Great Neighborhoods in the 405
Fantastic nests and where to find them
Photos by Quit Nguyen
Best. That’s a pretty loaded word, particularly when it comes to neighborhoods, the evaluation of which requires that the subjective and the objective must find a perfect overlap. According to Georgie Rasco, executive director of Oklahoma City’s Neighborhood Alliance, there are more than 450 neighborhoods in the OKC metro area – and each enclave is a microcosm, with its own vibe.
There are obvious distinctions to think about, such as proximity to the office, daycare, grocery store and gym, as well as a slew of other, more granular thisses and thats a savvy mover will evaluate before taking the leap and plunking down earnest money.
Well-known neighborhoods along the lines of Nichols Hills, Quail Creek, Oak Tree in Edmond and Norman’s Brookhaven are great, but there are many others out there that may suit your specific quirks and must-haves to a tee, and it’s many of those we salute here.
Carla Splaingard has been a Realtor® in Oklahoma City for 21 years, specializing in what she calls the classic OKC neighborhoods, meaning not new. Other words she uses to describe her turf include vintage and historic. She’s lived in many of them, and now calls Gatewood home.
“A good way to understand the tone of a neighborhood is to look at the distance between the house and the sidewalk, and whether there is a sidewalk,” Splaingard says. “A more casually social neighborhood will have homes a very short distance from the sidewalks, and front or side porches, which encourage people to interact as they’re walking their dogs or having coffee on their porches. These neighborhoods have a casual camaraderie.”
Mesta Park, Gatewood, Linwood and Putnam Heights are among those short-yarded social spots. Drive or stroll through any of these on an early spring or summer evening, and you’ll see it in action: gaggles of neighbors perched in breezy, rattan-filled, fern-festooned outdoor spaces, gabbing over glasses of iced tea or rosé, while children pedal bikes or trikes nearby.
Lesser-known mid-city neighborhoods include Military Park, Venice, Miller, Cleveland and Crestwood. “I also really like Denniston Park, which is bordered on the south by NW 23rd, and runs east and west of Drexel,” Splaingard says. “It’s one of the few classic neighborhoods where you can walk to the grocery store: Eley’s Foods on May, which is one of the last old-fashioned neighborhood grocery stores. This is not the neighborhood for someone looking for nightlife, though.”
Denniston boasts lots of late 1930s construction, Tudor revivals and low-slung Ranch-style stone homes, with a hilly park in the middle. To the east, homes are more modern – mid-century contemporaries and cottages. The neighborhood has become a magnet for young families due to its quiet safety, great location and value. “You can do very well in the $125,000 to $180,000 range in Denniston Park,” Splaingard says.
“Gatewood is anchored by the church, and whether you are Catholic or not, the church bells give the neighborhood a unique heartbeat,” she says. “They toll every 15 minutes, so when I wake up, I’ll tell myself that I can stay in bed until the next time the bells sound. If you know how to listen to them, they will give you information about what is happening at the church, too. For example, if there is a funeral and the person who passed was 90 years old, the bells will toll 90 times on that day.”
Classen Ten Penn is an emerging historic neighborhood bordered by Classen to the east, Penn to the west, NW 16th to the north and around NW 10th to the south. “The last good collection of Craftsman cottages is in Classen Ten Penn, but the neighborhood is up-and-coming, meaning it may be too adventurous for many. “In neighborhoods like Crown Heights, things are a little less casual, although it’s a very social neighborhood. The homes sit farther back from the streets and most of the entertaining happens in backyards poolside or behind closed doors. You may know your neighbors very well; you may not,” Splaingard says. There are no sidewalks, but there are plenty of dog-walkers, runners and cyclists.
Sharon Reeves is a passionate, dedicated denizen of Crown Heights- Edgemere Heights, a neighborhood bordered by N Western, Harvey Parkway, NW 42nd and NW 36th. A self-proclaimed tree-hugger, Reeves has lived in her neighborhood for decades and, along with a couple of other neighborhood tree huggers, has implemented some of the most impressive neighborhood landscaping and tree planting efforts anywhere.
“We have an agreement with the city of Oklahoma City that the neighborhood will do things like plant and maintain the Shartel median from NW 36th to NW 43rd, and the gateway greenspace at NW 36th and Walker. In 1993, when we took on the design and planting of the Shartel median, we commissioned the incredible John Fluitt for the design.”
