Tulsa: June 2004 Archives

Doing Tulsa time


Reader David Nalle writes to tell me about a new blog about Tulsa, entitled "Midwest Prisoner". The blog's writer is from here, left town as soon as he could, but has returned for family reasons, and is none too happy about it. Here's the tagline of his site:

Think prisoners only exist at Alcatraz or Devil's Island? ... Well think again. Here I am, a free thinker and spirit stuck in Tulsa, Oklahoma smack dab in the middle of the bible belt. This blog will catalog my musings on the local and state scene ... read on at your own risk!

Until recently, he was a frequent poster to the forums at TulsaNow.org, under the name "Davaz", but was booted off for spawing numerous threads on the same topic, which made the forums frustrating to use for the other participants. (He was admonished to no effect by the forum's administrator.) Full disclosure: I am a member of the board of TulsaNow, and while I didn't initiate the ban, I concurred with it, and it was not because of the content he was posting, but the spamlike way he was creating new threads. I'm glad he's started a blog, which is a better format for what he wants to say and the way he wants to say it. It will be a lot easier to follow his argument on a single page than scattered across dozens of pages.

It should be interesting reading, agree or not.

What about the Chamber?


I started writing something about the Tulsa Metro Chamber and the money the organization receives from the hotel/motel tax. I accidentally posted the first couple of paragraphs when I merely meant to save the work in progress. Never fear -- I'll get it written and posted in the next day or so.

Also, I'm working on a travelogue about our trip up 66 to Miami to see Gilbert and Sullivan's "HMS Pinafore". I need to edit some photos for size and upload them before I'll be ready to post the whole thing. In the meantime, today is your last chance to see Light Opera Oklahoma's production of "HMS Pinafore" at Kendall Hall at the TU campus. Go see it! It's wonderful!

I've looked through the various Route 66 bulletin boards on the Internet and have yet to find a discouraging word about the way the International Route 66 Festival turned out. As noted earlier, out-of-town Route 66 aficionados had a great time and were very pleased. On the other hand, I continue to get this reaction from Tulsans -- almost verbatim: "I looked at the website and the brochures, and I couldn't get my arms around it. I couldn't figure out what it was really all about."

Here's a letter sent by the executive director of the National Route 66 Federation to the Mayor. This was posted on the Route66 Yahoo group:

Fine and dandy


The City Council is going to consider raising traffic fines for most offenses by $5 at tonight's meeting. The stated reason is to cover the $2 increase in the assessment levied by the state Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET). CLEET gets a share of each fine assessed -- a sort of commission for training police officers to be more effective.

Someone called this to my attention and wonders if the city thinks officers aren't bright enough to handle numbers that aren't multiples of $5. He also recalls that just last year, preset fines were increased for most violations from $80 to $115. At the time, Police Chief Dave Been said that officers favored raising fines so long as the purpose was to deter offenses, rather than just to raise revenue. If that increase was punitive in intent, rather than a revenue enhancement, then it shouldn't be a problem for that extra $2 CLEET assessment to come out of that $35 increase. In any event, I don't see the need to raise an extra $3 per ticket. Now if someone wants to tell me that fines should be high enough to fund the municipal court system, but aren't, I'm listening. But fines aren't the right way to fund general functions of government.

I see that Dean Van Trease, outgoing president of Tulsa Community College, is getting a block of Boston Avenue double-signed in his honor. It would have been better to name the Downtown campus's vast swath of surface parking in his honor -- the Van Trease Treeless Expanse, perhaps. TCC has a single block of buildings, but four blocks of parking. No single institution has done more damage to downtown's urban fabric in the last ten years than TCC under his leadership.

You have to wonder how downtown benefits from TCC's presence and vice versa. When TJC (as it was then) had only its classroom building and no parking of its own, a nearby cafe or snack bar might hope to attract students for meals. A nearby variety store might hope to sell school supplies. Now TCC's downtown campus is a self-contained world with its own cafeteria and bookstore, and there are no nearby merchants because of TCC's vast moat of parking. So people zoom into downtown, park, go to class, maybe eat at the cafeteria, and zoom back out. If TCC were to relocate, there would be an opportunity to redevelop those parking lots into something useful and attractive. The only reason I can imagine TCC would want to stay downtown is for ease of access to the Tulsa Transit bus system, but surely bus service could be provided to, say, the TCC northeast campus if sufficient demand exists.

