Oklahoma City's Hub Cap Alley braces for change

by Steve Lackmeyer Published: September 24, 2012
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Claus is hopeful the park, which will run along the full length of the west side of Robinson between the future boulevard and the river, will spur redevelopment of the street's east side.

Hint of the future

A hint of future interest begins with interior designer Vicki VanStavern and her husband, artist Don Narcomey, who two years ago bought an abandoned two-story building at 1100 S Robinson Ave. — the north gateway to Hub Cap Alley.

“I liked that it will be across from the (MAPS 3) downtown park,” VanStavern said. “It's a cool building anyway. It had been abandoned for 20 years; the roof caved in 10 years ago.”

Narcomey, whose work includes an installation inside the Crystal Bridge at the Myriad Gardens, is looking forward to using a one-story building behind the main property as his studio. VanStavern, meanwhile, looks forward to converting the main 5,000-square-foot building into their residence and an art gallery.

“It's a wonderful opportunity,” said VanStavern, who said she encountered some jealousy among friends and a worry by her son that she had lost her mind.

The view, she adds, is already spectacular with the south entry of the Skydance pedestrian bridge across the street.

“Things have changed in the last year since we bought it — with completion of Skydance,” VanStavern said. “For a while, with all the street construction, we couldn't even get there. We had to park somewhere else and walk to the building because the streets were so torn up.”

The couple gutted the structure but are awaiting the start of land acquisition and clearance across the street before they begin further renovations. Their plans for the building, built in 1926, include a green roof where they will enjoy an even more expansive view of the park and the downtown skyline.

Time to move on?

As VanStavern and Narcomey plan to make their home along Hub Cap Alley, some longtime property owners have resigned themselves to their own eventual move away.

Bob Massey's family has owned an automotive parts accessory store along Hub Cap Alley since 1927.

A dozen years ago, when talks first started bubbling up about turning their area into a large park, the Masseys were quick to remind city leaders of failed past efforts to wipe them out of existence.

Bob Massey's father and grandfather started the business at 311 S Robinson, and then when his father Jack Massey returned from World War II, he relocated the store to its current location, 1319 S Robinson.

A threat of Urban Renewal acquisition in the 1950s was accompanied by police raids and allegations of bootlegging and fencing of stolen hubcaps. But the Masseys argued Hub Cap Alley was never anything more than a quiet stretch where a rare sale of a property to an outsider involved a shop lost in a poker game.

In a 2000 interview with The Oklahoman, then 85-year-old Jack Massey argued he had always taken good care of his property. Yet he and other Hub Cap Alley merchants had to raise money to fight City Hall and the federal government. Even into the late 1970s, the area's property owners were fighting the city over an effort to prohibit issuing salvage licenses for any new businesses in the area.

These days, the fight is all but over. Bob Massey accepts that the days of Hub Cap Alley are numbered, and that his 30 acres — almost half of the 70 acres needed for the south portion of the Core to Shore park, likely will be acquired by the city starting in 2014.

The only question left, Massey said, is whether the city will pay him what his property is worth so he can successfully relocate his business.

“I understand what they're trying to accomplish,” Massey said. “We just hope that we don't get the raw end of the deal.”

In preparation for what he sees as an inevitable move, Massey pulled out old accessories from storage and put them out for sale — a move that has resulted in a surprising boost to his sales.

“We're selling four to five old things a day,” Massey said. “As with everything, you've got to look at the silver lining.”

OKC Central blog: Hubcap Alley -- Then and Now
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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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