Tulsa History: January 2007 Archives

River revue

| | Comments (6) | TrackBacks (0)

The big story I've been working on is finally in print. This week's Urban Tulsa Weekly cover story is the epic tale of a century -- yes, a century -- of Tulsa's plans to do something interesting with the Arkansas River.

This story was a blast to research. UTW's Holly Wall and Siara Jacobs rounded up copies of articles and documents from the 1968 and 1976 plans from the very helpful folks at the River Parks Authority. I spent hours paging through Central Library's "vertical files" and repository of old planning documents. I had far more material than I could use. I was helped immensely by a conversation with architect Rex Ball, whose firm developed the 1968 River Lakes Park plan, and by my long acquaintance with Jim Hewgley III, who was Streets Commissioner when the Zink Lake low-water dam was built by Mayor Jim Inhofe.


It's my intention to scan and upload much of the research material and to provide some sort of bibliography to help anyone else who might want to do further research.

In the story I mention a river concept presented very briefly in a 1959 document called A Plan for Central Tulsa:

A page of that study was devoted to "The Marina," a concept for the river between 11th and 21st Streets. The accompanying illustration showed an artificial lagoon for boats near 15th and Riverside, a floating restaurant and boat club just to the south, a "picnic island" accessible by pedestrian bridge just to the north, and a larger island, accessible only by boat, where the west bank used to be.

Yes, used to be. The drawing showed the river almost twice as wide as its existing width at the 21st Street bridge, backed up by a dam at some unspecified location downstream, with the new shoreline just below the west bank levee. The resemblance to last year's "The Channels" plan is uncanny.

I took a photograph of the illustration so you can see for yourself. It's not as sharp as I'd like, but I think you can make it out. Click on the image to see it in its original size.

(Notice that in 1959, the location of the Inner Dispersal Loop, seen along the top of the diagram, has already been determined, although it wouldn't be completed until nearly 25 years later.)

My column this week is also about Tulsa history:

Oklahoma's centennial year ought to be a year when all Oklahomans -- natives and newcomers alike -- encounter our state's history in a way that engages our imaginations. While every year is a good year to study Oklahoma history, this is a year that ought to be hallowed to that purpose, a year for remembering where we came from and how we got to where we are today.

The June unearthing of the buried Belvedere fulfills that purpose quite well. I propose extending that glimpse back 50 years with the Tulsa 1957 project, which I launched here a while back and explain in detail in the column. I also mention a couple of websites which are helping to capture everyday life in Tulsa as it was. (But I neglected to mention Jack Frank's wonderful Tulsa Films series, which uses TV footage and home movies to bring decades past back to life.)

Also this week UTW gives a rave review to the source of the coffee and quesadillas that helped fuel my 6,000-word feature story. Katharine Kelly gives the Coffee House on Cherry Street five stars each for food, atmosphere, and service.

RELATED: A pretty thorough outline history of the Arkansas River in the Tulsa area.

Briefly noting stuff that's interesting, but not needed, for an article I'm writing:

Irvin J. McCrary Collection -- city planning documents accumulated by a Denver city planner, includes "Oklahoma City - A report of its Plan for an Outer Parkway and a plan for an Interior System of Parks and Boulevards, 1910," and "A Five-Year Park and Boulevard Program for Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1927."

Tulsa World - April 27, 1924 "TAA and Tulsa World announce Flag Design contest. This idea, conceived by TAA, was to offer a $50 prize to the best design for a flag that was 'symbolic of Tulsa and its various activities'. This competition was judged by the TAA, the Tulsa World in collaboration with Mayor Herman F. Newblock and Chamber President J. Burr."

A brief history of Tulsa's planning efforts by Robert Lawton Jones.

Contents of the KVOO Voice Library in the University of Tulsa library's special collections.

Issues and Discussion Points Regarding the Comprehensive Plan Update -- that's the plan update which will get underway in the near future.

History of Oklahoma's turnpike system"

History of Keystone Lake

Flood stage on the Arkansas River near Tulsa, including five highest flood stages in history

From Harm's Way: Flood Hazard Mitigation in Tulsa, Oklahoma: includes history of some of our worst floods and the development of the stormwater management plan.

Crossposted from Tulsa TV Memories, with some further elaboration:

I was listening to some old Johnnie Lee Wills transcriptions from 1950, and I heard the announcer (Frank Sims) say to Johnnie Lee, "Our first tune was written by a good friend of mine and a good friend of yours. What do you say we get under way with the Coyote Blues, written by Lewis Meyer."

I knew bespectacled Brookside bookseller and biographer was a multitalented man, but I never suspected he was a western swing songwriter.

Here's a link with the lyrics of "Coyote Blues", which contains these immortal words:

I can't sit down, I'm black and blue
My gal kicked me on the kickaroo
I got the old coyote blues

And these:

She took me when I was helpless
She tried to build me up
But when she got me housebroke
She got another pup

TTM webmaster Mike Ransom notes that the song is on the Johnnie Lee Wills CD Band's A-Rockin'.

Fly it proudly

| | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (0)


According to the Flags of the World website, this was the City of Tulsa's flag from 1923-1941. (Can you guess why it might have changed in 1941?)

While there's a dated quality to the flag, the same can be said for our current seal and flag, which are very, very '70s. I rather like the boosterism and optimism in this one. It has the added advantage of being contemporaneous with our city's best architecture, while the current flag is closest in time to our ungracefully aging City Hall.

Perhaps we could revise this flag with a new slogan. Here's one idea: replace "Unlimited Opportunity" with "Straight Ahead" in honor of the song written by Jimmy Hall, fiddler and vocalist with Leon McAuliffe's band. ("Take Me Back to Tulsa" is a great song, but I think this is a better candidate for official city song.)


Here's a puzzler for long-time Tulsans. I'll give you the answer in a day or so.

The floors of Tulsa's Central Library, starting at ground level, are numbered from 1 to 4 nowadays. (There are two basement levels below ground.) But when the building opened, and for many years thereafter, the elevator buttons had initials for each of those four levels, corresponding to the non-numeric name given to each. Can you name each level?

UPDATE: Answer after the jump....

Tulsa 1957

| | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (0)

I've had this idea of trying to capture life in Tulsa as it was in a particular year, before freeways, urban renewal, and the flight to the suburbs began to change it. It's hard to believe today, but Tulsa was once one of the twenty most densely populated large cities in the nation. It might help us reimagine what a revived, dense urban core for Tulsa would look like if we could get a vivid picture of what Tulsa's urban core looked like when it was dense and full of life. It seems a fitting project for our state's centennial year.

For this thought experiment, I picked 1957 as the target year. That was the year of the state's semi-centennial. The new County Courthouse had opened and the first massive redevelopment project -- the Civic Center, originally just four blocks between Denver and Frisco, 4th & 6th -- was just beginning to take shape. Early suburban neighborhoods and shopping centers, like my own Mayo Meadow, had been opened. The city's first freeway plan was drawn up -- it still isn't finished, and part of it never will be. A master parks plan called for a massive park along 71st Street from the river stretching through the hills to the east. In June 1957, a Reader's Digest article about Tulsa mentions that Tulsa had taken to calling itself "America's Most Beautiful City." 1957 is recent enough to be in living memory -- childhood for the early Baby Boomers, high school and young adulthood for my parents' generation -- but distant enough to be a very different world.

While I wanted to fix on a particular year for the sake of creating a snapshot in time, reminiscences from earlier and later years, like the memories of the early '60s at Riverview School, will help to make the picture vivid.

I'd like to flesh out this idea with maps -- big maps showing where the city limits were, little maps showing the stores, schools, and churches in a neighborhood -- photographs, news stories, and lots of personal reminiscences. The Sanborn Fire Maps, the city directory, the phone book, and newspaper ads can be used to help refresh and correct those reminiscences.

(It would be a big help if someone had software that could be used to create a base street map of Tulsa and environs in 1957.)

I'm not only interested in the memories of Tulsans, but also those of people who lived in surrounding towns, rural Tulsa County communities (like Alsuma, Lynn Lane, Union, Rentie Grove), and outlying Oklahoma towns like Nowata and Tahlequah who remember trips to the big city as a big deal.

This idea is inspired in part by a cartoon map that appeared in the very first issue of Urban Tulsa. The map showed the adventures of a group of boys, maybe 10-12 years old, who took the bus into downtown Tulsa on a Saturday morning in the early '60s -- they saw a movie, explored the seedier parts of downtown, had a Coke at a soda fountain, browsed through comic books. The map promised "To be continued" but it never was. Those are the sort of memories I'm hoping to capture.

I wasn't around in 1957, and I can't devote a lot of time to this, so I'm looking for help. Anyone interested?

