With few exceptions, metropolitan Tulsa is as easy to navigate, having been laid out in a grid system with square-mile increments. Virtually all the major streets of Tulsa are east-west or north-south, and set a mile apart from each other--and the east-west streets are numbered. This grid system is important, since most business owners in town will give you directions according to the nearest cross-street. Each area has its own distinct personality and points of interest; and some parts of town, like midtown, have several distinctive neighborhoods worth mentioning.
As is common with river towns, Tulsa's downtown is set near the river, so rather than being the geographical center of town, it sets in the north central section. Much of the district is pleasant to walk in, especially the Main Mall -- a pedestrian-only area around 5th and Main -- which serves as the focal point of many downtown events such as Mayfest and is beautified with decorative waterways and sitting-places. In addition, a number of restaurants and cafes dot the area. Many of the older buildings downtown are very ornate -- remnants of the extravagance of the oil boom days. The Hotel Ambassador, a Tulsa landmark, actually began as a temporary housing facility for oil tycoons who were building their mansions. Functioning as a full-service hotel today, it gives its guests a taste of the luxury of the glory days. Like many growing metropolitan cities, Tulsa has seen a decline in its downtown area in recent years, particularly with regard to nightlife. The city is taking definite steps toward revitalizing the area, however, one aspect of downtown nightlife has continued to thrive rather than dwindle: the fine arts, particularly the Performing Arts Center, home to no less than seven musical and dramatic companies including the Tulsa Philharmonic Society. The PAC hosts a multitude of cultural events through the fall, winter and spring.
The west central portion of Tulsa is known as 'midtown', beginning just south of the downtown area until about 51st Street and extending east toward Memorial Drive. This is the crown jewel of Old Tulsa, home to some of Tulsa's oldest and favorite business establishments and neighborhoods, lined with classic old houses dating to the art-deco period and earlier. Here, especially near the Arkansas River, you'll find Tulsa mansions where the old-money families lived -- and, in some cases, still live. This upscale history survives today at Utica Square at 21st and Utica, which is still known as Tulsa's chic place to shop. Woodward Park, Philbrook Museum and other landmarks only add to the district's character.
Several of Tulsa's most popular neighborhoods are found in midtown. Three specific areas are worth mentioning here: Brookside, Cherry Street and Expo Square. The area known as Brookside extends east from the Arkansas River to about Peoria. Its defining strip is South Peoria between 31st and 41st Streets, where visitors find a variety of shopping delights, fabulous restaurants (many with patio seating), and a bustling nightlife. The atmosphere here is chic and eclectic, appealing to the younger, more progressive set. Scenic Riverside Drive, which parallels the east bank of the river, and River Parks, the park that stretches along the river bank, are also highly popular sections of Brookside. The Cherry Street District is set near downtown in the northern midtown area, defined by a portion of 15th Street dubbed 'Cherry Street'. Visitors to this neighborhood find great shopping -- particularly antiques and collectibles -- and a variety of local eateries, as well as some fabulous old homes in the surrounding residential areas. The Expo Square complex, between Harvard and Yale on 21st Street, encompasses the huge Expo Center and Pavilion, Big Splash Water Park, Bell's Amusement Park, Drillers Stadium (home of the Tulsa Drillers baseball team), and more. This one area has probably more things to do per square foot than anywhere else in town -- especially during the summer months! There is almost always some sort of exhibit or show going on, and the Tulsa State Fair makes its home here every autumn.
The main highlights of north Tulsa are the Tulsa International Airport and the massive Mohawk Park, which includes the Tulsa Zoo and other outdoor activities. The airport area includes numerous hotels and highway junctions to other parts of the city -- downtown being the most accessible. Also found near the airport is the Tulsa Air and Space Center -- a great educational, hands-on museum for kids and adults.
The part of town most commonly referred to as 'South Tulsa' is the area south of 51st Street and east of the Arkansas River. This area, especially in the south and east, is where Tulsa's new growth is, and where most of the new building currently takes place. Here you will find the world-famous Oral Roberts University complex and the Prayer Tower, the highly popular Mabee Center arena, and, across the street, the CityPlex Towers (the tallest building in Tulsa). In the eastern sector, at 71st and Memorial, is Woodland Hills Mall, and mile after mile of shopping centers extend along 71st Street toward Broken Arrow. This has become one of the busiest and most popular areas of Tulsa in recent years. In addition, south Tulsa contains some of the most beautiful homes in town, many of them having been built recently. Particularly worth noting is the Southern Hills area, which, as the name suggests, consists of numerous neighborhoods built in the rolling green hills of south Tulsa. Some of the mansions are landmarks worth visiting in their own right, and many have spectacular views.
