Several years before statehood, a few houses began appearing on the prairie near downtown Oklahoma City. It was 1902 when developers Anton Classen, Charles Colcord, and Henry Overholser started to build what is now Mesta Park.
The years between 1906 and 1915 were when the area grew exponentially. Streetcars traveled along Shartel, then turned onto Northwest 18th Street, connecting with another line that ran along Classen Boulevard. That allowed residents easy access to downtown as well as Belle Isle Park, the current site of Penn Square Mall.
Architects of the day designed houses with open floor plans and large windows, allowing a breezy feel and lots of sunshine. Features included waxed, unpainted wooden floors and ceramic tile or natural brick fireplace surrounds in the living room and master bedroom. Outside, natural landscaping replaced formal gardens, while large trees protected homes from Oklahoma's blistering summers.
Seasons came and went, and the neighborhood flourished. Soon after World War II, however, Oklahoma City had started growing northward. Families began their rush to the suburbs, and many of the stately old homes in Mesta Park became segmented into apartments, abandoned, or even demolished.
The turbulent 1960s were not kind to Mesta Park, and by the 1970s, many of the homes were in disrepair. That's when a handful of urban pioneers began moving back to the downtown core. They saw the elegance and charm of the grand old manors and set about bringing them back to life.
Slowly, the neighborhood began to resemble what it had been in its glory days. Once again, friends and neighbors strolled the tree-lined sidewalks. The expansive front porches rang with laughter and the sounds of children.
Mesta Park joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, and a decade later, in 1994, it was named a Historic Preservation Zone by the City of Oklahoma City.
Today, Mesta Park is a sought-after neighborhood, and its residents, both former and current, say it is one of Oklahoma City's greatest treasures.
Current resident Ty McBride has lived in the area for five years and says he enjoys the neighborhood's historic feel.
"The homes have both unique character and cohesiveness," he said. "The best part about Mesta Park is the small-town feel. Living in a large city, you can feel lost, small and distant. In our neighborhood, we feel connected. You see your neighbor at the grocery store, at Wilson Elementary events, and the park.
One of Mesta Park's longtime residents is J.B. Schuelein. He bought his first property in 1985 and has been there to watch the neighborhood come full circle.
"The residents here are as eclectic as the architecture," he said. "All ages, races, religions, gay and straight. Many people move here because they like living in a diverse community that is welcoming, progressive, and generally supportive of our city's amazing renaissance."
The Oklahoma City Thunder, and many restaurants and bars, have brought new life and energy to the neighborhood. Schuelein says that's one of the best parts of living there.
"The Plaza District, Midtown, Paseo Arts District, and even Automobile Alley are all a short walk, but Uptown is our neighborhood favorite," he said. "Mesta Park shares a border with the heart of the historic Uptown 23rd commercial district and collaborates with the Tower Theater and other businesses on fundraisers and events. The revitalization of Northwest 23rd has been one of the most rewarding and exciting things for us and makes Mesta Park an even more attractive place to live."
Lauren Warkentine is relatively new to Mesta Park, having moved there about three years ago.
"I love that every home has such charm and character, no two houses are the same," she said. "They are full of so much history with all the decades and families that have lived in them. I have always loved learning about why certain features are on the homes at the time they were built—it gives you a glimpse into the past and how they lived."
The typical layout of a Mesta Park home encourages more families to gather on the front lawn or the porch, as opposed to the suburbs where the backyard is the main recreational area.
"I love going out for a run or a walk with the neighbors," she said. "There is always so much activity going on, but it's still very peaceful. In the mornings, people are out on their front porch drinking coffee while families are walking their kids to school. There is just so much life all around, it's refreshing. And being within walking distance to Midtown and really being at the heart of everything—it's simply perfect."
Sidebar: Perle Mesta
She was known as "The Hostess with the Mostess."
Perle Skirvin Mesta was a well-known Washington socialite who hobnobbed with everyone from Presidents and First Ladies to the Hollywood elite. While she was known for her legendary soirees, Mesta was the daughter of one of Oklahoma's earliest pioneers.
She was born in Michigan in 1889 and moved with her family to Oklahoma shortly after her birth. Her father, William, founded the luxurious Skirvin Hotel, and they made their home in the newly-formed neighborhood known as the "University Addition."
In 1916, Perle married George Mesta but, who left her a widow in 1925. Life took her to Washington, D.C., where she became the toast of the town, known for her elegant parties. An invitation to a Mesta party was a sure sign one had reached the pinnacle of society.
Not long after her move to Washington, Mesta switched political parties and registered as a Democrat, prompting President Harry S. Truman to name her Ambassador to Luxembourg.
Mesta was also the inspiration for Irving Berlin's musical, "Call Me Madame," which premiered on Broadway in 1950 and starred Ethel Merman.
In 1970, Mesta returned to her hometown of Oklahoma City. She died in 1975 at the age of 85.
The neighborhood in which she lived was renamed "Mesta Park," in her honor, in 1978. Today, her original Mesta home still stands at 700 Northwest 16th Street.