This is the last of three posts about the history of the Windsor Hills neighborhood in northwest Oklahoma City, where my parents lived from 1978-2022. The previous post covered the initial layout of the streets and the Windsor Hills Shopping Center and Windsor Lanes bowling alley. This post looks at the neighborhood’s homes, schools, and how the Windsor District has evolved. This series of posts is my way of bidding farewell to the old neighborhood.
Developer Ben Wileman hired Harman & O’Donnell of Denver, Colorado to develop the original master plan for the neighborhood. Up to 1,700 homes were to cost from $25,000 to $40,000 each, with a few perhaps reaching $100,000. So the plan called for homes costing from $250,000 to $400,000 in 2022 inflated dollars.
A Zillow search in early 2023 showed that the cheapest recent home sale was $114,000 for a 1,902 square foot home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms on Eton Ave built in 1965. The most expensive was $289,000 for a 2,757 square foot two-story home with four bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms built on 33rd Dr in 1968.
I know those prices will seem quite low to most of those living outside of Oklahoma, which is the fourth-cheapest state in which to buy a home in 2022. The graphic shows how the 2022 median home size and price per square foot in Oklahoma City compared with the average across cities nationwide.
Oklahoma’s cost of living is about 88% of the median in the nation. Also bear in mind that Windsor Hills is now an inner-ring suburb with homes that were built almost 60 years ago. Much of Oklahoma City has low home values.
Ben Wileman developed the Meridian Hills area west of Ann Arbor while selling off lots in Windsor Hills proper to various builders. Those included Luke Rodgers, Jr., Ralph Green, Morris & Dale, Frank Lowery, G.H. Pierce, Arnold Shelly, Jack W. Johnston and J.D. Patterson. But none of them built the house my parents lived in from 1978-2022.
Frank Lowery was one of the builders Wileman had mentioned. Frank’s mother died when his brother Al was four, and Frank and his sisters helped raise Al. Al attended Northeast High School and as a teenager helped his father deliver ice. After serving in the Army in Korea and Japan, he worked as a Colonial Bread Man in 1953 and then started a roofing company.
In 1960, Al admired Frank’s fancy white alligator shoes, considering them a measure of his brother’s success as a builder. With Frank’s financial backing, Al started building homes…in a big way.
In his first year of business in 1961, he built 53 homes. He built even more in 1962, and was soon building about 100 homes each year. He was supported by his wife, Carolyn, who was also his bookkeeper. Al’s homes were from 1,200 to 3,000 square feet, and he built a total of 2,649 homes, both speculative and custom-built. That included 150 homes in Windsor Hills, 200 in Cullen Lakeview, 143 in Lakeshore Estates, 34 in Lake Aire, 155 in Springbrook, 35 in Galaxy Four Seasons, 250 in Harvest Hills, 100 in Idlewylde, and many more outside the Oklahoma City metro area.
Al mostly retired from home-building in 1973, taking up golf and traveling in a recreational vehicle. Al’s son, Mike, later led a new incarnation of the family business, Lowery Homes, as well as Lowery Electric. Al passed away in 2016.
My mother had worked at Oklahoma City Federal Savings and Loan, which of course made many home-building loans. She knew Al Lowery from his business there, and she was confident that his homes were well-built. So when my parents decided to move out of Bethany in 1978, they snatched up a model home Al had built in Windsor Hills back in 1965, almost exactly 1.25 miles east of their home in Bethany. It was situated just off one of the former Meridian Golf Club fairways, one of the courses where my father had played golf.
There were about thirty homes on our block, and about two-thirds of those were similar to ours, with many of the rest being two-story homes with upstairs bedrooms.
The 3-bedroom 2.5-bath home had about 2,000 square feet of interior livable area on a rectangular lot of about 10,000 square feet, and it was valued at about $220,000 last year. Back in 1965, it was 67% larger than a typical American home, but the median home size in the USA exceeded it by the 1990s. However, it is still slightly larger than the overall median home size across Oklahoma City.
Median Single-Family Homes in the USA
For comparison, the home I jokingly call Meador Manor in Bartlesville, about 125 miles northeast of Windsor Hills, was built in 1981 with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths and about 1,625 square feet of interior livable area on a polygonal lot of about 11,000 square feet. So it was about average in its day, and it was valued in early 2023 at about $167,000.
A Model Home
My father was very resistant to any updates beyond storm windows, painting, carpeting, appliances, window treatments, and faucets. So my parents’ home in 2022 was structurally almost identical to what it was like back in 1965, and it still had all of the original woodwork, save that the original heavy wooden garage doors, which had a molding design on them, had been replaced.
Here’s the home outline the county assessor has on file, showing the house perimeter, front porch, the 480 square foot attached garage, metal patio cover, and a metal outbuilding in the backyard that my father had built in the late 1970s, although it wasn’t in the location shown.
As you entered our front door in Windsor Hills, to the left was a hall with the three bedrooms, ahead was the den, and to the right was a combination living and dining room with a bay window. The house was a mix of white woodwork in the living room, bedrooms, and baths, contrasting with dark wood in the den and kitchen.
Many people update these older homes by painting over or replacing the wood paneling in the den, and sometimes tear out the wall between the living/dining room and the den to create one huge room. Painting the paneling makes sense to me, but I always appreciated having a separate living room away from the television in the den; the living room was where my piano and electric organ were situated.
I’m sure people these days often replace some or all of the carpeting with wood or composite flooring. The den originally had a wood parquet floor, but that was already covered with carpet before my parents bought the home.
There was a decorative grill above the wall separating the den and kitchen dining area, since the only return air vents for the central air system were in the bedroom hallway. That also explained the wooden grilles in the doors on both ends of the den.
The home was indeed well-built, needing minimal repairs over the decades, but some things do wear out. My father was so resistant to change that he never replaced the formica kitchen countertops, which wore down in places so that their decorative design was lost. Dad just put big clear plexiglass sheets down and kept going!
The dining area off the kitchen had a box window, and there was a tile floor in both it and the kitchen. My parents found that too cold, but throw rugs could be a tripping hazard. At one point, they considered replacing the tile floor or overlaying it with new tiles, but they discovered that the original tiles had asbestos. They didn’t want to endure the tenting and expense that would have been required to pull those up. That left them with few options, so they just put down fresh carpet, realizing it would get stained over time.
The utility room off the kitchen and garage had room for a washer, dryer, freezer, and a hot water tank. It featured a large sink and a tiny room with a toilet, which was a great feature. There was also a walk-in pantry and a connecting door between the home’s two dining areas.
The homes in the neighborhood did have some other variations. One of our neighbors had a two-story home which had a seal by the door boasting that it was all-electric, and it had a 1960s Nutone intercom system with a central panel and radio in the kitchen and intercoms in each bedroom. Those 1960s intercom units were often dead by the 1980s.
My parents’ home had no intercoms and had a natural gas furnace, dryer, and water heater. It originally had an electric Frigidaire Flair wall oven built into the woodwork, with a counterweighted full-glass door that lifted out and up, and an electric stovetop built into a counter cabinet to the side. Eventually the oven was replaced, and my mother had a cooktop installed with natural gas burners.
The home had a bathroom with a sink area off the hall and a toilet and bathtub in an adjoining room shielded by a swinging partial door. The front bedroom had two closets and a door into that toilet and tub room, and there was a heater fan unit in the ceiling of the bathroom, but no exhaust fan. The middle bedroom just had one closet. The master bedroom had a box window and one closet, while its bathroom had a separate room with a toilet, tile shower, and ceiling heater on one side, and a walk-in closet on the other. Master bathrooms in 1965 were far less spacious and elaborate than what one finds in the larger model homes these days.
The yard was unusual for the area in having a perimeter fence with wood pickets hung on backer rails on top of a low brick wall and between brick columns, rather than just plain wooden pickets. There was also a brick terrace and planter bed in the backyard, and a brick planter out front.
A previous owner had installed a metal cover over the back patio. When we moved in, the trees included a maple, a sweetgum, and a sycamore, plus a corkscrew willow up on the terrace. Windsor Hills had quite a few sweetgums, and we kids despised their hard, dry, and spiky seedpods, which could upset your bicycle and hurt like the dickens if you got hit with one. But the helicopter samaras from the maple trees were fun, and our corkscrew willow was fun to climb.
By the 2010s, the sycamore was the last tree standing in the yard, having grown to an enormous size. In 2013, lightning struck and created three gashes in the bark where it went to ground. My parents tired of cleaning up the leaves and branches it dropped and realized that it might destroy their home in a windstorm. So they finally had it removed.
Both of my parents’ homes in Bethany and Windsor Hills were in the Putnam City district.
Windsor Hills Elementary
Since I lived in Bethany until junior high, I attended Putnam City Central Elementary and Intermediate, and I have never been in the Windsor Hills Elementary School on the west side of Ann Arbor Avenue. That school opened during the 1961-1962 school year, when there were only five elementary schools in the district; now there are eighteen. Back when the school first opened, girls weren’t allowed to wear pants. So they would wear shorts under their dresses so they could ride their bikes and play on the monkey bars. Kids from the school would ride their bikes to the railroad tracks to watch for hobos jumping on and off the train as it passed through the golf course.
Leo C. Mayfield Junior High
After we moved from Bethany, I attended grades 7-9 at Leo C. Mayfield Junior High School at 16th & Purdue, which had opened just a year or so earlier. Mr. Mayfield served in the district from 1940-1978, with an interruption to serve in the Coast Guard during World War II. He had coached basketball and been a principal in Purcell before he came to Putnam City. Mayfield was the principal of PC High School from 1947-1964, and he was the district superintendent from 1964-1978. When Mr. Mayfield started working at Putnam City in 1940, there were 2,000 students in the district; that reached over 20,000 by his retirement.
When I attended Mayfield Junior High, it had a stark utilitarian exterior with gray walls. They installed a chain link fence around the grounds which had barbed wire on the top, pointing inward. Jeepers. I am glad to see the building’s exterior was made much more attractive in 2017 with new sheathing and roofs…and the barbed wire on the fence is long gone.
The interior of Mayfield was pretty nice in my era, especially some carpeted halls upstairs, with classrooms that were far more attractive than the vintage ones I’d known at Central. But it did suffer from “open concept” areas on both floors where several social studies and English classrooms had only movable partition walls and no doors. There were eventually freestanding partitions forming another classroom in the center of the open concept areas. Architects pushed the stupid open concept plans on schools in that era, which led to noise, distractions, and was anything but secure. I’m sure that Putnam City eventually renovated all of that out of existence.
Another oddity when I was there was a lack of centralized classroom clocks, at least in the open concept rooms. Those classrooms had analog clocks with Dr. Pepper logos hung on nails on the walls. They had thin silver tape trying to hide each logo, which was funny, since you could clearly see the outline of the logo through the thin tape.
Mayfield’s teams were called the Trojans, with colors of purple and gold, so we wore gold shirts and purple shorts in gym class. It later became Mayfield Middle School serving grades 6-8. Back then, Mayfield was a rougher school than Western Oaks, the other junior high which fed into Putnam City West High School.
While in graduate school in Tulsa in 1999, an instructor had us tell all of the schools we had attended. When I mentioned Mayfield, he interrupted incredulously: “Mayfield? That’s the armpit of that district!” I just grinned; Mayfield had seemed normal enough to me twenty years earlier. Kathryn Sandlin, who had been my principal at Central Intermediate, “followed” me to become the principal at Mayfield. There were the usual rough patches that come with adolescence, but I had some good teachers at Mayfield.
The weirdest thing I recall there was how I took a course in Civil Defense, and the curriculum covered things like the importance of moving dead bodies out of your nuclear bomb shelter while minimizing radiation exposure. The Cold War was still a thing, and I remember our Civics teacher telling us how scared she had been during the Cuban Missile Crisis almost two decades earlier.
Putnam City West High School
PC West opened in 1968 at the western end of 23rd Street by Lake Overholser, although some high school boys like me called it Lake Hold Her Closer. The school had multiple additions, and its room numbering was overly complicated, with halls A-K as I recall, and K hall was a tiny little side hall that had an outside student smoking area on the first floor. Different times!
PC West had a large gymnasium and a nice auditorium, although it now has a newer field house addition. The auditorium had a circular “pod” room at the back on each side with steep tiered seating. Each pod could be rotated to form either a separate lecture room or to become part of the auditorium. I remember being on the math bowl team with games against other schools in one of the pods.