I will give TCC credit for their adaptive reuse of Central High School's Manual Arts building, which fronts Cincinnati. On the other hand, TCC tore down the old Cadillac dealership -- a multi-story building designed to hold cars -- for surface parking.

TCC is by no means the only guilty party in the deconstruction of downtown Tulsa, but it is the single biggest offender. Long ago some mayor or some other city leader should have sat down with TCC, the nearby churches, and businesses and come up with a parking plan that would meet everyone's needs while stopping the continued conversion of the southern part of downtown into a desert.

Pair of sixes paradox


There's an interesting divergence of opinion about Tulsa's recent International Route 66 Festival.

Many of the Tulsans I spoke to found the promotional information confusing, and if they went, they were surprised by the light turnout and couldn't figure out how it differed from any other street festival. You had your streets blocked off, your food vendors, your local musical acts, your kids' area, your difficulty finding a place to park -- like Mayfest without the art. My wife got frustrated trying to figure out the schedule, and wrote a scathing e-mail to the promoters; I put together a schedule like a TV-grid to help us and others sort out what we wanted to do and where we needed to be. One friend said she saw the ads for the festival but could never get the sense of what it was all about, so she didn't bother going. Many others we spoke to hadn't heard of it at all. Our family went and had a good time, but it's clear we didn't get as much out of it as we might have, had the essence of the festival been more clearly communicated. And although we enjoyed it, we had the sense from the numbers we saw that it was not a successful event.

The apparent failure of the festival has led some to question the wisdom of the $15 million for Route 66 development included in Vision 2025. If Route 66 is such a tourist draw, shouldn't we have seen an acute influx of tourists for this international festival, which includes the annual meeting and banquet of the National Route 66 Federation? If they weren't wandering around Brady Street, where were they?

On the other hand, we're told that the National Route 66 Federation regards the festival as a success and would like to come back. On Tuesday's Michael DelGiorno show, Mayor LaFortune read an e-mail from author Michael Wallis, enthusing about the festival. He's been to dozens of events all along the highway, so surely he would have an idea if this event was successful. The Steinbeck Banquet -- the annual awards banquet of the National Route 66 Foundation -- was reported to have twice the attendance as the previous year in Springfield, Illinois. The J. M. Davis Gun Museum in Claremore reported higher than normal attendance.

So how do we account for the divergent perspectives?

Route 66 ho-hum?


Michael DelGiorno expressed his boredom Monday morning during our weekly chat, as I tried to explain the part of the Route 66 festival that most excited me as an old highway enthusiast. I can't imagine why he doesn't find mid-60s Borden's Cafeteria postcards exciting.

Tulsa will likely never be a mainstream tourist destination. We will likely never make the list of 1000 places to visit before you die. But that doesn't mean we can't make some money from the tourist trade.

The key is niche marketing. There are aspects of the history and culture of Tulsa and the surrounding region that appeal to market segments that are narrow but full of people passionate about their special (not to say peculiar) interests.

Route 66 is one of those niche markets, probably one of the broader niches, as evidenced by websites about the topic in Portugese, German, French, Finnish, Swedish.

This German page describes Route 66 as "Die legendärste Straße Amerikas - Mythos der unendlichen Freiheit" and warns that it's only for absolute "Amerikafreaks." (Love those German compound nouns.)

Beyond Route 66, Tulsa and northeastern Oklahoma can appeal to people interested in cowboys and Indians (and art inspired by them), the Charismatic movement (ORU and Rhema), oil exploration and the roughnecks and boom towns and overnight millionaires of oil's heyday. There are even severe weather aficionados who dream of visiting Oklahoma and chasing a storm. I met a German some years ago, in a woolen shop in Ardara, Ireland, who wanted to do just that.

To exploit these niches, however, Tulsans (and mainly those who have been paid handsomely to sell Tulsa to the rest of the world) have to stop being embarrassed by what makes us different. It does us no good for our tourist brochures to focus on amenities (like the ballet, the opera, and upscale shopping) which are wonderful for those who live here but don't really set us apart from other cities.

