With immense windows taking in the panorama of downtown Oklahoma City outside, it can be difficult to focus on what's inside Bill Lovallo's home.
“Isn't the light in here wonderful?” Lovallo said, leading guests through the second-story living area. “When I first moved in here, I thought, ‘What's it going to be like to have all this exposure to the outside?' But frankly I just love it.”
Inside are dark walls and clean lines, a space that feels both modern and timeless. A free-standing kitchen work island dominates upstairs. Downstairs is the den, where wide windows look down the sloping front lawn toward the street. A metal staircase, seemingly floating and brightly colored, link the two.
“I grew up near the Hollywood Hills where a lot of the famous, what they call, midcentury modern houses were being built in the '50s,” Lovallo said. “For me, that was the image of the house I always wanted.”
Lovallo found kindred spirits practically in the shadow of St. Anthony Hospital, in a MidTown area referred to alternately as the Cottage District or SoSA — for South of St. Anthony. Its boundaries roughly extend from NW 6 to NW 10 and from Classen Boulevard to Walker Avenue. It sits atop a rise with an unobstructed view of downtown.
The original homes dated to the early 20th century, a mix of single-family dwellings and multifamily units, but by the close of the century blight and crime were firmly entrenched.
Architect Randy Floyd and her husband, Michael Smith, helped lead the turnaround, buying into the area and renovating two old buildings, one for a home for themselves and the other into two townhouses for rent. They also built garages along the alley behind with apartments above each of them. A stone's throw away, Phil Bewley recruited his brother Rick to help him renovate an old fourplex, though Phil Bewley died within weeks of moving into the finished product in 2006.
Michael Smith had to spend many nights on site keeping an eye on things.
“There was so much arson and so many itinerants and vagrants that would just hang out in the neighborhood that he would sleep over there at night, and he would keep a machete with him,” Floyd recalled. “And he would have to walk the property at night and just run people off.”
By the time Floyd and Smith moved into their finished home in 2005, though, things were changing. City officials agreed to address crime and street access issues two years earlier, keeping St. Anthony from pulling out of MidTown. With a firm commitment from the hospital, the area began to pull out of its torpor.
“So all of a sudden there were real people on the street that had real jobs, coming and going, and it makes a huge difference,” Floyd said.
One thing that sets the Cottage District apart is what it's not — a historic preservation district.
Most of the neighborhoods ringing Oklahoma City's core fall under the State Historic Preservation Office's umbrella, and work in those neighborhoods are dictated by preservation rules. By contrast, the Cottage District is almost a playground for architects. If you can dream it, you can most likely build it there.
It's drawn at least a half dozen architects, who not only build it but call it home. The roof of architect Brian Fitzsimmons' home — glinting silver and sharply sloped — is visible from Bill Lovallo's front windows.
“MidTown may be the one section of downtown that's kind in and of itself a complete neighborhood, so to speak, where you have living, dining, places of business, a park or two here and there,” he said. “A person could actually survive in MidTown.”
A friend brought Lovallo down to see Fitzsimmons' home while it was under construction, and he kept tabs on its progress. Lovallo ultimately decided to take the plunge, leaving his home in Jefferson Park — bought shortly after he moved to Oklahoma City in 1970 — to move to MidTown. Fitzsimmons even designed the home, which he moved into in 2010.
“I had always wanted a modern home, preferably something I could build for myself,” Lovallo said.
Things haven't slowed down. With Wilson Elementary nearby, families with children have joined the mix. The two lots on each side of Lovallo's home have been cleared, a home is beginning to take shape at the corner of NW 8 and Shartel, and at least two others are about to get under way.
“It's kind of the natural growing of a neighborhood, like it should be, rather than just one big master plan,” Fitzsimmons said.
One of the empty lots by Lovallo's house will someday be occupied by Mike and Lea Morgan's home. It's still on the drawing board.
They sold their home in Edmond about 15 years ago to move to Crown Heights. They recently sold that home and have moved into a nearby rental for the duration.
“We really really like the energy and the resurgence that's going on in the downtown Oklahoma City area, and just wanted to keep coming closer,” Lea Morgan said.
With their temporary home just a couple of streets over from their new home site, waiting may be the hardest part.
“We basically have a routine where we walk our dogs by (the new site) every Monday morning,” Lea Morgan said with a laugh. “So yes, we're going to keep a very close eye on our lot.”