Thriving Midtown Districts Have History

Associate Editor

BROOKSIDE PHARMACY CIRCA 1954: Tulsan Guy Scoggs probably didn’t realize when he named his new store Brookside Pharmacy in 1941 that he was providing the name for a part of the city that has become a fixture in the city’s history. The signage on the building shown here has changed many times over the years, but Brookside has remained a midtown go to place for shopping, dining and entertainment for over three generations.

Photo courtesy of Beryl Ford Collection/Rotary Club of Tulsa/Tulsa Historical Society/Tulsa City-County Library

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth article in a multi-part series about the past, present and future growth of Greater Tulsa. In this series Newspapers will look back on the history, examine current developments and explore the possible future of various sectors of Tulsa and surrounding communities to give readers a better overall perspective of the many unique and vibrant parts that make up the whole of what we believe to be one of the greatest place in the world to live, which is Greater Tulsa.

Situated on the fringe of downtown, nestled among some of the city’s oldest residential neighborhoods, are two bustling commercial hubs steeped in local history. The story of the origins and growth of Cherry Street and Brookside in many ways provides insight into not only the cultural roots but also the unique psychic of Tulsa. Long before the city began its half-century migration southward creating a modern day, suburban car culture, complete with multilane expressways, housing additions, strip malls, outlying shopping centers with national franchise anchor tenants and big box stores, segments of the inner city sprung up as retail centers filled with successful locally owned small businesses catering first to neighborhood customers and eventually to citywide clientele. Bus routes channeled customer traffic through the early thoroughfares of Peoria Avenue and 15th Street on their way into the city’s vibrant downtown. Today these inner city commercial districts continue on by adapting to fit the needs of an ever-evolving Tulsa.

Ostensibly Cherry Street covers the 15th Street corridor from about Peoria to Harvard Avenue. Much of it is considered part of the Swan Lake Historical District. The heart of Cherry Street is a densely occupied strip between Peoria and Lewis Avenues. Today this stretch of real estate hosts many small antique shops, clothiers, gourmet and specialty food stores, restaurants of every type and price range, professional offices, a car wash, a grocery store, walk up office space and many other single unit, unique, locally owned business. On the fringe to the north springing up are multiunit apartments and condominiums while to the south are residential streets lined with small, vintage bungalows with larger homes sprinkled in. It is a Mecca for first time homebuyers, midtown aficionados, young couples starting out, down sizing elderly, singles and any other person wanting to live in a district that provides proximity to nearly all the necessities of urban living while offering a haven close to their workplace. Cherry Street in the Swan Lake district remains a vibrant segment of Tulsa’s inner city. In warm months it hosts the region’s largest farmers market. Throughout the year nightlife on the strip is energetic, persistent and infectious.

The roots of Cherry Street date back about as far as one can go in the city’s history. On June 19, 1874 Colonel A.D. Orcutt with family in toe arrived in Indian Territory near a newly formed town on the Arkansas River. It was ten years before the railroad came and a little over three decades before Oklahoma would become a state. At that time the land supposedly belonged to the Native American tribal remnants of the notorious Trail of Tears. None the less, The Orcutts set up ranching operations just six miles south of the center of the newly formed town that would become Tulsa. Over the years the ranch would slowly be absorbed by city growth. Orcutt was destined to be a seminal figure in early Tulsa. Some historians credit him with suggesting the name Tulsa for the new town. This has never been verified, but he is credited with having founded the town of Coweta where he resided until his death in 1912.

In 1905 a group of developers, led by Orcutt’s son Sam, purchased 25 acres of his father’s ranch land and began to build an amusement park, the center piece of which was a natural pond used to water cattle. Orcutt Lake Amusement Park as it was named, featured a “world class” roller coaster costing an unimaginable $7,600 along with a hand carved wooden carousel, a dance pavilion, canoe rides and more. It was a getaway requiring an extended trolley car ride of half an hour from downtown. By 1917 the park was closed, the area became residential and the old watering hole was renamed Swan Lake.

