As the 16th Street Plaza District prepares to honor resident rock star Wayne Coyne and artist wife Michelle Coyne with its annual “Pioneer Award,” two questions emerge: What took so long, and which came first, the Coynes or the Plaza District?
The first question was answered early on when a then-fledgling Plaza District launched the awards in 2004. The ceremonies, organized by the neighborhood association, sought to recognize the kind of community leaders who were helping to revive once-blighted areas such as NW 16 throughout the city.
That, in turn, explains why Meg Salyer, who led in revitalizing Automobile Alley, and Steve Mason, who turned a forgotten stretch of NW 9 into a hip pocket district, were honored.
One can argue that back in 2004, the Plaza District and the Coynes were still doing a lot of heavy lifting. The district was already a vast improvement in 2004 but was not anywhere near boasting a complete turnaround.
Which brings us to our other question: Which came first?
My first reporting on NW 16 (between Pennsylvania Avenue and Classen Boulevard) was as a crime reporter covering a murder in a junk shop next to the then-boarded-up Plaza Theater.
Several years ago, I wrote extensively on efforts by then-Ward 6 Councilwoman Ann Simank and nearby resident Susan Hogan to pump life back into the faded corridor with a city streetscape and gentle nudging of area property owners.
All along, Wayne and Michelle Coyne were quietly stabilizing their own corner of the adjoining Classen-10-Penn neighborhood — an area they have continued to call home since 1992 and long after others had fled.
With a completed streetscape, the move by Lyric Theater into a renovated Plaza Theater building, and some cleaned up storefronts, all that awaited NW 16 was fuel and a lighter.
Such sparks, however, are not easy to create. Some districts, such as MidTown and Automobile Alley, waited a decade or longer for the sparks of life to fully emerge. Other areas, like Capitol Hill, are still waiting.
A collection of odd shops and ethnic restaurants proved to be the fuel needed to create something special on NW 16. And the argument can be made that the Coynes, both artists and influential pop culture icons, were the sparks that lit that fuel and caused the street to explode into the trendy, lively district it is today.
It's a neighborhood the Coynes have repeatedly shown affection for — an area where he spent his youth, where he became a Grammy-winning musician who never bothered with a move to Los Angeles or flashier rock star digs. It's a neighborhood, I'm told, where Michelle Coyne checked on the well-being of her elderly neighbors.
It's a neighborhood in which the Coynes frequently boast the coolest, most unusual Halloween displays. And when the mayor's kid wants to come by to see the giant “brain” on the Coynes' front lawn, they're there to greet him as they would any other fan.
The Plaza District and Classen-10-Penn neighborhood are prominent in numerous Wayne Coyne stories. He did a fascinating interview with The Oklahoman's Gene Triplett in 2007 about how he first saw Pink Floyd's “Live at Pompeii” at the old Plaza Theater's midnight movies.
In between their world tours, the Coynes manage to give back to their community — even if it is sometimes awkwardly, such as with what more conventional types see as shocking, outlandish art displays.
Michelle Coyne volunteers on the MAPS 3 parks subcommittee and the city's arts commission. They also give their time to community charity fundraisers and are generous in their efforts to boost the city's creative class.
It's that ongoing accessibility and showmanship that served as the spark for NW 16. Whether it be a street festival, a special burlesque show at Saints or just an average day on the strip, the odds are high the Coynes might just be there to share in the fun — and cheer on the city's ongoing revival.
If you go
The Urban Pioneer Awards will be 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 1 at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel. For more information, call Kristen Vails at 367-9403 or email kristen@plaza