Every city has its own personality and quirky characteristics . . .
Some are known for their weather, bad drivers, rude pedestrians. Some for the industry of bygone eras, like Detroit as Motown. Some cities for music, for arts, for entertainment, like Nashville as Opryland.
Then some are renowned for their bohemian, arcane side, filled with deep, dark secrets. New Orleans has its haunted houses and voodoo overtones, Austin (keep it weird) tectonic plate politics, Baltimore has E.A. Poe, grave and all, St. Louis produced the master of the macabre, Vincent Price, San Francisco has always been bizarre for all its beauty.
And that brings us to the former Oil Capitol of the World, America's Most Beautiful City, Tulsa--conventional on the outside, but really, full of deep, dark secrets on the inside. Chicago had Capone, but we had Caruso at the Brady Theater. He caught cold and died shortly after his performance here, haunting it ever since.
Salem is famed for witches, Tulsa has had evangelists famed for riches.
If the Golden Driller could talk.
Some natives, some outsiders think our hometown is predictable, passé, parochial.
Very few know everything about all the strange, inexplicable goings on that have helped make Tulsa a more interesting place than we ever get credit for . . .
Give Us the Head of Simon Bolivar!
Back in the day, there once was a statue of Venezuelan military and political leader Simon Bolivar standing at the vortex of 7th St. and Boulder Ave., dubbed, with no apparent nod to New York City, the Plaza of the Americas.
Bob Hendrick, who serves as the special events coordinator for Tulsa Parks ("I don't work in the parks, I just make things in the parks special"), gave a brief summation of the cement triangle.
"There are three time capsules there," he said. "They're easy to miss, which is hard to believe, because it's not a big park. There are plaques, there's all kinds of things there."
Apparently, the Bolivar statue had something to do with a sister city, though it's unclear what city that is. San Luis Potosi in Mexico is as far south as any of our eight (eight!) sister cities stands.
"It was like a sister city type thing," Hendrick said. "But I think they were worried about the statue being damaged. There was some vandalism going on there, so I think they decided just to be safe."
Or was it because the whole propped up unity thing with Venezuela hasn't exactly worked out? Especially after Cities Service moved south and Senor Chavez is king.
The bust of Bolivar now lives at the Gilcrease Museum, and the strangely-shaped park exists now to hold -- what, nothing? Time capsules, I guess. And it's not like you can go there and relax. I mean, you could if you enjoy relaxing on cement while cars whiz by and the occasional homeless dude bums a smoke from you.
I'm sure Bolivar would be proud.
A Monument That Nobody Can Get To
There's another little oasis at 31st St. and Peoria Ave., but unlike the Plaza of the Americas, it's grassy and borders on being peaceful. Officially, it's the Dr. Indu Dayal Meshri Park.
There's a gazebo, there's a neat little water fountain, and there's an astonishing absence of graffiti drawings of male genitalia on the structures therein. It's maintained by the people of the Maple Ridge neighborhood, but the thing is, how do you use it? There's nowhere to park your car, so you have to just find a spot in the neighborhood behind it and then walk there, but you know that the people living in those houses will totally be looking at your parked car and wonder if someone is casing their home.
When you get there, I guess you look at the flowers and listen to the gurgling water and sit in the gazebo watching suckers drive their sardine cans to and from work.
What you don't do is take your kids there to play, because there's no playground stuff in that park, and being built right on the corner, the kids would already be practically playing in traffic just standing in the park. That's kind of a busy intersection, you know?
Seriously, it's a very pretty little area. It just seems kind of impractical.
Are You Thirsty? I Mean REALLY Thirsty?
Speaking of hard to get to, why is there a giant bottle of something on the south side of I-44 in the heart of northeast Tulsa?
You know what I'm talking about -- it's the Liquid Life bottle standing like a 25-foot tall inflatable bottle of beer.
It's the inconic front of the headquarters for the TRC Nutritional Labs, a company that manufactures and sells vitamin supplements and stuff like that. Apparently, Liquid Life is a potable supplement, and it has something to do with minerals. It says so on the giant not-beer bottle, but when you drive by it, you're doing highway speeds, and who has time for fine print at 70 miles an hour? I mean, come on. I'm trying to send a text here.
Also, perhaps even more interesting than a three-story bottle is the base on which it is built. Look closely next time you drive by. You'll see what may be the world's largest paint drip just to the right of the word "center." Seriously. It's huge. How does a painter -- even a bad one -- not see that?
It's a bigass bottle. It's quirky. Fill it with Lone Star, then I'll care.
The Massad Center
Here's one of those places you probably drive by all the time and never think much about, except maybe when you're stopped at a light. If you have any curiosity at all, at times like these you look around and wonder what's going on out there.
And in this case, just off the southeast corner of the intersection of 11th St. and Harvard Ave., your curiosity will lead your eyes to a rather odd structure. It's a weighty, blocky, windowless building with a sort-of Middle-Eastern-looking tower and turret over the front door.
The sign, too, is intriguing. "Massad Center," it says. It doesn't explain, it just states.
What goes on in there?
As it turns out, quite a bit.
Dr. Joseph J. Massad, DDS, runs, right there by Harvard Liquor and the B Loan kiosk, not only a dental practice, but also a state-of-the-art, eight Telly-award-winning multimedia production studio specializing in continuing-education programs for the dental profession.
But really they could shoot almost anything. Just look up "Massad Center" on You Tube.
A native Tulsan, "Born in St. John's Hospital," he said, Massad started out as a private-practice dentist, then eventually also got into teaching. "I travel, really, all over the world now," Massad said, describing a heavy lecturing schedule in his specialty, dental prosthetics.
And the center also has clients from all over the world. During my visit, a young Chinese dentist/linguist was preparing to carry out an on-video, UN-style, translation for a soon-to-be produced instruction video bound for the Orient.
Who would have known?
Lessons in Wise-ness
Midtown residents and passersby certainly have noted the landmark structure beneath the sycamores on the southwest corner of 15th St. and Delaware Ave. that serves as the headquarters for Dr. Nasir K. Siddiki's Wisdom Ministries. The building looks to have been re-purposed a time or two and has great character, and you can't miss it for the gild signage above the front entry, the word "WISDOM." It would have been a great place for a Hard Rock Tulsa.
Who doesn't want wisdom?
Wisdom Ministries is said to have had its origins when Siddiki, then 34 years old, contracted the worst case of shingles ever seen by the staff of Toronto General Hospital. As his story goes, in pain, having had the towel thrown in on him by his doctors, waiting to die, Siddiki prayed to God for deliverance, at which time he said Jesus appeared to him.
The cure was considered miraculous, and Siddiki decided this meant he was charged with spreading the word of God throughout the world, which he's been doing ever since.
But the building that brought up this story isn't Siddiki's church. It's actually the home of Wisdom University, where Siddiki's pupils can go to learn all kinds of cool stuff I wish I'd learned in college.
There are classes on healing (Healing Made Simple), prayer (How to Get Your Prayers Answered), and tons of others. There are so many fantastic class titles that you're just going to visit wisdomuniversityonline.com and see for yourself. But I have to mention these: Becoming a Spiritual Giant I and II, How to Possess Your Promised Land, Taking Jesus to the Marketplace (even the Son of Man needs to eat, it would seem), and the very familiar-sounding The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
Even if you're uninterested in Accessing All Things, you should at least swing by and check out the building. You can't miss the radiant Times Square effect of the LED blinky sign in front--even in the daytime.
Pink. So Much Pink.
The Rose Bowl. When people outside Tulsa think of it, they're talking football and parades. Tulsans, however, envision the pink pair of concrete breasts sitting in the 7400 block of E. 11th St.
At least they look like breasts to me. Or maybe I just miss being married.
Anyway, there was a time when this weird little building was a hotspot. Built in 1961, and looking every bit like it was built in that ridiculous decade at the apex of Route 66 tourism, it was a pretty swanky bowling alley for several decades. Bowlers came from all over the country to knock down some pins in all sorts of tournaments.
I never got to go inside it when it was a bowling alley (or ever, actually), but at more than 30,000 square feet and sporting ceilings over 35 feet high, it must have been impressive.
But then two separate arsonists had their way with it, and AMF--the bowling entity running Rose Bowl--cut its losses and shuttered the joint.
Enter Tulsan Sam Baker, who bought it in 2006 with the plan to restore it and turn it into an event center. That plan apparently fell through, as very late last year, Rosebowl Properties, LLC sold the place to One Hope Vision Ministries.
Run by pastor Rex Blankenship, OHVM maintains its plan to restore the outside of the building (read: "make it even pinker"), and turn the inside into a youth facility geared toward sports.
But it's still a big pair of pink boobs sitting right out there for people to just drive by and ogle.
Three on a Match? This is one hot location
One of the stranger buildings in town merges the subdued elegance of neon lighting with the warm and welcoming appearance of parapets. Made of wood.
Small wonder, then, that the Silver Flame Steakhouse is currently closed down as it recovers from a fire in August--the second or third since 2010 or so.
Located at 61st St. and Sheridan Road, the Silver Flame serves steak and seafood when it's open. There's also a serving of live music five nights a week. Whether it's Johnny Johnson's guitar or Mike Bennett's trumpet, there are smooth sounds to go along with your steak. This is belied by the outside of the building, though.
Garish neon outside, nice tunes inside. In fact, Bennett said that there were actually two separate atmospheres present.
And great steaks. When they are open.
"At one time, it was a piano bar atmosphere on the club side," he said. "You had people playing the piano and singing. Although you could eat in there, it was a smoking area. They had these big, expensive filters to get the smoke out. But the other side was just a restaurant, and you saw all age groups in there," says Bennett.
So maybe that's the identity of the place--that it's got kind of a split persona. Sizzlin's steaks and red hot jazz. I don't know. I've spent 12 years living in Tulsa and am flummoxed by that building every time I drive by it. It's just a weird juxtaposition of Vegas lighting and castle construction at a great, but maybe haunted location.
Owner, Abdul Alhlou, said, "The Restaurant is shut down. ... I can't tell you about my plans. Call me back in three months."
Damned, but Lingering in Legal Purgatory
The 11-story building at 115 E. 5th St. used to be a swanky place. The Tulsa Club building was built in the 1920s and was envisioned as a place for businessmen to meet and wheel and deal over lunch. There were dining halls large and small, dorm rooms for people to crash in overnight (I guess maybe the word "crash" in relation to anything happening in the 1920s might be a little inconsiderate), and there was even a gym. Oh, and a barber shop.
Nowadays, however, the behemoth, owned by California businessman C.J. Morony, remains embroiled in a ridiculous legal battle.
Assistant city attorney for Tulsa Robert Edmiston summed up the serpentine legal hijinks as briefly as possible.
"Mr. Morony has owned the building since 1997," Edmiston said. "There were improvement district assessments being accrued against the building, and he had not paid those assessments. So the city placed liens against the building."
The assessments became the least of Morony's and the building's problems in 2007, when Edmiston said a hearing was held in which the building was deemed a public nuisance. Apparently, just being broken-down and disgraceful-looking isn't enough, but a legal designation decreeing that something is annoying does the trick to kickstart some action being taken. At least, one would hope.
"It was determined that the building was a public nuisance due to dilapidated conditions inside the building," Edmiston said. "That determination allowed the hearing officer to apply fines against the property owner--up to $1,000 a day--until the violations are eliminated."
Since Morony never did anything about the violations, fines piled up pretty quickly and pretty high, according to Edmiston.
"We filed a lawsuit in 2008 for 314 days at $1,000 a day, and also $40,000 in unpaid improvement assessments," he said. "We hoped Mr. Morony would sell the building and someone else would come in and reclaim and restore it."
