Saturday, May 24, 2014

Remembering Memorial Day 1984

Tulsa has a history of flooding from the Arkansas River as seen in photo taken in 1908.

Another notable flood of the river happened in 1923.  Rail cars were run out onto the bridge, in hopes of weighing it down and keeping it in place.  It didn't work.  The river flooded Tulsa's waterworks, washed out part of that bridge (cars included) and displaced some 4,000 residents.

In 1943 the river came out of it's banks once again, spurring an emergency national defense project.  The Corps of Engineers built levees around Tulsa's oil refineries along the river.

In 1957, the post-war building boom had positioned many residents in harms way as urban flooding became more predominate. Flood control came in the form of Keystone Dam.

With the Arkansas River seemingly tamed, flooding turned to East Tulsa.  Mingo and Joe Creeks flooded on Mothers Day 1970.  1974 was notorious for floods - 4 in all.  Then there was the Memorial Day Flood of 1976 where 10 inches of water fell in 3 hours.  But the biggest and worst was yet to come.

May 27, 1984 was a Sunday.  It was Memorial Day weekend.  I was a 25 yr old mother of a 2 1/2 yr old boy and a 4 month old baby girl.  My husband had gone on a camping trip that weekend down in far southern Oklahoma, so  I decided that evening to invite some friends over to play cards in our Brookside home.  When the first of them arrived, it was starting to cloud up.  When the last of them left that night, it was pouring.  And it kept pouring.  The thunder, lightning and incessant heavy rain made sleep nearly impossible and caused my son to crawl into bed with me at some time during the night.

Monday, May 28
When I awoke in the morning, my first thought was that something was off.  The sunlight was shining in the window and it was quiet.  Too quiet. Then I realized that the power was off.  And I could hear voices from outside.  When I looked out the window, I just about fainted.  Our bright, blue VW bug, that was parked out in the street, was almost completely submerged under water.  

The water quickly receded; this photo was taken an hour after I first saw it.
In fact, our entire street was under water.  I felt cutoff from the world.  After checking on my sleeping baby, I dressed and ventured out front with my son (who’s natural inclination was to head straight for the water) and observed the freakishness of natural disaster.  Neighbors became links to the outside world, sharing what they knew or had heard.  I went in and got my camera.  And look!  Here came our newspaper, being delivered via canoe.  

I didn't know that others were being rescued the same way.

The now-receding water line mark showed it had risen to the top step of our porch. It had come inside our garage, up about 3 inches according to the water line on my washer. I'm thankful I wasn't aware of how close the water came to getting in the house as it was rising.   I wanted desperately to get in touch with my husband, to let him know this had happened, that we were OK.  There were no cell phones back then, but our land line phone still worked. I called other family members to find out if they were OK and what the heck was going on.  I learned that a storm had stalled over the city and had dumped 15 inches of rain in a matter of hours.  And that some parts of the city were OK, but others were not.  And there were fatalities.  

I cut this out of the newspaper, drawing an arrow to where we lived.
One of my sisters lived right next to Mingo Creek, between 31st and 41st.  I knew that she and her family were out of town and figured her house had to have been damaged badly.  Miraculously their house and the neighbors on either side were the only ones spared.  Water reached her front door and came inside her garage.  She counted her blessings later, after seeing what others endured.  We all did.

My husband finally did call from a pay phone, after hearing the news on the radio, and said they were heading home.  Actually getting to the house proved more challenging, once they reached the city limits.  It looked (and felt) like a war zone.  It also brought us a lot closer to our neighbors.  Through a concerted effort of many, they were able to help my husband get that old VW dried out and running in 2 days.  We all pitched in and helped each other, as neighbors -and Tulsan's- always do.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tulsa's Telephone History

If you are of a certain age, you remember telephones with rotary dials and know what an exchange name was.  I remember these Tulsa exchanges:  Luther, Webster, Temple, Riverside, National, Madison and Cherry.  There was also Hickory, Gibson, Diamond, Fillmore 5 and General - to name most of them.  The first exchanges listed in the 1918 directory are Osage and Cedar.  

Tulsa went to all-dial equipment in 1924 when there were 24,300+ telephones in the booming city.  Before that, there were The Telephone Girls who would connect you via switchboard.
This group of Tulsa Telephone Girls are posing at the northeast corner of Third and Main Streets in 1913. 

