Houses more than 50 years old still stand within Southern Heights, a neighborhood just south of East Garriott on the east side of the city.

Some of these old buildings already have been taken down by the city, but Barbara Finley wants to preserve what’s left of the community.

Finley, executive director of Southern Heights Heritage Center and Museum, is interested in turning South-ern Heights into a historic district.

For Finley, it’s a way to bring attention to the community while at the same time ensuring some of Enid’s past stays alive.

“I see it as an opportunity to restructure and revitalize the area,” Finley said. “(Southern Heights) is truly a gateway into Enid.”

Finley said the neighborhood began in the early days of Enid as a German community. After the Germans spread out and moved on, Southern Heights eventually became the first true black community in the city of Enid.

There are dozens of homes that remain standing from that time. By looking at a 1997 study from a Texas organization, Finley says the most historic homes stand on East State from South Fourth to South Fifth. Others are on East Wabash.

Benefits of becoming district

If and when Southern Heights become a recognized historic district, Finley sees the benefits as three-fold.

First, it’ll create opportunities to develop and preserve parts of Southern Heights.

“I think all social organizations, they’re all willing to participate and revitalize and preserve (South-ern Heights),” she said.

Secondly, recognizing Southern Heights as historic will help save some of those old homes Finley sees as most historic. It would be a “change from (Enid) being a demolition city to one that preserves,” she said.

Finally, it’s an opportunity to preserve the memories and belongings of Enid native and internationally renowned opera singer Leona Mitchell.

On Oct. 2, members of the community broke ground to bring one of the oldest homes in Enid to Southern Heights and transform it into a building to house the Leona Mitchell collection of memorabilia the museum has in its possession.

The home, currently at 801 E. Maine, was brought to Enid from Kansas in 1896.

Finley said she feared the home eventually will lose historic status, but the move to Southern Heights should affirm its standing.

A step-by-step process

Shirley Marquardt, former member of Enid Historic Preservation Commission, said if Southern Heights is serious about pursuing historic recognition, there’s two potential avenues to explore: Local or national recognition.

Becoming a local historic district would require property owners in the neighborhood to follow the city’s historic preservation ordinance, said Marquardt. That means contacting the city to make sure all exterior changes or new buildings are appropriate according to the ordinance. Homeowners must submit a Request for Certificate of Appropriateness from the city if they wish to do so.

There may be downsides to this option, Marquardt said.

“Southern Heights may face resistance from property owners,” she said.

If Southern Heights were to become nationally recognized, property owners would not have to fulfill obligations to the city, Marquardt said. Historical recognition would come from U.S. Department of the Interior. This option would make “owners of income producing contributing properties” in Southern Heights eligible for state and federal tax credits for rehab projects.

Once the community gathers to decide which designation it wants to pursue, there is a a step-by-step process they can follow, Marquardt said.

• Submit a formal, written request to the city, specifying which option they’d like to pursue.

• The request will be reviewed by Enid Historic Preservation Commission, which will forward it to the city manager and city commission for approval or disapproval.

• Set up a meeting with the city at which individual neighbors can discuss their opinions.

• Once the city commission approves the request, Southern Heights can begin the process to receive appropriate funding from Certificate Local Government funds from the state. Sixty percent of necessary funds would come from the state, while the city would have to come up with 40 percent.

• The city may review a 1997 study of Southern Heights to determine if a new study is required.

• The city would hire a contractor to prepare a nomination package for the neighborhood. The package would be submitted to the city of Enid, State Historic Preservation Office and finally to Keeper of the Register in Washington, D.C., if the neighborhood is becoming nationally recognized.

Southern Heights could choose to become locally and nationally recognized. Marquardt said she’s “almost certain” Southern Heights’ residents would want to become nationally recognized because it would establish national visibility and give national recognition to the neighborhood and the city.

Whichever option is chosen, Finley hopes the city steps up to support the community.

“I believe (Southern Heights) could become known internationally,” she said.

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