The neighborhood went so far as to strike a deal with the city of Oklahoma City in 1987, and has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars since in planting, maintaining and reforesting its beautiful greenspaces. Until this summer, the city of Oklahoma City had allowed the neighborhood free use of water for the maintenance of those city-owned spaces; the much-appreciated gesture was recently withdrawn by the city under the auspices of budget shortfall.
“The level of participation in neighborhoods like Crown Heights and Heritage Hills is really exceptional, especially considering that those homeowners associations (HOAs) are voluntary, not mandatory,” says the Neighborhood Alliance’s Rasco.
If less urban, newer gated neighborhoods with bells and whistles such as playgrounds and neighborhood pools are your jam, there are lots to choose from at multiple price points. Many criteria – architectural styles, location, school district and so forth – will be subjective, however there are some very objective criteria your dream neighborhood should meet, according to Rasco.
“Newer neighborhoods have mandatory HOAs, so it’s incredibly important to do your due diligence. Contact the board of the HOA and ask for the neighborhood’s financials, meeting minutes for the past year and covenants before you buy. Ask what percentage of people are behind on their dues, because that will tell you how seriously they take their responsibility. If more than 3 to 4 percent are in arrears, there may be a problem,” Rasco says.
In fact, she continues, there have been many instances of people bringing lawsuits against their mandatory HOAs, claiming not to have been told of their financial and other responsibilities, and the courts have ruled in favor of the HOAs, saying that it’s the homeowner’s responsibility to understand what he or she is getting into. People don’t realize that they are becoming co-owners of things like common areas, and in some cases street maintenance, by moving into newer neighborhoods, she says. “It’s like running a small business with a group of strangers, so you have to really do your homework.”
That said, Rasco also has advice for every person living in every neighborhood.
“Get involved in some way, wherever you live. Serve on a committee. Bake cookies for a new neighbor. The number one thing that makes a neighborhood great is involvement.”
► Home Is Where the Mind Is
Thoughts from smart people who love their neighborhoods
“I live in the Skyline Neighborhood. Love the big trees, mid-century homes and the sidewalks. Also, love that it is so close to Will Rogers Park [that] I can walk my dogs over. Access to the highway makes going anywhere easy.”
Alexis Persico, Co-founder, Routed Connection and Yoga Instructor, Skyline Neighborhood, OKC
“I love living in the urban core because I love being able to walk or ride my bike to favorites in Uptown23rd, the Paseo, the Plaza District and Midtown.”
Cary Pirrong, Director of Alumni Relations, Oklahoma City University, Heritage Hills Neighborhood, OKC
“The homes were built in the early ’70s, so the landscaping is all matured and lush. But the biggest thing that makes the homes different from the cookie-cutter neighborhoods being built today is that each house looks different and expresses the owner’s personality.”
Jo Anne Eason, Public Strategies, Vice President Marketing, Brentwood Neighborhood, Edmond
“I love Mayfair for the central location and beautiful mid-century homes. I am also close to my favorite grocery, Sprouts!”
Adèle Wolf, Burlesque Impresario, Mayfair Neighborhood, OKC
"I love the walkability and unique, architecturally designed homes. I love the view of the skyline, especially before sunset when the setting sun reflects off the downtown buildings, creating a beautiful, pinkish hue. It’s universally flattering lighting!”
Emma V. Rolls, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Capital Habeas Unit, SOSA Neighborhood, OKC
“We’re a friendly group of all ages, and we really look out for one another. I love that my neighborhood is close to the lake and the Hefner walking trails.”
Kelley Barnes, Development and Donor Services Manager, Oklahoma City Community Foundation, Lakehurst Neighborhood, OKC
“I love The Hill! My place is perfect for entertaining friends and has the room for me to work from home, which I do a few days a week. The neighbors are wonderful, with lots of loving pets being walked around. The best part is [that] I’m close to everything – there are great neighborhood bars and restaurants, and Bricktown is walking distance for visitors from out of town. I have found my forever home.”
Sheila Morago, Executive Director, Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, The Hill Neighborhood, OKC
“I love ours: Highland Village in Norman. It is family friendly, very active outdoors – people walking, running, walking dogs.”
