New Year’s Eve, 1916: “Greatest Year For Tulsa”
To celebrate the conclusion of 2016 and the extremely successful launch of 4th & Boston: Heart of the Magic Empire, I thought it would be interesting to spend a little time reading the Tulsa Daily World from New Year’s Eve exactly 100 years ago. This is a poignant look back because the occasion that provided us with the opportunity to create 4th & Boston was the 100th anniversaries of three of the buildings at the intersection of 4th & Boston, the first phases of which were constructed between 1916-1919.
On the front page of this New Year’s Eve edition was an enthusiastic overview declaring 1916 as the “greatest year yet for Tulsa.” Tulsa was booming in a way that is honestly hard for Tulsans of today to imagine. The article puts Tulsa’s population at 61,450. In 1910, the official census was a mere 18,182. Granted, the sources for those two population numbers were different (the 1916 number belonged to the city, the 1910 number was the US Census), but assuming both were generally accurate, Tulsa tripled its size in only six years. The article also points out that Tulsa banks closed the year with a stunning 148.3% annual increase in deposits. With that number, Tulsa set the record for the fastest growing banks in the United States and, most importantly, we crushed the Oklahoma City banks with rate of growth more than double their own. Also in 1916, the northeast corner of 4th & Boston saw the completion of the graceful Gallais Building. Three years later, the Gallais would be expanded north along Boston Avenue to become the Kennedy Building.
Near the center of the front page was an article directly addressing a story I write about on pages 136-139 of the book—the fight to protect the Old Mission School grounds from commercial development. In September of 1916, the Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed the Tulsa Public School Board’s right to sell the property it owned between 4th and 5th and Boston and Cincinnati. But those in the community who wanted the block preserved for a Downtown park were not ready to give up their fight just yet. With the foundation stakes for the Cosden Building already in the ground, the paper calls supporters of the park plan to arms for one final Hail Mary to stop Josh Cosden from building the first part of what we know today as the Mid-Continent Tower. Had they won, we would not have the Mid-Continent Tower, the Atlas Life Building, the Philtower, Old City Hall, nor the Tulsa Club Building, currently under renovation by the Ross Group (https://goo.gl/yIMMEV).
The Tulsa Automobile Corporation used the New Year’s Eve edition to make the long-anticipated announcement that their venture, years in development, would finally bear fruits in 1917 with the release of the “Tulsa Four.” Started with the help of Tulsa oilman and developer Grant C. Stebbins (also famous for helping save the city’s early streetcar system—see page 83 in the 4th & Boston book), the Tulsa Automobile Corporation manufactured their modestly priced ($895 in 1917) line of cars and light trucks until 1922 when their factory at the intersection of Wheeling and the Frisco Railroad burned to the ground. By that time, the Ford Model-T had won over the nation and investors couldn’t justify rebuilding. Only one Tulsa Four is known to still exist.
Even as the First World War continued its horrific reign of terror in Europe, 1917 would go on to be another record-breaking year of prosperity for Oklahomans on the home front. It would see the construction of many of Tulsa’s iconic oil boom buildings including Old City Hall at 4th & Cincinnati, Central High School at 6th & Cincinnati, the Sinclair and McFarlin buildings at 5th & Main, and the First National Bank, known today as the Reunion Center, at 4th & Main.
As the Tulsa Daily World summarized the close of 1916: “The greatest year in the history of Tulsa’s phenomenal growth from the village of a few short years ago, to the industrial metropolis of the state, and leading oil city of the world will be brought to close tonight when the hands of the clock swing over from the year of 1916 to 1917. It will leave upon the pages of a municipality historic achievements which to Tulsa and her people have been but natural evolution and growth, but to other cities and people of other sections of the country have far surpassed their belief of city building.”
One-hundred years later, the changing of our calendar from 2016-2017 finds Downtown Tulsa bucking the trends of an increasingly cynical nation. As much of America slugged through years of disillusionment and division, Downtown has been fortunate to experience a renewal and development that, in some sense, could be said to echo the optimism of Tulsa’s original development 100 years earlier. At Müllerhaus Legacy, our hope for 2017 is that our nation will experience the renewal and optimism now reflected in the heart of Tulsa, still our “Magic City.” Best wishes for a prosperous 2017!
—Douglas Miller, Principal