Boston Beer Garden, 1937-1983

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Boston Beer Garden matchbookFound while looking for something else: In the Tulsa Library's growing digital archive, a December 22, 1983, Tulsa Tribune, story about the the Boston Beer Garden, destroyed by fire in the wee hours of December 21, 1983. The fire took the life of the bar's janitor and night watchman, Lennis Norman, 30.

The Boston Beer Garden was part of a cluster of small shops centering around the Five Points intersection at Haskell Street (now John Hope Franklin Blvd.), Main Street, and Boulder Avenue, and extending east along Haskell to Boston, the retail focus of the southern end of Tulsa's Near Northside neighborhood. I wrote about the neighborhood and its demolition in a 2014 feature story for This Land, called "Steps to Nowhere."

The story centers on an interview with Pauline Andrews, who, with her husband Howard Andrews, opened a sandwich shop on the northwest corner of Haskell & Boston in 1936. The following year Howard's father, George Andrews, opened the Boston Beer Garden next door. During his 10 years of ownership, the Boston Beer Garden was known for a courtyard of umbrella-shaded tables. Based on fire insurance maps, it appears that there was a building on the street front with the courtyard to the rear.

During this period, Oklahoma was officially "dry," but beer with less than 3.2% alcohol by weight was considered "non-intoxicating" and available for sale.

Shortly after I published "Steps to Nowhere," I attended a centennial celebration for Emerson Elementary School and spoke to a lady who had attended the school in the 1940s. She recalls walking with schoolmates down the alley between Main and Boston, heading toward an ice cream shop on the south side of Haskell, and hearing from over the fence the Boston Beer Garden's resident parrot, which had picked up some salty language from the customers. (Somewhere I have my notes from that conversation and the lady's name.)

It would be nice to see a beer garden in Tulsa once again. Properly situated, these can be pleasant community gathering places.

In San Antonio, they're called ice houses. The ice house has its origin in selling blocks of ice and, by the way, having some ice cold beer and pop on hand for thirsty customers. It's typically a small building with a walk-up window in the middle of a shady yard. During some extended travel there six years ago, I enjoyed stopping by The Friendly Spot, on S. Alamo Street in the King William District south of downtown. Huge live oaks provided a canopy for old-fashioned metal lawn chairs and tables. A miniature drive-in type screen at one end of the yard was used for movies and sports on TV. At the other end was a fenced-in playground -- Mom and Dad could relax with a beer and some street tacos while watching their kids on the swings. On most of my strolls I didn't stop in, but I always enjoyed walking past the pleasant scene of neighbors mingling.

If the city manages to pry the Near Northside out of the University Center at Tulsa Authority's cold, dead fingers, perhaps the redevelopment plan could include a beer garden at the corner of John Hope Franklin Blvd. and Boston Ave.

RELATED: Here's a January 3, 1969, article from the Tulsa Tribune, listing all the private clubs that had been granted city licenses for that year, with their addresses. The list includes country clubs (like Southern Hills), fraternal organizations (like the Elks Lodge and the American Legion), professional clubs (like the Tulsa Press Club and the Petroleum Club), downtown clubs (like the Tulsa Club and the Summit Club), the Rubiot, the Red Garter (in the Camelot Hotel), the Cognito Inn (11th & Denver), and even the House of Blue Lights (1616 N. Sheridan). The article is a concise bit of history naming and placing some long-forgotten establishments. Private clubs could serve liquor by the drink (often referred to as "liquor-by-the-wink") but only to members; ordinary bars were BYOL.

MORE: Bill Leighty remembers the Boston Beer Garden in his reminiscences of his childhood in the neighborhood during the late '40s and early '50s:

The Boston Beer Garden was a popular haunt for neighborhood men and my Dad would occasionally go there with some of his friends or guys he worked with. I don't think my mom really felt comfortable there and she seldom ever went with them. It had a bit of a reputation as being a rowdy place in those days. I don't think fights among patrons were terribly uncommon in those days.

MORE: Here's the text of that 1983 Tribune story:

Burned bar held many memories

Tribune Writer

A landmark of good times and bad, of war-weary factory workers and worldly-wise hookers, went up in flames Wednesday [December 21, 1983].

Destroyed by fire was the 46-year-old Boston Beer Garden at 704 N. Boston Ave.

News of the crumbled building rekindled a stream of memories among policement, firemen and others who remembered the old tavern with either a smile or a smirk.

A north side evangelist said the wooden building in bygone days was "one of the most patronized bars in Tulsa."

A homicide detective called it "a north side shrine."

Built in 1937 by George Andres, the tavern withstood the test of time poorly.

In Andrews' day, according to his daughter-in-law, umbrella-topped tables beckoned thirsty customers.

More recently, prostitutes waved to beckon their own customers, police said.

"When it started and as long as Mr. Andrews had it, it was a respectable pace, and it was quite a popular place," said Pauline Andrews, his daughter-in-law.

Mrs. Andrews and her husband, Howard, ran a sandwich shop next door.

The Andrews sold their restaurant in the 1960s.

"When we sold out... we were happy to leave," she said.

Homer "Treetop" Still, pastor of the John 3:16 Mission at 20 E. Archer St., said he visited the bar "two or three times a night" while on patrol as a Tulsa police officer.

"It didn't have skid-row people. It had working-class people and the elite," said Still, who patrolled the neighborhood from 1943 to 1949.

"It was just more of a family bar. I don't think I ever made but one arrest in the bar in all the years I worked there," Still said.

Another officer who worked in the same neighborhood was Herb Hartz, now deputy chief of police.

"When I was up there, it never did have much business," said Hartz, a sergeant assigned to the north side in the late 1950s. "It was not a trouble spot."

Sgt. Roy Hunt, a homicide detective, said the bar in the last three or four years attracted prostitutes and gamblers.

It was not an officially recognized landmark. The curator of the Tulsa County Historical Society Museum said she never heard of it.

Mrs. Andrews said her father-in-law, who had retired from the Pure Oil Co. in Louise, Texas, built the bar the year after she and her husband opened their sandwich shop.

"It was depression time, and you couldn't buy a job hardly," said Mrs. Andrews built his bar next door, she said.

A bus stop in front of the bar and restaurant kept business booming during World War II, Mrs. Andrews said.

Men and women working at the Douglas plant [Air Force Plant No. 3] often stopped for beer and hamburgers, she said.

In 1947, 10 years after he opened the bar, Andrews sold it.

Others familiar with the tavern said it changed hands several times after that.

Mrs. Andrews said she misses neither the restaurant nor the bar, but he cherishes her memories -- "some good, some bad."

Fire victim identified

A man who burned to death in a fire at the Boston Beer Garden, 704 N. Boston Ave., was identified today as Lennis Norman, police said.

Detective Jerry Moreland said Norman, 30, lived and slept in the bar. Police said Norman worked in the bar as a janitor and night watchman.

The medical examiner's office said Norman died of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by inhaling smoke and soot. The death was ruled accidental.

Fire officials said cause of the blaze, reported at 3:14 a.m., Wednesday, is undetermined.

The fire destroyed the building and caused $40,000 worth of damage, fire officials said.

Moreland said Norman's body was discovered at about 9:30 a.m., by Walter Frailey, the bar owner who permitted Norman to live there.

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