BY KAYLA BRANCH
Tucked in the southeast corner of the University of Oklahoma’s campus complex sit eight blocks on the precipice of change.
East of Jenkins Avenue and south of Lindsey Street is the area known as the Hardie-Rucker neighborhood, where housing sprang up post World War II for veterans returning to school. It has since transitioned to a community boxed in by OU in every direction, according to a survey prepared for the city of Norman by Jo Meacham Associates.
OU’s main campus lines the west side of Hardie-Rucker, while athletic facilities and the Duck Pond are perched to the north. A field of OU-owned land, as well as railroad tracks, lay to the east and recreation fields partially owned by OU, along with a Norman park, make up the southern border.
There are four main streets in the neighborhood — Lincoln Avenue, Garfield Avenue, McKinley Avenue and George Avenue — and as OU has grown, parts of the neighborhood have been used for university facilities. This includes the southeastern block of Jenkins and Lindsey, which now holds Headington Hall, a freshman and athletic dorm.
Campus casts a growing shadow on Hardie-Rucker, literally and figuratively, as OU buildings inch closer and houses in the area are bought by OU’s Board of Regents.
Below are stories from residents still living in the area and their perspectives on how OU’s expansion will change the neighborhood they call home.
The students: Cheyanne Weller and Kayla Brandt
For the last three and a half months, Cheyanne Weller and Kayla Brandt have been adjusting to life inside of a house rather than in a dorm.
Weller, an early education sophomore, met Brandt, a health and exercise science sophomore, when they became roommates during their freshman year at OU in 2016. Now, the two live on Garfield Avenue with one other roommate.
After a friend of a friend graduated, the house was left open and Weller said it was a great fit.
“We only looked at this house because we knew someone who lived here before, but we really like it and how close it is to campus,” Weller said. “I didn’t even have to get a parking pass, which is wonderful because they’re so expensive so I can just walk.”
Garfield is dotted with ‘For Rent’ signs in some yards and cars parked along the street; most of the houses are close to the same size — a post-WWII square build.
Weller said rent is cheap — $1000 a month, split between three roommates — and their three bed, one bath house has a large backyard and the right amount of indoor space for their two dogs.
This is unlike OU’s recently opened Residential Colleges directly to the east of Hardie-Rucker, in which a similar floor plan would cost $5,499 a semester and no pets are allowed, not including service animals, according to the Residential Colleges website.
The street has been a welcoming place to live so far, with a mix of other students and some families, so the thought that it could be changed by the construction habits of the university is a sad one, Weller said.
“I’ll be really disappointed if that happens,” Weller said. “Dorms are OK, but you don’t get the space, you don’t get to have pets. It’s just really nice to have an actual house.”
While having more living options can be a positive, Brandt said there should be other priorities for the university, such as updating and increasing classroom space.
“You go and sit in Dale Hall with torn up seats but they build new places for people to live with nowhere for those people to park,” Brandt said. “I understand that they are trying to give students that option of where to live, but you can’t take away other options too. Not everyone can afford to or wants to live on campus all four years.”
The staffer: Kyle Davies
The dinosaur displays at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History have been through an extensive process of cleaning and filing, which was probably done by Kyle Davies.
Davies is a fossil preparator, meaning he helps collect, clean and prepare fossil specimens for study or display, and has lived in Hardie-Rucker for the last 20 years, he said.
“I came to Norman in the late 1990’s and moved into this neighborhood because it was only two blocks away from where my work building was,” Davies said.
First, Davies said he lived in a rental property on the edge of the Hardie-Rucker area, but now has moved to McKinley Avenue in his own home, which he thinks is becoming more rare in the area.
“After living here for a few years, I found that I liked the neighborhood and so when I decided to buy a house, I hunted around in this neighborhood,” Davies said. “It’s a nice, quiet neighborhood that’s close to campus. It is a little isolated, which may seem like a strange thing to say, but we’re really the only residential space left in this particular area.”
Davies said those that live on his street permanently are suspicious that OU will buy many of the properties in the neighborhood and build over it.
Currently, OU’s Board of Regents owns roughly 10 houses in the area, along with the Headington Hall dorms and multiple lots for parking, according to the Cleveland County Assessor’s website. If the area is bought and demolished by OU, relocation or retirement could be in his future, he said.
“Things change all the time and as things continue to grow, they will need to grow the university, so I’ll just have to accept it when it happens,” Davies said. “When the time comes, I’ll have to relocate or maybe I’ll even be retired by then. It’ll take time. The joke goes that we still have a few blocks before they get to us.”
The local: Steve Vixen
Handmade wooden furniture with varying price tags are positioned around Steve Vixen’s front yard during OU game days.
Vixen, a long time resident of Norman and over 20 year resident of McKinley Avenue, is a carpenter who spends his free time collecting reclaimed wood from projects he’s worked on and turning it into chairs and benches and tables.
He’s given benches to neighbors and helped renovate houses on the street, but Vixen’s ties to the neighborhood go deeper than friendly gestures.
“We bought this place because of my brother, Mark,” Vixen said. “Mark has cerebral palsy, but he’s been able to work at OU throughout the years. We got this place so he could have a home and still get to work by himself.”
Vixen and Mark live together now, and Vixen said the neighborhood is a positive place to be, mainly because of the diversity of residents.
“We’re really close to campus, so there is always an eclectic group of people who live here and I enjoy it,” Vixen said. “I like living next to the college students actually, there was a kid just the other day who’s an engineering student that came over and asked me to help him build a rocket. So that was pretty cool.”
Hardie-Rucker is changing though, Vixen said, as some of the older residents pass away and as OU collects more and more homes.
“The older man who lived next door to me recently passed away and his wife is still there, but I really expect her to sell out to OU sometime soon,” Vixen said. “If you really think about it, we’re basically on campus since we’re surrounded by OU property and they buy these houses, too. We’re all just waiting for OU to come in and buy us up.”
As that time comes closer, Vixen said he and Mark are hoping to last as long as possible in the neighborhood.
“We’re hoping to hold out,” Vixen said. “Mark is getting older and the fact that he can get out and around campus for a few hours a day is really good. We’ll miss it, we’ve really enjoyed the neighborhood.”