Tulsa History: May 2009 Archives

Beryl Ford

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I was sad to learn of the death of Beryl Ford, the collector of historic Tulsa photographs and ephemera. Ford was 83. Every Tulsan with a desire to understand our city's past owes him an immense debt of gratitude.

I can't find words strong enough to explain how important his life's work is to our ability to understand Tulsa history. The Beryl Ford Collection, now in the hands of the Tulsa Historical Society thanks to the Rotary Club of Tulsa, is an irreplaceable part of our city's collective memory. The earliest years of Tulsa are no longer a part of living memory, but Ford's collection gives us some idea of what it was like. The Ford collection shows us central Tulsa at its post-war peak. It also shows us its dismantling.

Increasingly, baby boomers have to turn to the Ford collection to see the places we remember from our 1950s and 1960s childhoods, as mid-century businesses are lost to highway expansion, redevelopment, and renovation.

The collective memory is a tricky thing. We develop myths about how things used to be and how they came to be the way they are now. (E.g., "the Greenwood gap".) For Tulsa the Beryl Ford Collection, alongside other contemporaneous records like phone books, street directories, and newspapers, helps to correct the false memories and the false explanations they engender.

Mr. Ford's passing is a reminder of the work that still needs to be done to make the most of what he left us. I still hope to see high resolution scans put online with Flickr Commons, so they can be geocoded, tagged, and described in detail.

Here is a link to past BatesLine items that make reference to the Beryl Ford Collection.

MORE: From the comments, a tribute from Mark Sanders, one of Beryl Ford's cousins:

Thanks, Michael, for honoring Beryl Ford on your blog. We do owe him a debt of gratitude. As you know, Beryl was my second cousin, and my own fascination with Tulsa history is due in large measure to my access to Beryl's collection while he still owned it.

Tulsans should understand and appreciate that Beryl's relentless collecting - particularly at times when preservation of historical assets was not a culturally-valued pursuit, i.e. the 1970s - was motivated solely by his love for Tulsa and the highest ideals of preservation. The pursuit of financial gain was never part of his personal agenda. As he began to feel his own mortality in recent years, he looked to place the Collection, not with the highest bidder(s), but with an institution that would keep it together and make it readily available to the citizens of Tulsa. I, like you, trust that the Historical Society and Library will do all that is required to make this collection a powerful and accessible historical resource. One of the tragedies of Beryl's passing is that we have now lost the Collection's most capable geocoder/tagger/describer. Hopefully, other old-timers and students of Tulsa history will step up to that important task.

Finally, Tulsans should know something of the character of Beryl Ford, and the intensity of his affection - and that of the entire Ford family - for Tulsa. Beryl is a life-long Tulsan, but the Ford family's roots in Tulsa came about quite by happenstance. In the 1910s, when Beryl's father, Jewell (then a teenager), ran away from the family farm near Sallisaw, his grandfather (my great-grandfather), Nathaniel, followed up a rumored sighting in Tulsa, and took a train there - intent , literally, to walk the streets until he found his son. It wasn't necessary - within 2 blocks of the train station he met him on the street. Jewell immediately regaled his father with stories of ample construction job opportunities in Tulsa's booming economy. Nathaniel - who was a pioneer of the Pentecostal movement in Oklahoma - took all this as a sign that the family should move to Tulsa. So he returned to the farm, put the draft animals on a railcar and moved the household to Tulsa to begin a horse-driven excavation business. Some of Tulsa's existing landmark buildings, and - sadly - some that are now surface parking, were Ford excavated.

Beryl, like most of the other Fords, made his living in the building trades. He was never part of Tulsa's ruling class or social elite, but he made a contribution to Tulsa's history every bit as meaningful as that of any storied oil baron or newspaper publisher. And like the most of the rest of his family, he lived simply (in Tulsa's McClure Park neighborhood), valuing faith, family and community over the accumulation of wealth and status.

May he rest in peace; and may we all follow his fine civic example.

