The rise and fall of Greenwood

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I've been so busy creating content for this coming week's Urban Tulsa Weekly that I haven't had time to link the current issue's column. It's about what I call the Greenwood Gap Theory, the widely-held notion that nothing happened in Tulsa's one-time African-American commercial district between the 1921 Race Riot and the late '80s construction of the OSU-Tulsa campus.

greenwoodpolksample.JPGTo fill the gap, I look at the historical record provided by aerial photos, street directories, and oral histories, all of which reveal that Greenwood was rebuilt after the riot, better than before in the view of many, but it was government action -- in the form of urban renewal and freeway construction -- that produced the empty lots in the '70s which OSU-Tulsa replaced.

An annotated aerial view of Deep Greenwood (the part of the district extending a few blocks north of Greenwood and Archer) from 1951 accompanies the story. Here's a larger version of the graphic for your perusal (1 MB PDF). (The scan of the aerial photo was done by INCOG at a cost of $35. INCOG has aerial photos of the entire county taken at roughly 10 year intervals.) And this photoset contains the pages from the 1957 Polk City Directory for N. Greenwood Avenue, showing the businesses, churches, and residences in house number order. Specifically they are pages 357 through 360.

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Bob said:

What a wonderfully researched story about the Greenwood area!

I too fell victim to the local urban legend that there was nothing left after the 1921 Race Riot, and simply did not realize that the area was largely rebuilt.

The I-244/U.S. 75 interchange and the Williams Company 50-story blocks wide roadblock monolith balkanized the Greenwood Neighborhood, facilitated by wide-scale "blighted" property acquisition by the Tulsa Urban Renewal Authority, then the subsequent development of UCAT/OSU-Tulsa, and finally just basic changes in housing patterns and shopping patterns soaked the life out of the Greenwood District.

Really, a fascinating read.

sbtulsa said:

what other neighborhoods are in danger of going the same way s Greenwood in favor of the current reclamation of downtown?

I have often thought and eventualy said that successive administrations in Tulsa have a vision of the ity that is sadly void of appreciation of our history. why destroy and replace when buildings and neighborhoods can be preserved.

few if any people go downtown anymore unless tey absolutely must. all this investment just to attract transient visitors, and bar visitors. is that really a plus for the city when we have too few cops, poorly paid teachers, and flight to the outlying communities? does no one see the value nof our heritage?

Bob said:

I think that the Destroy-and-Rebuild philosophy rather than a Reclaim-and-Rehabilitate philosophy is directly attributable to the inordinant influence of two behemoth construction companies with local ties: Flint and Manhattan.

They just LOVE constructing new buildings!

I suspect that if you get behind the positions of the Mayor and her chief toady Heinrich Himmelfart that some anonymous construction company is agitating to knock down city hall and then build a city-taxpayer subsidized Hotel in its place.

And just who do we suppose might be the most likely hotel construction company?

Just like when the new TulCo Jail knocked down a neighborhood, albeit a low-to-moderate income neighborhood, to build a gigantic 25 Acre wide Super-Max White Elephant TulCo Jail.

Joshua said:

Other area's have had highways go through them and survived. As I read it, that seems to be the main factor blamed for it falling into blight. Clearly, by the time OSU Tulsa came into the picture the area was well into disrepair.

What caused the area to fall faster than any other area near major highway projects? Some areas even took off with the introduction of highways. The old pictures of Greenwood are fantastic, what an interesting and vibrant area.

Unfortunately, currently minority communities in Tulsa are not associated with "black wall street" but instead is the dreaded "North Tulsa" or "East Tulsa." More closely associated with ghettos than culture.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 18, 2007 11:59 AM.

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