Did you know that Indian Territory was among  the first regions to be served by Alexander Graham Bell’s 1876 invention?  The reason being that 1876 was the year of Custer’s Last Stand at Little Big Horn.  The military was doing everything possible to improve it’s communications when the first telephone line (in what was to become Oklahoma) went into service between  Fort Sill and Fort Reno in 1879.  The military was concerned with the supervision of the Indian reservations in western Indian Territory.

The Indians themselves financed and built the first commercial telephone line in I.T. back in 1886.  It was installed between Tahlequah and Muskogee via Ft. Gibson by the Cherokees - to connect the Cherokees with the Five Civilized Tribes agency at Muskogee.

These men are constructing the telephone lines in McAlester circa 1909
Tulsa service was begun in 1899 with an exchange that served some 80 subscribers by Robert H. Hall.  His first central office was located on the second floor of a stone building on the northwest corner of First and Main Streets.  The lines extended out a window to connect the switchboard with a pole outside.  

Northwest Corner of First and Main

This is Mr. Hall and Mrs. McDowell in 1903.

Hall sold his exchange on January 16, 1903 to the Indian Territory Telephone Company (out of Vinita) who was then purchased by Pioneer Co, predecessor in Oklahoma of Southwestern Bell, on July 8, 1904.

There was a story told back in 1906 that if someone called for a taxi, the Telephone Girl would simply lean out of the window and shout to the drivers (of horse-drawn hacks) who were below.  At that time, the telephone office was located on the second floor of the Bynum Building (NW corner of Main and Second) and there were 280 telephones in Tulsa.

Northwest Corner of Main and Second
Soon Pioneer began construction of their own building on the southwest corner of Fourth and Boston, which was the former site of the First Presbyterian Church.  The workers stayed at a nearby boarding house during that time.  

When the building was nearly done, they proudly posed in front of their work.  
Southwestern Bell took over the system in 1917 and remained Tulsa’s phone service provider until the breakup of the company in 1984.

Friday, April 18, 2014

When "Tulsa" Premiered in Tulsa

The Technicolor melodrama movie, “Tulsa”, was released 65 years ago this month.  Its world premier was right here in downtown Tulsa and boy, was it a BIG deal.  The stars of the movie, Robert Preston, Susan Hayward and Chill Wills- all flew in for the activities that were planned, namely the largest parade in the city’s history.  Then-governor Roy J. Turner proclaimed April 13, 1949 as “Tulsa Day” in which downtown shops had Tulsa Day Sales.

Children were let out of school to attend the mammoth parade which, along with the stars, included miles and miles of oilfield equipment.  

A full-size portable drilling rig was set up in front of the Orpheum.  Crowd number was estimated at 100,000.  Can you imagine that many people downtown today?

The premier was scheduled to be shown only at the Ritz and Orpheum theaters but with those tickets selling out in minutes, Tulsa’s other two premier theaters- the Majestic and Rialto- were also opened for ticket sales and seats filled immediately.  This presented a problem because there were only the movie reels for two theaters to show the film.  

So this happened:  The film was started first at the Orpheum and the Ritz while the stars toured the stages of the other two movie houses to keep the audiences from getting too restless.  Thirty minutes later, the first reel was then delivered from the Orpheum to the Majestic and from the Ritz to the Rialto, and so it went the rest of the evening.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

London Bridge - The Pier 15 Plan

Four years ago I posted a blog entry regarding a 1959 plan for central Tulsa which was referred to as "Tulcenter" and it's revitalization.  I'm pretty sure Urban Renewal screwed up more than a few of the plans suggestions, however some of them were implemented, though at a much later date (Cathedral Square and the Pedestrian Mall to name a couple).  I love re-reading these ideas today, imagining "what if".........   

Nine years later city planners were trying to incorporate the Urban Renewal phase that was growing with some of those earlier suggestions from 1959.  As always, the Arkansas River and the possibilities of what could be done in and around it have been in the forefront of Tulsa developers minds.  In 1968 a plan was unveiled that aimed to "bring the romance of a river or bay city to the prairies."  It was named Pier 15 and once again my imagination was ignited.

Click on the photo below to read the article from the Tulsa Tribune: