Tulsa 1957

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I've had this idea of trying to capture life in Tulsa as it was in a particular year, before freeways, urban renewal, and the flight to the suburbs began to change it. It's hard to believe today, but Tulsa was once one of the twenty most densely populated large cities in the nation. It might help us reimagine what a revived, dense urban core for Tulsa would look like if we could get a vivid picture of what Tulsa's urban core looked like when it was dense and full of life. It seems a fitting project for our state's centennial year.

For this thought experiment, I picked 1957 as the target year. That was the year of the state's semi-centennial. The new County Courthouse had opened and the first massive redevelopment project -- the Civic Center, originally just four blocks between Denver and Frisco, 4th & 6th -- was just beginning to take shape. Early suburban neighborhoods and shopping centers, like my own Mayo Meadow, had been opened. The city's first freeway plan was drawn up -- it still isn't finished, and part of it never will be. A master parks plan called for a massive park along 71st Street from the river stretching through the hills to the east. In June 1957, a Reader's Digest article about Tulsa mentions that Tulsa had taken to calling itself "America's Most Beautiful City." 1957 is recent enough to be in living memory -- childhood for the early Baby Boomers, high school and young adulthood for my parents' generation -- but distant enough to be a very different world.

While I wanted to fix on a particular year for the sake of creating a snapshot in time, reminiscences from earlier and later years, like the memories of the early '60s at Riverview School, will help to make the picture vivid.

I'd like to flesh out this idea with maps -- big maps showing where the city limits were, little maps showing the stores, schools, and churches in a neighborhood -- photographs, news stories, and lots of personal reminiscences. The Sanborn Fire Maps, the city directory, the phone book, and newspaper ads can be used to help refresh and correct those reminiscences.

(It would be a big help if someone had software that could be used to create a base street map of Tulsa and environs in 1957.)

I'm not only interested in the memories of Tulsans, but also those of people who lived in surrounding towns, rural Tulsa County communities (like Alsuma, Lynn Lane, Union, Rentie Grove), and outlying Oklahoma towns like Nowata and Tahlequah who remember trips to the big city as a big deal.

This idea is inspired in part by a cartoon map that appeared in the very first issue of Urban Tulsa. The map showed the adventures of a group of boys, maybe 10-12 years old, who took the bus into downtown Tulsa on a Saturday morning in the early '60s -- they saw a movie, explored the seedier parts of downtown, had a Coke at a soda fountain, browsed through comic books. The map promised "To be continued" but it never was. Those are the sort of memories I'm hoping to capture.

I wasn't around in 1957, and I can't devote a lot of time to this, so I'm looking for help. Anyone interested?

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5 Comments

Samuel Gould said:

I might be able to help you out with the map of Tulsa in 1957. I am a geographer/meteorologist and love maps. I could see what I could put together and share it with you and your readers.

Samuel Gould said:

I found this link which actually has a city of Tulsa map dated 1957. Perhaps this would be a good starting point.

http://www.route66university.com/maps/oklahoma.php

Thanks for your offer to help, Samuel, and thanks, too, to those who offered help via e-mail.

Richard said:

As late as the mid-70's my buddies and I would jump on the Super Loop around 51st and Sheridan and ride into downtown on a hot summer day. We would inevitably go to the library, eat at Coney Island and then go explore the dilapidated train station before heading home. Found all kinds of cool things (cool, at least, to a 13-year old boy)at the train station from old letters to chunks of marble.

Kevin Carson said:

In the town where I was born, Springdale, I think the AQ chicken place was the first major business to locate out on Hwy. 71 instead of downtown. I can still remember the late '60s, going with my dad on his Saturday errands, most of them within walking distance of each other on Emma Ave. or its feeder streets, and probably more than half the city population within easy walking distance of downtown shopping.

You can tell the parts of cities that were laid out pre-Model T: they're the part that still look like they're fit for human beings to live in.

The automobile-industrial complex has done nothing but generate distance between things so that we all *have* to have cars to survive.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 2, 2007 12:38 AM.

Remembering Riverview was the previous entry in this blog.

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