The West teams were the Patriots, with colors of light blue and gold. There was a “spirit” mascot, Osgood J. Bumpkin (we just called him O.J.) that dated back to a year after the school opened, when Coach Dick Close invented the spirit of O.J. as a unifying force for school spirit.
In 1981, the O.J. Bumpkin mascot was “retired” but he wouldn’t stay dead for long. In the summer of 1983, the Student Council met with the school principal about reviving school spirit. And at a Publications Assembly that fall, on the day of the annual PC/PC West football game, the Pep Club took over and they played the fight song. The student body began the usual chants of “West is Best” and “Beat PC” and then football players began chanting about O.J. and that spread across the student body.
The principal spoke to us about what O.J. stood for, comparing him to the Rocky character from the movies, someone who was down but not defeated. Rocky III featuring Sylvester Stallone and Mr. T had been in theaters in 1982, and had featured the song “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor. The principal then brought nine teachers on stage who had been at West since it opened. He challenged the students to prove to that “jury” that O.J. was really alive. If they did, the jury would appear at the next assembly, wearing “It’s Alive – O.J.’s Spirit” shirts. That night, over 50 cars emblazoned with “O.J. Lives” and “Eye of the Tiger” paraded to the stadium.
The next weeks had football games, hall decorating contests, and plenty of school spirit. At the homecoming assembly, the faculty jury appeared, walking out to the song “Eye of the Tiger” while wearing their O.J. shirts.
After that, at the raucous pep assemblies, the gym was darkened and a spotlight shone on a patriot portrait on one wall. Mr. Bounds, one of the regular substitute teachers, would get on a microphone and “the spirit of O.J. Bumpkin” would speak to us.
It all seemed pretty corny to me, but it worked to revive school spirit. What a contrast that was to when I came to Bartlesville to teach at the end of that decade. That school had no great football rival, there was no immense Pep Club, and its assemblies were incredibly tame compared to what I had experienced at PC West.
Everything changes; eventually they expanded PC West to serves grades 9-12, adding a freshman area to the end of “Patriot Hall” on part of the student parking lot. The diversity of the student body is much greater than in my time there four decades ago: in 2020, 48% of the students at PC West were Hispanic, 22% were Caucasian, and 19% were Black.
The Windsor District
Near the beginning of the 21st century, a three-square-mile Windsor District was designated surrounding the core neighborhood, part of an effort by boosters to revitalize the area.
Like other inner-ring suburban areas of Oklahoma City, the area’s economics declined after the 1970s. Over time, it lost many of its traditional stores and began to accumulate pawn shops, liquor stores, and the like. Commercial and residential activity declined as malls and shopping centers were built in outer suburbs. The District now includes some rundown strip malls, modest blue-collar neighborhoods, and apartment complexes. It has the typical issues of abandoned properties and real estate owned by someone out of state that plague older urban neighborhoods.
Windsor Hills itself grades from higher to lower household income as you head south, and it and Windsor Highland are islands of higher income in a district that is mostly below-average.
The Windsor District is evolving into an area with many Hispanic families, and now has restaurants featuring West African, Latin American, and Indian cuisines. The former Safeway/Homeland grocery store at 23rd and Ann Arbor became La Feria Latina supermarket years ago, and there are many businesses that similarly cater to Hispanic families.
A 2007 bond program funded a $13 million streetscape project in the Windsor district that was completed in 2018. Intersections were improved and repaved, there were new and reconstructed sidewalks, decorative streetlights, and median beautification.
And I’ll close out these posts with some much older street markers. Since its development, Windsor Hills has had wrought iron neighborhood signs along Meridian Avenue. Over the years, the neighborhood association has worked to maintain them.
As a kid, I wondered why there weren’t similar signs along 36th Street or Ann Arbor Avenue. Years later, pillars were erected at each street entering the neighborhood along those arterial streets.
So the old neighborhood lives on, changing with the times, and I bid it a fond farewell. My parents were happy there for many years. I hope that the Windsor District’s future has happy homeowners and thriving businesses. I’ve emptied out in these posts some of the memories from a vessel that now belongs to someone else; it is theirs to refill.
What an epic personal undertaking and testament to your family history. This was done in loving memory of your parents, your childhood home, and your life growing up. I am suitably impressed.