With world-class shopping, architecture and art,
Tulsa is a shining jewel in Oklahoma.
By Karen Gibson
In the early morning hours of Nov. 22, 1905, a gusher burst through the sky near Tulsa, Okla., then a small town in Indian Territory. The discovery of the Glenn Pool oil field established Oklahoma as one of the leading petroleum-producing regions in the country. Oklahoma’s Oil Boom was in full swing.
Above: The Sacred Rain Arrow sculpture stands guard at the Gilcrease Museum. Tulsa Convention & Visitors Bureau
Below: The Tulsa Air and Space Museum showcases modern and historical aircraft.
Frequently referred to as T-town, Tulsa exploded overnight as people like J. Paul Getty came from the East Coast to make their fortunes. With Oklahoma’s second oil boom between 1915–1930, Tulsa was the “Oil Capital of the World,” and it has gone on to become a sophisticated city with world-class architecture and cultural happenings.
With oil money pouring into Tulsa, the sky was the limit for architecture in the oil capital of the world. Wanting a modern look, the city’s founding fathers embraced the bold and exciting Art Deco style. A prime example is the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church (1301 S. Boston), a showplace since 1929. Now designated as a National Historic Landmark, the centerpiece to this treasure is the 15-story tower. The Tulsa Historical Society offers recommendations for Art Deco walking and driving tours, most of it in the Brady District encompassing downtown Tulsa.
Also downtown is the Greenwood Historical District. In the early 20th century, the financially successful African American Greenwood area was crowned “Black Wall Street.” Unfortunately, the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 led to the destruction of 35 blocks of businesses and homes. The Greenwood Cultural Center recalls that history and the nearby Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame (111 E. First St.) recognizes Oklahoma’s contribution to jazz.
Another popular downtown area has connections to Historical Route 66 that ran through Tulsa. The Blue Dome neighborhood gets its name from the 1920s gas station that was known as the Blue Dome. Today, the Blue Dome Diner (313 E. Second St.) adds a touch of gourmet to comfort diner food. A music festival, Dfest, is held in the neighborhood in June.
If you want to stay close to downtown Tulsa, consider lodging nearby at the McBirney Mansion (1414 S. Galveston). Now a popular bed and breakfast, the 1927 McBirney Mansion is a gothic-style Tudor mansion on three acres overlooking the Arkansas River. It’s a treat in itself.
As Oklahoma’s second largest city, Tulsa contains more than a great downtown. Tulsa’s many districts define it with shopping and dining experiences, from the elegant Brookside district to the larger-than-life Woodland Hills.
If the weekend weather is nice (and it often is), Tulsans enjoy the great outdoors by shopping. The Cherry Street District on Saturdays is particularly good. Located on 15th Street between Peoria and Utica Avenues, the seven-block Cherry Street morphs into a colorful and lively Farmer’s Market from April through October. Cherry Street is also a good location for fun little shops and antique shopping.
If you’re in the mood for more upscale shopping, try Utica Square (21st Street and South Utica Avenue), which offers chic chains, one-of-a-kind shops and fine dining in an Old World-style outdoor mall with English-style phone booths and tower clocks.
Best of the arts
Tulsa often toots its horn about its abundant arts and culture. Tulsa Opera (1610 S. Boulder Ave.) ranks in the top 10 regional opera companies. T-town also leads in the fine arts with the Philbrook Museum of Art (2727 S. Rockford Road). Oilman Waite Phillips donated his Renaissance-style mansion to Tulsa as an art museum. The 23-acre gardens surrounding the museum are every bit as beautiful as the art within the museum.
Of the many choices that can easily fill up a weekend in Tulsa, make sure to spend time at the Gilcrease Museum (1400 N. Gilcrease Museum Road). The Gilcrease is a delightful combination of art, natural and United States history.
Due to his Muscogee (Creek) heritage, founder Thomas Gilcrease was given an allotment of land that happened to fall in the Glenn Pool oil field. When Gilcrease became of age, he took charge of his oil leases and began collecting with a special fondness for Western/Native American art and artifacts and historic documents, like a certified copy of the Declaration of Independence.
The main floor features paintings and sculptures by noted artists like Frederic Remington, Charles M. Russell, Thomas Moran and Allan Houser.
Now owned by the city of Tulsa and managed by the University of Tulsa, the Gilcrease Museum also features gardens and a panoramic view of the city from its perch on one of Tulsa’s many hills.
Other attractions to consider include the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, the Tulsa Zoo and Living Museum, and Woodward Park, which contains the Tulsa Garden Center and Tulsa History Museum.
Follow the water
For recreation, the Arkansas River meanders through Tulsa. Weekends find rowers in the river and walkers, joggers, bicyclists and skaters traveling along 20 miles of riverbank trails at River Parks. Farther south in the suburb of Jenks is the amazing Oklahoma Aquarium. On the eastern outskirts of the city is the Port of Catoosa where you’ll find the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel (777 W. Cherokee), which opened in August 2009. The hotel/casino owned and operated by the Cherokee Nation rivals anything you’ll find in Las Vegas with a spacious gaming area (some of it non-smoking), hundreds of luxurious rooms and suites, and the 170-acre Cherokee Hills Golf Club.
While Tulsa is no longer the world’s oil capital, it is a perfect blend of a cosmopolitan city with small-town friendliness. The only problem is it takes more than a weekend to see and do everything you want.
Karen Gibson is a contributor from Norman, Okla.