Oklahoma Avenue thrives despite mysterious history

A streetcar, which was brought to Washington in 2016 to provide transportation opportunities for residents in the northeastern part of the district, makes its final stop at Oklahoma Avenue last month. (Addison Kliewer / Gaylord News)

WASHINGTON –– Oklahoma Avenue, a diagonal, two-block-long residential street that sits two miles east of Capitol Hill, is one of the 50 state-named avenues in Washington, D.C., but it has an untraceable history.

In 1981, the Tulsa World published a story about the lack of documentation regarding when and why Oklahoma Avenue received its name. Thirty-eight years later, the mystery remains unsolved.

“All the 50 states have diagonal streets named for them here, and presumably, there’s a record somewhere showing the naming,” the Tulsa World reported. “But no one seems to know just when Oklahoma was honored with a street.”

Prior to the late-1920s, the avenue was called Cool Spring Road, built before Washington was recognized as a district, said Kim Williams, an architectural historian with the D.C. Historic Preservation Office.

Many avenues in the district were named because of their connections to states, such as development companies with ties to different areas around the country, but Williams said this was not the case for Oklahoma Avenue.

“I would just say that probably in 1927, there were only so many states left that didn't have streets named for them, and so that's how it was chosen. It's nothing more exciting than that,” said Williams.

On July 21, 1926, the now-shuttered Washington Star referenced Oklahoma Avenue in a story, according to District of Columbia Public Library archives. This means the street had undergone a name change prior to Williams’s 1927 estimate.

To one man, this lack of documentation did not diminish the street’s significance. Stanley Covington, who was shopping at a farmer’s market on the avenue, said he has pride in both state of Oklahoma and Oklahoma Avenue.

Although Covington grew up in Washington, he said he attended Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva. Nearly 40 years later, he stood on Oklahoma Avenue buying fresh produce, over 1,000 miles away from his alma mater.

Oklahoma Avenue has changed dramatically since Covington’s childhood. The two-block avenue, which sits between Benning Road and C Street, now has Amtrak train lines running through it, as well as a new streetcar system created in 2016 to bring residents greater transportation opportunities. The street also is home to Kingman and Heritage Islands Park, which hosts an annual bluegrass festival and sits directly next to the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, the former home of the Washington Redskins.

“They have a lot of development that is taking place in D.C. It almost just did like a facelift,” said Covington.

Despite these attractions, Oklahoma Avenue did not even make the list of top state avenues in Washington, according to a 2015 article on the Greater Greater Washington website. There were 49 states on the list, and Oklahoma was the only state-named avenue missing.

States were ranked based on many factors including their length, as well as the number of notable circles and squares they connect to.

“I would speculate that leaving Oklahoma Avenue off was probably just a mistake,” said Dan Malouff, a transportation planner for Arlington, Va., and a contributor for Greater Greater Washington.

While many readers noticed Oklahoma’s absence on the list, some suggested Oklahomans throw a party to bring attention to the avenue and its progress.

“You need to talk to your state's congressional delegation about doing an art piece, or whatever, celebrating your state and street,” said a comment in response to the missing state.

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.

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