Putnam Heights Historic District
Putnam Heights Historic Preservation District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Portions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
Putnam Heights Historic Preservation District is an attractive addition to Oklahoma City. The primarily two-story neighborhood is well landscaped. The wide variety of architecture adds to its character. The high quality construction eras in which most of the homes were built have contributed significantly to the longevity of the neighborhood. The Putnam Heights Historic Preservation District includes 104 structures of which 82% were built over 50 years ago. Of the remaining 19 homes, 18 are very compatible due to the strong covenants for the area. They range in age from 30 to 49 years. The one intrusion, although reasonably compatible, was built in 1973 to replace an earlier structure destroyed by fire in 1972. The neighborhood association and the city ordinances provide protection for the integrity of the Putnam Heights Historic Preservation District.
The area has been designated an area of historical significance by the Oklahoma City Historical Preservation Commission which was established by ordinance. The local ordinance has provided protection for Putnam Heights since 1972.
Putnam Heights land was originally granted by President McKinley to the Oklahoma Military Institute. After the structure burned, the land was sold. It was developed by Isaac Putnam. The area was a roster of early Oklahoma City (OKC) bankers, merchants, architects, physicians and civic leaders. The names have changed but the occupations and community interest remains the same today.
Variation of architectural design increases the beauty of the Putnam Heights Historic District. Styles run from multiple variations of the Colonial, California (which is referred to in Oklahoma as Airplane Bungalow), Georgian, Renaissance, Mediterranean and Tudor.
One distinctive house in the area (3615 N. McKinley) served as the Governor's Mansion. It is a Mediterranean style home built in 1911. The front yard features a Blue Spruce which was a gift from the King of Norway to the forth Governor of Oklahoma, J.B.A. Robertson in 1920. The house has a tile roof and decorative ironwork.
One of the most interesting houses in the Putnam Heights Historic Preservation District is also located at 3823 N. McKinley Avenue. It was constructed in 1926 for a Clark family, although within two years it became the William Morgan home. Morgan was a leading businessman in OKC and lived in the home until his death in 1966. It is Georgian in style with a very strong English rural appearance. The most significant feature of the house is a Scottish thatch shingle roof covered by a modern composition roof. The thatch provides the base for the rolled roof. The exterior walls are sixteen inches thick.
The home at 1528 N.W. 36th Street was designed by Guy C. Reid for himself. Reid was a principle architect for the Oklahoma Institutions of Higher Education. This particular property is a Renaissance style house featuring brick, carved stone and ornamental ironwork. The Reids were active in the social life of OKC.
One of the smaller homes in the area was built in 1919. It is a Bungalow with an inset entryway which features three french doors. The living areas on either side of the entry have a bay window which have three tall narrow windows repeating the entry design. The bay windows are capped with shed roofs. The house was designed by the Boston architectural firm, Hancock.
More than a dozen prominent architects and builders have left their mark on the area. They included such men as Harry Reynolds, Harold Gimeno, James Hawk, Guy C. Reid, George Forsythe, G.A. Nichols, Ray Smizer, and Lee Bradway. The result is a collection of substantial comfortable homes representing adaptations of European styles as well as purely American conceptions. One quality they seem to possess in common; originating in a year characterized by the desire for permanence, thus they have endured the years in goodstead.
Construction materials and techniques — redwood, brick, tile and shake shingles, oak and walnut woodwork, canvas covered plaster walls, solid brass hardware, hand-cut crystal chandeliers, leaded glass in windows and doors — were of a quality often lacking in houses built today. Much interior detailing was carefully hand executed such as cornices, moldings, baseboards, and cabinets. Quality, permanence and spaciousness were built in values highly regarded by most of the district's residents then and now.
Spaciousness also characterizes exteriors in the Putnam Heights Historic Preservation District. Most of the houses were built on lots large enough to accommodate considerable landscaping with shrubs, flowers, and trees. The area has been transformed from the treeless prairie of 1889 to an area which has 50, 60 and 70 year old shade trees. These lush landscaping features attest to the perseverance of the area homeowners.
Putnam Heights Historic Preservation District is a well preserved and maintained residential area which has withstood the pressures of encroachment. The area was significant in the residential architectural development and the economic, civic and cultural growth of Oklahoma City. This neighborhood has a wide variety of residential architectural styles including Colonial variations, Mediterranean, Georgian, Renaissance and Tudor. Many of the architectural features in this seventy year old neighborhood are all that remain in Oklahoma City. Many individuals who contributed to Oklahoma City's growth chose Putnam Heights for their residence. Some thirty-five early-day residents can be readily found in Oklahoma history books and on Who's Who in Oklahoma lists. They include such noted architects and builders as Harry Reynolds, Harold Gimeno, James Hawk, Guy C. Reid, George Forsythe, G.A. Nichols, Ray Smizer and Lee Bradway. Other Putnam Heights residents of note include Dr. Ray M. Balyeat (world-renowned allergy specialist), Allen Street (businessman, Oklahoma City mayor), Judge Edgar S. Vaught (who presided at the celebrated Charles Urshell kidnapping trial), Dr. Everett S. Lain (pioneering cancer specialist and skin specialist), Gov. J.B.A. Robertson (the state's fourth), Walter Ferguson, Judge Paul G. Darrough, Israel Putnam (realtor and developer) and many more.