At the corner of Peoria and Cherry Street anchoring the west end of the district’s busy strip stands one of the oldest, remaining buildings in the city. Built in 1909 and initially named Bellview School, this marvelous old, red brick structure became Lincoln Elementary School in 1914 and was home to generations of Tulsa youngsters. Notable graduates of the city’s oldest school until its closing in 1990 included Tony Randall, Bill “Hopalong Cassidy” Boyd, and Moscelyne Larkin, co-founder of Tulsa Ballet Theater. In 1993, aptly named Orcutt Development Company bought the property from Tulsa Public Schools and began restoration of the historic property converting it to commercial space eventually housing locally owned businesses like Chimi’s, Jason’s Delli and others.

Little more than a five minute drive from the west end of Cherry Street on Peoria Avenue to the south is Brookside, another inner city commercial hub with a historic tale to tell.

The Brookside story begins with another renowned Tulsan, Lewis Perryman who came to the region in 1884. The Perryman family name appears repeatedly throughout the early records of Tulsa. They were a large, resourceful mixed blood Creek Nation family who at one time owned a vast ranch of more than 60,000 acres between Tulsa and Broken Arrow. Much of this land would eventually comprise the suburbs of south Tulsa including the area now known as Brookside.

During the 1920s and 1930s the Maple Ridge historical residential district on the fringe of downtown with its magnificent, stately residential homes, many belonging to Tulsa’s early day oil tycoons, became well established as the city’s premier neighborhood. The post war housing that came in the 1940s and 1950s to the south was more modest to accommodate new working class families. The suburban car culture of the future was in its infancy. Riverside Drive offered a quick commute to downtown offices. Arguably Brookside’s growth in post war Tulsa was a harbinger of things to come on a much bigger scale in the 1960s and 1970s.

Originally Brookside was considered to be from 32nd to 38th Streets and west from Peoria Avenue to the river. All around were vacant fields, small acreages and farms, and a few small country homes. This original boundary is considered the “Village” of the now larger Brookside district running from 31st to 51st Streets and from Riverside Drive to Lewis Avenue.

Following World War II residential housing began in earnest to the south. The empty lots around Brookside filled with new homes. A relatively sleepy part of town woke up during the 1950s and 1960s to become a bustling haven for high school students from Central, Rogers, Webster and Edison who cruised the restless ribbon of Brookside’s Peoria making frequent stops in Pennington’s Drive In or Mr. “Ts” for cheeseburgers in a basket, cherry cokes, French fried onion rings and black bottom pie. It was a wonderful time when baby boomers were coming of age listening to the early rock and roll that ruled the airwaves and fawning over the radio disk jockeys that fed them an endless diet of “their” music. Brookside served as a backdrop to it all. It was the Scene.

For years Brookside thrived hosting regional chain stores and many memorable, locally owned businesses like Hanna Furniture, Otasco, Glencliff Ice Cream shop, Weber’s Root Beer stand, Claud’s Hamburgers, Nielson’s Exclusive Gifts, City Veterinary Hospital, House of Frames, Stop and Shop grocery store and the iconic Brook Theater. Many of the old structures housing these businesses remain intact like the old Brook Theater that is now a sports bar and restaurant. Many of the remaining structures have been upgraded to house a wide range of upscale clothiers, contemporary furniture stores, fine dining and moderately priced restaurants.

The name Brookside allegedly came from Tulsan Guy Scoggs who in 1941 named his new business prominently located in the heart of the Village, Brookside Drugstore after a nearby creek. Crow Creek meanders along the north edge of the district crossing under Peoria at about 32nd Street. Because of its locale situated among a postwar housing boom and a well-established affluent neighborhood, Brookside became one of the first commercial hubs outside of downtown to successfully compete with downtown for retail sales and entertainment. Today vertical development abounds around the restless ribbon with many multiunit residential and office spaces available. It remains a go-to place for shopping and entertainment for second and third generation Tulsans.

Today on the fringe of downtown are emerging self-sustaining modules providing a life style that appeals to a young generation less interested in the suburban car culture of yesterday. Brookside, Cherry Street and the Swan Lake Historical Districts are evolving into these kinds of places and they are treasure droves of Tulsa history. Their stories parallel the ebb and flow of the city as a whole with its long journey from a little town on the edge of the tall grass prairie to a vibrant city of charm and energy, one that has repeatedly met the challenges imposed by time and circumstances and emerged anew with an eye on the future.

Updated 01-24-2011

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  1. — Laura Bates    Jan 24, 11:29 PM    #
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