NICHOLS HILLS — With space at a premium in Nichols Hills, it was only natural that 5 acres along NW 63 between Pennsylvania and Grand avenues would attract attention.
“I've been watching it for about 25 or 30 years,” said Mark Dale, a builder-developer and Nichols Hills resident, with a laugh. “I even took a pass at it once years and years ago.”
He was rebuffed, though, and so were many others over the years. Marjorie Sue Green Bleakley, the widow who lived in the house there, wouldn't even entertain the idea of selling the property.
“She knew if she sold, she'd have to relocate,” recalled Kanela Huff, whose real estate office sits across NW 63 from the Bleakley property. “She didn't want to relocate.”
It was once a larger parcel, Huff said, split between Bleakley and a sister. “But the sister sold her part off a long, long, long time ago,” Huff said. After Bleakley died in 2009, though, her sons — who both live out of state — put the property up for sale.
“I called the first day the ‘For Sale' sign went out,” recalled builder Kelly McNitt, whose office is nearby. “I called on it within a few minutes.”
But he deemed the price too high at the time, and once another developer waded in, McNitt decided to step aside.
More than three years later, though, he and partners Jim Loftis and Jack Golsen are developing lots on that land, moving forward Glenbrook Park — Nichols Hills' first new neighborhood in a decade. The trio have stepped delicately through the exacting process with city leaders and residents, guided by Kanela & Co., which is marketing the lots.
Loftis, an architect who lives in Nichols Hills, said he observed the process with the first developers and took mental notes. “I thought surely there's a way to resolve this,” he said. “I just think that way. I'm an architect, a planner.”
He was right. The partners are on the brink of selling lots in a lightened-up plan that eased residents' concerns about both density and traffic. The plan includes 14 lots, compared with 18 in the plan that the city denied, as well as cul-de-sacs joined by a wide greenbelt. Loftis said he hopes Glenbrook Park residents will mingle with their neighbors on the greenbelt.
“That's what we have throughout the community anyway, and this would add to that flavor,” he said.
Half of the lots have been reserved, including all those that back up to the green belt, Loftis said.
Loftis said the homeowners association will ensure that builders meet high standards. The developers of Glenbrook Park are not builders.
Standards in Nichols Hills have been high from the start. Developer G.A. Nichols lent his talents to many Oklahoma City neighborhoods, but the town he lent his name to in 1929 was a carefully planned community.
The former dentist built his reputation on quality, and he demanded the same from anyone building in Nichols Hills. Permanent building restrictions were put into place to protect “against encroachment of undesirable surroundings,” according to a history written by Mrs. George R. Bixler in 1957 featured on the Nichols Hills city website.
Bixler noted that the city's wide, curving streets were no accident. “The streets were not to be thoroughfares,” she wrote. “They were, rather, to invite leisurely travel. It was the founder's idea that no one should want to travel at an excessive speed through the hills.”
Nichols and his family lived on a 17-acre estate there until ill health sent him to a Michigan sanitarium, where he died in 1950.
Bleakley dropped into the Kanela & Co. offices every once in a while, Huff said. “She used to come to our office Christmas parties with her little red Santa hat on and enjoy. She was a very nice lady, but very smart and very stubborn.”
Bleakley was 87 years old when she died Feb. 10, 2009. Her obituary may have revealed more than a lot of day-to-day associates knew: She served with the Navy WAVES during World War II, her adult life revolved around art and was lived around the world, wherever the Air Force assigned her husband, Ernest Eugene Bleakley. They returned to Oklahoma City after he retired in 1966, where he died in 1994.
One line in her obituary, however, may have summed it all up: “She was noted for her independent nature.”
For McNitt, transforming Bleakley's land into what is most likely the last large-scale development in Nichols Hills can be hard to take in. “I just kind of have to pinch myself every day because I've watched the property for over 20 years,” he said.