Now here's where it gets ridiculous. This past August, the building was scheduled to be sold in a sheriff's auction. Morony formed an LLC in Nevada (why Nevada?), transferred the deed to the new company, then promptly filed for bankruptcy.
"He filed bankruptcy the day before the sale, and presented the sheriff with a notice of bankruptcy the morning of the sale," Edmiston said. "The rules in bankruptcy court require an attorney when there's an LLC involved, and to date, he hadn't hired an attorney."
So it's a big stall. You have to hand it to Morony for his creative application of the legal apparatus, to be sure.
And the saga won't seem to end. Edmiston got a hearing scheduled earlier this month in Reno that would allow the city to move forward whether Morony's LLC was represented or not.
"The judge to whom this case was assigned had a family emergency, and so we had to reschedule," he said.
The place continues in limbo.
The building, at one time so beautiful, still has great bones, curb appeal and historic value. It's a twice-told tale, revisited time and time again in the urban jungle. A needy building whose story is byzantine.
Diamond in the Rough
At 17th St. and Boulder Ave. stands a building that bears a striking resemblance to everything out at ORU. That's because the Abundant Life Building, aka, the Diamond Building, was constructed in the late '50s as the headquarters of Oral Robert's ministry, about five years before the founding of the university. Different architects, but similar styles.
This 7-story, concrete brick was designed as a windowless office building. Brilliant. Heat and air efficient -- plus depressed employees couldn't jump out.
The once-interesting structure is now an eyesore, but according to the Tulsa World, owners, David Horton Ministries, has plans to convert it into high-end condos.
Gardens of Paradise?
The Mother Road brings out the best of the odd -- or should we say the spice -- of Tulsa. On that stretch between Sheridan Road and Yale Ave., where many of the old roadside structures remain -- the old car dealerships, converted hamburger joints, and auto service centers, there are also a few classic motels still in business.
One difference from the glory days, though, is visible from the street. No longer do you see children taking a break from road-trip blues by splashing in the pools. The pools have been filled in.
Nothing all that strange about this, maybe, except that in two cases the owners have turned the spaces into vegetable gardens.
My God Is Bigger Than Yours
If anyone has ever seen old movies or early tv clips of Oral Roberts tent-storming, faith-healing ministry days--when the guy actually had to work for a living--you get a glimpse of the energy and resources and imagination that went into the building of the Oral Roberts Ministries, Oral Roberts University, and, the former City of Faith.
Roberts said it was a 900-foot Jesus who inspired him to begin raising funds to build a medical complex toward a degree-rendering college of medicine, but it may have simply been the man's honest intentions to do what is preached in the Book of James.
Built by the school and completed in the early 1980s, these towers--known then as the City of Faith and now leasable office space--have caused a lot of financial heartbreak for ORU, not to mention the ridicule heaped on the school's namesake.
It seems that all those Jesus sightings Roberts kept having in the last millennium, and that time God made a death threat against the evangelist were all centered around these golden towers, which still hold the distinction of being the world's largest bowling trophies.
Roberts was told by the Prince of Peace to build the place and make it a hospital, and although Jesus could turn water into wine and walk on water and teach people to love their neighbors, he couldn't teach Roberts how not to lose $25 million on the complex in a scant 12 years.
In an effort to staunch the financial bleeding, Roberts holed up in a prayer tower, looking for a divine solution. This produced the infamous moment when Roberts emerged from his retreat and told his followers that unless they ponied up $8 million, God was going to kill him.
I mean, goodness gracious.
And now we come to the hands. (modeled after Oral's?)
Since there are more churches in and around Tulsa than there were loaves and fishes (after the miracle), perhaps it is fitting that our little berg be known for our interest in all things church. After all, it seems that we might have almost as many churches as we do emergency care facilities, but I digress.
The Praying Hands sculpture sits in front of ORU and is one of the nation's largest bronze sculptures. Sculpted by Leonard McMurray and cast in Mexico in 1980, the thing stands 60 feet tall and weighs about 60,000 pounds. God is kind of a big deal, so it stands to reason that He gets a pretty big statue.
