Monday, April 4, 2011

My Tulsa Roots

I remember my grandfather, Bill Wooten, as being a quiet soft-spoken man with a wrinkled smile.  Born in Dardendale, AR in 1895,  he attended the University of Arkansas graduating with an engineering degree, then joined the Army in 1918, serving as a Lieutenant alongside (future Senator) Robert S. Kerr.  When he got out of the Army he taught high school mathematics for two years in Russellville and it was there that he met his future wife, Margaret Elizabeth.

Bill got word that the city of Tulsa was looking for someone to lead a field of surveyors and came to Tulsa to apply for the job, only to learn that there was no survey job available.  However he was qualified as an engineer and the city hired him as a statistician in 1922. Two years later he married Margaret and brought her here to Tulsa.  Their first home was at 1715 S. Carolina Ave.  

For the next  years my grandfather advanced to assistant sewer engineer, sewer engineer and assistant city engineer by 1927.  He was named to the city's top engineering post the first time in 1939.  But in between that time he and my grandmother had saved to start a family which included building their own home.  Their first child, my mother, was born in June of 1928 at St. John's Hospital.  Thankfully, my grandmother kept a well documented baby book that included lots of photos.  She has the hospital room they were in circled on this postcard:


She notes that work on their new house began just a month after my mother's birth in July of 1928.
Their new house was to be way out on 14th Place between Delaware and Columbia. 


In this photo an arrow is drawn showing approximately where their lot is.  

They visited in August while construction was going fast and furious:


And the house was finished in three short months by October of 1928.


By next spring (1929) flowers in the window box, a sidewalk and new construction going on:


This was the living room at Christmas, probably around 1937 or 38 (my mom and her 2 brothers):

Some time in the late 1980's there was a fire in this house; it was rebuilt as a two-story.  This is what it looks like today:


My Grandpa "survived" 18 different city commissioners/elections back before the Civil Service charter amendment banned the political patronage system in 1957.  However, it was because of the Civil Service regulations that he was forced to retire at age 70, which was still 5 years longer than usual- and that was because he was asked by the City Commission to stay on, which tells me a lot.
During his 44 years as a city employe, it was estimated that he had participated in construction of more than 75 percent of the city's public improvements including streets, sewage, bridges, airports, drainage and expressway programs.  He was honored by the City Commission in 1962 with a silver engraved platter and Mayor Maxwell read a resolution that was adopted, praising him for his work.  At that time only one employee had served longer than he had- by 3 months.  
I believe that working on the planning and designing of Tulsa's expressways was probably one of the most exciting times of his career.  
A couple of years ago I was giving a presentation at a luncheon to a group of retired city of Tulsa employees.  I was anxious to see if anyone there knew of or remembered my Grandpa.  I was thrilled when several of the men and women did know him and spoke very highly of him.  One of these people sat next to me during lunch and I described this book that I had come across on eBay:


I asked this former co-worker of grandpa's if he knew about this book; he smiled and said, "Why yes.  Your grandfather hired me to work on that book."  Compiled in 1959,  this  book details  each planned expressway for Tulsa, most of which have now been built.  I often wondered what he would have thought about the Gilcrease Expressway taking so long to finish. But then, he didn't live to see the Broken Arrow Expressway completed either.  He died 4 years after retirement in 1969.


10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Back in the day it was forward thinking men like Mr. Wooten that help make Tulsa an All American City.

Loved the history on the house and family, especially the Christmas picture of 37 or 38, nice article.

DrillerAA09 said...

Loved the family history and the construction of the home. You have more than enough reason to be proud of your grandfather.

GW Bill Miller said...

Your granddad was a big part of Tulsa's history. Looks like a fine man.

GreenEyes said...

Love the personal history. And I also especially liked the photos of the home under construction. It's always so fun to see "old" neighborhoods when they were just beginning to fill up with homes.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading about and seeing the photographs of your grandparents' house on 14 Pl! My grandparents lived at 2731 E. 14 Pl. My grandfather lived there until 1972. I think they bought that house in the late 1940s. It's pretty cool that our grandparents were neighbors!
Beverly

Anonymous said...

I just looked at my grandparents' house on street view and noticed that it was just two houses to the east of your grandparents' house. The house next door to your grandparents was the Landfair home. Vera Landfair was a good friend of my mother's.
Another interesting fact about the home of your grandparents, is that it was the family home of a little girl who was in my class about twelve years ago. Her mother and I put it together once day while talking. She told me about the fire and how they built a second story. She also remembered my grandfather! My grandmother had died by the time she lived there, but I thought it was nice that she remembered my dear grandfather. I am as proud of him as you are of yours. He had the first print shop in Tulsa (Service Printing.) It opened in 1922 at 222 North Main. His name was John G. Penn (1885-1972.)

Nancy said...

Beverly all I can say is: Wow, what a small world it is!!!

Anonymous said...

Nancy....It really is a small world! My grandparents' first home was on the northeast corner of 15th and Evanston. Barron and Hart is there now. I want to post a picture of their home on 14 Pl. in case you would want to see old photos of it. I'll scan some of the house and of my grandparents and put them on facebook. I wish I had one of when it was being built like you do of your grandparents' home!
The little girl whose grandparents lived in your family's home...her name was Samantha...I can't remember her last name, though.
Beverly Penn Audrain

P. Casey Morgan said...

I thought you might like to know that this house is up for sale right now, so there's a possibility you could walk through it. We've lived across the street and one house west since the mid-1980s. The second story addition came about a year or so after we moved here, so you can add that fact to what you know
- it would have been maybe 1987, 88 or 89. There was a fire in the attic and the family moved out for at least a year while the renovation was done. P. Casey Morgan

Nancy said...

Thanks Casey. I'm afraid if I walked through it, I might want to buy it!