Development of this area began in 1908 when the Putnam Heights Addition, with twenty-two others, was included within the city limits of the 19-year-old city. Oklahoma City then — a year after statehood and two years before it became the state capitol — had a population of approximately 3,000. That it was growing, Israel Putnam recognized when, as a lawyer, he came to the city in 1901. He abandoned his practice the following year for real estate and organized the Putnam Company. By 1907, statehood year, he was developing a 320-acre area northwest of the city of which this historic district and present Memorial Park, immediately to the east, were a part. In early 1908, Putnam introduced a resolution in the state legislature calling for removal of the capital from Guthrie to Oklahoma City. With John W. Shartel, another early civic booster, he initiated the plan to offer the State of Oklahoma 1,600 acres of land on to the northwest (near present Bethany) to accommodate the capital. The two men guaranteed $1,700,000 in cash...$1,500,000 of it earmarked for the Capitol itself, $150,000 for furniture, $40,000 for use of the Capitol commission, and $10,000 for expenses in moving to Oklahoma City.
The move to Oklahoma City was finally made in 1910...to a site northeast of the city, rather than northwest. But this in no way diminishes the wisdom and foresight of Putnam. Nor, apparently, did it adversely affect development of Putnam Heights into one of the city's finest residential districts...a status it has maintained, with only a few encroachments to the present.
One additional bit of historic significance pertains to the southwestern corner of the Putnam Heights Historic Preservation District. Here in 1903 the Oklahoma Military Institute was established under authority of the Secretary of War. Famed civic leader Charles S. Colcord served as president of the Institute until 1907. In that year its name was changed to Oklahoma Military Academy and Putnam became president. In 1909 the school burned (it was subsequently moved to Claremore in the state's northeastern corner) and the following year the site was platted for development.
Planning via covenants was a significant part of the development of the area. Not only were minimum setbacks for each street stated, the exterior construction materials were designated, as well as the minimum amount of money to be invested on each building site. The minimum construction costs ranged from $2,000 to $10,000 in July 1906. Putnam had hoped that the possible location of the Capitol Complex and public transportation systems would make the Putnam addition a haven for State leaders. While Putnam's dreams for the location of the new Capitol died, Oklahoman's flocked to his well planned addition. Many Oklahoma City additions were platted at this time, however, only a few were developed until well after the Capitol Removal (1910).
Oklahoma City has a variety of residential districts. The Heritage Hills Historic District contains many similar architectural styles, but Putnam Heights Historic Preservation District is smaller and more compact. These two areas were developed during the same time span. Putnam Heights is made up of one platted area, where as Heritage Hills is made up of pieces of six different platted areas.
Another area is near the Capitol Complex, Capitol-Lincoln Terrace Historic District. This is a much newer area (1920-30's) and doesn't have the architectural variety of Putnam Heights Historic Preservation District. They both share a contributing feature, that of a Governor's Mansion. Putnam Heights was the location of the Governor's Mansion during J.B.A. Robertson's term. (3615 N. McKinley Avenue).
The diversity of architectural style in such a small area contributes to its importance. The smaller scale removes many of the grandiose homes to the comfortable residences of the professional middle class. The many architects who built homes for themselves, with unique features, attests to the architectural uniqueness of the area. While these men designed extravaganzas for Heritage Hills, they pursued the latest conveniences and classic beauty on a smaller scale for themselves.
The architects and builders are some of the most important in the state. Forsythe was one of the partners who designed the first high school in Oklahoma City (Central High School — listed on the National Register) and the Skirvin Hotel (National Register). He also designed many of the Oklahoma City commercial structures destroyed during the urban renewal period. Gimeno designed several structures on the Oklahoma University campus. Hawk designed the Plaza Court Buildings (National Register) and the Tradesman's National Bank (National Register), as well as many other downtown structures. Nichols was a developer and builder responsible for many residential areas, but was hired to build only a few structures in Putnam Heights.
Materials maintained in a scrapbook by the Putnam Heights Home Owners Assn. contains newspaper articles and individual house histories.
† Sandra S. Stratton and Kent Ruth, Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office, Putnam Heights Historic Preservation District, Oklahoma City, OK, nomination document, 1981, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.