Urban Pioneers come full circle to Plaza District
On June 16th, we will honor Bill Ross and son Bob Ross as our 2011 Urban Pioneers. As many know, their involvement in the community through the Inasmuch Foundation and the numerous organizations they work with personally has been so instrumental to the growth of our city on so many levels–education, health, the arts, beautification and so much more. We honor the Ross Family for their commitment to our inner city and the projects they have empowered to progress and strengthen the inner core.
Born and raised in Oklahoma City, William J. Ross attended Rosary Grade School and graduated from Classen High School in 1948. His childhood home, built by his grandparents in 1908 is located on the corner of 16th and Blackwelder Ave, just across the way from the New State Ice House building, now Velvet Monkey Salon. Bill spent his youth growing up on the 16th Street Plaza District. His family used the nearby businesses–the cleaners, bakery, and movie theatre at the Plaza Theatre for their needs, as the bustling commercial district served the end of the trolley line and the growing neighborhoods around it.
Decades later, the neighborhood began its decline in the 1980s, and after years blight, crime, and neglect, neighbors around the area stepped up to start it’s revitalization. The Plaza District Association began working with the City of Oklahoma City, community leaders and volunteers and progress began as City Councilwoman Ann Simank helped the area gain the beautiful streetscape now spanning NW 16th Street. The association and city leaders also began working with Lyric Theatre, who purchased the dilapidated Plaza Theatre, a neighboring building and the old Humpty Dumpty grocery on the corner of NW 16th and Indiana. The capitol campaign for the entire project including the theatre, administration offices and the Thelma Gaylord Academy building resulted as they successfully raised 10 million for the renovations and an
endowment fund. During this campaign, Bill Ross and Bob Ross returned to the neighborhood, run down, dangerous and falling apart–yet saw the vision for theatre, and the neighborhood.
Thankfully, the Inasmuch Foundation’s support of Lyric Theatre at the Plaza was vital, and instrumental for the Plaza District. Though an effort of many, their support fueled the growth of the neighborhood and we are becoming the Plaza District of today thanks to their vision and commitment.
Four years ago, Jeff Struble purchased the Ross Family home and fully renovated it as a mixed use space in the Plaza District. Struble, the Plaza District Association board member and the Plaza District Association offices moved in to the house for offices. We invited the Ross family to tour the home shortly after. The entire family–children, grandchildren and all visited and recalled stories of the old neighborhood to us. It was my first few months in my position with the district, and it was truly inspiring to be there, really seeing how the neighborhood has come back full circle. Today, as I work on plans for the Urban Pioneer Awards, I am even more inspired by the widespread good they have brought to this city. It’s just amazing.
Please view these photos sent to us by Bill Ross, including childhood photos of the home and new photos from their last visit. We are thrilled to name these two to our significant list of Urban Pioneer Awards honorees including Tom McDaniel, Lou Kerr, Meg Salyer, Ann Simank, Mark Funk, Mike Turpen and Steve Mason.
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