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A closer look at The Elliott and the path ahead

Folks in Midtown and Heritage Hills are awakening today to news that plans are moving forward to build an eight-story condominium tower at 1305 N Classen Drive. This is across from the old Villa Theresa school, which is being redeveloped into housing and a boutique hotel by Marva Ellard and Billy Woodring.

Before we look at more renderings and what's ahead, first, what was the history of this prime piece of land?

(photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman)

Let's go back, way back to the 1960s when design of motels and motor lodges was steeped in Americana. Now, granted, downtown area were not exactly a prime area for these properties, but some chains, most notably the Downtowner Motor Inn, built their whole business model on going against the trend of building along highways. Their approach was a no-frills, cheap place to stay with a basic restaurant or bar (some with go-go dancing).

When the Downtowner Inn was built at 1305 N Classen Drive in the 1960s, the area was still in good shape, home to three hospitals (Wesley, Mercy and St. Anthony Hospital), an intact neighborhood and a scattering of gas stations, restaurants, shops and a grocery store. At one point during the draft era, the Downtowner Motor Inn had a contract to house 18-year-old inductees before they began a three-year hitch in the armed forces.

Mercy and Wesley (renamed Presbyterian) both moved to bigger, newer campuses and Midtown started a long decline in the 1970s that continued until the current revival started in the early 2000s.

In 1983 Troy Nichols, who once operated the Sieber in its final days as a hotel, bought the Downtowner and renamed it the Myriad Motor Inn. The property continued to fall apart despite promises of a rejuvenation in the 1990s by then owner Troy Nichols.

In 1986, an 87-year-old woman was raped and robbed in her motel room after she allowed a "good Samaritan" to help her with her groceries. A year later, on April 1, Kathy Jo Silverthorn, 27, was found beaten and strangled to death in Room 301.

The end for the motel came in 1997, when the property was destroyed in a six-alarm fire determined to have been intentionally set. Two days after the blaze, Nichols was arrested on complaints that he had raped and molested a 10-year-old girl starting on Christmas Day, 1995 and with continued violations of the girl through the following year.

And so the site has stayed abandoned for 20 years, flipping from one owner to another until it was purchased by aspiring developers Willoughby Ridley Commercial this summer for $1.7 million. The following designs by architect Rand Elliott show their vision and what they want to start building next spring. First, however, they will need to get approval from the Downtown Design Review Committee. Elliott himself stood as a powerful opponent to projects in neighboring Automobile Alley. Now, with a height of eight stories, Elliott may find himself on the other side. If history is our guide, don't be surprised if The Elliott faces some stiff opposition from some neighbors in Midtown and Heritage Hills.

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Steve Lackmeyer

Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's... Read more ›

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