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Cottage District turning into playground for architects

The MidTown area has drawn at least a half dozen architects, who not only build it but call it home.
BY DYRINDA TYSON Published: August 18, 2012

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.

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