Tulsa History: September 2005 Archives

Tonight was the last night of sopapillas at 21st and Sheridan, after nearly 25 35 years. (NOTE: I can do math, but I guess I just couldn't believe that I'm old enough for it to have been nearly 35 years since I went to Casa Bonita for the first time.) Tom Baddley of Lost Tulsa has exterior photos of Casa Bonita's next to last night -- the line was too long to allow him in to take interior photos. He's also got photos of soon-to-be-lost Starship Records and on-the-way-to-being-lost Eastland Mall.

According to this article, Tulsa's Casa Bonita cost nearly $4,000,000 -- that's in 1971 dollars. Although I'm sure the owners long since recouped their investment, it still amazes me that something that cost that much to build could just shut down in a week's time because the restaurant and the shopping center couldn't come to terms on a new lease.

I remember a 2nd grade classmate bragging about being the first one in class to eat there. Our family went the night before I started 3rd grade -- September 1971 -- which also happened to be the night before my first day of school at Holland Hall. I remember that they had a map, just like an amusement park. We were there with my dad's dad and some other relatives. We ate in the cantina, which in recent years was a theatre for magic and puppet shows. I remember being quietly appalled at the mushy slimy green stuff the grownups were enjoying and even more nauseated that they could follow guacamole with a dessert of strawberry shortcake back at the house. (I'm sure that nerves about starting at a new school intensified the effect of the strange cuisine.)

Other random Casa Bonita memories: The Acapulco (waterfall) room wasn't there when the restaurant first opened. Tulsa never had the cliff divers that they had in Denver. The game room was a later addition, too. Once upon a time, there was a custom bra shop next door which prominenly displayed the smallest and largest sizes they offered. One of the treats in the treasure room were these little candy-coated malt balls, about eight or nine in a cellophane tube.

In recent years, our family went about once a year. The kids enjoyed the game room as much or more than the food and atmosphere.

There's still a Casa Bonita in Denver, and you might get to go, assuming Eric Cartman doesn't trick you into believing that a meteor is heading toward Earth so he can take your place.

MORE: Joel Blain has a last-day picture of Casa Bonita.

(Update your bookmarks -- Lost Tulsa is now at http://www.losttulsa.com.)

UPDATE 10/1: Weep not for Casa Bonita. According to a story in today's Whirled, the founder of Casa Bonita will open his second Casa Viva restaurant in the same space later this year. The first is in an old Casa Bonita in Little Rock. The atmosphere and the little flags will be the same, but they promise the food will be better. Waugh Enterprises also owns the Burger Street chain and a fast-food Mexican chain called Taco Viva.

It really was Cherry Street

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I came across an interesting map while looking through the agenda for tonight's Tulsa City Council meeting. The background material for one agenda item includes the original 1908 plat for the Orcutt subdivision, part of what is now known as the Swan Lake Neighborhood. (It's page 3 of this 389 KB PDF document.) Orcutt was platted before the city adopted a regular pattern of street naming, and apparently the developers were allowed to pick their own names for streets. The subdivision was bounded by Peoria on the west, Victor on the east, 15th on the north, and 17th Place on the south. I had speculated that the rebranding of the walkable shopping district along 15th between Peoria and Utica as Cherry Street might have been a bit of marketeer myth-making, but now I've seen the documentary evidence for the name.

So here are the names of the streets and avenues as they are today, and what they were called back in 1908:

Peoria Ave.: Pine St.
Quaker Ave.: Olive St.
Quincy Ave.: Maple St.
Rockford Ave.: Jasmine St.
St. Louis Ave.: Forest Ave.
Trenton Ave.: Park Ave.
Troost Ave.: Percival Ave.
Utica Ave.: Utica Ave.
Victor Ave.: Porter St.

15th St.: Cherry St.
16th St.: Orcutt St.
17th St.: Wall St.
17th Pl.: Capitol St.

The names were still in place in 1917 when the old Orcutt Lake amusement park was platted as Swan Park subdivision, although the new standard names were encroaching -- the northern boundary of the new subdivision was still Capitol St., the western boundary was Forest Ave., but the southern boundary was called 19th St. And that jog in Utica at 17th Place was even more pronounced back then -- see page 2 of the above-linked PDF.

Updated, 2011/09/27, replacing defunct link to City Council website with uploaded copy of the file.

Tomorrow's New York Times has an interview with Tulsa novelist S. E. Hinton, whose first book, The Outsiders, was published when she was a teenager. Since 1967, the book has sold over 14 million copies, and in 1983 Francis Ford Coppola turned it into a movie, filmed in and around Tulsa, starring a cast of soon-to-be-famous young actors.

That movie has been recut by Coppola for DVD, to be released later this month. The new version's only theatrical screenings will be at two invitation-only events, Thursday in Tulsa and Friday in New York. The new version is said to be truer to the novel and to Coppola's original vision for the film.

The DVD release was the occasion for the Times interview of Hinton, who talks, in a less reserved way than in the past, about her parents, her upbringing, and the Tulsa of her youth.

The Outsiders was on our 7th grade reading list, and Hinton came to speak to the class -- this would have been around 1976. I remember her talking about her writer's block following the success of her first published novel. The Times article mentions that her boyfriend (now husband) helped her get past the block, but on her official website we learn how he did it:

Once published, The Outsiders gave her a lot of publicity and fame, and also a lot of pressure. S.E. Hinton was becoming known as "The Voice of the Youth" among other titles. This kind of pressure and publicity resulted in a three year long writer's block.

Her boyfriend (and now, her husband), who had gotten sick of her being depressed all the time, eventually broke this block. He made her write two pages a day if she wanted to go anywhere. This eventually led to That Was Then, This Is Now.

Part of the fun of reading the book as a 7th grader was trying to figure out the real-life Tulsa places that Hinton disguised. In the book the Socs lived on the west side and the Greasers on the east side; the real-life division at Will Rogers High School in the '60s was between the middle-class southsiders and the working-class northsiders. As a lower-middle-class kid from the far eastern outskirts of Tulsa who went to a school with the sons and daughters of the city's most prominent families, I knew what being an outsider felt like.

I'm sorry that I won't get a chance to see the new version on the big screen. The original film had some visually beautiful and dramatic moments. Besides, it would be fun to see the locations larger than life -- some of them are no longer standing.

According to the official website for the book and the movie, a wider release was planned, but cancelled. I wonder if the producers were concerned about audience amusement at the sight of the now-famous cast slugging it out as teenage toughs. When the movie was first released, these actors were largely unknowns and wouldn't have overshadowed the story. Now, there's likely to be a lot of "hey, isn't that...?" as each character makes his first appearance. (And maybe a bit of cheering if Tom Cruise's character takes a punch.)

The Times interview has a link to the review of the book in the May 7, 1967, Times.

By the way: I found the Times interview via the Tulsa Bloggers aggregation page, which includes a newsfeed of stories about Tulsa, gathered from a variety of sources.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa History category from September 2005.

Tulsa History: July 2005 is the previous archive.

Tulsa History: October 2005 is the next archive.

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