From the City of Tulsa Planning Department, notice of a meeting to gather public input on how best to use Tulsa's share of federal historic preservation funds:

The Tulsa Preservation Commission invites Tulsans to participate in the development of the City of Tulsa's Annual Certified Local Government Program.

A meeting will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, May 14, 2009 to receive public input. The meeting will be held on the 10th Floor of City Hall @ One Technology Center, located at 175 E. 2nd Street in downtown Tulsa. Parking is available at the southeast corner of 2nd & Cincinnati.

A portion of the U.S. Department of the Interior's Historic Preservation Fund is allocated for participation in the Certified Local Governments program. Each year, the Tulsa Preservation Commission uses this money to facilitate preservation within our City. Citizens can provide assistance in identifying ways to best use the 2009-2010 funds.

Funds can be used for such projects as:

  • Inventory and/or National Register Nomination of historic resources within the community;
  • Increasing public awareness of historic preservation; and
  • Preparing amendments or updates to the Tulsa Historic Preservation Plan and Historic Preservation zoning program.

With your support we can continue to build on Tulsa's preservation achievements.

Please contact Amanda DeCort, City of Tulsa Planning Department, at (918) 576-5669 for more information.

Here's a very insightful comment by someone with the handle "innercityartisan," posted next to my column about the PLANiTULSA small-area workshop for Forest Orchard, about the way expressways and other barriers to pedestrian and auto traffic on surface streets can blight a neighborhood. It also provides a picture of living in and near downtown a generation ago. (Emphasis added.)

I was there at the meeting. And I grew up in this area in the 50's and 60's. The more I think about the idea of removing the east leg of the IDL, the more I like it!

As kids, we walked or took the bus downtown to the movies. I walked to Central H. S., my gym class played field hockey in Central Park. At noon we students ran around a very busy downtown for lunch and did all our teenage shopping in the department stores and record store. We knew all the "secret" ways to get from one building to the next and across alleys. We were at home downtown, we felt safe and in a way we were supervised by the tens of thousands of people that lived and worked in the inner city.

My grandfather, a geologist, had his office in the Mid-Continent Building. We went to parades, enjoyed the Christmas lights and explored eateries with him.

I am now involved with the Pearl District and where I grew up and work in my home between the Gunboat Parks within the IDL. I am also involved with the Brady Arts District and the East Village at 3rd and Lansing. All these areas suffer because of the "Great Divide."

As has been recognized by other more recognized writers and activists, any city area that runs up against a large "dead" tract of land such as an expressway right-of-way, with no through foot traffic, tends to die and shrivel away. Large parking lots such as those around Hillcrest Hospital or cul-de-sacs and turnarounds that stop through traffic and long chain link fences can mean blight to a neighborhood.

After all, how can your neighborhood become an area that people discover and want to visit or live in if no one ever goes into or through it? And how can you feel safe living, walking or playing with no one around to keep an eye on things?

The only people to "discover" the Brady district have come for events at Cain's and the Old Lady on Brady and most of them don't stay. The Brady area is not so "alive" with activity in many continuous storefronts that a person can feel completely safe walking alone at night. Few people live there. Visitors don't tend to stop and explore. Hopefully the Ball Stadium will increase the number of buildings and residents.

I'm concerned that the vision for the Pearl District with shops and restaurants, small grocery stores, dry cleaners etc. will not happen in development areas placed next to the IDL. This condition also effects the "East Village" or "East End" which is directly across the IDL from the Pearl district. And yet these two neighborhoods could exponentially increase, the interest, excitement and potential resources available for walking residents and visitors if they were actually more connected and accessible to each other. The existing few overpasses between these areas feel long, exposed and very windy!

Get rid of the IDL or cross it with overpasses that have buildings on them. Something that encourages people to hang out and provide a friendly safe environment.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa History category from May 2009.

Tulsa History: April 2009 is the previous archive.

Tulsa History: June 2009 is the next archive.

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