Archive for Wednesday, June 5, 2002

Oread home to diverse interests, says neighborhood leader

June 5, 2002


Some have called it Lawrence's student ghetto.

Others see it as a vibrant, but quaint housing area steeped in Lawrence history.

Still others see it as a turf battle zone, where neighbors must be vigilant to keep housing stock from being swallowed up by Kansas University's campus.

But to Greg Hickam, it's home sweet home.

"I've really lived in the Oread virtually my whole life," says Hickam, the 43-year-old president of the Oread Neighborhood Assn.

'Remarkable diversity'

How unique is the Oread neighborhood? It depends on your perspective, Hickam said.

It has a conglomeration of housing styles.

It features steep topography, built on the eastern and northern slope of what the early settlers dubbed "The Devil's Backbone" and what later became called by the eastern settlers as Mt. Oread.

The neighborhood's boundaries are Ninth Street on the north, 17th Street on the south, Massachusetts on the east, Michigan Street on the west , winding around the border of the university over to Edgehill Road, behind the Luddington-Thatcher House in the 1600 block of Tennessee.

It has "a remarkable diversity "of residents, because 85 percent are renters, Hickam said.

"And when you combine that with our location between the downtown and the university, and you factor in that the majority of our neighborhood was in the original town plat, it's quite a history and diversity, both of architecture and people," Hickam said.

"We are the densest neighborhood in Lawrence," he said. "We have more folks in our area, however that is figured, than any other.

The population is between 4,000 and 4,200, with the vast majority of them being students, he said.

Renovations common

Besides the renters, another group has a vested interest in the neighborhood.

"There are a huge amount of landlords," he said.

There has been a tradition, dating from the World War II era, of families moving into the neighborhood, raising their children, then moving out and turning their homes into rentals.

"Those folks tend to pay relatively close attention to their properties, since they were the original family homes," he said.

"Of course, we have a number of landlords who have never lived in the neighborhood. They made their purchase strictly as an investment. Some of them are terrific. Some of them are not so terrific."

At any given time, there is anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen homes that are going through serious renovations in the neighborhood.

Certain areas of the neighborhood have no off-street parking.

"You can have a big beautiful home and not be able to guarantee anybody a parking space. And with the number of commuter students we have, who use our neighborhood as their parking lot, it creates some interesting situations," he said.

University expansion

Hickam's own roots are caught up in the current-day controversy between the neighborhood group and KU.

"My grandparents ran a boarding house at 1329 Ohio St. for international students from 1955 to 1965. And that was the house I mostly grew up in, in my early years," he said. "It was also one of the homes that KU wanted to demolish."

University expansion is the biggest challenge the neighborhood faces.

"We need a commitment from them to definite boundaries. They had made a commitment a number of years ago and then broke that commitment with their effort to move across the alley between Louisiana and Ohio Street and demolish those houses that they acquired.

"I think all neighborhoods that border KU probably have that at the top of their priority list. And officially, so far, the university has refused to commit itself to something like that, proclaiming that they cannot tie their hands in that manner."

Family involvement

When Hickam's daughter reached elementary school age, he had more time and opportunity to get involved in the neighborhood association.

His mother, Mary Hickam, had been involved in the association in the early 1980s and early 1990s and was a founding member of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance.

Hickam joined the neighborhood organization in 1997.

"Part of what motivated me was an interest of the history in our neighborhood," he said.

He wrote a quarterly column, "Journeys through History" for the neighborhood's newsletter.

Working to keep families

He has seen many changes in the housing stock.

"In the course of my life, we've probably lost, I'd say, 35 percent of our original housing stock, that have been replaced with triplexes or four-plexes or multiplexes or large areas for parking, or now and then have been victim to institutional expansion on the part of the university."

Another issue is the preservation of sound housing stock within the neighborhood.

"We will still, in any given year, lose two or three or four houses to fire, which usually arises as a result of fairly shoddy code conditions.

Another challenge is to bring families back into the neighborhood.

"It's families with children that are the foundation of any stable, successful neighborhood," he said. "In line with that, I'd say keeping Cordley Elementary School open is a major element in that."

Although Cordley School, at 19th and Kentucky streets, lies just outside the neighborhood boundaries, it's the only public school in the neighborhood and many of the children who live in Oread attend Cordley.

Going on 24 years

The Oread Neighborhood Assn. formed in October 1978 with funding from an anti-crime grant that was administered through a law enforcement agency.

Oread, at that time, was having a lot of problems with crime, Hickam said. And the association and its newsletter originated in large measure out of that grant support.

"In the early days, the university was a supporter of the association, because there was a real hodge-podge of property ownership around the eastern and northern boundaries of the university," he said.

"So they never had one group they could deal with. They were supportive in the early years, until we found some areas of conflict."

The association's general meetings are once every three months, about two to three weeks after the quarterly newsletters are sent out.

The next meeting will be mid-July or early August. The association also has monthly board meetings. The board consists of about 12 people. They have area reps. for six areas.

The officers, besides Hickam, are: vice president, Marci Francisco; secretary, Janet Gerstner; and treasurer, Debbie Milks.

The neighborhood is also split up into six areas, which each have their own representative on the board. There are also two at-large representatives.

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