"All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall become,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king."
It was an early Spring evening. The sun had set yet the temperatures remained unseasonably high. The candles were lit as they most always are, tunes noticeable but not obtrusive, mood mellow, and the handful of patrons scattered throughout the room were lost in conversation, caught up, as they well should be, in the company they kept.
Fairly late into the night, in walks a striking and distinguished couple who appear to be in their sixties or seventies. They carried in with them a bit of an old world aura as if they had just walked in from strolling the narrow, cafe-lined streets of a little village somewhere far from here. While we could have been anywhere, I was keenly aware of the fact that we were right here at the corner of NW 7th & Hudson, sitting in my favorite little nook at Ludivine on a Wednesday night nursing some kind of bourbon-based bartender's choice.
There was something unique and magnetic about them that warranted your attention. Not because they demanded it, but even more so because they did not. There was a presence about them that ever so humbly filled the room. You might have guessed they owned the place if you didn't know better. They fit right in and the place suited them just fine. For they truly belonged - as quintessentially local as you could possibly be.
Once they had finished their nightcap and stood to gather their belongings I approached them at the table, extending a hand, offering a kind greeting. Michael, ever the gentleman, looked me in the eyes, shook my hand and introduced himself in return. We exchanged a sincere pleasantry or two, and then he turned my attention to, in his own words, "the lovely Ms. Floyd." I immediately respected him for the chivalry he displayed toward his companion.
I would later find out that they had been partners in life and love for the past twenty-five years. After a long slow dinner party with friends seven or so years ago, they remained in the kitchen to prepare dessert while their guests retired to the back deck. And in a quiet moment shared between just the two of them, Michael proposed in what must have been, based upon the look on Randy's face as she's retelling the account, a moving fashion. They were married in Santa Fe, NM one week later.
After a rather memorable encounter we parted ways certain that we'd meet up again. I would tuck back into my corner spot and they would resume their walk back home after having attended an event or performance of sorts at the Civic Center. Walking back home to the Cottage District, also known as SOSA (South of Saint Anthony), "a small enclave of architect designed modern homes of concrete and glass.”
Michael and Randy are largely responsible, both personally and professionally, for the rebirth of this once abandoned and blighted neighborhood. The transformation began in 2000 when they purchased and rehabilitated two multifamily residential buildings originally constructed in 1906, one of which would be their eventual home and remains so to this very day. "It never occurred to us to tear it down. The structure itself was important."
The passion they possess for the urban core becomes quite evident as the intensity of the conversation picks up becoming a little more animated. Randy sat back with a little smirk on her face and glint in her eye as she listened admiringly to Michael wax eloquently about the history of the city. At the age of seventy four and having made a storied investment and impact in our city, he can, as far as I’m concerned, opine as long as he likes. At one point she politely interrupted and with a hint of reminiscent astonishment said, "I almost forgot how passionate you are about Oklahoma City."
For Michael, his passion has always been discovered by, in his own words, "wandering around” - letting the soul and mind roam. While he has traveled the globe over the course of his life, he at the very same time hasn't wandered all that far from his childhood home in The Paseo at 727 NW 27th. We all get a little lost and caught up in the stories of yesteryear that Michael is telling; longing for the nostalgic simplicity of the 1950's when boys wore cons with cuffed jeans and played stickball in the streets.
This is a likable, likable man who has that uncanny and natural ability to put you at ease and make most anyplace feel like home. "After 10 days I will know enough people and be oriented enough to become a local."
Randy, too, in her own right has found a way to recreate and capture the essence of home in a myriad of surroundings. As a young single woman she traveled across the western half of the United States for months and months on end in a yellow 1966 Chevy van named Mr. Mustard. She likened home to anywhere that had a "degree of familiarity."
This can only be the case if you are first fundamentally familiar with yourself. If you're a stranger to yourself then no place will ever be home. But if you will listen to your life and truly get to "know thyself", as the Ancient Greek aphorism goes, then you will forever and always be everywhere at home.