This part of town is generally defined as east of Memorial Drive and north of Broken Arrow and 71st Street. Although most of Tulsa's attractions are in other sectors of the city, there are some hotels near the freeways, and a few points of interest can be found here, such as Eastland Mall on 21st Street and the Carl Smith Sports complex. This part of town seems to place an emphasis on youth and amateur sports -- several sports facilities can be found among the aluminum industrial buildings here, including an indoor soccer club and an ice skating rink.
In general, 'west Tulsa' refers to the part of town west of the Arkansas River and downtown Tulsa. Much of Tulsa's major industry can be found here, such as the huge electric plant along the river's west bank, and other manufacturing companies around the railroad tracks and old Route 66. The hills in the northwest corner of this district hold the Gilcrease Museum complex, one of the finest donation-only museums around. Just west of town is Sand Springs and its famous Discoveryland! outdoor amphitheater. This part of town isn't always as pretty as the more trendy neighborhoods, but those looking for a true sense of Tulsa's history will find it here.
Not all the great things in Tulsa are actually in Tulsa proper. A short drive northeast along historic Route 66 takes you to Claremore, the home of Will Rogers, and one of the fastest-growing towns in Oklahoma. Various historical sites dot this area, such as the Will Rogers Memorial, his birthplace in nearby Oologah, and the J.M. Davis Arms & Historical Museum. A short drive west of Tulsa takes you to Sapulpa, where you will find the famous Frankoma Pottery Factory, and Sand Springs, home of Discoveryland!. A little further west takes you to the popular Lake Keystone, and just southwest of Tulsa is the historic town of Jenks -- an antique-shopping hotbed.
Visitors to this city find Tulsa to be a place rich in heritage and history, as well as a place of progressive growth and development. Districts have their own individual culture and flavor, and with all main areas designed for simple navigation, you can easily explore each one.
History of TulsaThe word "Oklahoma" means "land of the Red People" in the language of the Choctaw Indian, one of the five civilized tribes that called this state home. This Native American influence carries over in the history of Oklahoma's second-largest city, Tulsa. The city had a humble beginning in 1836, when a group of Creek Indians, another of those five tribes, found the end of their Trail of Tears. As they sought shelter under an expansive oak tree near the Arkansas River, the Creeks decided to make this piece of Indian Territory their own, lighting a ceremonial fire and naming the land "Tallahassee" or "Tulsi". As the name has survived the many passing generations, so has the Council Oak Tree, a lasting symbol of the city's Native American history and its embrace of multiculturalism.
As the forced relocation of America's native people continued, the small settlement that would become Tulsa welcomed in more tribes -- including Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws and Seminole Indians. For many years the area's only settlers were Native Americans, who worked to rebuild their communities and cultures.
The 1840s saw a few white settlers brave the rugged frontier environment and establish homes and businesses in the Tulsa area. Unfortunately, this promising growth was stifled by the escalation of tensions between abolitionists and slave owners. When the Civil War erupted two decades later, the violence between Kansas and Missouri residents spread into Oklahoma Territory. With notorious outlaws like the brutal William Quantrill roaming so close to their homeland, many of Tulsa's settlers fled in fear.
After the war, Tulsa underwent a rebuilding process much like its neighbors to the south. The first sign of true cityhood came with a Federal Post Office, which opened in 1879. With this establishment came the need for an official city name: Tulsa -- one that kept the original spirit of the founding Creek Indians at the Council Oak Tree. Affectionately referred to as "Tulsey Town", the developing community of a few hundred people soon began to serve as a trading post, attracting ranchers and farmers from adjacent areas. Tulsa, due to its location, was also a popular stop for cowboys who drove huge herds of cattle from Texas to Missouri. The influx of goods and money in turn drew the attention of railroad companies.
