CLASSEN, ANTON H. (1861-1922)
Oklahoma City civic leader and land developer Anton H. Classen was born October 8, 1861, at Pekin, Illinois. Named after his German-born father, Classen received a common school education in Illinois and studied law at the University of Michigan. Two years after he graduated from college, he made the 1889 land run into the Unassigned Lands of Oklahoma Territory, living for a brief period in Guthrie. The town had too many lawyers, so he sought opportunity in nearby Edmond. While practicing law, Classen edited of the Edmond Sun newspaper and promoted the location of Oklahoma Territory's first normal school at Edmond.
In 1897 Classen, a Republican in politics, was appointed by Pres. William McKinley as receiver in the U.S. Land Office in Oklahoma City. Classen quickly involved himself in the development and beautification of the city. Speculating in land, he bought farm land contiguous to the city limits and organized numerous housing additions, the first being Highland Parked Addition (now Heritage Hills historic district), established in 1900. To enhance his lots he planted trees and set aside a parcel of land for parks. In 1902 he and John W. Shartel organized the Metropolitan Railway Company (later the Oklahoma City Railway Company), a mass-transit system that benefitted their real estate interests, because the lines connected their additions to downtown Oklahoma City.
In 1899 Classen became the first president of the Oklahoma City Building and Loan Association and served as president of the Oklahoma City Commercial Club (later the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce). He was instrumental in getting city streets paved, in organizing Oklahoma City street fairs, and in promoting Oklahoma City as the location for Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders annual reunion in 1900. An educated man and a Methodist, he helped organize the University Development Company, through which the building of the Methodist-affiliated Epworth University (now Oklahoma City University) was financed. He also served on the university's board of trustees. His many real estate interests were transferred to the Classen Company in 1902, the same year he opened the University and Marquette additions. In association with the Oklahoma Industrial Company, Classen promoted the establishment of a meat-packing firm in the stockyards and enticed Nelson Morris Company of Chicago to locate in Oklahoma City.
While working at the U.S. Land Office, Classen met his future bride, Ella D. Lamb, whom he married in January 1903. In 1919 he donated land for a school named in his honor. Before his death Classen was director of the Young Men's Christian Association, president of the Oklahoma Children's Home Society, and director of the Oklahoma Forestry Association. He was affiliated with the Oklahoma City Masonic Lodge Number 36 and had been an active member and director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. On December 30, 1922, Classen died at his home at 626 West Fourteenth Street. At the turn of the twenty-first century Classen Boulevard and Classen School of Advanced Studies (formerly Classen High School) in Oklahoma City remained as tributes to one of the city's prominent developers.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Kim K. Bender, "Oklahoma City's First Mass Transit System: Who Brought the Street Cars for People to Ride," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 72 (Summer 1994). "Anton H. Classen," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. W. F. Kerr and Ina Gainer, The Story of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma:"The Biggest Little City in the World" (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1922). Joseph B. Thoburn and Muriel H. Wright, Oklahoma: A History of the State and Its People, Vol. 4 (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1929).
Linda D. Wilson
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