Lori Ponders Johnson, Anglin Public Relations, Highland Village Neighborhood, Norman
“I love that my neighborhood is full of families. The kids outnumber the adults in our ’hood, literally. We have a big family, and I’m so grateful to live in a spot where there are lots of other young kids for my girls to run around with outside. It’s a lovely vibe.”
Ali Meyer, KFOR Morning Anchor, North Edmond Neighborhood
“I’ve lived in Edgemere Park over 25 years, and regularly have to pinch myself that I live in a gingerbread fairytale paradise. Close to all the goodness of the urban core of OKC, yet so far away from crazy city life. I love you, Edgemere Park – will you marry me?”
Matt Goad, Artist, Graphic Designer, Owner at GoadAbode Inc., Edgemere Park Neighborhood, OKC
“I love it that The Historic Paseo Arts District celebrates art in all its many forms and fosters accessibility to the larger community. Paseo is a special place that has won national and international awards for its people and their crafts, its unique and colorful architecture and the large population of artists and art lovers who live and work in the District. It’s a magical place.”
Dr. Joy Reed Belt, Owner, JRB Art at the Elms Gallery, Paseo Arts District Neighborhood, OKC
“I love the big beautiful trees and maze of sidewalks, with porches often filled with what I imagine to be the most interesting and eclectic people in the city. As I walk, sometimes for exercise and often to eat at one of the local eateries, I find joy in the variety of gardens and historic homes – each with their own personality. My earliest memories are of this place, and I’m so happy to be home here in Mesta Park.”
Sarah Sears, Principal, S Design Inc., Mesta Park Neighborhood, OKC
“I live in Mayfair Heights. It’s a hidden gem with old trees and charming mid-century homes, close to plenty of shops, food and parks. With the addition of sidewalks this past year, it’s become even more family-friendly, and we love it.”
Erin Cooper, Principal/Creative Director, Cooper House, Mayfair Heights Neighborhood, OKC
“If you had asked me this 10 years ago, I would’ve said ‘Walkability, with access to a wide variety of entertainment and restaurants.’ But alas, I am a mom. So what matters most to me right now is not so much the neighborhood, but really, our specific block. It’s a place where kids run freely in and out of each other’s homes, and parents parent more than just their own children. It truly does take a village … and we’ve found ours for now.”
Tracey Zeeck, Founder, Bumbershoot PR, Belle Isle Neighborhood, OKC
“There are many reasons to love Heritage Hills, but the gorgeous homes, mature trees and location top my list of what I love most. The architecture is diverse and inspiring. Each time I go for a walk, I see a feature on a home that I hadn’t noticed before, and so many of the homes are so well preserved that’s it’s easy to imagine what it must have been like living here in the early days of Oklahoma City. At night, the tree-lined streets and glowing lampposts are dreamy. And as if the beauty weren’t enough, some of the coolest restaurants and shops in the City are just a walk or bike ride away.”
Jennifer Kragh, Realtor, dwell. Urban Real Estate, Heritage Hills Neighborhood, OKC
► Faces of Places
If a neighborhood had an unoffcial celebrity spokesmodel …
Wide streets, regal homes, huge trees and quiet splendor. Low-key affluence. Politically mixed.
Celebrity spokesmodels: Tom Hanks, Ina Garten
Funky, friendly. Little kids in school uniforms, neighbors hosting impromptu breakfast pajama parties.
Celebrity spokesmodel: Diane Keaton in Annie Hall
Looser than Heritage Hills, politically bluer than most of the state, eclectic.
Celebrity spokesmodel: Chloe Sevigny
Paseo Historic District
Community gardens, lots of public art and creativity.
Celebrity spokesmodel: Shirley MacLaine
Anywhere in Edmond
The stereotypical Edmondite is affluent, maybe a little insular and upper middle class. Kids at home, many moms stay home, too.
Celebrity spokesmodel: Samantha Stephens, “Bewitched”
SoSA (South of St. Anthony)
Affluent, hyper-stylish. Upscale sustainability.
Celebrity spokesmodels: Wes Anderson, Gloria Steinem
Lovely, solid, welcoming.
Celebrity Spokesmodel: Garrison Keillor
Classen Ten Penn
Edgy, arty, diverse.
Celebrity spokesmodels: Tyson Meade, Wayne Coyne
Wealthy, new money and old. Becoming more politically mixed.
Celebrity spokemodels: The cast of “Sweet Home Oklahoma,” Thurston Howell III