Ninety years ago, Automobile Alley was the premiere place in Oklahoma City to purchase a shiny, brand new car. Nowadays, a variety of restaurants, bars, coffee houses, retail shops and automobile part stores line the streets of this district, stretching along North Broadway Avenue from NW 6th to NW 11th street.
The history of Automobile Alley begins in the early 1910’s, when settlers new to Oklahoma began constructing single family homes just north of the city’s main downtown district.
As developers saw the commercial potential in the area in the early 1920’s, these homes gave way to automobile dealerships, as well as car-themed apartments and hotels. According to Automobilealley.org, 52 of the city’s first 76 car dealerships were located along Broadway Avenue in Automobile Alley.
The area prospered until the 1970’s, when like many districts in Oklahoma City, Automobile Alley declined due to a prolonged oil bust and failure of the Penn Square Bank. Car dealerships began to relocate to suburbs like Edmond and Norman.
Efforts to revive the district began in 1990’s, when developers worked to restore old automobile dealership buildings into office spaces, loft apartments and retail establishments. Retailers and restaurants began relocating here in the 2000’s, giving Automobile Alley more foot traffic and vibrancy.
To get here from Oklahoma Christian, you’ll turn right on Memorial Road, head south on the Broadway Extension and then exit at N.W. 10th street. Next, turn right, and make another right when you reach North Broadway Avenue.
Here’s what I liked and didn’t like about my recent Sunday afternoon visit to Automobile Alley:
-A wide street, North Broadway Avenue provides plenty of free parking spaces in front of local businesses. The sidewalks also provide ample walking space. You feel as if you’re walking through a big city as you stroll through Automobile Alley, but without the cramped feel of a place like Manhattan.
-The number and variety of businesses in a small geographical area is impressive. If you’re in the mood for a cup of coffee, Coffee Slingers near NW 10th provides premium brews. Gourmet pies can be found at Hideaway Pizza, and a few hundred feet away, fresh burgers are served up at S&B Burger Joint. Dozens of retailers, such OKCollective and Oklahoma Shirt Company, offer locally inspired clothing, home decor and food items. Automobilealley.org lists a total of 20 restaurants and 17 retailers in the district.
– Historical architecture is prominent throughout the area. Three and four story buildings from the 1920’s have been renovated and restored to house a variety of businesses, and provide unique character to the area.
– Unlike the Paseo District, Automobile Alley has no common, uniting theme like art. The area has transformed from a place dominated by car culture to a general downtown commercial district. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with this, but if you’re searching for a definite identity within Automobile Alley, you may leave disappointed.
– If you’re looking for a strong live music or entertainment scene, places like Midtown and the Plaza District have Automobile Alley beat.
While live music and entertainment options here are scarce, Automobile Alley’s business variety and easy accessibility makes it a great place to shop or grab a bite to eat.
This post is one part of a blog written for Dr. Philip Patterson’s Feature Writing class.