By Crestwood neighbor Kimberly McCauley
The Crestwood neighborhood as we know it is the result of one man's vision almost 100 years ago. John J. Harden, one of the richest men in Oklahoma in the 1920s, used his business acumen and relationships with both state and national political figures to grow much of Oklahoma City “from the shadows.”
Harden had Irish roots but was born in New York and fell in love with a woman named Frances Hale of Nebraska. Her father, David Hale, was one of Nebraska’s most influential political and business leaders of the last quarter of the 19th century. After marrying Frances and having their first daughter, they moved to El Reno just a year after statehood.
Harden immediately jumped into investing. He started with $24,000 and developed the Lakeview Second Addition in El Reno and the College Addition in Vinita in northeast Oklahoma. Soon, hard times hit and he had to sell the remaining lots for a mere $300. But that didn’t stop him or slow him down.
He went on to complete subdivisions in Ohio and South Texas. After time developing “out in the country” of Oklahoma City and cemeteries in Ohio, he moved closer to the area we now call home.
In August 1924, Harden and his partner Roscoe Farmer paid $55,000 for a “barren prairie” close to what is currently Northwest 23rd Street and May Avenue. While he was going to call it Jones Park Addition, he ended up calling the new development Crestwood. He planted 800 shade trees and immediately started building houses. His company arranged with the bank to start two to three houses each week for six months. It was the biggest real estate development in 1925.
Harden continued to develop in surrounding states and grew more and more popular throughout the area. In 1925, The Daily Oklahoman asked harden to build its “ideal home” in the Crestwood neighborhood. That home is still located at 2741 NW 17th St. The exposure Harden gained from the “ideal home” boosted his home sales, and he quickly capitalized on the free publicity, not only selling homes, but financing them as well. He formed John J. Harden Inc. to provide financing to people who wanted to purchase a house but couldn’t afford to outright. This gave even more couples the opportunity to become homeowners, and Crestwood was better for it. Harden sold homes just as quickly as he built them.
The homes sold on average for an insanely-low $5,000 (about $70,000 today). They ranged from a five-room bungalow on Northwest 18th Street for $3,895 to a colonial two-story brick-and-frame six-room home for $9,500. Harden was a master marketer and knew how to sell. At one point in 1926, he even gave away a new Ford sedan to lure potential homebuyers. With Harden’s marketing acumen, combined with low prices and high quality, it took less than four years to sell every house in the development. Soon after, Crestwood was one of the most desirable places to live in the growing Oklahoma City metro. With the development’s success, churches and retail started to move in, creating further draw to the area that once was a “barren prairie.”
Harden became the richest man in Oklahoma in 1925. But, with the rising fame, also came opposition. Many saw him as a bully taking over rather than a businessman enriching the area. In 1927, Carl C. Magee, after moving to Oklahoma City from New Mexico and having a short acquaintance with Harden, launched into a personal attack on Harden that in “unequaled in the annals of Oklahoma reporting.”
This attack and volatile public relationship lasted for years. But it didn’t stop Harden. In the bed of controversy, he proposed to the City Council to build a large building along with sheds for fresh produce sellers. June 16, 1928 was the first day of business for the Farmer’s Market. While attacks continued toward Harden, in its first year alone, the Farmer’s Market produced sales of $565,855 (over $8 million today). Stalls continued to be added and in 1931 the sales for the year reached an astronomical $1.2 million (over $19 million today). Fruit producers and farmers came from as far away as Arkansas, Southern Missouri, Kansas, Texas, and Colorado to sell their crops in the Farmer’s Market building that still stands today.
John Harden did so much for Oklahoma City and his impact is still seen in the beautiful buildings that remain. In addition to Crestwood and the Oklahoma City Farmer's Market, he developed the Linwood Place, Linwood Second, Edgemere Park neighborhoods, as well as others.
There is so much more to the story than could be contained in this short article. You can learn more by reading Out from the Shadows: The Life of John J. Harden by Bob Burke, which is the primary source for this article.
Kimberly McCauley is a small business owner living in the Crestwood neighborhood. If you see her, say hi.
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