Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tulsa Pioneer: Lon Stansbery

Lon Stansbery was said to have been a very jovial, funny man.  "The town clown",  Stansbery came to Tulsa in November of 1889 with his family at the age of 11. His family had located a claim in Chandler but soon afterward decided to move to Tulsa.  
In a memoir for his friend J.M. Hall's book "The Beginnings of Tulsa" he writes that his family camped on the banks of the Arkansas river for a few days.  When they discovered that the Presbyterian Mission School was very good, they chose to stay.
After attending school for a few years, Lon worked for a time as a "salt boy" at the 3D Ranch.

His job was to drive a team into town, to J.M. Hall's store, load up barrels of salt and haul them back to the ranch.  He later wrote a book about his experiences working there among such outlaws as the Daltons, the Cooks, Cherokee Bill and others.
        Note: I am reading a rare copy of this book and will review it at a later date.
His next job was working for the Lynch Brothers.  First he helped in the excavating of stones  for their new building at First and Main.  Later he worked as a (debt) collector for a salary of $12.00 per month plus room and board.  He writes:  

"After rounding up the farmers over the country for a while, 
Mr. Lynch decided he would have to put me in the store if I was 
to keep on living, as the farmers were about to get my scalp."  

So he clerked in the store, which was later sold to the C. Gamble Mercantile Co.  He continued there, saving his money as well as plowing fields for the Perryman family. In 1900 he married Myrtle and, noting that Tulsa's real estate value increasing, Stansbery bought property on  East 3rd between Main and Boston, paying $10 for the entire block.  Six months later, he sold it for $15. 
He built his first store and began his implement business there while continuing to invest in real estate.

The first store:

The store was rebuilt at a later date:

At one time he had so many items he needed a tent for his expanded wares:

He became the director of the National Bank of Commerce as well as a member of the Chamber of Commerce.  His friend Hall regarded him as a "brilliant financial success."  He kept the implement business for 25 years, watching it grow into the most complete wagon and farm store in eastern Oklahoma.  With his clever business  dealings, he eventually owned many downtown buildings.

In 1893 a tramp stonecutter passed through town and George Perryman hired him to carve steps for his daughters to make getting on their horses (to ride side saddle) easier.  He had the initials of his son Mose S. Perryman (MSP 1893) carved into the steps.  They first stood at 510 S Main (where Bishops Restaurant was located) and were left there when Perryman sold the land to Stansbery.  Lon moved the steps to 3 different homes, finally to a home on E. 26th Place.  The steps were donated to the Tulsa Historical Society where they rest in the Vintage Garden.


"I came here in 1889 and realized I was nothing.  
After living here 43 years I find I am twice as much." - Lon Stansbery, 1932

Sources:  "The Beginnings of Tulsa" by J.M. Hall; Tulsa Times by Beryl Ford; Tulsa's Magic Roots by Nina Dunn

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Atlas Life Building

If you haven't eaten downtown in the Atlas Grill, you've missed out.  Great food, nostalgic atmosphere plus getting to the grill is always fun.  Sure, there's some construction going on right now but the New Atlas Grill is still open and worth the trip (and the construction is almost done).

Nestled in between the Mid-Con Building and the Philtower, the Atlas Life Building was completed in 1922.  The building is red brick with white marble ornamentation concentrated on the third, eleventh and twelfth floors.  The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in May of 2009.  It will soon be opened by the Courtyard by Marriott.

The grill is located in the art deco lobby, across from the Tulsa Press Club.  I wonder how many photos have been taken of this great clock.

The 85 yr old eatery started out as a coffee shop.  Photos on the wall,  such as this one below help keep the character alive.

Open for lunch Monday through Friday and breakfast on Fridays, there are great daily specials.  We, however, ordered from the usual menu.  Any Tulsan has to love the names of these sandwiches.  I personally am fond of the sweet potato fries (when they have them).

Here is the building when it first opened. Waite Phillips had his offices in the Atlas Life Building until his own building was completed next door 5 years later.

A crouching statue of Atlas is at the top.

And another.....

The building is probably best recognized by the four-story vertical sign which was installed in 1946.

