Thursday, October 29, 2009

Growing Up On First Street

The son and grandson of the Noah’s Ark owners shared a lot of memories (and pictures) with me, reminiscing about growing up downtown in the 1950’s and 60’s. Just like oral histories, these are all great peeks into a unique past that once was-and they need to be shared.

Samuel Burns (grandparents) migrated to Tulsa from Muskogee around 1929. They lived in a house on 13th and Boston.

The site is now (what else?) a parking lot for the Boston Avenue Church,
which you can see in the background of this picture (below) taken in 1953-4. Next door, to the right, was Mrs. Henry’s Flowers. (click on photos to enlarge)

Here are some more views of the house and neighborhood.

This is Mrs. Burns, photo looking east on 13th Place.

Across the street from the house was Al’s Grocery, Draughn’s School of Business and then Fred Jones Ford.

The elder Mr. Burns tried selling oil futures, but the Depression was hitting hard and they were broke, so he gave that up and took everything in the house and opened Noah’s Ark.
“My dad said he (Grandfather) used to go to the Coney Island next to The Orphus Lounge and hock his ring for something to eat, he would then go and try to find something to sell and would then redeem his ring and start all over again.”

This was the younger Burns' playground:

He has vivid memories of running coffee and donuts from Uncle Willies Donut Shop to the Bliss Hotel, where all of the pro wrestlers stayed when they came to town to wrestle at the Coliseum. Unkle Willies was located between the Reeder Hotel and Harringtons (a favorite place to hang out).

In describing the area he says:
“When we were on First Street to the left of the store was Pruitt’s Tools, then a bar my dad called the Bloody Bucket (I think the real name was Phil's), next to that was a tiny watch shop. Going right was Paul’s Loans and next to that was D&B Gun and Loans then Unckle Willies. Across the street was Cook's Grocery Store then two barber colleges and Bardons Auctions.

There were rooms above the colleges and a Madam who had a monkey that used to crawl on the barber college sign while she sat in the window. My dad used to force me into getting my hair cut there. You always wanted someone in the front to cut it, the guys in the back were new students.
Most of the working girls did business through the Bliss Hotel, yes there was Mays Rooms but it was the bottom of the rung. I knew two retired gals that ran the New JuJu's Lounge on 17th and Main. They used to tell me stories about "parties" they threw with the police at the Bliss. JuJu's is now Renegades.”

More memories to come……

Friday, October 23, 2009

Noah's Ark

Anyone who lived or worked downtown before Urban Renewal probably knew of Noah’s Ark- a quirky little store that was “docked” at 116 E. Main Street for 34 years, and later at 516 S. Detroit (from 1966-1974). A Depression-born business, it was known as the store “with a million items” – and they weren’t kidding.
Samuel Philip Burns was a colorful, funny man with a similar past. A native of New Haven, Conn and Yale University graduate, he worked as a reporter, a circulation manager, and a member of the Ringling Bros. Circus in a bareback riding troupe and as a clown. He was injured over in Europe during a stunt in which he was shot from cannon and returned to the U.S. working for the Charles Broadway Rouse NY Department Store. After working as a manufacturer representative and then owning his own wholesale business in Michigan, he moved his family to Tulsa. Together with his son Phil and another partner, they opened Noah’s Ark at 116 E. 1st Street in 1932. The other partner left the business after 6 months. The store was an early day pawn shop of sorts. They bought, sold and traded for cash. click on photos to enlarge

In the photo above is founder Samuel Burns and his son Phil in the early days. I love the signage. In the mid-1930’s Tribune Editor Jenkin Lloyd Jones wrote “The Rambler” column for the paper and once reported, “One of the worst commercialized puns in town is found in the slogan of Noah’s Ark, local secondhand store: $ee Noah and $ave Doah.”
The elder Burns clipped the article, mounted it on a larger piece of paper with a comment of his own below: “The Rambler sells newspapers. Noah sells everything.”
And that was probably very true. Here is a photo of Sam Burns’ wife inside the store.

Taken in the late 1930's or early 1940's; an awning has been added:
The DeVille Hotel was next door but after the war, in the early 1940’s, Burns bought the entire building, closed the hotel and expanded.

The Elder Burns passed away in 1955. Phil and his wife Jane ran the business themselves.
In a newspaper article from 1966, Phil is quoted as saying, “When we opened (Noah’s Ark) here we couldn't even afford to have the lights turned on. We used candles at night, then finally could afford to buy a (gas) lantern.” The store operated “on a shoe string- or actually two shoe strings” but people really were satisfied with a lot less in those days. And the two Burns fellows were sign-crazy, to be sure. Signs were everywhere, inside and out. “If you think its junk, just price it.” Another sign hanging over a wallboard full of hats proclaimed, “A lid for every nut” There were antiques, wall clocks, carved figurines, mounted elk heads, swords, old bayonet’s, rifles and….well, you get the picture. One reason for the store’s success was the good humor that marked their sales approach.
“If you like it, it’s ‘antique’. If you don’t, it’s junk!”

“Noah’s Ark believes in square dealing.
If you wish to be cheated, trade in Europe.
I have lived a thousand ages, and I know human nature.
I buy everything but stocks and bonds.
I have never seen the fan dance yet.
This hole in the wall is my business.
You are welcome to browse around,
but don’t ask me a million questions. Noah”

Phil was good friends with many, many people, including August Lee, manager of nearby Harrington's, shown standing in the store:

And the late Ted Sieler was also a good friend (Ted owned several bowling alleys including Sheridan Lanes):

The unique business was forced into moving when the Tulsa Urban Renewal Authority acquired its First Street property. Burns relocated the store to 516 S. Detroit.