If Michael's passions have been discovered through an aimless wandering then Randy's have been found through a more diligent pursuit of beauty and order. "Beauty makes me feel like I should be here; like there's something right with the world. And we see beauty in what we understand."
Listening to Randy gives me understanding and insight into how and why she chose to become an architect of modern and timeless design. Her buildings, both old and new alike, exemplify beauty and order. Her professional life is unique in that she is equally dedicated to progress and preservation. For instance, the work for which she is most proud includes a wide array ranging from leading the movement to preserve the historic Walnut Street Bridge in Deep Deuce to designing an iconic residence on NW 30th & Harvey Pkwy. She also notes her redesign of the western entrance to State Capitol building, a newly constructed house just down the street from her very own, and the fact that the two original buildings they purchased and rehabilitated that would eventually launch the Cottage District will soon be designated as Historic Landmarks.
There's typically a series of experiences somewhere in our past that shape our personal philosophies and chosen way of life here in the present. For Randy, she had, by her own somber admission, "a horribly dysfunctional family." But her story didn't stop there; no good story ever does: "I had an Aunt on my Father's side who saved me; I would have been lost without her. She taught me to love nature and gardening and learning."
I can see the clear influence of her beloved aunt as I walk the immaculate grounds that surround their home. Fresh produce has just recently been pulled from the backyard and stands ready in the kitchen, and upstairs in a corner loft is an epic home library with built in shelves floor to ceiling, dogeared books on coffee tables and perfectly placed throws for when you've settled in for the duration.
Randy spoke of this aunt with such loving reverence that I asked for her name: Georgene Hale. ***There's real power in a name, isn't there? In speaking it aloud she was remembered and revered, celebrated and praised. We sat in silence letting the significance of the moment that we just shared settle upon us.
There's something reflective and transcendent about the tone and nature of our conversation on that particular day. We turn to the age old and universally considered question: What is a meaningful life?
Randy softens and quiets even more so and says, "I'm asking myself that question a lot right now..." She pauses, as an astute and wise woman would before she continues. "I've recently lost both my mother and my brother."
Suffering and loss are most oftentimes the impetus for such considerations, shaking and waking us up to the beautiful and terrible reality that life is frail. There seems to be something necessary about pain and hardship when it comes to the formation of the human heart and life. We wouldn't choose it, god no! But we cannot deny its effect. We walk away from the wreckage changed. Broken to be sure, but somehow broken
open rather than apart. Our hearts are brought low, laid bare, softened, enlarged to experience even more and better life.
To be wise is to know what you don't yet know: "I have some good relationships and I've found a great deal of meaning in my work, but I'm ready to slow down, stop working, and take some time to reflect on what is a meaning life."
For Michael, his sage-likeness comes out in shorter bursts now, taking rather lofty and ethereal matters such as these and distilling them down into a raw and essential form: "The meaning of life is to love and be loved." He's right, and there's absolutely nothing cliche about it. Life really is that simple and all that complex.
So here I am, sitting in the living room of a home that could have been ripped from the cover of Dwell Magazine in the middle of a neighborhood that is being referred to as an “architect’s playground", at the center of my own hometown and it's all so stunning, but it is the hearts and lives of those I'm now surrounded that I find exceedingly more so. While there are many amazing things taking place in the life of the city, a litany of accolades, they pale in comparison to the people who make it up. Men and women who have gone before us. Pioneers and preservationists, the likes of Michael Smith and Randy Floyd, who took the scraps of our city up into their calloused and trustworthy hands breathing new life into the tender heart of our beloved O-K-C. ⊙
You will find some of the most prime real estate in all of Oklahoma within a few block radius on the west side of Midtown OKC. The Cottage District, which is now referred to by most as SoSA (South of St Anthonys), is home to many of OKC’s prominent architects, developers, and urban influencers. Here you will find the most creative and interesting high-end modern architecture in Oklahoma City. John Rex Charter Elementary School pulls from this neighborhood, as well as the rest of Midtown and Downtown. SoSA Heights land and homes can be purchased for anywhere from $250k to several million dollars.