Plaza District works to improve imagePublished: Thursday, April 30, 2009 7:00 am
OKLAHOMA CITY - Redevelopment in Oklahoma City's Plaza District continues nearly a decade after Lyric Theatre took a chance on the ailing area.
The Plaza District, launched in the 1920s, was once a thriving center of commerce at the end of the trolley line. Shopkeepers served the neighborhood and the district had the Plaza Cinema Theatre, said to be the first air-conditioned theater in Oklahoma City.
By the late 1970s, many Plaza District businesses had closed and the area was littered with run-down buildings and frequented by transients, prostitutes and drug dealers.
Stretching from near N. Indiana Avenue on the west to N. Blackwelder Avenue on the east along NW 16th Street, the area is slowly shedding its derelict image.
While a few convenience stores and abandoned shops remain, several upscale businesses are establishing roots in the district. Among them is the Velvet Monkey Salon, set to open in May.
Estrella Evans, owner of Velvet Monkey, purchased the former New State Ice Co. building at 1711 N. Blackwelder Ave. in 2007 with plans to use it for both a shop and residence.
"I had been looking for a warehouse to live in," Evans said. "When I found that place it was perfect for a salon also."
Evans worked with Brian Fitzsimmons and Larry Pickering of Fitzsimmons Architects and Kenneth Fitzsimmons of TASK Design.
"The idea was to retain as much of the building's character as possible," Kenneth Fitzsimmons said.
The design incorporates the original 1927 red brick enhanced with modern artistic flair.
The Velvet Monkey moved from the NW 23rd Street space it has inhabited for 10 years.
Coffy's Café came to the Plaza District this month, occupying space at 1739 NW 16th St.
Next door to Velvet Monkey, Lindsay Zodrow in August opened Collected Thread, a handmade clothing and accessories store. Zodrow and her husband, Adam, live at the back of the store.
Lindsay Zodrow said she was not discouraged by the area's reputation.
"I was really excited about all the changes happening down here," she said. "By coming down here I'd have more of a chance to be part of what the Plaza District is becoming."
Lyric moved to Plaza District office space in 2000 after four moves in the preceding decade after some debate.
"We had a healthy discussion at the board meeting when we voted for it," said Paula Stover, executive director of Lyric Theater & Academy.
The Lyric board raised $10 million to fund the purchase of the Plaza District office space, the old movie theater and a former grocery store for the Thelma Gaylord Academy. The campaign also led to an endowment to keep the Lyric Theater's programs running.
Architect Rand Elliott designed the theater to keep much of the exposed brick in the lobby and add touches of