Jefferson County Neighborhoods:
Lakewood – O’Kane Park
Wadsworth (west) to Jay (east); Sixth Avenue (north) to Bayaud (south)
When driving through the O’Kane neighborhood in eastern Lakewood, one might describe it as a pleasant aging residential area. However, underneath the sleepy veneer, bundles of energy await the next suggested project to improve the community. O’Kane has been a family-friendly neighborhood for 100 years.
It began when Bernard and Elizabeth O’Kane moved from Ireland via Denver to Lakewood in 1895. They operated a five-acre dairy farm north of First Avenue between Teller and Newland streets. Their home still stands proudly near 28-acre O’Kane Park and the Washington Heights Arts Center, which began as a one-room rural school in 1898. Today, the Arts Center is an adjunct of the Lakewood Cultural Center with plenty of classes from dance to pottery. Stretching north and west is Washington Heights Park with ballfields named after the O’Briens, also 19th Century settlers, and a several-acre field owned by the city where soccer fields might be built some day. The O’Kane family home is a major landmark in Lakewood and was occupied by family members until 1998.
The O’Kane Neighborhood Association was formed in the late 1990s by Debbie Koop, and Barbara and Ed Heckle, who attended countless neighborhood planning meetings with city staff to help establish the “North Alameda Area Plan.” After one of those meetings, Koop said to the Heckles, “We really should organize a neighborhood association.” Ever since, the three have been a dedicated, energetic trio, working with the help of other volunteers to improve their community. Koop was the first president and the Heckles produced the newsletter for the OKPNA for seven years.
O’Kane Park was the invigorating force for defining the area. “We wanted a clean and safe neighborhood,” said Barbara Heckle. “When my children were little, there were 100 neighborhood eyes watching them.” When the association was first formed, “the park was filled with litter,” she said. “Now, we see walkers in the park picking up tiny pieces of trash. Our association gave people pride in their neighborhood.”
Beginning in 1998, volunteers participated in a speed watch with a radar gun on First Avenue. They wiped away the area’s graffiti from public property and signs. During two days of the first clean-up in the North Alameda area, neighbors collected 50 dumpsters of trash, 11 dumpsters of recyclable scrap metal, 1,040 tires, and more than 50 large appliances. At that time, the amount of trash collected was unprecedented for any of Lakewood’s neighborhood clean-ups.
In 1999, corporate and individual donations and city grants funded the Rainbow Playground which fulfilled the desire for fun for the children and more safety for everyone at O’Kane Park. Today’s hard-working residents are as dedicated as the original settlers 100 years ago.
Organized: O’Kane Park Neighborhood Association of 480 homes. President, Gail Mark; Treasurer, Shawn Wine; Secretary, Vicki Cauley.
Real estate values: Condos, $75,000 to $250,000; Single-family homes, $199,000 to $400,000.
Traditions: Holiday decorating/lighting contest; neighborhood yard sales; block parties; annual summer picnics, which include sack races; O’Kane House lighting party; Pet Fair; periodic cleanup of the park and the neighborhood.
Public Schools: Stein Elementary, O’Connell Middle, and Alameda High.
Amenities: O’Kane Park (28 acres) where children can play safely and adults can meet, walk, jog one mile around; picnic shelters; two historic buildings. Art classes at Washington Heights. Easy commute to metro area employment and shopping.
Minus: Densely populated urban air and noise pollution.