Family: January 2011 Archives

Home from San Antone

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I can hardly believe I'm done. I can hardly believe I won't be back again soon.

I've spent most of the last three months working 60+ plus hours per week on a project in San Antonio. That's on top of another month early last fall and a few weeks last winter and summer on a related project.

On Saturday, the last remaining discrepancy was resolved. This morning, I checked out of the hotel that was my home-away-from-home. (I went from 0 nights to gold status with this particular chain in the course of the project.) It was strange to tell the desk clerk that, no, I wouldn't need to be making another reservation right now.

I don't enjoy being away from my family, but I do enjoy getting to spend enough time in a city to get to know it well. I've got plenty of observations from my own perambulations about the Alamo City and its environs and from a couple of books I picked up: Saving San Antonio, about the course of historic preservation there since the late 19th century, and HemisFair '68 and the Transformation of San Antonio, a collection of brief essays by civic leaders from the 1960s to the present, which so far seems to be more about how the '68 World's Fair failed to transform the city, and what had to happen to produce the economic growth and tourism we see today. San Antonio went through the same transition from at-large city government to a district-based city council about 20 years before Tulsa. I hope to share some of my observations here, but I make no promises. There's more hard work ahead.

Long hours working on the challenging task of getting software from the Reagan years to cooperate with a new computer didn't leave much energy for writing, particularly not for heavy research and careful word-craft.

When I was at home, it was time to play with the kids, sleep, catch up on chores and errands, and prepare for the next trip -- not to get hip-deep in local politics. (Do you have any idea how hard it is to schedule a dental checkup when you're out of town 3/4 of the time and don't know for sure when you'll next be home?)

When I did have free time, I had a "bucket list" of San Antonio events, attractions, and eateries I wanted to try when the opportunity arose. I got through a lot of them, but missed a few. I did most of the in-city things I'd hoped to do (still haven't been on a river cruise), but weekend day trips to the Gulf Coast or Houston didn't happen, and I only made it to Austin a couple of times.

While there have been periods on the past when I've been away from home frequently, my weekly spots on KFAQ with Michael Del Giorno and Gwen Freeman and my weekly column in UTW forced me to stay in touch with the latest developments back home, to sit in front of a computer screen keeping up with Tulsa news instead of exploring a new city. Without the responsibility to talk or write every week on local politics, I've been able to read for fun, work through my "bucket list," surf the web, or spend an hour on the elliptical while watching back-to-back episodes of "The Office."

There's a long post in my head about the temptation to spin a cocoon -- play Wii, watch Netflix, do yardwork, and just be a homebody -- to stop spending my time and taking risks for causes that don't directly benefit my family's welfare.

On the other hand, it seems selfish to collect all this information and all these experiences and do nothing with them.

More about that, perhaps, another time. See you soon, Tulsa. I'll be home in just a few.


Fifty years ago today, my parents were married at the First Baptist Church of Dewey, Oklahoma. Fifty years later, "through many dangers, toils, and snares," by God's grace, Dad and Mom are still married to each other and together enjoying their very active retirement years and their five grandchildren.

They met at Falls Creek Baptist Assembly when they were 14 years old and then saw each other over the next few years at Baptist youth gatherings. After Dad's two years at NEOA&M, they were both students at Northeastern State in Tahlequah. They married in the middle of their junior year in college there, and a little apartment in Tahlequah was their first home as a couple.

They sacrificed for the sake of their kids' education. They balanced career, childrearing, and community involvement. They persisted in their commitment to one another despite the challenges and stresses that lead so many couples back to the courthouse.

25 years ago, the woman who would become my wife happened to be a guest in our home as we went through old photos in preparation for Mom and Dad's silver wedding anniversary celebration. You couldn't wish for a better way to introduce a girlfriend to your family. (Last Tuesday was also the 25th anniversary of our first kiss.)

Congratulations, Dad and Mom, and thank you for founding the family to which I am so blessed to belong.

MORE: Here's my tribute to Mom and Dad from the May 28, 2008, issue of UTW.