This newspaper photo shows some of the "items of interest" that the store was known for and another shows Phil modeling the hats (that weren't for sale) in 1966:

The name was the same at the new place, but the store had lost that happy jumble known at the first site. Items for sale in the 1970’s were socks, inexpensive cutlery, paper goods and an emphasis on costume jewelry. In 1974 the store closed for good.

Next up: Memories of growing up on First Street from Phil’s son.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Tulsa Pioneer: Jay Forsythe

Cattleman, rancher, entrepreneur, and Tulsa pioneer Jay Forsythe, born in 1847, came to the Tulsa area in 1892 with his wife and 2 daughters. He leased about 30,000 acres of land from George Perryman and ran cattle. In 1895 he founded the towns first bank, Tulsa Banking Company, with his brother-in-law B.F. Colley
and son-in-law C.W. Brown with $10,000 capital. The 2-story bank was built next to the new Lynch store, which was the first masonry building. click on photo to enlarge
I drew a line so you can see where one building ends and the bank begins- roof tops are also different:

On the other side of the bank was the Gillette building. It is believed that a leaky shipment of kerosene in the Gillette store caused the great fire of 1897 that nearly burned down that entire side of the town.
The "fire alarm" back then was gunshots fired into the air. A bucket brigade was the only means they had at that time to try to put it out. The Lynch building somehow survived, but the bank and other buildings had to be rebuilt. Here you can see the Lynch building on the left, the spot where the bank was in the middle and where the Gillette store was on the right. They were quickly rebuilt. Two years later Tulsa had a Fire Station.

In 1905 the bank moved into a new 5-story building at 2nd and Main complete with modern gas lights and electric fans. The name was changed to First National Bank. Left to right: R. T. Epperson, A. F. Hendren, Miss Vona Clay, C. W. Brown and W. R. Ritchie. Both Epperson and Brown were Forsythe's sons-in-law.
The buildings were still standing until Urban Renewal took them down in 1970.
Before the wrecking ball hit, a piece of the building was saved. You can see this in the Vintage Gardens at the Tulsa Historical Society:

Jay Forsythe also built Tulsa's first flour mill on West First Street.
The first mill manager was W.J. Baber.
Edward Rea, a successful mill owner/operator opened the Rea-Read Mill & Elevator Company on East First Street..
Eugene Coker, an expert in the milling business, managed the mill which became one of the foremost corporations of its kind in the eastern part of Oklahoma.
The brands of flour manufactured were "Dinner Party" "Main Line Special" "Peach", "Tulsa Star" and "Rich and Rare" which was a kiln-dried corn meal. Below is a paperweight:
And an ad from the newspaper:
These recipes are from a 1909 church cook book; note the first recipe:

In 1913 Coker purchased a third interest in the company. In 1916 it was reported in the Tulsa World that the Rea & Read Mill & Elevator Company produced 500 barrels per day.

With the success of the Rea Reed Mill, Forsythe closed his flour mill and, along with C.E. Smiley

reopened it as Tulsa's first ice plant in 1901.
Which grew into an even bigger operation offering cold storage:

And probably most notably: Forsythe, J.M. Hall and other Tulsa pioneers purchased the former Presbyterian Mission School, holding the deed at no interest until the city could repay the purchase price, to use for Tulsa public education.
Mr. Forsythe was an active Tulsa civic leader up until his death on August 26, 1936 at the age of 89.

Sources: USGenWeb Archives; OHS Digital Library-by Larry O’Dell; Men of Affairs And Representative Institutions Of Oklahoma -1916 Tulsa World; A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, 1918

Monday, October 5, 2009

Radio Station KOME

I mentioned before that my dad was a drummer back in the Big Band days. I also mentioned that he was a radio DJ, as well as program manager, at the old KOME radio station downtown. Recently I ran across some KOME stuff that I thought I'd share.

First of all there was a letter written to his parents in California dated a month before he and Mom got married in 1949. Of course, the letter is invaluable to me because of it's contents but the letterhead from it, well I thought it might be of interest to some of you: (click to enlarge)

Earlier, I referred to my dad doing "Man On The Street" interviews. I was mistaken. They were called "The Inquiring Reporter" interviews. I stand corrected now. In this letter, he also refers to interviewing Yvonne DeCarlo, saying she "was very nice".

Mercury Records held a nationwide contest in 1949 using 100 disk jockeys from all over the US to help plug Frankie Laine's new single "Lucky Old Sun". Listeners were to send in their explanations of what they thought Mr. Laine's best album was. The winner (and the DJ) would win a trip to Hollywood, Las Vegas and San Fransisco as Laine's guest.

Here is Frankie Laine on the front of Billboard Magazine; that's my dad's "poster" circled:

And here is the poster, up close and personal. I love this:

This photo from the same time. Sponsors of the "Your Lucky Star" drawing/call in were: Edwards Coffee, Glencliff Ice Cream and the ladies are holding what appears to be Emot Pin Curl.....? I know what pin curls are (thanks Mom) so this must have been something you put on them to make them hold (for us it was Dippity Doo). There is also some luggage and an Andy Russell album on the table. I'm guessing that these were consolation prizes, perhaps?

A fellow by the name of Jim Hartz has posted photos of the old KOME station (in its present decaying state) on the flicker website here. I'm pretty sure that photo #23 is the same place as the above picture was taken.

Signing off for now.........