We celebrate our amazing history in Belle Isle...

The best stories we have are passed through the generations sometimes documented, sometimes not.  The story of how a neighborhood was created are most times a combination of both.

Wileman’s Belle Isle was developed by Oklahoma City, local, Ben Wileman. The land just west of N. Pennsylvania was farmland but slated to be the new shopping and housing area of Oklahoma City.  In the 1950’s, it was the suburbs.

The area had been a popular destination since statehood with the Belle Isle Lake, which was built by the Oklahoma Railway Company in 1907. Oklahoma Railway Company President, Anton Classen and Vice President, John W. Shartel built the lake and power plant as a way to generate power for the streetcar system. The Belle Isle station was located at the end of the Classen railway line. Later an Interurban line was added at this point and ran to Guthrie.

Belle Isle became a park and bathhouses were added prior to World War I. In 1922, an amusement park with rides and a carousel were added. L.E. Buttrick developed a dance pavilion on the island.  With the pavilion, a boardwalk, "Honey Moon Bridge" and canoe rides, Belle Isle became a favorite place on summer evenings for young couples.  For Fourth of July celebrations, the great Houdini and stunt divers attracted thousands of people to Belle Isle. The lake offered picnic areas, fishing, sandy beaches and swimming. Bathing suits could be rented for 35 cents.

Buttrick opened Buttrick School of Dancing at the pavilion. He featured bands such as Speedy Walker and the Gloom Chasers, Tackett's Toe Teasers, Harry Steinburg and T. Holder. Out of the Tackett band came Bonnie Spencer, who led one of the city's favorite bands of the 1940s and 1950s.

In 1928, Oklahoma Railway company sold the power plant, lake and amusement park to Oklahoma Gas and Electric, who built a new power plant. The amusement park was closed, and the carousel burned, but the Interurban line to Guthrie continued to run until 1946. The Classen line streetcars turned around at Belle Isle Lake until 1947. * see below

The Neighborhood...

Until the 1950’s, most Oklahoma City residents lived closer to downtown. Heritage Hills, Mesta Park, Edgemere Park, Crown Heights and further west, the Crestwood/Shepherd/Cleveland areas plus Linwood were established and popular. G.A. Nichols built many of the homes in Edgemere Park and Crown Heights and then started Nichols Hills in the late 1930’s.  By the 1950’s, Ben Wileman, started developing a neighborhood located to the immediate west of the old Belle Isle Lake and Pavilion area.

Pennsylvania was a two lane road. To the west was Belle Isle Dairy Farm. Between 1950 and 1954, the first homes were built on NW 54th Street and headed North toward NW 56th Terrace.

In 1956, builder Luke Rodgers started building on NW 56th Terrace and NW 56th Street. His “storybook chalet” style home created a lot of excitement in Oklahoma City. Two events inspired Rodgers to create this new design: he had just returned from a trip to Europe and fell in love with the chalet style home plus Disney had opened Disneyland in California in 1955 and the magical style was very popular.   Design elements that Rodgers used were “Snow White cottage shutters,” elaborate brick facades, intricate wood trim, round rooms, and the imaginative way his homes sit on their lots.

Wilemans featured many other builders, who built wonderful homes. Mostly ranch style, they offered large wood-burning fireplaces, large living spaces and the kitchens were more open than the galley kitchens that had been popular prior to the 1950’s. The new color palette for tile was pink, peach, mint green, baby blue, yellow and still the traditional white. During an era of bright colors, these homes were very modern with their surfaces and designs.

Penn Square and

Belle Isle Station

In 1960, Oklahoma City’s downtown shopping district was becoming less popular and the new trend was to build  shopping in the suburbs. Penn Square Mall opened as an open air mall. It’s anchors were John A. Brown and Montgomery Ward.  The mall was enclosed in 1982 and a second story and food court were added in 1988 and then remodeled again 2000.  Belle Isle Station was built in 1999 and now features Wal-mart Supercenter, Old Navy, Pei Wei, Jamba Juice, and many more stores and restaurants.  To see the store directory for Penn Square, click here.

Current Day: Wilemans Belle Isle is one of the most desired areas to live in Oklahoma City. It’s convenience to many shops and restaurants plus easy access to highways reduces drive-time for commuters.  Heavily landscaped with mature trees and well maintained homes, this area continues to rise in value and interest.


The Belle Isle Lake and Pavilion

Robert Allison Collection - Retro Metro

The Belle Isle Streetcar Platform

Robert Allison Collection - Retro Metro

The Belle Isle Streetcar

Picnic Island and Honey Moon Bridge

Robert Allison Collection - Retro Metro

Belle Isle Power Plant

Before Homes and Retail...

Luke Rodgers Home Design

Luke Rodgers Home Design

Belle Isle Dairy Farm

Robert Allison Collection - Retro Metro

Prior to Belle Isle - Edgemere Park Neighborhood - The Bungalow Style Home

Penn Square Mall Open Air Mall

Penn Square Mall Today

Sources: Photos not sourced in caption are in the neighborhood’s collection or from images in Google.com.   *History of the Belle Isle Lake and Pavilion cited from Ancestry.com  

was a personal account from Ancestry.com not a verified interview. All is true to the best of my knowledge)

All information deemed reliable but not guaranteed.  If you have additional or sourced information to add to this history, please send to HeatherDavisOKC@cox.net

Aerial of Belle Isle Area 1951 - landmarks added by Alan and Heather Davis to the best of our knowledge. Photograph emailed by David Thach.

Source:  the OK Historical Society Site

For more great pictures of Oklahoma City History: http://www.retrometrookc.org/http://www.retrometrookc.orghttp://www.retrometrookc.org/shapeimage_1_link_0