Oklahoma History: November 2008 Archives

In last week's issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly, I urged making cultural heritage tourism the focus of Tulsa's efforts to attract visitors. Rather than marketing Tulsa as an "ocean of sophistication in a cultural desert," Tulsa should embrace its place in Oklahoma as "the capital of a region where visitors can experience the untamed, exuberant spirit of the American West in all its variety."

For whatever reason, the people we pay to promote Tulsa to the world -- the Tulsa Metro Chamber's Convention and Visitors Bureau -- seem uncomfortable promoting the unique aspects of our region. They position Tulsa as superior to and separate from the rest of Oklahoma, an oasis of sophistication in a cultural desert.

It's a distinctly Midtown Money Belt point of view, and it makes Tulsans seem like a bunch of insecure, provincial rubes, putting on airs -- the urban equivalent of Hyacinth Bucket.

While we should be proud of the cultural amenities that make Tulsa a great place to live, our tourism marketing should focus on what sets our region apart from the rest of the world.

A Milanese woman who lives a few miles from La Scala and the salons of Versace and Prada isn't likely to visit Oklahoma for the opera or Utica Square shopping, but she might come here to eat a chicken fried steak on Route 66, experience Oklahoma! in an open-air theater, or attend a powwow.

A resident of Berlin wouldn't cross the pond to see a Tulsa production of the plays of Bertolt Brecht, but he might travel here to two-step across Cain's curly maple dance floor, search out Ponyboy Curtis's hangouts, or attend the annual Kenneth Hagin Campmeeting -- depending on his particular passions.

Tulsa should position itself not as an enclave of Eastern sophistication but as the capital of a region where visitors can experience the untamed, exuberant spirit of the American West in all its variety.

Read the whole thing, and read more about how other cities and regions have successfully used their history as a tourist draw at culturalheritagetourism.org.

Just found this, from Tulsa Business Journal's October 27 edition: The Max Campbell building, with its distinctive roof of multicolored clay tiles, is going to be restored as a hotel and retail space. That's the original function of this 1926, block-long building on 11th Street between Birmingham and Columbia.

Aaron Meek, owner of Group M. Investments Inc. said he plans to restore the building turning the space into a hotel with an events center and restaurant in the bottom level.

"It is my understanding that the building was originally a hotel on the top stories, and the bottom was used as retail space," Meek said. "We have gotten enough interest to where we are going to go back to that original purpose."

The project isn't new territory for Meek, who he said worked primarily on the restoration of older homes and properties in the mid-town area.

"We love the old buildings and love getting them back to their original state," he said. "We're working on another project down the street that we're turning into lofts.

In 1957, this building was home to a drug store, an auto parts store, a barber shop, an office supply company, and, upstairs, the Casa Loma hotel.

It's a neighborhood landmark that has been in that spot since before Route 66 was routed down 11th Street.

In the story, Meek notes how costly it is to restore a building. Hopefully, he'll think to apply for the historic register status to which the building is entitled, which would qualify him for state and federal tax credits. This restoration seems like it would also be a good candidate for the Route 66 Corridor Restoration Program. That program was used to help accomplish the restoration of the Vickery Phillips 66 station at 6th and Elgin, which is being reused as an Avis car rental location.

Unfortunately, reauthorization of the Route 66 Corridor Restoration Program is being blocked by our own Sen. Tom Coburn. Here's a link to Coburn's statement and the key excerpt:

Several tourism related measures, including a couple that have already become a favorite piggy bank to pay for congressional earmarks, such as the Save America's Treasures program, the Preserve America program, and the Route 66 Corridor Preservation program. The Route 66 program is currently restoring aging gas stations, motels and restaurants. Unfortunately, tourism has declined with many Americans unable to afford the cost of gas and, as evidenced by this bill, Congress' misplaced priorities threaten to drive up the cost of travel.

While I understand his perspective, this program is administered by the National Park Service and is in keeping with the NPS's mission of protecting the nation's heritage and making it accessible to visitors from our own country and from overseas. Interest in Route 66 has been growing (a long-term, Internet-fueled trend that has received a giant boost from Pixar's Cars), but at the same time, landmark roadside buildings continue to be lost to purposeful demolition and to demolition by neglect.

As Route 66 expert and author Emily Priddy points out, cruising the Mother Road is a very affordable vacation destination, and people looking for cheap ways to see America are rediscovering Old 66:

I don't know where Coburn is getting his information. Yes, some Americans are having trouble buying gas, and no, they're not traveling as far. But in my extensive travels on Route 66, I have met literally hundreds of small business owners. I've spoken with many of them this year. They are all in a position to know what's going on along the Mother Road -- and what's going on is that Route 66 is thriving, largely because of increases in foreign travelers (who are used to unholy gas prices); locals (when you can't afford Disneyworld or the Grand Canyon, you explore your own backyard); and bargain hunters (fuel-efficient speed limits and great values on food, lodging and entertainment make Route 66 a penny-pincher's dream).

