The SOSA (South of St. Anthony) district of today is vastly different than the SOSA Emma Rolls and husband Lee Peoples moved their family into five years ago. For one thing, there were only a scant handful of people living in the area – some who had built new homes, such as Brian Fitzsimmons and Titi Nguyen or Bill Lovallo, and some who had rehabbed older structures to live in, including Art and Beth Rutledge and their daughters.
Red Andrews Park, slated to receive a dramatic makeover from the city this year, was a haven for loiterers and worse, and vacant lots filled with dilapidated structures far outnumbered vitality-filled homes. There was no proliferation of trendy eateries, coffee shops and boutiques. No dog park, no large and swanky apartment complexes. But for the bold, prescient pioneers who would soon call SOSA home, there was beautiful opportunity as far as the eye could see.
“The main reason we chose this neighborhood,” Rolls says, “was that we wanted to be in the Wilson School district, and we didn’t want a historic home. Early in our marriage, Lee and I lived in Gatewood, and while older homes are beautiful and full of character, they require a lot of work and upkeep … and we didn’t want that, so that narrowed our choices.”
Adds Peoples, “The views were beautiful, and the location was really close to both of our jobs. We wanted to live in a very walkable area.” Both are attorneys: Lee is the director of the law library at OCU’s School of Law, and Emma is an assistant federal public defender. Both their offices are just a few blocks from home.
The pair met in 1997 in law school, at the University of Oklahoma. Like most enduring romances, their relationship began as a friendship. “When we met, we were both involved with other people, but we were friends,” Rolls says. “Lee studied abroad his final semester, and when he returned, it was like I saw him for the very first time. He was so cute!”
In the living room, clean lines and natural light are the name of the game. A smart mix of textures and vibrant art, much of it by local artists including Rea Baldridge, Carl Shortt Jr., Mike Evans (now living in Santa Fe) and Rick and Tracey Bewley, keeps the spare interior from feeling overly stark.
The couple’s daughter Amelia is in the 7th grade at Classen School of Advanced Studies, and is an accomplished violinist who has now switched to viola. Lee and Amelia are scuba dive buddies, and the family travels to beachy, sunny locales a couple of times each year – it allows them some coveted dive time, and Emma some coveted read-and-chill beach time, often punctuated by yoga classes. She maintains a yoga practice at home and has also begun a study of Buddhism, both in part to offset her high-intensity, often heartbreaking job defending death-row inmates.
Weekends find the tight-knit family walking to the Myriad Gardens and other downtown spots, entertaining friends and hanging out with their neighbors. “Really, all we need is a downtown grocery store and we’d be perfectly happy,” Rolls says.
Nowadays, SOSA is bustling. There are very few lots left for developing, and the demand for living in the area is high. That’s good, but as with anything, there’s a downside. “The challenge we find is that when we moved in, all of the homes under construction or development were unique, built for the individual or family, and architect-designed,” Peoples says.
“Now, people are building spec homes. That growth is much more than we anticipated.”
All in all, Lee and Emma are pleased with their neighborhood, and love living in their art-filled, sun-drenched home. “We do feel like pioneers,” Rolls says. “Along with a few others, we did take some pretty big risks in moving into this neighborhood so early. And the neighborhood genuinely benefited from that, as did our family.”
(left) An organic sculpture reposes beneath a painting by Oklahoma artist Rea Baldrige in the home’s entryway. The landing of the stairs is an example of the meticulous, sculptural elements incorporated into the home’s design.
(right) Looking south through the dining room into the kitchen. Walls throughout the home are finished in a museum-grade drywall, which creates a near-perfect surface for light and shadows to play upon throughout the day. Maple floors keep the look light but add a warm, variegated touch to all the home’s interior spaces.
There are three interior levels in the home. Up top, a communal office space houses a comfy couch for reading, Amelia’s music stand and keyboard, the family library and plenty of workspace for days when the blocks-long trek to the office is too much, or for days when Amelia is home from school.
Outdoor living is sweet in this SOSA home. Multiple decks and a saltwater swimming pool are practical and luxurious. A terraced back yard houses raised vegetable beds, which supply the family with a seasonal potager, thanks to Lee’s green thumb.