I've never really understood exactly what the message of this sculpture is, however. Is it encouraging me to pray by modeling prayerful posture? Is it telling the world that beyond these big hands, people are protected by prayers big enough to go with the giant mitts? Is someone praying for the Victory Christians, abuse victims and alleged predators, too?
Tulsans kind of, I think, just accept them, even forget they're there, even as they drive past them. Out-of-towners, though--that's a different story.
I worked with an actor in town from New York a couple of years ago who came to rehearsal one night and said, "What's with the giant hands? What the hell?"
Like the Golden Driller, the sculpture has its detractors. Like the Citiplex towers, the hands are gaudy. Like the Dr. Indu Dayal Meshri Park, the exact purpose of the prayerful behemoth is unknown. Like the Liquid Life bottle, The Praying Hands is enormous.
But you have to admit that it's a pretty impressive feat of sculptural engineering.
Where Does a 22-Ton Oilworker Stand? Wherever the Hell He Wants.
The Driller himself is kind of an interesting story, and while I had assumed everyone in town knew his history, I was, as it turns out, wrong.
When he was originally unveiled by Mid-Continent for the International Petroleum Expo in 1953, he looked like a giant Oscar statue, and he sported a very creepy grin. He was re-tooled and re-displayed in 1959 for the same Expo, then trotted out once again in 1966, this time, completely overhauled and revamped. He's stood where they put him since then. He weighs just less than 22 tons, stands 76 feet tall, wears a 393DDD shoe, and sports a 48-foot waistline.
Some of his more interesting adventures, after having a genuine oil derrick from a working oil field in Seminole plopped down beside him, include being hit with a shotgun blast more than once, wearing quite a few publicity t-shirts and ties, and, according to a local man's claim, being shot in the crotch with a crossbow (crotchbow?).
Perhaps the oddest thing about the Golden Guy is that every time someone wants to show something quintessentially Tulsan, or use his image in an advertisement or a video package, they use a shot taken from the base of the statue, looking up toward his head. Think of what you've seen. Or look it up in the library (for you digital natives, that's a place people went to find things out prior to the Internet). Or whatever.
Hey, here's a prominent Tulsa thing. Behold its nether regions. Classy.
Stuck in the Middle with You
Speaking of seemingly-random locales, let's journey to the Center of the Universe (luckily, it's surprisingly close, as it is located conveniently in downtown Tulsa). We find two separate spots -- the CotU and that weird cloud sculpture -- that most people think of as one unified structure. Maybe I'm overreaching, but these things do sort of symbolize, if not intentionally, Tulsa's connection with the fine arts. We have a world-class ballet company, a widely-recognized opera company, lots of local theatre, terrific art galleries, and a pretty kickass music scene in Tulsa. We are a diverse city when it comes to artistic expression. One might even say it's difficult to explain just how all the pieces fit together to form the sum that is greater than all the parts that combine to make this town.
So what better way to symbolize this than with a landmark whose acoustic quirk has yet to be adequately explained? For the four of you out there who don't know what I'm talking about, if you stand in the center of the Center of the Universe (e.e. cummings, anyone?) and speak, you'll hear your voice amplified several times over. Outside the circle, though, listeners hear something somewhat distorted, sans amplification. And again, nobody really knows why. There are theories about parabolic this or that, but that's not as interesting as "no one knows."
And then there's the cloud. Officially a sculpture titled The Artificial Cloud, this creation towers over the CotU, daring anyone to decipher it. It's tall, it's rusting (and intended to), it's a metal cloud on top of a pole, it has lots of tiny armless guys imprinted on its vertical metal beam.
This is what I think of, incidentally, every time some techie nerd refers to "cloud computing." I still don't really know what that is, so I enjoy thinking of this odd piece of metal. The statue itself is oddly fascinating, and it's open to interpretation, as are the arts. But it's also weird. I mean quirky.
Former Hall of Fame Weirdies:
T.L. Osborn Museum
Far East Museum
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