Automobile Alley to soon be without what put its namesake on the map

OKLAHOMA CITY - At the turn of the 20th century, horses outnumbered automobiles in Oklahoma City and streetcars served the masses. But as the horseless carriage came to be, so did downtown's district of where to find them and buy them.

Automobile Alley was for much of the last century the one-stop-shop for anything and everything automotive. From service garages, car parks, parts stores and dealerships.

Evidence of that time is still on, which stretches along Broadway from NW 4th, north to NW 13th. From the historic markers on the sidewalks outside former Hudson, Buick or Cadillac dealerships, to the automotive signs and painted advertisements that dot the skyline.

But as the years went by, dealerships left for other locales. And soon, too, will the last remaining dealership in the city's historic neighborhood. Volvo Cars Oklahoma City, currently at 1125 N. Broadway, will join its sister Mercedes-Benz of Oklahoma City dealership within the year along Broadway Extension in Edmond. The latter moved out of its dealership north of the Volvo dealership this past weekend.

"When Mercedes-Benz started to evaluate where the opportunity was at, the biggest opportunity was up in Edmond," said general manager and operating partner Todd Bondy.

Bondy says the new location allows for more amenities for customers, from an open concept service area with viewing windows, to state-of-the-art technology, as well as a bigger base of potential buyers.

"We didn’t want to leave the downtown area. That was a difficult decision, particularly because Bob Howard, the primary owner of the company, has done so much in the Midtown area and the downtown Automobile Alley area," said Bondy. "So it was very tough for us to make that decision to relocate. But the dollars and cents just made sense to us."

Bob Howard and fellow business partners, among others, have been behind much of the revitalization in the downtown area, including in the nearby Midtown District. Those partners telling News 4 its too early to say what will become of the nearly 5 acres of property North Broadway Circle and NW 13th Street, but that its redevelopment into something new is on the horizon.

"Auto Alley is the poster child of historic preservation," said Bob Blackburn, the executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. "For all of us preservationists that tried to find adaptive reuse, to find that building as an asset that encourages redevelopment."

Redevelopment that Blackburn says is on display to anyone who drives (or walks) up and down the thoroughfare of Broadway. Streetcars that eventually faded away years ago will soon be gliding along the newly installed rails throughout the downtown core. Dealerships that have since been redeveloped into stores, restaurants, offices or residential spaces.

What was old is now new again. So despite the last tangible vestiges of what put Automobile Alley on the map on their way out, Blackburn says the district's automobile roots are inherently tied to the present and its future.

"You can still imagine, you can still feel it," said Blackburn. "The scale is still there. The materials. The history is there – I think that will survive this change."