The building is seven bays wide at the base, narrowing to three above the second floor to allow some separation from the taller buildings on either side.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Mid-Continent Tower

The Cosden Building (now known as the Mid-Continent Building) sits on the corner of 4th and Boston where the first Tulsa schoolhouse used to be.  The sixteen story building was Tulsa's first skyscraper . This was the building after it's completion. Notice there are no neighboring buildings at this time.

The 36-story Mid-Continent Tower was built in 1984, 65 years later.  These are actually 2 separate buildings, something many visitors don't realize.

The entrance to the lobby is very dramatic. 
Three different types of marble used in the tower came from Italy.  

This stained glass piece is over the elevator lobby area.
This stained glass mural was designed by artist Cissy McCaa.  

Twenty panels make up this mural that captures downtown Tulsa as it appeared 
at the completion of the Mid-Continent Tower in May, 1984.

This stained glass dome forms a ceiling over the three-story spiral staircase; 
it looks like a giant Tiffany lamp.

There's more to see in this beautiful building.  I encourage you to go by and visit.  
You'll be glad you did!

To learn more about this building, click here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Many Homes of City Hall

When R.E. Lynch built the first stone structure on the corner of First and Main in 1893, he did more than open a new, modern store. The 2nd floor of this new building gave desperately needed space for things such as the occasional traveling show that might pass through town, and more importantly, it served as a place to hold meetings related to the governing of the growing town. Not quite “city hall” as Tulsa was not yet considered a city. But a place where meetings could take place that would eventually lead to Tulsa becoming an incorporated city in 1898. 

After statehood, the city hall government offices were located in the Reeder Building.

The city rented space in the building which sat on the northeast corner of 2nd and Boston.

By 1909 Tulsa’s first combined city hall, city jail, police department and court were located on the 2nd floor of 111 West 2nd Street, with the fire department below.
In 1917 City Hall got it’s own building located at 124 E 4th Street (officially known as the Municipal Building).
This served the city offices until the 1960’s when the next, bigger City Hall building opened in the Civic Center area.
City Hall was relocated once again in 2008 to One Technology Center.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tulsa's Theater Organs

During the silent movie era, theater organs were built in a variety of sizes, filling the gap between a simple piano accompaniment and a full orchestra. The Majestic Theater housed Tulsa's first theater organ that was of significant size. House organist was Wade Hamilton. The organ is on the right side of the orchestra pit area:

When the Rialto opened in it's "new" home (formerly the first Orpheum) in 1926, it had the second largest organ of any downtown theater.
Theater owner Ralph Talbot hired Wade Hamilton and his brother Howard to design the organ for the Ritz. Installed in 1928, the cost: $40,000. This is Hamilton playing at the Ritz:

Hamilton was the Ritz's house organist until he moved to California in the 1930's, at which time Milton Slosser became the organist there, traveling back and forth between Tulsa, St. Louis and Memphis. In St. Louis he worked at the Ambassador Theater:

Many Tulsan's fondly recall how the organ rose up from the Ritz orchestra pit for solo performances during intermission. The projectionist would bathe the console with colored spot lights to reflect the type of music being played.

The Orpheum had a Wurlitzer and was one of the smallest of the downtown theater organs. You can see it clearly in this 1948 photo of Glenn Condon interviewing Gene Autry:

After the development of sound movies, theater organs remained installed in many theaters to provide live music between features. After the 1930's, though, many were scrapped or sold to churches, ice and roller skate rinks and private homes. It was during this 2nd era of the organ that the American Theatre Organ Society was formed. Click here to go to the Sooner State Chapter of this organization and learn more.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Little WWII History

I'm not usually one to post YouTube videos on this blog nor do I normally stray "off topic" from Tulsa's history. However, this footage showed up in my inbox today and I was so moved I wanted to share it. Perhaps because of my involvement with the new exhibit at Tulsa Historical Society is why. It covers the 1940's and WWII is, of course, touched upon quite a bit. More likely, however, it is because any one of these Navy pilots could be my late father. This is rare, color film showing life on a carrier ship in the Pacific. It leaves me in awe.
And so very proud.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Lakeview Amusement Park