Meanwhile, thanks to Private Eye's "Funny Old World" column, we learn that looking for that edge in the competition for the tourist dollar is a concern the world over. Councilors in the Polish seaside resort of Ustka believe that an uplifting program of crest enlargement holds the key to attracting visitors. Note that the town's mayor carefully chooses his words to avoid giving offense to any mermaids amongst his constituents.

All about annexation


The City Council says the issue is dead. Seven councilors -- everyone except Neal and Baker -- voted for a consensus against the idea of annexing all the area within Tulsa's north fenceline in one fell swoop. I'm watching "This Week @ City Hall" -- Chris Medlock and Roscoe Turner are talking about areas in their districts that have been within the city limits for decades but still lack connection to city water and sewer services. Their point is that we need to maintain and in some cases install infrastructure to ensure continued investment in the areas already within our city limits. Tulsa is "doomed" to be a core city -- we are nearly surrounded by the boundaries or fencelines of other cities -- so we had better make it the best core city possible. Opponents of grabbing all the north area at once also point out that we have yet to extend roads, water lines or sewer lines to the large area of Wagoner County we annexed a few years ago.

Industries in the Cherokee Industrial Park have expressed opposition to annexation, as it will mean higher property and use taxes. Some have suggested that their opposition is merely an opening gambit in the renegotiation of tax incentives that are set to expire soon. Residents don't want to give up the freedoms they have in an unincorporated area -- raising farm animals, burning trash instead of paying someone to haul it off, even setting off fireworks.

Meanwhile, the Mayor continues to push for annexing the entire area at once. In a speech to neighborhood leaders at the "Mayor's Night Out" event last Tuesday, he was at his loudest and most animated when he urged neighborhood leaders to contact their councilors in support of annexation. In support of annexation, he expressed concern that unincorporated areas would be developed anyway, but not to the standards required for construction within the city limits, which would cause problems for the city when the area is finally annexed.

The Whirled is the only other cheerleader for annexation, and the editorial board has blasted the councilors who oppose annexation with a fury that makes me suspect they have some business interests at stake.

Lortondale on the web


When you're talking about the historic preservation of buildings, the standard for "historic" is 50 years. That's the minimum standard for consideration for inclusion on the National Register for Historic Places.

The Lortondale neighborhood, east of Yale between 26th & 28th Streets, has attained the necessary age. In the early '50s, the homes represented a dramatic departure from traditional homes, with their low-pitched roofs, glass walls, and bright colors. (The neighborhood was developed on part of a farm that had belonged to the Lorton family of Tulsa Whirled fame, thus the name. The brick gate posts for the farm still stand along Yale.)

Several Lortondale residents with an interest in mid-century architecture discovered each other on Internet forums devoted to the topic, and now they've set up their own website at www.lortondale.com, which features the history of the neighborhood and photos of some of the homes.

Don't be too surprised to see this neighborhood seek historic status sometime in the future -- an entire neighborhood of architect-designed homes in a unique style is a rare thing.

Kicks, some missed, on 66


We made it to the International Route 66 Festival Friday night for a couple of hours, and again this afternoon from 1 to about 8. Here are some of the highlights:

  • The street music was consistently good, and the organizers were wise to alternate stages and not allow simultaneous concerts. Nothing ear-assaulting, all family-friendly stuff.

  • Pawnee Bill (actually the Pawnee County Assessor, I was told) was out on Brady Street offering kids rides on his horse. Katherine was in little girl heaven, leaning forward, gripping the saddle horn, and beaming. Joe enjoyed his ride, too. The Pawnee Bill Wild West Show, by the way, will be performed June 19th & 26th west of the town of Pawnee.

  • Nice to see new developments in Brady Village, like the glassblowing studio and Caz's new restaurant.

