An appreciation of the doomed Denver Grill


"jdb" over on the TulsaNow forum gives us a brief survey of the history of the Denver Grill, 1st & Denver, and the kind family who built it and still runs it today. Here's an excerpt -- click the link above to read the whole thing.

A new coat of paint and a few sticks of neon would go a long way towards restoring the glamour of this unassuming place from passer-bys on the outside. On the inside it's a treasure trove of history and memories to an era of Tulsa's past, an on going philanthropic establishment for the less glamorous, and the sole livelihood for the oldest daughter of Louise Jones.

Who the heck is Louise? That would be Peggy's mother, Louise Jones, who started working there in 1958.

In 1933 Al Claybrook built the Denver Grill where it stands now and his wife, Mary, ran the joint.

In 1958 Louise dons an apron and one-by-one brings her 8 children into the working world as soon as they were tall enough to reach the washbasin. And thus the Jones family survived some hard times, made a living, and in the process became one of Tulsa's big little places.

Al, on the other hand, didn't fare so well after failing off the roof.

Mary finally hung her dishtowel up for the last time in 1983. She had worked long enough, and by some accounts, Peggy, was already running the place and poised to take the business over in "writing".

Have I mentioned that Peggy has twin daughters and two boys? And that they attended the children's Day Nursery around the corner? She does, and they did....

To close out this overview, I'll say that the Denver Grill is more then a local icon. It's more than a 70-40 year extended family run business. It's more than a historical plaque out front that Peggy never thought to make application for. It's more than a meal-on-loan for some who have taken a wrong turn in life or a few elderly at the Hewgley Apts. that on a fixed income, have to choose between rent, medicine and food. It's more than the place where couples met, married, and started families. The Denver Grill is all of the above -- at the same time.

I thoroughly encourage everyone to stop in and see for yourself, but it only seats 50 people, so you may have to wait in line. And beware the smoke, but moreover -- beware the bigness of this little place.

In all likelihood, the Denver Grill will be demolished to make way for the new Downtown Sports Arena, although it doesn't have to be so. They could situate the arena on the four-block site to leave both the Denver Grill and the Children's Day Nursery standing, which would be a blessing to the respective owners and their customers and clients. They could also, as I've written, use city-owned, vacant land elsewhere in downtown that would provide more synergy with existing entertainment districts.

Another topic on the TulsaNow forums points to the transformation of Gallagher-Iba Arena -- expanding the original facility by going up and out. Could the same technique be used for our existing arena? The "Maxwell House" doesn't have the history of Gallagher-Iba, but working within the existing Civic Center superblock would save the expense of land acquisition and allow the businesses of the proposed arena site to continue to serve downtown Tulsans. Here's one more out-of-the-box suggestion -- relocate the State offices elsewhere in downtown (maybe they can rent part of the Borg Cube), tear down the ugly SOB (State Office Building), and build the arena there -- the site would be closer to the Convention Center than the proposed site.

But a friend experienced in the politics of local government tells me he's amused by all the talk about where the arena should go and what it should look like. This friend reminds me that the money for the arena belongs to Bob Dick and Wilbert Collins, and they aren't likely to care what TulsaNow thinks about it. (The third commissioner, Randi Miller, won't get a say in the matter.) It was said before the vote that the City of Tulsa will ultimately own the arena, and will be responsible for the operating deficit, but this isn't in writing, as far as I know, and the County could just as easily decide to handle the construction themselves rather than giving the construction money to the city, then just stick the city with the ongoing operating and maintenance costs. So all this hopeful talk about urban design and walkability may be beside the point.

UPDATE: jdb edited his entry -- had a couple of biographical details wrong. I've put his new version in the excerpt above. He also reports the reaction to his initial article:

The Denver Grill is being swamped with phone calls.

Mostly older people telling their stories of the Grill and that they were "devastated" to discover the Diner was in the "proposed" footprint of the new arena.

They felt cheated that this bit of information was omitted in all the hype of the "clobbered up ballot".

"They just didn't realize." --Peggy

I asked if this was a bitter sweet note for her. As soon as I said it, I knew it was stupid and verging on the point of being insulting.

Instead of giving me a look I full well deserved, she replied, "Yes, it's good to hear from these people...." and then launches into yet another story of how the Grill was the start of something big in someones life.

Note: some people are bluntly asking her for a "piece-of-the-Grill" over the phone. I found this crass, while she found it touchingly sad.

I gotta ask, even if I am stepping out of bounds here, "Where's our manners?".

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 15, 2003 11:48 PM.

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