Route 66 News reports that the City of Catoosa is applying for a state grant to purchase the Blue Whale and surrounding property from the sole owner, a member of the Hugh Davis family.

I was pleased to see that there's talk of rebuilding the ARK -- Animal Reptile Kingdom -- which predates the Blue Whale. I remember a field trip from Catoosa Elementary School, c. 1970, to the ARK, which had small animals on exhibit inside. (I seem to recall a snake pit on the property too, and that the assistant principal, Mr. Hough, had some experience working with snakes and went into the pit.) I don't remember the ARK being open during the years that the Blue Whale pond was a public swimming hole. There is another building just to the south of the ARK -- a peaked roof with two wings, probably the original welcome center(and gift shop, no doubt) from Hugh Davis's roadside attraction.

My mom taught the Davises' grandchildren in kindergarten, and every year during her unit on Indians, Hugh would set up a teepee in her classroom.

For its May 22, 2009, issue, the Journal Record interviewed Blaine Davis, who tells the story of the Blue Whale that has its roots in his father's career at director of the Tulsa Zoo and the opportunity for roadside attractions created by the new four-lane alignment of Route 66 (c. 1957) through his property.

Straightening that stretch in the still-busy intercontinental road (the Turner and Will Rogers turnpikes were less than a decade old at that point) came as Hugh Davis contemplated retirement. For more than 30 years, the Tulsa Zoo curator struggled against tight budgets to build his facility, often journeying around the world to catch animals himself. So when highway planners dissected his 38- acre homestead with a safer U.S. Highway 66, thereby giving Hugh several new roadside lots, he left the zoo in 1966 to open a then- common tourist trap, the exotic animal park.

Blaine Davis said his parents stocked Nature's Acres with alligators, poisonous snakes, monkeys and many other creatures, which were kept in a stable, pins or pits around a two-story wooden ark used for concessions and parties. Hugh Davis built the facilities by hand with whatever he could find - such as leftover World War II bomber turrets, which topped his grove of seven-foot- tall concrete mushrooms.

The story notes that the whale was completed in 1972, and the park was closed in 1988.

On the Blue Whale's Yelp entry, Hugh and Zelta Davis's granddaughter comments:

Im the great grand daughter of Hugh Davis, the creator of the Blue Whale, and I always find it comical to read reviews about our family's private property. Many people who don't take time to read the story of the Whale do not understand it. Hugh and Zelta Davis were avid animal lovers, and it's guaranteed if you ever stopped by their house you would have encountered animals such as bear cubs, monkeys, and even tiger cubs that needed a little extra care outside of the Zoo. Hugh Davis wanted to find a way to give citizens of Catoosa (and surrounding areas) the opportunity to enjoy animals and learn about them. First was Nature's Acre's and the ARK which had a snake corral and an alligator farm. This place stayed busy! Once Hugh retired about 10yrs later, he needed something to keep him busy. Within a few years the project was complete. Originally, the pond surrounding the massive Blue Whale was spring fed and intended only for family use. However, as many locals began to come to enjoy its waters, Davis brought in tons of sand, built picnic tables, hired life guards, and opened it to the public. The Blue Whale closed in 1988 because the owners were getting too old to manage the park. The Whale was created out of pure love for the love of his life, and they shared the gift with everyone. The thought that his whale would one day be a historic and fascinating attraction never crossed his mind, and so there was no need for copyright or trademark registration.

She notes that because the family doesn't hold any IP rights to the whale's image, T-shirts and souvenirs created and sold by others doesn't contribute to the upkeep of the whale.


A vintage postcard of Hugh and Zelta Davis's Animal Reptile Kingdom, featuring Zelta with two alligators.

Zippy the Pinhead visited the Blue Whale in 2002.

A description of this stretch of Route 66 from the Twin Bridges to the Blue Whale.

Here's a Google Map I created showing the location of Animal Reptile Kingdom and Blue Whale and environs. Corrections and additions are welcome.

View Blue Whale and Animal Reptile Kingdom in a larger map

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Family category from January 2011.

Family: December 2010 is the previous archive.

Family: February 2011 is the next archive.

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