Around 1882, a man who would come to be recognized as Tulsa's founder came to town, H.C. Hall. This same year, the city underwent a large construction project, in which a barber shop, general store, hotel, railroad depot and residences were erected. The cluster of buildings marked the foundation of downtown Tulsa. This steady growth in both agricultural and industrial commerce lured more settlers to the town, resulting in the population more than quadrupling in the years from 1882 to 1898. And then on January 18, 1898, more than 60 years after the Oak Tree meeting, Tulsa was officially incorporated as a city into Oklahoma Territory.
The new century brought an entirely new way of life. In 1901, crude oil was struck in Red Fork, across the Arkansas River from Tulsa. With the Sue Bland Number 1, as the well was named, the city went from being a modest cow town to being a potential goldmine for wildcatters. Exploratory drilling operations sprung up across northeast Oklahoma Territory, and hopes of striking it rich were soon rewarded. Four years later the largest oil strike the world had seen at the time was made in Glenpool, a little community south of Tulsa. Ida E. Glenn Number 1 and her rich underground treasure changed Tulsa forever.
The oil boom brought a construction boom with it, the money rolling in from oil sales going to fuel numerous urban projects like housing tracts, hotels and utility systems to accommodate the crush of people expected to relocate to the city. And true to predictions, the city's population exploded -- what was once a quiet town of 7,000 people grew to hold more than 70,000 in less than 15 years. T-town was now known as the booming "Oil Capital of the World"!
Oklahoma became a state on November 16, 1907. State colors of green and white were chosen, and its official motto was deemed: Labor Conquers All Things. But if one was to consider Tulsa, a more appropriate motto might have been "Oil Conquers All Things" and colors of black and gold. Many individuals became wealthy beyond imaging thanks to Tulsa's most profitable natural resource, and these blossoming benefactors poured funds into city beautification. It was during this heady time that downtown Tulsa was transformed from an idiosyncratic neighborhood into the art deco paradise it remains to this day. As natives are proud to point out, only New York City and Miami have more art deco buildings. Higher education also made its appearance in Tulsa in 1907. Henry Kendall College relocated here from nearby Muskogee -- now the grand institution is known as the University of Tulsa. But not all additions to the city were positive ones: gamblers and outlaws frequented the new hot spot of the south, bringing a wild element to the environment -- a passionate, no-holds-barred approach to life that has tempered somewhat through the years, but can still be seen in Tulsans' love of sport and outdoor adventure.
Yes, Tulsa was indeed open to all people, and many who were not allowed opportunities elsewhere found a home here. African-Americans especially flourished, and became so successful in creating businesses along Tulsa's Greenwood Avenue that the district was dubbed the "Black Wall Street" in the 1920s. The expansion of business in the city during this decade included the establishment of two of Tulsa's landmark heathcare facilities, St. John's Hospital in 1925 and Hillcrest Hospital in 1927.
Oil was good to the town and its residents, and while the boom lasted for several decades, prosperity began to falter. The 1930s saw the Great Depression sweep across the country, doubly detrimental for Oklahoma when coupled with the fierce Dust Bowl disaster. Tulsa's situation was more fortunate than the state's other cities, but the area did experience devastating droughts and record-breaking summer heat waves that demoralized struggling residents.
When Tulsans returned from fighting in World War II, they realized there would have to be a fundamental shift in the city. Ever increasingly, oil was being struck by offshore drillers -- Tulsa was no longer the epicenter of production. Capitalizing on the state's history in aviation, an industry whose potential was brought to the forefront of American consciousness by such pioneering natives as Wiley Post, Tulsa reinvented itself as a home for aviation companies. American Airlines was the first to move its operations to Tulsa and numerous other transportation-related corporations followed. At present, the city is home to several hundred aviation and aerospace businesses.
In the past few decades, Tulsa has again positioned itself at the forefront of an industry with incredible potential: telecommunications. Considered the most high-tech of Oklahoma's cities, Tulsa prides itself on being something of a Silicon Valley on the frontier. Now a major city in its own right, Tulsa holds nearly half a million residents in the rolling green hills that border the Arkansas River.
While a new breed of business is booming in T-town, the skyscraper skyline still consists mainly of those historic buildings with art deco facades. Regardless of what amazing innovations and economic prosperities come Tulsa's way, it is difficult to imagine anything with an ability to overshadow the old-style boom-town presence forever captured in so much of the city. The crown jewel of Green Country continues to embrace its legacy as a town of opportunity for all. History is a powerful force here, and it gives the town a rich, rich character -- and not just monetarily, either.
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