Automobile Alley, Oklahoma City
The State of Oklahoma had only been three years old by 1911. Smart entrepreneurs recognized the potential of growth in Oklahoma and brought car dealers to North Broadway. The area was in decline during the 70s and 80s. However, new generations of motivated locals have revived its potential. They are launching revitalization efforts and restoration efforts to transform Automobile Alley into Oklahoma City’s most sought-after real estate.
Automobile Alley, today’s name, has a rich history. Broadway Avenue was the core of Oklahoma City right from its inception. It was the main north-south street in the new city. Grand Boulevard (now Sheridan), was the first block north. These blocks were prime commercial lots. As you go further north, however, the area becomes residential property. Automobile Alley’s core was originally built as pioneering homes.
Automobile Alley was established in 1920 as a commercial area north of Oklahoma City. Broadway Avenue was platted with a 100-foot right-of-way as the longest north-south street in 1889 townsite plat. This width was maintained with subsequent plats.
Frame houses built in the 1890’s or 1900’s became obsolete and were replaced by brick buildings and commercial uses. According to legend, the street was wide enough for a team of horses and wagons to move around. However, wagons are becoming less common on this main thoroughfare.
Many of the North Broadway Avenue residential properties were sold in the late 1910’s or early 1920’s to be replaced by automobile-related businesses, hotels, and apartment blocks. Most of these buildings were commercial-styled and many of the oldest were made of brick. There were also automobile dealerships and service businesses. This type of business was responsible for the Broadway style buildings we still see. They are wide bays with lots of glass and no more than two to three floors. These buildings were accessible via large garage doors. Broadway was the location of 52 of Oklahoma City’s first 76 auto dealers by 1920.
These buildings were often of concrete construction with brick veneer. Cast stones or concrete ornaments started to appear on buildings. This was a more mechanical form of ornamentation than the usual. Most ornamentation in the 20th century was based on plant materials or taken from classic architectural elements. The building elements became more like parts of a car or machine as mass production took over. Brickwork patterns have become more mechanical, even as they are altered. The Magnolia Building features a magnolia bloom, while others look more like commercial structures for the automotive industry. These structures were located east of the railroad and were used for warehousing or manufacturing. Many companies had direct access to the railroad, which allowed them to build right beside the tracks. To provide the most interior space, these buildings were typically taller (three to five stories) in order to be close to the tracks. These buildings were built with bricks or concrete and were therefore more classical in design.
Occasionally, there were also pilasters and engaged columns, as well as brickwork patterns that are more traditional. These buildings were not intended for retail use so large storefront windows weren’t necessary. A basement was more common to increase the area. The first floor was usually a few feet above the ground. Many windows would be found on the upper floors for ventilation and light. These windows were usually double-hung because they were older buildings.
The Automobile Alley area extends east beyond tracks of the A.T.&S.F. railway. This was an undeveloped area in Oklahoma City at first. The Harrison-Walnut neighborhood became a prime residential area as the city grew. Here were many of the city’s first entrepreneurs, who lived in Victorian homes or apartment buildings.