Rolling Hills Shopping Center gutted by fire

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There are reports of extensive fire damage to the Rolling Hills Shopping Center, on Admiral Pl west of 193rd East Ave in far east Tulsa.

Assistant Fire Marshal Rick Bruder told reporters that a discount store and a pizza restaurant were likely destroyed as the fire caused their roofs to collapse. Also damaged is a clothing store, an insurance agency and an auto parts store.

It's telling that none of the news reports name the center. There once was an impressive sign at the Admiral Place entrance, but it's been long gone.

When my family moved to Rolling Hills in 1969, the Rolling Hills Shopping Center was the only such place for miles around. (The next nearest shopping center was Wagon Wheel at Admiral and Garnett.) County Assessor records say that it was built in 1968. Here's the lineup, from east to west, as I remember it:

OTASCO (not there in 1969, but built on in the 1970s)
Red Bud Supermarket
Raley's Pharmacy
Mini-Mall (with barber shop)
T. G. & Y.
Liquor store
Dry cleaners
Lon's Laundry (around the corner, facing west)

And then the freestanding buildings:

Tastee Freeze (built in 1965, northwest corner)
Roll-In Lounge (east side, facing 193rd)
Phillips 66 (corner of Admiral and 193rd)

There was an MFA insurance agent in there somewhere, too. Roll-In Lounge was a beer joint (B. Y. O. L.). The mini-mall had a space where my sister took tap and ballet lessons. In high school, she worked for Raley's.

Before we had our own washer and dryer, we'd take our laundry to Lon's. The fellow who ran it (Lon, I suppose) was white-headed, tall, and skinny, and he whistled tunes that I didn't recognize. It was hot and steamy, especially in the summer, and there was the smell of soap powder and the taste of a cold bottle of Grapette from the Pepsi machine. I don't recall that it was air conditioned. I can remember sitting in Lon's in a shell-backed metal lawn chair, with a notebook, a 4-color pen, and a road atlas, plotting out an upcoming family vacation, while we waited on the next load to finish.

The T. G. & Y. -- 5¢ to $1.00 -- was where you went for school supplies, fabric, and simple toys. They lasted until not long after Wal-Mart built their first Tulsa store (assessor records say 1972, but that seems too early to me), about 40,000 square feet, less than half the size of a SuperCenter. I recall T. G. & Y. posting defiant "we will not be undersold!" signs. The Wal-Mart building is now some sort of light industrial business. The T. G. & Y. space became a C. R> Anthony store and then (much later) Dollar General.

When OTASCO closed, Red Bud took over the space. At some point, they became Marvin's. Old-timers will remember a stand near the entrance that sold Hillbilly Barbecue sandwiches.

Although the center has been in the City of Tulsa's limits since 1966, it's always been associated with Catoosa, as most of its patrons were in the town of Catoosa or its school district. Rolling Hills east of 193rd was unincorporated back then, but in the Catoosa school district.

It's been sad to see the decline of the center, but it has followed the same downward path as similar centers built in the same era. The presence of the Hard Rock Casino seems to have drawn all the new development to the Catoosa side of I-44 (which is the Tulsa/Catoosa and Tulsa County / Rogers County boundary).

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Graychin said:

Rolling Hills was outside my family's usual orbit, but I remember attending a string of "shopping center" openings with my parents in the 1950s, including Mayo Meadow (21st and Yale) and Sheridan Village (Admiral and Sheridan). Of course both of those have fallen to the wrecking ball.

Back then, even Utica Square was accessible to working-class families, with a Humpty Dumpty grocery store and nice school clothes from Renberg's. And there was a bowling alley where Miss Jackson now resides! How common! How embarrassing!

As I recall, a bowling alley fire cleared the way for Miss Jackson's.

Now the only place in Utica Square I ever go is Peppers.

Adapt or die! Sic transit gloria mundi.

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