Tulsa 1957: Take the Tulsa Tour of "America's Most Beautiful City"

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One of the most interesting artifacts I've found from 1957 thus far is a glossy, color, 44-page tourism magazine called Tulsa, I.T. (There's a copy of it in the buried Belvedere.)

I have photocopied all the pages and plan to scan and post a complete black-and-white version sometime soon. While it isn't directly representative of everyday life for Tulsans in 1957 -- which is what I'm aiming for with this "Tulsa 1957" effort -- it does tell you what the folks at the Chamber of Commerce thought was most important for outsiders to know about our fair city.

And these two pages, in particular, tell us what the tourism people at the Chamber thought visitors to Tulsa ought to see, even if they only had a few hours to tour the city. This is the Tulsa Tour.

If you'll click on those thumbnails, they'll lead you to Flickr, where you can download the humongoid 4 MB original images or smaller images if you prefer. I photographed those pages with a cheap Kodak digital camera on "best" setting. I did not attempt to press the book flat, out of respect for its fragility, so the images are not like you'd get from a flatbed scanner, but the text is still legible and the detail isn't bad.

Here is the text:

America's Most Beautiful City
By J. P. Arwood

You will enjoy a "Tour of Tulsa" . . . a city with wide, clean streets . . . towering buildings that gleam in the clear, fresh air of a smokeless industrial center . . . mile upon mile of residential areas as beautiful as a quarter million prideful residents can make them . . . one of the nation's finest vacationlands right next door . . . and general living conditions that are unexcelled in the United States.

This is Tulsa . . . the kind of city you'd plan if you could build your own.

The Tulsa Tour originated in the late '30s when the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce decided to show off this sparkling new city that had merged from obscurity to become a metropolis of international importance in just three decades.

The durable reflective signs that blaze a clear trail through the Tulsa of today were provided by the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce. These attractive markers were erected by the City of Tulsa and are currently maintained by them.

The tour, as now outlined, covers the downtown area with its clean, metropolitan canyons and "diamond sidewalks," the smart new residential areas such as Ranch Acres and the older palatial homes sitting far back from the streets on tree-covered estates.

Along the way, it takes the visitor to such places and points of interest as the ultra-modern national headquarters of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce; Oklahoma's most photographed church, the Boston Avenue Methodist; the nationally famous Municipal Rose Garden with more than 12,000 plants covering symmetrically designed grounds; Utica Square with its acres of modern suburban shops; Philbrook Art Center where a treasure of paintings and sculpture is displayed in a setting of Italian Renaissance splendor; the International Petroleum Exposition grounds where the world's oilmen gather by the thousands every four years to buy, sell and see the newest tools of their fascinating trade; the Tulsa State Fairgrounds where the nation's largest exhibit barn is to be found; and the University of Tulsa, famous in the sports world for its might in the football bowl games of the '40s, but more famous scholastically for its outstanding curriculum, especially in the field of petroleum engineering.

In addition to the scenic and residential points of interest there is an alternate tour which leads across the 21st street bridge to Quanah Avenue in West Tulsa. To the left will be seen The Texas Company's refinery and tankfarm. To the left as you approach the 11th street bridge is the D-X Sunray refinery where a conducted tour may be made. As you proceed across the 11th street bridge, the first street to your right is Riverside Drive which will lead you to the point where you left the residential tour.

Tulsa county's new $4 million courthouse, the new inspiring YMCA, the fabulous Gilcrease Institute, Mohawk park and zoo, and the American Airlines Overhaul and Supply Depot are places and points of interest well worth seeing, even though they are off the beaten path of the Tulsa Tour.

Depending upon the amount of time spent at various stops along the way, the tour can take an hour or an afternoon or a whole day. But regardless of the time allotted for sightseeing, the best way to view the Oil Capital is to follow the red arrows on the Tulsa Tour markers.

Some notes:

The downtown skyline shot is looking north along Boston with 8th & Boston in the foreground. The tallest buildings in the background are the NBT Building on the left and the Philtower on the right.

Note the city boundaries. Everything fits within a 10 mile by 7 mile box, and most of the space in that box is empty. It's apparent why Utica Square would be considered "suburban" at the time. Note that New Haven Avenue, connecting dots 9 and 10, is within the city limits, even though it's on the fairgrounds (just west of Bell's, the Pavilion, and the Armory).

Note the highway locations in the map. The 51st Street bridge is open, but there's no Skelly Bypass yet. The Skelly Bypass really would bypass everything. US 75 and US 169 are swapped from the present day configuration in how they approach from the north.

