When It Comes to Building Tulsa, The Kings Rule
By CHARLES CANTRELL
EARLY VISIONARIES: Pictured here circa 1944/45 are left grandfather Berlin Russell King with his son Ramon Lee King, father of Sharon King Davis and Terry L. King of King Investments.
Photo courtesy of King family
“…Plenty of room to swing a rope. Plenty of heart and plenty of hope.” From Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma—Oklahoma’s state song.
Rogers and Hammerstein had it right. Before statehood and before oil was discovered, most settlers came to Oklahoma Indian Territory for the vast stretches of land and all that it promised. Farming and ranching were mainly the dreams of those who came here to grab up the last bit of America remaining from the settlement of the heartland. The first generation of Kings came here to the tall grass prairie and hard wood forests for just that reason and to raise a family and help build a community. They were the first of four generations helping change the landscape of Tulsa not by pumping huge amounts of oil out of the ground or wielding political power, but through hard work, fearless risk taking and wise entrepreneurship. In its own way each generation would help create Tulsa’s unique quality of life.
Russell King came on the scene in 1903 in Oklahoma Indian Territory. He grew up in the heyday of Tulsa’s growth from a sleepy farming culture to a cosmopolitan center of international commerce. Berlin always jokingly referred to his father as a “meat cutter.” Berlin, however, would follow in his father’s footsteps and make a good living as a popular Tulsa butcher. He married Mayme Greer King from a Sand Springs pioneering family and they had one child, Ramon Lee King to carry on the family legacy of community involvement and commitment. As community worker bees, they were always ready to fill in anywhere a community need arose. The family set down deep roots in Tulsa and continued exhibiting the kinds of traits that helped build Tulsa.
Those King family traits were apparent in Ramon. (pronounced Ray’-mun by those who knew him and Ray-moan’ by those who didn’t.) Traits like a positive, can-do attitude and an outgoing personality that helped form friendships quickly. He was an astute observer and quick study of other’s success. Finally and perhaps his greatest family trait was a tolerance for taking calculated risks. These traits and the many accomplishments they engendered would plant this King firmly in league with the city’s grand tradition of business community evolvement and leadership. With these attributes King sought out and acquired roles throughout his life that positioned him for opportunities that he would cash in for success. But he would always have time to contribute to the common good of his hometown.
But first he would graduate from the University of Tulsa in 1950 with a degree in marketing. He would try his hand at various jobs utilizing his skill of connecting with an audience. He did commercials for banks and hardware stores, was a pre-rock and roll disc jockey on radio station KAKC, joined KOTV, Tulsa’s first television station as the original and probably the last on-air television disc jockey, and without a hint of metrological expertise or a single Doppler radar signal, he stood in as the station’s trusted weatherman.
In 1952, after achieving a considerable level of local media fame for a young man of his age, King left his broadcast career to join the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce as manager of the civic affairs department. It was a great match of the high profile, public relations needs of the Chamber and Ramon King’s gregarious personality. It also better positioned him to observe, as he was always prone to do, how things work in the business world and how people and businesses succeeded.
After two years of watching Tulsa’s business wheels go round, King left the Chamber to enter the housing construction business. Just like his grandfather, the promise of land and all it offered was still in his blood. The 1950s in Tulsa was a time of amazing growth of the suburbs just to the south of midtown. There was no formal schooling or training to becoming a builder of homes. It was all done by the seat of one’s pants and King was about to enter this fierce building boom fray armed with only his marketing degree of limited value in this blue collar business, his short work career, his winning personality, his horse sense and all he had learned at the Chamber observing and meeting the most influential businessmen of the city. As it turned out it was enough to meet the challenge.
He began slowly by building two modest houses, but soon was pulled into the swirl of housing construction opportunities of the times. It was 1954 and in six months King had built 35 homes and sold all but ten. King’s construction company was, to say the least, off and running.
In the following 14 years King would develop and build the suburb additions of Leisure Lanes, Patricia Manor, Holliday Hills, Sungate, Magic Circle I, II and III; and build in Longview Acres I, II, and III, Denwood Estates, Fairfield Estates, Southern Plaza and Park Plaza South. The early suburbs of Tulsa are peppered with houses built by King, one of Tulsa’s most prolific, successful homebuilders.
Along the way King help maintain the professional integrity of the home construction business by taking a leadership role in professional associations. He first served on the board of directors of the Home Builders Association of Greater Tulsa. He was a lifetime national director of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), A past president of the state and Tulsa home building associations and was named Oklahoma Builder of the Year in 1967. He also served on the resolution and by-laws committee of NAHB. In this capacity he helped formulate the ethical and good business practice protocol of the home construction industry.
In the early 60s when Tulsa began it’s romance with pizza, King joined with Doug Jones and Tom Wilson to build and open the first of several Shotgun Sam’s Pizza Parlor locations. It was also the beginning of the fast food franchise craze sweeping the nation. Although Shotgun Sam’s never became a franchise licensor, it did spawn one of Tulsa’s best known and most successful fast food franchises. Ken Selby worked at Tulsa Shotgun Sam’s before founding Ken’s Pizza, Mazzio’s Pizza and Zio’s Italian Kitchen.
Keeping with the family legacy of building Tulsa and contributing to the community, Ramon King’s fourth generation daughters, Sharon King Davis and Terry L. King along with fifth generation Kelly Davis Chilcoat, Ramon’s granddaughter, own and manage commercial real estate in the greater Tulsa area. KingsPointe Village, located at 61st and Sheridan and newly opened Kings Landing on the Arkansas River at 99th and Riverside Parkway are beautiful, upscale additions to Tulsa’s south side. This centennial family continues to play a vital role in making Tulsa one of America’s most livable cities.