  • The open houses today were fun -- we went up to the roof of the Tribune Building and looked in a couple of the available units; looked around the restored first floor and mezzanine of the Mayo Hotel; and had a tour of Boston Avenue Methodist Church. The Boston Avenue Church tour was very well organized and presented, with a guide to lead us around to about eight different stations, and a guide at each station to explain the history and symbolism of the art work and architectural details. At the first station they helpfully had photos of two Oklahoma wildflowers -- the tritoma and coreopsis -- which appears in stylized versions throughout the church. Katherine quickly became a skilled coreopsis-spotter and discovered that coreopsis is fun to say. At the eight station we got the straight scoop about who designed Boston Avenue Church, and how she got the job. The building is a dazzling work of art.

  • It was nice to see that full-time Brady Village businesses were allowed to make a buck. I can remember Mayfests in the past where they may as well have placed a dropcloth over downtown for all the good it did the year-round businesses.

  • The kids enjoyed the "Kids Korner" activities, especially the reptiles exhibit Friday evening.

  • Lots of friendly and helpful volunteers. One exhibitor told us how much he appreciated that Tulsa had volunteers available to man his booth to give him 20 minutes to stretch his legs and get a bite to eat. He also said the festival organizers worked with exhibitors to get them their preferred locations as much as possible.

But what, you may ask, made this event different from all the other street festivals we see through the course of a year. Yes, there were car tours of the highway and a 66 theme, but that could have been done for a purely local celebration of the old road (which isn't a bad idea). What is the essence of the International Festival, which will go with the festival to another city next year, something Tulsans will only have readily accessible for these few days?

The Expo.

We discovered it belatedly. It is not given a place of honor on the website or in the program, but if you are a Route 66 or old highway enthusiast, this is where you need to be.

Five collectors were there with albums of postcards and maps and room keys and posters. Sadly most were not for sale, but was able to buy a couple of Borden Cafeteria postcards, which I will scan and post here sometime in the future. One collector, from Arizona, had road atlases from the '20s and '30s, and a 1950 map of Tulsa from the Triangle Company. The postcard collections were a chance to look back at places that are gone and signs that have been changed -- the Downtown Best Western Motel, actually on the north side of 11th at Columbia; the Town and Country near the turnpike gate; the Flamingo Motel -- the motel is there but the neon flamingo is gone; the Park Plaza Courts, torn down in the '80s. Since they aren't willing to part with them, I wish these collectors would scan and post these cards on the web.

There are some wonderful new books out, and the authors were there to sell and sign copies.

  • Bob Moore and Rich Cunningham have published an atlas and guidebook aimed at setting out the best way to drive the old road (without having, as they say in the foreword, a four-wheel drive, a lawyer, and two months to drive the road). They use GPS data, odometer settings, and high resolution topographical maps to help guide the would-be 66 cruiser.

  • Scott Piotrowski has compiled the many routes 66 has taken through Los Angeles County in Finding the End of the Mother Road (website should up shortly).

  • Shellee Graham has a new book about the late lamented Coral Court Motel near St. Louis and a book of postcards from the highway.

  • Russell Olsen has just published Route 66 Lost and Found a book of paired images -- an old postcard image or photograph, and a photo he took recently of the same place from the same vantage point. The Shady Rest Court on Southwest Boulevard, just north of downtown Red Fork, is one of his subjects. (Still there, believe it or not, but without a sign.) His website offers the book and individual photos for sale.

  • Ghost Town Press in Arcadia (home of the Round Barn) has published Oklahoma Route 66, a big book of maps and photos, including some pictures taken where law-abiding angels fear to tread. They've got a picture of one of Max Meyer's gas stations and one of his tourist cabins, too.

The entrance to the expo features Cyrus Avery's map of the national highway system, highlighting roads passing through Oklahoma, and a couple of his letters relating to the struggle to get a good number for the diagonal route from Chicago to LA. Next to those were some wonderful sketches of late '30s Tulsa by Paul Corrubia (more here) -- I had never seen these before.

A group called Friends of the Mother Road had a table. This group restores historic signs and other artifacts along Route 66. They were selling a children's book about the highway to raise money for their work.

Each of the state Route 66 associations had a booth, with brochures and things to give away. I note that the site of Times Beach, Missouri, once notorious for dioxin contaminiation, has been rehabilitated and has been developed as Route 66 State Park. (Here's another view -- Times Beach should be named a national monument to chemophobia.)

