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.
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. Its 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 Mall, click here.
Until the 1950s, 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 1930s.
Wilemans Belle Isle is one of the most desired areas to live in Oklahoma City. Its 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.
HISTORY: BEFORE HOMES & RETAIL...
By the 1950s, Ben Wileman had 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.