, the neigh­bor­hood is quickly be­com­ing a rare ex­am­ple of new homes filled with young fam­i­lies and long­time res­i­dents liv­ing in older houses, main­tain­ing the area’s sta­tus as a long­time African Amer­i­can com­mu­nity.

[PHOTO BY DAVE MOR­RIS, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

Re­de­vel­op­ment of the for­mer Page Wood­son/ Dou­glass school has spurred a re­vival of the sur­round­ing John F. Kennedy neigh­bor­hood.

[PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

This build­ing, for­merly home to Dun­bar School, is be­ing con­verted to a new devel­op­ment to be named Dun­bar Com­mons, apart­ment-style liv­ing re­served for in­come-qual­i­fied ten­ants.

[PHOTO BY DUSTIN CLE­MONS]

Orig­i­nal lock­ers from Dou­glass High School are dis­played in the hall­ways of the Dou­glass at Page Wood­son. Pho­tos from when the school was still the city’s pri­mary high school for the city’s African Amer­i­can com­mu­nity adorn the hall­ways and com­mon ar­eas.

Steve Lack­meyer slack­meyer@ ok­la­homan.com

OKC CEN­TRAL

[PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

The for­mer Dou­glass High School, also known as Page Wood­son, has won ar­chi­tec­tural and preser­va­tion­ist ac­claim for its con­ver­sion into hous­ing.

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