Questions for discussion:

  1. Anyone else remember those signs? They were still in existence in the '70s, but I think they were blue by then. I am almost certain there was one near Holland Hall's old campus at 26th Place and Birmingham.
  2. What, if anything, strikes you as odd, amusing, or puzzling about this list?
  3. What were they overly proud of?
  4. What did they overlook that should have been a point of pride?
  5. How many art deco buildings do you see in this list?
  6. How many buildings or places do you see that we would now consider historic or worthy of preservation?
  7. Anyone want to create a turn-by-turn description of the route shown on the map? Is it still driveable today?
  8. If you were to create a modern day Tulsa Tour, what landmarks would be on it?

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Paul Uttinger said:

Question 5: For starters, I see three art deco buildings on the list: Chamber (1), Boston Ave Methodist (2), and the County Courthouse (12).

shareca said:

Re: Your info on the Okc and Tulsa turnpike history.

My Grandpa taught me how to drive, and many times we had special driving practice on the turnpike. We would stop at the old bridge, and I would run half way to the middle watching cars go under... just very special memories... and I was wondering if you might have a photo of that bridge ? ...
Thank you !
Shareca " Sharesa" Thompson
Tulsa, Oklahoma

It's not a photo, Shareca, but someone has an artist's conception of the Turner Turnpike midway here. And here's my reminiscence about the midway.

Paul, I wouldn't have considered the County Courthouse or the Chamber Building Art Deco. It was just striking to me that, with the exception of Boston Ave. Methodist, the most flamboyant examples of Art Deco in town were overlooked. Too recent perhaps to be appreciated, and not modern enough to fit the image Tulsa wanted to project to the world. (Boston Ave. may have been a point of interest not because of the style of architecture but because of the height of the building's tower -- a skyscraper church!)

Gary Packwood said:

What were they overly proud of?

Our parents needed to tell us about this big 1957 honor and we were 14 or 15 years old and would not understand. So they told us that Tulsa was so clean that we were one of the most clean cities in America.

I was pretty proud of that when I was 14 and thought it was cool that we did not allow trash and junk to collect on our streets like we saw in Chicago when we visited.

Therefor we were overly proud of being such a clean city.

Paul Uttinger said:

Revised response to question 5: I see one Art Deco building on the list (Boston Avenue Methodist Church).

The County Courthouse has charateristics of the PWA Moderne style, which could be considered a very stripped down post-War version of the Art Deco. Our courthouse -- in terms of its verticality expressed by bands of windows, spandrel panels, and slender piers -- is similar to the City Hall of Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham City Hall is a hallmark of the PWA Moderne style. It is approximately the same age as our courthouse.

The Chamber of Commerce building exhibits some elements of Streamline Moderne with its horizontal bands of windows facing Boston and with its curving stair walls and handrails adjacent to the entrance lobby. The large bas relief sculpture on the exterior is typical of the type of decoration found on Art Deco, Zigzag Moderne, and PWA Moderne style buildings.

And actually, I think Tulsa's great Zigzag Moderne and Art Deco buildings from the 1920s were too OLD to be appreciated in 1957. While Moderne style buildings persisted into the 1950s, the flamboyant Art Deco and Zigzag Moderne styles fell out of fashion around 1930. It's too bad that Tulsans have been so enamored with "new" and "bigger" over the decades. Imagine what we could have today if we had not continued to demolish and re-build every few years.

Charles Patrick said:

Tulsans speak of the glory days and how they would like to see our Downtown revitalized. From as early as 1900 to the late 1950’s Tulsa was known as “America’s most beautiful city.” What brought people downtown to live, work and play was the “big money” being funneled through Tulsa, mainly from the oil and gas industry. This industry caused revenue to flow downtown from the transportation industry i.e.; railroad and aeronautical and also big steel. Tulsa thrived and was known for it’s neighborhoods and the amenities of department stores, hotels, entertainment areas and a Central High School that was second to none. These were all by products of a vibrant city.

Downtown has since moved past that and has lost much of the character it once had. BUT, I have an idea of how to bring it back and make Tulsa “America’s most beautiful city” again. I have noticed several generations of citizens here who are interested in historic Tulsa; they are purchasing older vintage homes and “Revitalizing” them. In other words, bringing them back to life. If we could do this on a larger scale, by getting HGTV types and individuals like Bob Villa (This Old House) to come in here and sit up shop downtown, we could win the hearts and minds of the multitudes. Let’s truly “revitalize” and not tear down and put up new.

Thoughts and opinions??

Charles and Angela Patrick

Shareca said:

Sorry it took me so long to thank you for the turner turnpike art . It brings back lots of special memories ! Do you know if the University of Tulsa would have old photos of back in the 50's and 60's ? My dad played football and went to Law school there. If there are some photos, I would like to have copies of them to fix up for my Dad for fathers day. Can you Email me personally and give me some ideas of who to contact ?
Thanks !
Shareca :)

Harvey C. Swinford said:

I havn't been in Tulsa much since going into the Navy in 1948...It was the most Beautiful City then, and my Family Members who still live there, tell me it still is Beautiful, and Clean!

Harvey Swinford
San Diego, Ca.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 25, 2007 10:40 PM.

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