By the time we got to the Expo -- nearly 5 this afternoon, because we wanted to do the building tours before they closed at 4 -- there were only two hours left. The collectors were packing up their things and it looked like they weren't planning to come back on Sunday. The other booths didn't seem to be going anywhere, so hopefully they will still be around Sunday, but there's nothing in the festival website to indicate if that's the case.

One other downside -- all the booths appeared to be cash only. I didn't notice any credit card equipment.

A number of things fell through the cracks, which is to be expected. In another entry, I'll relay some thoughts on what could have been better.

Thanks to Zik Jackson for making me aware that the page-to-page navigation was broken on the schedule grids for this week's International Route 66 Festival. That's fixed now. Hope you find them useful, and please let me know if you find broken links or missing or wrong information.

Curses! Foiled again!


Front page story (jump page here) in the Whirled yesterday reports on the ongoing investigation into the Tulsa Airport Authority and their involvement in the Great Plains Airlines deal.

Federal investigators are accusing Tulsa airport officials of inflating the cost of a runway project by about $10 million and linking it to a land purchase they could not justify.

The investigators suspect the money was going to be used to clear up a problem bank loan on the land, and that could have allowed officials to camouflage a potentially illegal subsidy of about $7 million to now-bankrupt Great Plains Airlines.

Documents obtained through an open records request show that investigators concluded the airport may not even need the land for the runway extension.

It apparently was connected to that project only after Great Plains' financial health deteriorated.

That plan was foiled by information officials supplied to the investigators as part of a yearlong probe into airport operations.

The story mentions that Federal investigators are focused on a memo written by airport trust counsel Richard Studenny, outlining how to circumvent laws against direct subsidies by airports to airlines, by concocting a land deal and keeping it small enough to evade Federal scrutiny. Now it appears that the airport authority inflated the cost of a runway expansion project in order to justify a passenger fee increase to the FAA -- the extra money would have been diverted to cover the default of Great Plains.

Let me spell it out for you: Our airport authority wanted to tax Tulsans and people visiting Tulsa -- anyone flying through our airport -- to compensate for the money lost in the Great Plains scheme. While many of those responsible have moved on, we need a clean sweep of the airport management. An "ethics training class" is not sufficient to make an ethical person out of someone looking for ways to deceive and evade the laws. That boils down to character.

As noted earlier, my lovely wife got fed up with the lack of a comprehensive schedule for this week's International Route 66 Festival, which made it difficult to plan to participate. In the spirit of lighting a candle, rather than cursing the darkness, I have created schedule grids for the next week, beginning Monday, June 7, with the opening of Chautauqua 2004, which has Route 66 as a theme, and going through the close of the Route 66 Festival on Sunday, June 13.

(By the way, in response to my wife's e-mail, someone with the festival coordinator e-mailed back saying if we'd send along our mailing address, they'd be happy to send us a festival brochure. So if there's info in the brochure which isn't on the website, why not post a PDF of the brochure on the website? How hard is that?)

As I disclaim on every page, this is not an official schedule, just my attempt at organizing info from various sources so as to be able to make the most of the festival's opportunities. I tried to include as many official websites and phone numbers as I could find. Consult official sources for official schedules and details.

The schedule grids are not very artistic -- just the HTML produced by Mozilla Composer with a minimum of tweaking. If you find a broken link, missing info, or bad info, e-mail me at route66 AT batesline DOT com and I'll fix it. I may have made mistakes, things are subject to change, your mileage may vary, etc. Hope you find it useful, nevertheless.

A lot of local organizations have rescheduled events to coincide with the festival. Cain's Ballroom has some special concerts scheduled, including that great western swing band Asleep at the Wheel. The Leake Car Auction and the Tulsa Pow-Wow will happen next weekend, and Light Opera Oklahoma will begin its 2004 festival with two performances of "HMS Pinafore". There's a lot of great stuff going on all over town.

