Travelling Through Time Along 23rd Street, Part 3

Posted by on Jul 25, 2018 in Mod Blog |

by Lynne Rostochil.  Vintage photos, unless otherwise stated, courtesy of the Oklahoma History Center.  “Now” images from Googlemaps, the OK County Tax Assessor, and Lynne Rostochil.

If you’ve missed previous installments of this series, click a link to read Part 1 and Part 2.

Today, we pick up our tour of NW 23rd at one of the premier fan favorites in OKC and beyond, the lovely Gold Dome.  Originally, the Jefferson Elementary School sat on the eastern-most corner of the lot:

When it was deemed surplus, it was purchased by Citizens State Bank.  The bank had originally opened further east on NW 23rd and, after three expansions in less than a decade, the directors were looking to construct a much larger building.  Robert Roloff of Bailey Bozalis Dickinson & Roloff designed the iconic geodesic dome structure that quickly became a beloved modern beacon on OKC’s architectural landscape.

Even though it’s in need of some love, the Gold Dome is still a stunning structure today and was the home of this year’s wildly successful Oklahoma Modernism Weekend:

In 1964, city leaders discussed building a monorail system throughout OKC, and this is an artist’s drawing of what that might look like at the intersection of NW 23rd and Classen:

How groovy would that have been?  Another reason this photo is so great is that you can see a couple of older homes were still across the street from the Gold Dome.  I’m sure they were used for businesses, but it’s pretty cool to see them there.

Moving on, across the street from the Gold Dome was a cute little shopping center that housed the Classen Cafeteria, seen here in 1948:

Here’s the cute sign for the Classen Cafeteria:

NW 23rd and Classen always was a dangerous intersection, as you can see in this 1953 photo:

Just around the corner from this shopping center on Classen was Steven’s Cleaners, home to this exuberant Mac Teague sign:

Next door to the shopping center was the elegant Mayflower Theater:

The Mayflower was constructed in 1938 and became an “art” theater 20 years later and showed mainly foreign films.  In 1966, the Mayflower became the Cinema Mayflower:

By the 1980s, the Cinema Mayflower was an adult movie theater, and it closed for good in the early 1990s.  In 1998, new owners converted the once-lovely theater into the Hy Palace Asian Restaurant:

Two doors down to the east of the Mayflower Theater was the Carnation Ice Cream Company:

The dairy opened around 1948, and it quickly became a popular neighborhood hang out.  Here are some interior shots of Carnation when it first opened:

And here’s a shot of this lovely building during the day:

Man, it’s cute!!  I don’t know why, but those Deco-spired buildings always make my heart go a-flutter.  I have such a crush on them.  Another great one was Garland’s Drive-In:

And the George E. Failing building in Enid had a nice one, too:

Alas, these examples are long gone, including Carnation.  Carnation stayed in the building until 1965 or so.  After that, it was home to many things, including a Chinese restaurant in 2003:

The building was demolished 2008 and replaced with a parking lot for the surrounding shopping center:

At the intersection of NW 23rd and Walker on the southeast corner, Patrick’s Foods was one of the city’s most popular eateries for nearly 25 years beginning in 1950.  Here’s a postcard from one of the Vanished Splendor books:

The building sat diagonally facing northwest on the lot.  In 1974, it was demolished to make way for more parking for the telephone company next door.  Around 2000, Conoco gas station and Circle K was built on the site:

On the 900 block of NW 23rd are several older homes that are among the last holdouts that prove that this now-bustling commercial street was once solidly a residential area.  The largest of the lot is a two-story prairie house that was built in 1918.  In 1975, it was home to a small Christian ministry called the Shiloh House:

Today, the home and its next door neighbor are boarded up.

Hopefully, they will be restored one day and can take part in NW 23rd booming renaissance, just like the little bungalows down the street on the 700 block (more on them in a sec).

The mod clinic at 801 NW 23rd has always been one of my very favorites.  Designed by Cirlos, Nicek & Associates and built in 1955, the Morrison Clinic is still in great shape today.  Here’s a rendering of it in 1955:

And what it looks like today:

Back to some of the residential architecture on NW 23rd.  I love the cluster of bungalows on the 700 block, don’t you?  One of the homes was photographed in the 1950s and housed Curtis Realty and a dentist, Dr. O.H. Randall.