The stuff of everyday life is usually overlooked in history textbooks, which rightly focus on the big picture -- names, dates, places. What you had for breakfast, where you shopped, what you did with your free time -- you take it all for granted while it's happening. But, happily, some folks write down those kinds of reminiscences and share them with the rest of us.

Roland Austin, an early-'60s alumnus of Riverview Elementary School, which stood on the south side of 12th St. between Frisco and Guthrie Aves., has set up a website to collect his reminiscences and to catch the attention of old classmates who might be websurfing by. (Note the trolley tracks and overhead power line in the photo at that link -- there was once a streetcar line on Frisco Ave.)

Riverview neighborhood is a thriving area with a rich history, although it was damaged by blanket upzoning (reversed in recent years) and the construction of the south leg of the Inner Dispersal Loop, which cut it off from downtown.

Fifty years or so ago, downtown west of Denver Ave. was a mixture of residential and other uses toward the north, becoming more exclusively residential going south toward the river. It was one big neighborhood, with Riverview School in the heart of it. Over time, the Civic Center, the State Office Building, the county jail, and finally the BOk center displaced the neighborhood north of 7th Street. Between 7th and the IDL, urban renewal replaced a low-rise neighborhood with the high rise Central Plaza towers (now known as Central Park Condominiums), the Doubletree, and the Renaissance Uptown apartments. A few remnants of the north part of the old neighborhood remain -- the Blair Apartments, and the other buildings on that same block.

The memory book page on the Riverview School site recalls the places where the neighborhood kids played and where their families shopped. Judy Roberts tells this sweet story about riding bikes on the grounds of the McBirney Mansion:

Some of us kids used to take our bikes down to the big old house that ran along Houston on one side and Riverside Drive on the other. That place took up a whole city block. We had no concept of private property, and we used to go down to the bottom of the hill where there was an old concrete pool that was empty. We'd ride our bikes around and around faster and faster until we were way up the sides, turned almost sideways. It was so exciting! One day the old lady who lived there came out as we came back up the hill to leave, and boy did she look mean. In a very stern voice, she informed us that we were on her private property and did we have any idea how serious trespassing was? Then she told us to come in the house. Let me tell you, we were shaking in our boots. But once we got inside, she had tea waiting...old fashioned high tea in a silver pot on a tray with china cups, sugar cubes, little finger sandwiches, cookies and the works. We had tea (although I'm sure we were very rude about it!) while she brightened up and told us she didn't mind us playing in her yard as long as we didn't destroy anything and came to visit her once in a while. Then she wanted to know how fast we thought we were going down there and was it scary? She actually turned out to be very nice, but lonely maybe, and I think she wished she could join us! Gosh, that brings back memories.

I want to know more about what Ronnie Mead's childhood was like:

I lived at 3rd and Boulder, in the Mead Hotel. My bedroom was right above the Rialto Theater sign.

Webmaster Roland Austin confesses a childhood crush and the lengths to which he went for the queen of his heart (the aforementioned Judy Roberts):

Anyway, I thought I had won your heart, as one day after school you came home with me and we played in my room and yard, then I walked you to your home on Galveston.... I gave up my cinnamon rolls for two whole weeks to save $1.00 for your birthday present. I was at a loss for what to get you. Since I was into playing board games (and I had just learned to play chess), I went downtown to Kress' and bought you a chess set, then walked to your house to give it to you. I remember when I gave it to you, you looked at it, then you gave it to your big sister. I felt so stupid. What in the world was I thinking???!!!

Judy's reply:

I do, I do, I do remember you! I knew your face looked familiar, and I remember going to your house. I had a really good time, and I did like you. And...now don't have a heart attack...I remember all the way home thinking maybe you'd hold my hand, but I couldn't make the first move...I was the girl! I am SO sorry about the chess set, and especially about you giving up your cinnamon rolls just for me! Wow, now that's true love! (giggling) I don't know why we didn't spend more time together, maybe you just weren't as pushy as the other boys, LOL. I always did pick the wrong ones, and believe me have I paid for it. I really am sorry for hurting your feelings, it seems I did a lot of stupid things like that growing up. Forgive me?

Click here to read more about favorite teachers, Christmas pageants (yes, at a public school), burger joints, and the ice cream man.

UPDATE 20170710: members.aol.com is long gone along with Roland Austin's pages. Internet Archive captured them, at least in part, circa 2008, and I've updated the links above to go to the Internet Archive.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa History category from January 2007.

Tulsa History: November 2006 is the previous archive.

Tulsa History: February 2007 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.



Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
[What is this?]