Here are the grids:

Monday, June 7
Tuesday, June 8
Wednesday, June 9
Thursday, June 10
Friday, June 11
Saturday, June 12
Sunday, June 13

Below is the first entry from my wife, Mikki, an open letter about the upcoming International Route 66 Festival. She's been able to post to this blog since we started it, but today's the first time she felt compelled to write something, specifically about her frustration with the website for the festival. We want to support the festival with our attendance, we want to be a part of this big event, and we want to use the opportunity for our kids to learn about the highway and its significance to American history. But trying to find out what's happening when, what our options are for any given day or hour, has been frustrating.

Note what she says about awareness of the festival -- none of the friends she mentioned it to knew it was happening.

Back a few months ago, an organization I belong to sought out a representative from the festival to come and talk to us about it and about opportunities to participate and volunteer. I'm told it was a challenge just to get phone calls returned. The lady who came to speak to us had a presentation about the history of the road, but the festival details were sketchy, and she didn't know anything about volunteer opportunities, nor was she prepared to take the names of potential volunteers.

I hope this thing is a success, for the sake of Tulsa's reputation. If it flops for lack of local participation, I expect that Tulsans will be scolded for not supporting the festival, but it seems to me that the blame will belong to the festival's organizers for failing to get the message out.

Dear Route 66 Festival webmaster,

Please put a calendar on the festival website that makes it possible to click on each day, and choose which events I might want to attend.

That would make the festival and your website simple - and user friendly. Our family could actually choose something to try almost every day of the event - and even the hidden events that are early - like the Chautauqua events. Visitors to Tulsa could make the most of their stay here.

ExpoSquare has been able to do a calendar listing of events for years! People can look at the day; see an event, and click for details and a location. It can be found on the top of the home page by clicking on "Events Calendar". The calendar is in simple text. No time would need to be wasted with pretty pictures. All it needs is links to events, on the days they happen. If the morning events were listed first, that would be icing on the cake.

This website had been really frustrating me for over a week. Any church or organization can put a calendar page with a listing of events on each day - except for this one. Your website seems to require someone with a master planner or calendar to sit and write each possible event down on our own calendar - and then choose.

Examples of frustrations – Kid’s Korner - 10 events are listed - WITHOUT ANY TIMES OR PLACES!!! - just pretty music as if to say - HA HA - YOU CAN'T FIND IT. If there are links there, they aren't coming up today.

I sincerely hope that someone who cares about attendance and our reputation can come up with a prominent item on the home page with a day by day event guide - SOON!! Once again, I am embarrassed to be a TULSAN.

Of course, Tulsans may not notice. I mentioned the event to 6 people around town and on the phone yesterday. The only one who had heard about the Route 66 Festival had plans to be out of town before they knew of the event. The others were slightly interested, and totally uninformed. I mentioned the website - but I may not any more.

It is an AWFUL website for planning participation. I really want to know who planned this website. That way I can be sure NOT to recommend their services. I just can't imagine missing a master calendar for a supposedly international event.

PLEASE ADD A CALENDAR!!! And if you think this is hard, imagine us trying to figure out which days and events our family will attend. A jigsaw puzzle is much more enjoyable then deciphering your online events guide.

Mikki Bates

City politics


There's a bunch of local stuff, like annexation, that I need to write about, and that you will want to know about, and I will, but I'm out of energy for now. See you tomorrow.

First performance of the Oklahoma Boast and Roast was tonight. The highlight of the evening was Jacques Chirac singing, "I'm proud to be a Frenchman." (OK, it was actually journalist Pat McGuigan.) I won't give away the lyrics here, but it must be seen. There's just something about verbally abusing the French. And Glenpool City Councilor Zik Jackson did a great job as Bill Clinton at the Pearly Gates.

Second performance is Saturday night, in the Assembly Hall of the Tulsa Convention Center, 7 p.m. $15 -- profits go to help the Tulsa County GOP and the Blue Star Mothers. Come early -- a number of local and statewide candidates will have information tables for your perusal.

Tulsa Gas Prices online


Blog Oklahoma links a site called TulsaGasPrices.com, which features reports of the lowest gas prices in the metro area. Curt's Oil and Flying J are the best today at $1.769 / gallon. (And Flying J offers WiFi for as little as $1.95/hour!)

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa category from June 2004.

Tulsa: May 2004 is the previous archive.

Tulsa: July 2004 is the next archive.

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