The bungalow is now the popular eatery, Chick N Beer:

There are all kinds of goodies on the 600 block, which has been a shopping area since the 1930s.  The first of these is the old Rothchild’s building, which was photographed by 1963:

The western portion of the building belongs to Planned Parenthood, while Lillian Strickler, H&R Block, and Paseo Church are using the rest of it:

Before this building was constructed in 1950, more bungalows dotted the north side of the street.  The original Citizens State Bank is in the background:

Here’s the same scene now:

Speaking of the original Citizens State Bank, here’s a great photo of the groundbreaking for the modern structure:

Originally, the bank was going to look a lot different.  Here’s an early drawing that appeared in the Oklahoman:

And here’s the final structure that was designed by Bailey & Bozalis and built in 1948:

The bank grew so rapidly that it was soon expanded:

It grew again a couple of years later.  By 1955, bank directors realized that this building could never serve the growing customer demands placed on it, and they decided to purchase the lot at NW 23rd and Classen where the Jefferson School stood.  The result was the gleaming Gold Dome that opened in 1958.  The original Citizens building became a savings & loan and then a church before sitting vacant for nearly a decade:

In 2015, the Uptown Group purchased the building and spent the next two years renovating the old bank.  Hurts Donuts opened in 2018, and as this NewsOK photo shows, the building is bright and shiny once again:

Yay!  Another success story is the group of buildings on the 500 block that is now known as the Rise.  Originally, the building on the westernmost end was the only one there and housed Cullimore’s Furniture:

Interestingly, until the mid-1950s, there were three apartment buildings squeezed into what is now the alley behind the Rise, and you can see one of them in the above photo.  As Cullimore’s grew, the Rise was added on to and eventually comprised four separate structures.  Three of them kept the Art Deco trim that runs along the top, and one had a more modern storefront.  In the mid 1950s, Cullimore’s expanded and a third building was completed — Park’s Uptown and Street’s were located in that building.

The last building on the right, which is now occupied by The Drake, housed Lerner’s Vogue, another clothing store that has morphed into New York & Company.  To the west of Lerner’s was Sturm’s.  As for Cullimore’s, this shop offered the latest in home furnishings — here’s a shot of a display window from 1951:

How much do you love every single thing in this 1952 display?

Cullimore’s used these cute vans for deliveries:

When Cullimore’s moved into the expanded building around 1955, a new shop, Kathryn Lipe’s took over the storefront at 515 NW 23rd.  And when Cullimore’s vacated the larger building in 1964, guess who moved there … yep, Kathryn Lipe’s.  One of the most fondly remembered stores of the era, Kathryn Lipe’s was a kid and teen clothing store that was started by, duh, clothing designer Kathryn Lipe in 1950 and quickly became THE place to go to shop for the little ones and their older siblings.  Here’s a drawing of the larger shop that Ms. Lipe moved into in 1964.

Here’s 500 block in 1979, three years after Kathryn Lipe sold her business.  Kathryn Lipe’s was two doors down from Evans:

Interestingly, when the buildings that comprise the Rise were being cleared out after years of neglect by the former owner, who ran a used restaurant supply business, fellow photographer Isaac Harper and I were invited inside to have a look around.  Here’s what the former Kathryn Lipe’s shop looked like in 2013:

The former Kathryn Lipe’s space is now home to Interior Gilt, and all of the dramatic staircases are gone:

In the 1950s and 1960s, Sturm’s occupied the space to the east of Kathryn Lipe’s.  Here’s a shot of the Sturm’s storefront in 1951:

The interior had recently received a very modern makeover, and the shop was bright and shiny and quite posh:

The drama of the space was the grand staircase leading upstairs to more shopping:

In 2013 when Isaac and I photographed the place while it was being cleaned out, the lovely staircase was still there:

This is the Sturm’s storefront before work began on the Rise:

Here’s the sad condition of these buildings on the 500 block at that time:

And after Johnathan Russell of Land Run uncovered the original Art Deco details of these buildings, restored them, and revitalized them as the Rise:

I found several vintage images of the intersection at NW 23rd and Walker, so we’ll be able to take a look at it from several different angles.  First up, here’s the view looking east on 23rd right before Walker:

The billboard says that Local Federal on N. May is about to open, so that dates this photo to 1963, I believe.  Here’s the same view today:

The building on the right was home to one of the first liquor stores after prohibition was abolished in 1959:

This cute mod building is now a lot more boring and is a Goodwill donation station:

On the north side of the street are shops and the Tower Theatre, but we’ll get to those in a bit.  Let’s take a look at the same intersection looking from walker past NW 23rd to the north.  This image was taken in 1949 and is a real jaw dropper because there’s not much that is recognizable here – you might want to click on it to get a bigger view since there are a ton of great details to look at:

First of all, how cool is it that psychic and astrologer, Madam Zita was on this even-then busy corner where the liquor store would end up a decade later?  I decided to find out more about this seer of the stars and found a first mention of her in 1941 in the Oklahoman.  Originally from what is now the Czech Republic, the soothsayer was born Sofie Randiak and came to America in 1920.  She stayed in New York for a few years and shed her ethnic-sounding name for the much more Americanized Pauline Mills before heading to Oklahoma.  In the 1920s, she married and had two children, but I think that one of them died as a child (the other died in Oklahoma in 1968).  I don’t know if she came to Oklahoma with her husband or not, but she set up shop as a reader in OKC in 1930 and by 1941, she was working out of her home located at 436 NW 6th.  Soon, the petite but very strong willed woman was doing so well that she bought properties at 1023 N. Walker, 1116 NW 16th, NW 23rd and Walker.  She also had acreage outside of town.

In 1946, Pauline married a guy named O.F. Dorrance, but the madam obviously didn’t read her own fortune because the marriage foundered just a year later.  Mr. Dorrance sued her for half of the property she owned and money she had in the bank ($2,000 – which is about $25,000 now).  He told the court that, although they hadn’t married until 1946, he had lived with her since 1941 and ran the business side of her profitable enterprise and prepared astrology charts for customers.  The judge sided with him and awarded him half of everything.  Pauline appealed the court’s decision, but I’m not sure if she won or not.

The fortune teller/astrologist got in trouble a couple of other times.  A few years later, she was sued again when tenants in one of her apartments complained that she overcharged them rent and the court ruled in their favor.  In the early 1950s, she found herself back in court when she refused to pay taxes on one of her properties.  The court reduced the tax by $4,000 for that year but, when she complained again the following year that the rate was too high, she was out of luck and had to pay the full amount.

All of this didn’t affect Madam Zita’s popularity, though, and she continued giving readings for decades.  I found this cute article by Tom Boone from 1971 about her and her set up:

I am a Pisces and am told that I should live near water.  The only time I have ever lived near the water was when the bathroom pipe upstairs broke and flooded the dining room.  Pauline Mills says that doesn’t count.  She’s an astrologer in Oklahoma City.  The other day she looked me in the eye and told me I was going to get a pay raise pretty soon.  I liked her right away.

She’s about 70, short, stout and speaks with an accent that turns out to be Czechoslovakian.  She likes to laugh and to talk.  The best thing about her is that she leaves you feeling good.  She is quick to point out that she is not a fortune teller and doesn’t believe in what she calls “hocus pocus stuff” of palmists, spiritualists, and the like.  “I am very scientific,” she said.

Whether astrology is a valid science has been debated for thousands of years.  Some of the greatest thinkers of ancient Greece and Rome were astrologers.  Nowadays, however, astrology is mainly a form of entertainment.  No one really believes in it anymore.  Not really.  “I don’t really believe in it, you know,” someone is apt to say.  “Neither do I,” says someone else.  They impress this upon one another as they sit around Pauline Mills’ living room waiting for a $10 appointment.

I was first in line so I went into the dining room and sat down at the small table across from Mrs. Mills.  Covering the top of the table under a sheet of glass was an astrological chart to which she referred as she talked.  She also had a deck of ordinary cards which she studied occasionally and which, on their faces, bore the stamped words

HAROLD’S CLUB
RENO, NEVADA

I had never been to an astrologer before, but it being the first of a new year and all, I thought I might get an idea of what the future holds.  I might want to plan to be out of town.  I explained this to Mrs. Mills.  “I don’t really believe in it, you know.”  She just smiled.  She has faced many a disbeliever across the little table.  “I just set them straight,” she said.

