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Long-time Investment Paying Off for St. Anthony Hospital

by Steve Lackmeyer Published: November 13, 2013
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When the Plaza Tower Hotel opened on August 21, 1960, it was a significant moment in the long recovery of Oklahoma City from the depths of the Great Depression 20 years earlier.

Not one formal hotel had been built in the city since the early 1930s. The new 10-story hotel was excitedly promoted as the start of a new era. Designed by Bailey, Bozalis, Dickinson & Roloff, the tower was  a hexagonal building with restaurant and club overlooking a triangle-shaped pool on the ground floor.

Each of the 108 guest rooms had a balcony overlooking the city. The hotel was designed to serve relatives and friends visiting patients at nearby St. Anthony and Mercy hospitals.

The city, however, was changing. The hotel was built at a time when suburban sprawl was gaining momentum. A decade later, Mercy Hospital would make the unthinkable decision to move to what was then considered far out in the country – Memorial and Meridian.

The hotel was closed in 1966 and was sold to St. Anthony Hospital, which used it as residence hall for nursing students. The building was later converted into offices with a restaurant operating in the basement. In 1985, with the oil bust devastating Oklahoma City and Midtown suffering an expanding blight, the building was sold to California investors who claimed they would turn it into a high-rise nursing home and retirement center. The last of the tenants moved out in 1987, but like many local developments in the 1980s, dreams and promises went unrealized.

With out-of-state owners showing no concern for the property, vandals and vagrants invaded the tower. The city council declared the building unsecure and boarded it up in 1988.

I started at the newspaper in 1990, and my travels on the cop beat often took me into Midtown where the remaining neighborhood was being besieged with violence and house fires.

I remember the tower well; it was a sad sight with its windows broken and walls spray painted with graffiti. The city declared it a public nuisance that same year, but did not have the money to tear it down.

St. Anthony repurchased the tower and razed it. The site has stood empty ever since – a reminder of the efforts taken by the hospital a quarter century ago to stabilize a neighborhood that everyone else had abandoned.

So now we know the history of NW 11 and Shartel, which in a couple of years will look like this:

This $42.5 million, 327-unit apartment complex is set to be built on the site of the former Plaza Hotel Tower.
This $42.5 million, 327-unit apartment complex is set to be built on the site of the former Plaza Hotel Tower.

So as you read my story about the cluster of development taking place in Midtown, also read the following flashback. We can mourn the loss of the Plaza Tower and regret it didn’t survive another decade. But as much as I love historic architecture, and do mourn the loss of what once stood at NW 11 and Shartel, I can’t imagine Midtown experiencing the revival we’re seeing today without the tough decisions made by St. Anthony so many years ago.

Hospital Gives Care to Ailing Neighborhood

By Mary Jo Nelson

Sunday, October 21, 1990

 

St. Anthony Hospital is taking the next step in its neighborhood transformation.

Two years after enlisting neighbors’ help to fashion a new NW 10 streetscape from Walker to Classen, Oklahoma City’s oldest hospital will demolish a hexagon-shaped building that once was a residential hall for nursing students. Just north of 10th on Shartel, the deteriorating structure will start coming down this week.

St. Anthony president Richard Mooney has scheduled a ceremonial kickoff at 9:30 a.m. Monday. If it’s raining, the razing will be postponed one week.

The hospital began the NW 10 restoration after it completed a $2.6 million adolescent psychiatric building and during construction of a $1.5 million birthing center and new emergency entrance. Both projects are now completed and operating.

Plans to cap two wings of the main structure with a peaked metal roof, to give the hospital’s North Tower a new look, and to add an identifying sign are being formed.

The doomed 10-story hexagon at 1117 N Shartel was built in 1960 as a hotel. Later, St. Anthony acquired the building through a donation, and used it as living quarters for students of the St. Anthony School of Nursing.

Later, it was used for professional offices with a restaurant located in the basement. In 1985, the structure was sold to out-of-state investors from Dallas and Laguna Beach, Calif., who disclosed plans to develop it into a high-rise nursing home and retirement center. Last of the tenants moved out in 1987 and the redevelopment plans never came to pass, a hospital spokesman said.

In late 1988, the city council declared the building unsecure and boarded it up. St. Anthony spokesman Mary Jane Hughes said vagrants and vandals began breaking in and damaging the building, making it a hazard.

Early this year, at the urging of hospital officials, the city declared the building a public nuisance. But council members said there was no money in the city treasury to raze it.

St. Anthony officials acquired the building three months ago in a sheriff’s sale by paying back taxes. With clear title, the hospital board began plans to tear it down.

Asbestos will be removed first. Then a wrecking crew will remove the structure. With the next planting season in early spring, the hospital will replace concrete and asphalt with landscaping. There are no development plans at present.

St. Anthony also has acquired other buildings in the area. A church at NW 10 and Shartel was turned into a park-like courtyard for mental patients.

St. Anthony officials say theirs is the only Oklahoma City hospital remaining in its original inner-city location. Instead of moving to a suburban site, the 82-year-old institution developed a master plan and replaced old buildings one by one.

The neighborhood restoration was designed to solve an image problem that began for St. Anthony as nearby businesses fled the central city, leaving empty structures to deteriorate. Declining apartment buildings added to neighborhood decay.

To thwart the spreading blight, the hospital directors quietly acquired real estate along NW 10 and elsewhere around the St. Anthony complex. They adopted a landscaping plan reaching from Classen to Walker. The Oklahoma City Council threw in a reconstruction of the Northwest 10/Classen traffic intersection, including left turn bays to improve hospital access.

“St Anthony has committed significant resources to beautifying the area around the hospital,” spokesman Mary Jane Hughes said.

The hospital financed architectural planning for both sides of NW 10, providing landscaping options for each property owner along the entire five-block stretch.

Hospital staff members met with neighborhood owners, individually and in groups, to encourage shared funding. Neighboring professional groups and small businesses have cooperated by landscaping and upgrading their locations.

In the neighborhood improvement plan, designed by HTB Inc., design director Larry Keller emphasized intersections, proposing brick sidewalk inserts at each corner to break up the continuing ribbon of concrete.

“People will know they’re on a street that is special,” he said.

Trees and other plantings round out the changes.


by Steve Lackmeyer
Reporter Sr.
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's Metropolitan...
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