After my blog about Tulsa’s old Amusement parks, I had some inquiries about Lakeview- namely: did I have any photos of it “back in the day” that I could share? Ironically, just last month I scanned some photos of the old park for the Historical Society’s newest exhibit on Tulsa in the 1940s (which is now open!). Realizing that not everyone lives here in Tulsa to go by and visit the exhibit, THS was kind enough to let me post some of them for your amusement (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

A Little History
An announcement in Billboard Magazine (June 1947) stated “Tulsa, OK: Cliff Wilson, head of Wilson Distributors and Cecil Elifritz, local restaurant owner, are opening a new amusement park which is scheduled to begin operating July 1.” The article went on to say that the partners were investing $500,000 in the park that would cover 15 of the 40 acre tract with the remaining 25 acres to be used for parking and picnic areas. Cecil patterned the park after the famous Fairy Land Amusement Park in Kansas City and hired architect Joe Koberling to design it. He devoted 1/3 of the park to kiddie rides.

A native of Bartlesville and owner of the Ritz Grill that was downtown, Elifritz got into the amusement park business mainly because he liked working with children, delighting in their laughter.

There were, however, a few roadblocks along the way. The recent WWII had caused a shortage in materials for construction of major buildings and new rides were few and far between. When the park was finished, it opened in July of 1947 for a 6-week run. There were 6 kiddie rides, 2 major thrillers and a ferris wheel. “We were lucky to have what we did!” Cecil stated in an interview.

Elifritz headed to Hollywood to purchase more equipment. While there he acquired a ride called the Lindy Loop from a man who leased rides to movie companies. The Lindy Loop appeared in Will Rogers’ movie “State Fair”.
When the park officially opened for it’s first of many 8-month runs in April of 1948, the offerings were much more. Lined along the 200 by 600 foot midway were such devices as a Whip, Scooter, Dodgem, Spitfire, Pretzel ride, the Lindy Loop, a standard sized merry-go-round and Ferris Wheel. For the kiddies, there were miniature versions of the merry-go-round and Ferris Wheel along with a stream-lined train, boats, airplanes and car rides.

When the Crystal City Amusement Park closed in the mid 1950’s, Elifritz bought many of their rides to add to the fun.
Lakeview Amusement Park was located at 4200 North Harvard, across the street from the entrance to Mohawk Park. Poor health forced Elifritz to close the park in 1976. This park touched many Tulsa families. Businesses held company picnics there and there was always Dollar Weekends where kids could ride all of the rides for $1.00. There are many memories of people walking shoulder to shoulder along the midways, with a hot dog in one hand and a snowcone in the other.
For photos taken in 1989 and 1993 of the remnants of the park click here.

Sources: Gusher 1980, Billboard Magazine 1947

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Tulsa Treasure

Back in 1909 there was a tract of land known as Perryman’s Pasture “way out in the country” that the young city of Tulsa decided to condemn as a park site. Accessible only by wagon trails, citizens believed it was very foolish of the city to pay $100 for each of the 45 acres of land, deeming it a mistake and saying it would never be a valuable asset.
Originally this land was part of a 160-acre allotment given to a 14 yr old girl named Helen, a Creek Indian, by the Five Civilized Tribes Indian Commission. Helen’s father, acting as her guardian, sold the land without her consent, as she was a minor. Years later, as an adult, she tried in vain to sue the city and get her land back, but lost. Helen’s maiden name? Woodward. And the park is, of course, Woodward Park.
(click on photos to enlarge)

Woodward Park in the 1950s:

Today the 45-acre park boasts a wide variety of horticultural delights, including rock gardens, an English herb garden, a Victorian conservatory (Lord and Burnham), a three-acre arboretum and an azalea garden with over 15,000 azaleas. I am among the many who love photographing these delights in the spring.

And of course, the award-winning, nationally renowned Tulsa Municipal Rose Garden; a terraced Italian Renaissance rose garden, it was constructed with hand labor and teams of horses as a W.P.A. project in 1934 and 1935. Here are some interesting photos taken during that period.