The Route 66 Corridor Restoration Program is not an earmark. Congress appropriates money for the fund, but the NPS processes applications for the grants, which must be matched, and must go to projects that meet the NPS's standards for the treatment of historic buildings. No money has been earmarked by Congress for specific projects. Originally envisioned as a 10-year, $10 million program, only $1.2 million in federal money has been granted over the first seven fiscal years. The program ends at the end of Fiscal Year 2009. The new bill asks Congress to authorize $8 million over 10 years, starting in FY 2010.

Compare that to the $15 million allocated by Vision 2025 for the highway, which would work wonders on Tulsa's stretch of 66 if it were used as matching grant money for neon repair and building restoration. (It won't be, sadly.)

This may be one of the government's most cost-effective programs to encourage historic preservation and tourism, as the government foots less than half of the bill and doesn't have to pay for ongoing operation and maintenance of the sites that are improved.

Along US 60, halfway between Bartlesville and Nowata, there are a pair of curves that shifts the road south by a mile as you go east. On the northside* of the road, near the western curve, there was a gas station and a few houses.

Once upon a time, way back in the 1930s, there was a dance hall there. I received an e-mail today from Nowata resident Rick Holland:

While searching the web recently, I came across a teaser on a Google about Bob Wills playing in Glenoak, Okla. that led me to your blog, but I could never find any mention of Glenoak. I grew up listening to Bob Wills music in the 50's and 60's and still do. There is a Bob CD in player at all times and have even got my 18 yr. old daughter hooked on it. Repetitive brain washing I guess.

Back when Bob played in the Tulsa area, he used to play at Glenoak between Bartlesville and Nowata. My Dad used to bounce at all of the dances in this area and he became friends with Bob and Tommy. Bob also used to buy cattle at the Faulkner Farms just north of Delaware where I was raised. One night after several hours of dickering over cattle price and a few drinks Tommy sat down in the kitchen of the Faulkner's home over coffee and wrote a song. Grandma Faulkner told me the name of the song but I have forgot it over the years.

Enough rambling, I am looking for any information on the dances that used to be held at Glenoak. If my father were alive he would be 93 yrs.old and most of his age group has passed. I have been able to find exactly where it was located and have been out there several times. I've even remember seeing old flyers that were passed around for the dances they held, but that has been years ago. I guess my obsession with Bob Wills is because when you listen to Bob it takes you back in time when life was not as fast paced and the little things in life didn't bother you. Any information you could give me would be greatly appreciated.

My grandfather, Johnny Bates, who lived in Nowata for nearly all his adult life (from his 18th birthday in 1935 until his death in 1999), told us about going to hear Bob Wills at Glenoak. He told me he once went up to sit on the stage to stay out of the way of a fight on the dance floor. His two years as a single adult -- 1935 to 1937 -- were spent in the Nowata branch of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and they coincided with the years Bob Wills was based in Tulsa -- 1934 to 1943. During that era, the Texas Playboys had a daily noon broadcast on KVOO 1170 (now KFAQ) from Cain's Ballroom, and every night (except Thursdays and Saturdays when they played the Cain's) they drove to play a dance hall somewhere in the KVOO listening area.

Anyone else out there remember Glenoak or remember hearing about it from older relatives?

RELATED: Can anyone tell me if Johnnie Lee Wills' "Reunion" album, recorded in the late '70s on the Flying Fish label, has been issued on CD?

UPDATE 2016/03/11: An excerpt from Al Stricklin's memoir about the very first dance he played as a member of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, at Glenoak on September 6, 1935. At that same link, a story from a bouncer at that dance hall back in the day.

*NOTE: One of my correspondents mentions believes that the dance hall was on the south side of the road. County maps from the period (here is the Oklahoma State Highway Department's 1936 map of Nowata County) locate Glenoak on US 60 just east of the Nowata-Washington County line, and they show homes and a commercial building on the south side of the road at that point. The 1936 WPA map of ownership and assessed valuation in T26N R14E shows that most of Section 22 was owned by Harry Benear, but there were a couple of smaller parcels at the northwest corner of the section where the highway map indicates a commercial establishment was located.

The 1950 Nowata County highway map shows the commercial building still there, but by the 1962 Nowata County map, homes are shown in its place. (This map was current as to highways in 1968, but the cultural features -- homes, businesses, schools -- had not been updated since 1962.) Off-topic but interesting: The schoolhouse shown two miles east and two miles north of Glenoak in 1936 is shown as "not in use" in 1950 and has vanished by 1962. Another interesting thing about the 1962 map: It shows the relocation of Alluwe to make way for Oologah Reservoir, but the reservoir isn't there yet.

One more mostly unrelated observation from these maps: As early as 1936 US 169 crossed the Missouri Pacific tracks south of Nowata and skirted the east side of the city. The 1950 map shows the creation of a business loop through downtown on Maple Street and Choctaw Ave. The 1968 map shows the intention of rerouting US 60 north of the city (see the dirt section line road labeled "F. A. P." -- Federal Aid Primary -- and the proposed road that links it to US 60 east of town).

That 1936 map also shows the route of the Union Traction (U.T.) interurban line, also known as the Union Electric Railway, which started in downtown Nowata and paralleled US 169 north to Coffeyville.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Oklahoma History category from November 2008.

Oklahoma History: October 2008 is the previous archive.

Oklahoma History: February 2009 is the next archive.

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