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Notes on the Geography of Oklahoma: Norman 9: False Fronts

How do you make an ugly building pretty?

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Norman was very largely shaped by several bankers who made the town their home. One worked hard to develop the cotton fields west of Interstate 35. He also put his bank there, shortly before it was closed by the FDIC and swallowed up by a bigger fish. The building he put up was too big even in the boom years, and now it's almost a mausoleum. But to the question at hand: you plunk down a fountain. No water: too much of a hassle.

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Lindsey Street for a mile east of the freeway is a carnival of fast food and gas stations, with a leavening of churches and adult entertainment. This Sonic drive-in, as functional as can be, as been prettified with red plastic triangles conceived to warm the hearts of anyone who knows the mythology of American rural life. Images like these are like campaigns, however; after a few years the triangles came down and were replaced by a new campaign.

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Another variation on the heart-of-gold motif. The building is a box, but the mansard needs something more, and the gables to the trick. Think they're also on the exit side of the building? Think again.

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Here's Main Street, just a couple of hundred yards west of Interstate 35. A strip mall had just popped up at this busy corner, and the developer wanted something nice. He put the parking behind the building. Good idea? Not for the merchants, who find that people won't walk that far. Plenty of lessee turnover here, you bet. The developer had another idea. Yes, it's the obligatory Renaissance clock tower, minus the clock.

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Three or four miles north on Interstate 35 is this delightful line of freeway-side shops. Note the fine drainage. It is reported that George Washington lived here. Well, that he designed the finely proportioned facade. OK, that he is retrieved subliminally in the minds of motorists driving by at 60 miles an hour. Will you concede that much?

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Back side of the same building. George didn't sleep here.

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What is a poor developer to do? It's a competitive world out there, and you want your product to stand out. So you buy several tens of tons of brick and a clock. Add a few bushes, and you're a high-class developer.

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Another developer is determined to rank with the best. The windows illuminate life-sized Greek statues within. They're made in China, of course.

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The same tower, from another side. Note the fine cathedral proportions. The name Clarendon is good, too. Like Windsor, but not so pushy.

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The Norman City Hall looked for a while like it was being left behind in all this rush to elegance. The city was wretchedly stuck in a 1970s box, starved by parsimonious rate-payers. But miracles happen, and what do you think came next?

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Ladies and Gentlemen, the new wing of the Norman City Hall. The tower's a mite scrunched, but the council wanted to demonstrate its financial probity. The odd little engaged gables don't make much sense, but they were very cheap. The landscaping is a tad severe, but the parks department doesn't have any gardeners left on the payroll. The statue is no less than the town's founder, Abner Norman, a railroad surveyor who saw a chance for a bit of moonlighting.

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Here, on the east side of town, a church is topped out. After all the clocktowers of the previous pictures, you should be inured, but are you ready for a prefab steeple bolted onto a steel support?

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