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City Council to consider vacating alley

City Council to consider vacating alley

By R.L. Thompson

One of the agenda items discussed at the last city council meeting conducted on February 12, was to take possible action to lease the vacant lot on Shawna Russel Way.  The agenda listed it as a “vacant lot”, however, to many in Okemah it is an alleyway that at one time was occupied with the Okemah Ladies Lounge.

The historic Okemah Ladies Lounge and Rest Room caught the attention of Lois Edington, a journalist with the Oklahoman who penned an article entitled “Okemah Ladies Lounge and Rest Room Devoted to Rest and Relaxation for Its Harried Guests”. The article was printed in the Oklahoman on October 2, 1983.

Edington wrote: “There are johns, there are toilets, there are facilities, there are lavatories, there are loos, but there is only one Okemah Ladies Lounge and Rest Room.

Never was the lily so gilded.”

In Edington’s article published in the Oklahoman, she highlighted the history of the lounge when she wrote: “when the Ladies Civic Club and the Chamber of Commerce opened the lounge more than 50 years ago, who would have thought the tiny space would one day serve as information central for this town? Mrs. Eddie Mae Thompson, who has served as the lounge’s hostess for six years, keeps it open from 10 a.m. till 3 p.m., six days a week. Her salary is paid by the city. The Chamber of Commerce maintains the building and pays for the supplies.”

When former residents of Okemah and Okfuskee County visit Okemah, many would visit the Ladies Lounge reminiscing of days gone by when they would go with their mothers. Edington wrote about how some mothers would stay there and have their children check in with them every hour.  Some ladies gathered there daily to watch soap operas and wait to be picked up by their husbands.

The Okemah Ladies Lounge is now a distant memory. A new generation has grown up not knowing anything about the Ladies Lounge. The alleyway has been open for several decades since the removal of the Ladies Lounge.  One can still see the plaster and mortar attached to the buildings on each side of the alleyway marking the spot where the lounge once stood.

Today, business owner Shane Anderson who is in the process of purchasing the building at 215 West Broadway is desiring to gain access to the alleyway to place tables and string the area with lighting to create a place for patrons to enjoy an outdoor experience.

Mayor Ron Gott, who owns the building located on the east side of the alleyway, noted the alleyway is more of walkway instead of any alley. One cannot drive a vehicle between the buildings due to HVAC units in the alleyway as well as an opening for a descending stairway leading to basement of one of the buildings.

Councilman Bacon shared his thoughts remembering when the alleyway was dedicated as Shawna Russell Way. Bacon thought then City Attorney Bruce Coker commented it never was an alley.

City Attorney Jack Cadenhead advised the council to make sure the property was actually owned by the city before moving forward in leasing it.

As the discussion continued, the item was tabled to give time to the city attorney to determine if the city owns the alley. The council indicated while the agenda item was tabled for this meeting, they anticipated the agenda item to return at their next meeting. However, the council is no longer talking about leasing the “vacant lot” they are talking about vacating the alleyway. This means the city will no longer have any interest in the alleyway and it will be split between the properties located to the east and west of it.

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