nows who has.
After obtaining his real estate license in 1955, he began selling houses in the Military and Western Avenue areas. At the time, area homes were going for around $11,000. In the early '70s, he became involved with Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City, a private, nonprofit, social service agency, where he worked with Vietnamese immigrants, helping them secure properties for their businesses.
"The Asian people have really been a blessing to the district," he says. "They've been my best customers, and I enjoy seeing them get ahead."
Putting his money where his mouth is, Waken began investing in real estate within the district, purchasing a mix of residential, multifamily and commercial properties. In 1976, he purchased the former Treat Engineering office building, 3101 N Classen Blvd., where he still has an office today; he paid $75,000 for the two-story property.
"I feel very fortunate," he says. "I'll never sell it. I've got eight tenants leasing right now and two vacancies."
Through the years, Waken has handled several other transactions for business owners in the area, but most notably, the landmark Gold Dome deal in which Irene Lam paid $1.1 million to Bank One.
"She's one smart cookie," Waken says. "She then went back and offered to lease part of the building back to Bank One for $15,000 per month, triple net. They took her up on it and stayed in the building while they built their new bank across the street on Western."
Waken says he's happy to see area building owners renovating their properties; however, there was one building he's glad to have seen torn down: the old St. John's Episcopal Church-turned-nightclub at 3125 N Classen Blvd.
"He (former owner Charles Shadid) finally got it torn down," Waken says, adding the vacant lot then sold for $450,000.
Waken's latest deal is a 3,729-square-foot retail building at 3109 N Classen Blvd., formerly owned by Peggy Grace and Walter Pipkin, successors to the Pipkin Trust and owners of Pipkin Cameras & Imaging.
"Mrs. Pipkin (Grace) retired and put her property up for sale, and I already had buyers ready to buy the property," Waken says, nothing that attorney Rod Palmer had been interested in purchasing property on the strip for years when the Pipkin property came up for sale in June. Palmer paid $160,000, with plans to begin renovation in the near future. PAPER, PLASTIC, PROFITS
Waken says the Asian community as a whole continues to make a significant commitments to the area, and that Tri and Kim Luong have done well with their grocery business.
"They are hardworking people," he says. "They carry foods from all over the world, and you can't beat their prices."
The Luongs entered the United States on July 4, 1978, in Washington, D.C. They relocated to Fort Smith, Ark., where the couple opened a small convenience store. In order to replenish goods, the Luongs had to drive to Oklahoma City to buy supplies at the former Cao Nguyen, 2502 N Military Ave.
Eventually, they purchased the store when its owners moved out of Oklahoma.
"As the community and the city grew, Cao Nguyen grew," says Ba Luong, the family's eldest son, noting that his father expanded the store from 1,500 square feet to 9,000 square feet before deciding to build the family's new Super Cao Nguyen market, 2668 N Military Ave., in 2004. "When it first opened, it used to be Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai products. We've expanded the product mix a little. We carry products from over 50 different countries now; it's not just Asian food anymore. It kind of reflects the diverse and growing palates of Oklahomans. Now people come in asking for Middle Eastern flat breads."
He says the area's retail component also has grown, and credits the partnership between the city and the Asian District for implementing a plan to spotlight the district, which, in turn, has attracted new development and services, increasing shopping traffic in the neighborhood.
"It's about the residents, the community and the city supporting a small pocket of Asian commerce within 10 square blocks or so," Luong says. "The last time I counted, we had well over 20 restaurants in the Asian District. With any culture, everybody speaks different languages, but there's that one uniform language, which is food