Two dozen art galleries. Electric car exhibitions. A Canadian Anglican church from the mid-1800s. None of these things were on the mind of Dr. G.A. Nichols when he first laid out the first shopping district north of Oklahoma City, a mix of stucco adobe-like architecture appropriately known as Spanish Village. It was a commercial center for OKC until just after World War II, when suburban sprawl began to move its customers away as it had in so many urban centers. By the ’60s and ’70s it had become something of a hippie hangout, and by the 1980s it was mostly shuttered, an embarassing eyesore.
That is, until residents decided to repurpose Spanish Village as a downtown arts district. Now known as the Paseo, which roughly translates from Spanish as “the walk,” this six-by-six district features all those things Dr. Nichols never imagined and then some, a year-round mix of creative hotbeds, multimedia marvels, cozy cafes, and just flat-out strangeness that is indeed an easy afternoon’s walk. Ever mindful of its function in the community, the Paseo offers several hands-on events for children, weddings at that Anglican chapel (the state’s oldest, bought on the internet and transported brick by brick from New Brusnwick), affordable housing for those who like a funky neighborhood, and mixed-use zoning to ensure it never falls completely out of use again.
All the hard work has resulted in a real point of pride for Oklahomans — it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was honored as one of the American Planning Association’s 10 Great Neighborhoods for 2010. If you’re planning a visit from out of town, try for Memorial Day Weekend, when the district puts on its best face with the annual Paseo Arts Festival.