Then she set me straight.  Not completely straight, though, because as she told me about myself, she hit a few things right and she missed a few.  Never mind, it was the future I was interested in.  “The coming year will not be a good year,” she said, speaking generally.  “It will be a good year financially, but in other ways it will not be a good year.”  What she meant by that, she said, was that during 1971 the American middle class will revolt against government and against the rich people.

Government at all levels is getting too much control over our lives, she said.  Taxes are too high.  “I pay nearly $1,000 a year in property taxes,” she said, referring to her house and a piece of business property she owns.  Middle-class people are getting sick of all of this and will soon sit up and say so.  She also said that there will be assassinations, and I allowed as how I had had enough of looking at the future.

“I’m also a marriage counselor,” she said.  During 1970, she reconciled 83 couples who were having marital difficulties.  All through astrological counseling.

She has been counseling and charting the lives of people in Oklahoma City since 1930, although she works under another name, Madame Zita.  Pauline Mills as a name suits her better because she works without any frills just as she was taught in New York and, years before, in Czechoslovakia.

“Cut the cards three times,” she said.  She looked at each pile, fanning the cards, throwing some away, laying some face up.  “But you are a Pisces and really should live near the water,” she said.  I shrugged apologetically, feeling somehow guilty that I don’t live near the water.

“It looks very good,” she said.  “Your company is going to send you on a trip soon.  You have a happy marriage.  I see a long, happy life for you.”  As I say, she leaves you feeling good.  “You are in excellent health,” she went on.  I was indeed, at that moment, in excellent health.  “In fact, the only vulnerable spot in your entire body,” she said, “is your big feet.”  Ah well.  An insignificant blemish, and all the better for wading.

I love it!  Such a fun article and sweet view into the world of Madame Zita.  The astrologer lived another decade and died in OKC at the age of 81 in 1981.

Anyway, back on NW 23rd.  Let’s look at another vintage photo from 1946 taken at a slightly different angle than the one above, shall we:

And, for comparison, here’s the same view now:

Not nearly as nice.

In the vintage photo, beyond NW 23rd on the left is a Mobile gas station where The Drake is now.  How cool is the WKY billboard for television that’s “on the way” — WKY officially signed on the air June 6, 1949 and is now KFOR.  On the northeast side of the intersection is a building that houses various shops.  It’s the building with the Standard sign that had me intrigued, though.  It looks very fun and mod in this photo, so I dug around and found another vintage image of this forgotten building, the gorgeous Standard Food Market:

What a building!  I think it was constructed around 1932, and it was photographed here in 1946. During the holidays in 1948, two bandits robbed the market as unsuspecting customers continued to shop.  It was the second robbery at the store in as many weeks.  Here’s the article about it:

Standard Market and Humpty Dumpty were owned by the same group led by S.N. Goldman — yeah, the guy who invented the shopping cart.  Soon after this photo was taken, the grocery store became a Humpty Dumpty and remained that way until 1981.  In 1982, the building became a church called the Praise Center, and five years later it was known as the Judah Fellowship.  In 1991, all of the churches were gone and Midwest Wrecking knocked down the Deco beauty.  Now, there’s just a vacant lot that has become a skateboard heaven to local kids:

Back at the intersection, let’s have a look at two photos looking toward the Tower Theatre.  This one is from 1948:

And this one was taken a few years later in the mid-1950s:

It’s interesting how the Veavey’s Drug signage changed during this time frame, and I love the cottage-style building belonging to the drug store.  It’s so pathetically sad today:

Here’s a better view of the building from the 1930s — how sweet it was:

Going past this intersection, let’s take a look at the buildings where the Tower Theatre is located.  Here’s a great panoramic shot from 1957 of these buildings in their heyday — you’ll definitely want to blow it up and look at every fantastic detail:

Here’s the same general view today:

Not much has changed.  In fact, these buildings look shiny and new after a meticulous renovation by David Wanzer, Ben Sellers, and Jonathan Dodson in 2016.  Here’s another vintage shot of the theater from 1946 and the tiny building next door that is now home to Ponyboy:

And now:

The Tower Theatre is an OKC icon and looks just as beautiful today as it did in this 1962 image:

Here’s another vintage image of the theater — the Sand Pebbles came out in 1966:

In 1980, Spivey’s Antiques was located in the old C.R. Anthony building:

And a few doors down, Ed Reynold’s Flowers was a hoppin’ spot to purchase blooms for your favorite loved one:

Today, the building is still home to a very popular business, 23rd Street Body Piercing:

I found this sweet photo of an Ed Reynolds window display from 1946:

And, yes, that beautiful detail over the door is still there — it’s painted black but it’s still there.

Next to these buildings was the Gene Scott Service Station:

I found this great photo at a flea market a long time ago and some Flickr friends helped me identify the location.  The giveaway was the little Deco building with the black Vitrolite trim on the left in the photo — it is clearly Cheevers:

And here’s the restored gas station when it was the grocery a few years ago:

Across the street is this 1953 shot of the apartment building at 400 NW 23rd:

It’s still looking good today:

On the northeast corner of the next block was the very sweet Toddle House:

Here’s what the Vanished Splendor III says about this eatery:

The “Toddle Houses” were a national chain of small cafes specializing in breakfast.  Each tiny outlet was built to the same plan and contained no tables, but merely a short counter with a row of stools.  At one time, there were three Oklahoma City locations: 1307 N. Broadway, 329 NW 23rd, and 1221 N. Walker.  Former customers still remember the fluffy scrambled eggs prepared in a special way.  Payment was on the honor system: customers deposited their checks with the correct amount in a box by the door on their way out.  In business in Oklahoma City some 30 years, the Toddle Houses closed here in the 1960s. 

The Toddle House in NW 23rd was demolished after it closed and the site remained a parking lot until recently.

A modest brick building is currently being constructed on the site.

Meanwhile, at 319 NW 23rd, diners from all over the city waited in long lines to eat at the very popular O’Mealey’s Cafeteria:

The old O’Mealey’s building is now Queen’s Beauty Supply and all of that mid-century modern beauty is long gone:

Battens Flowers was located at 301 NW 23rd and was on the receiving end of quite a ride in 1954:

Perhaps with good reason, the site of the Battens is now a parking lot for neighboring Dollar General:

The 200 block of NW 23rd was still comprised of mostly bungalow-style homes that were being used as businesses in the 1950s.  The exception was the two-story Dr. Ruth Payton clinic, as you can see in this 1956 photo:

Here are a couple of detail shots of the clinic:

Dr. Payton was a chiropractor and

The site of the clinic is now home to Basil Mediteranean:

Our last stop of the day is Byron’s Liquor at NW 23rd and Broadway.  In this case, let’s start with the “now” image first — this one is from their website:

I also found this nice history of Byron’s on their website:

Byron’s Liquor Warehouse opened its door on December 7th, 1959. Byron’s Liquor is owned and operated by Byron and Patricia Gambulos. Byron’s Liquor Warehouse is a pioneer in the OKC liquor industry. Offering the lowest prices and largest selection since 1959.

Byron has owned and operated several businesses to include; a burger restaurant, parking lots, Pat’s fashion dress store, and was the vice-president of Liebold-Gambulos Construction Company after serving in the U.S. Army during WWII and the Korean conflict.

In 1957, as the Prohibition Law ended, Governor Howard Edmondson vigorously helped Oklahoman’s have a choice to legalize alcohol. In 1958, the government asked Mr. Gambulos to set up mock liquor store so people would have an idea of what a liquor store should look like. Byron saw this as an opportunity to sell store furniture and fixtures. Instead businessmen bought or rented the mock stores to operate them. Eventually, he built 55 stores across the state. But fate intervened and in September 1959 when he built a liquor store on the corner of NW 23rd and Lincoln to lease out; the businessman that was going to purchase the store was unable to get a liquor license so Byron decided to operate it himself. The stored opened for business on December 7th 1959 as Byron’s Package Store. The “package” refers to the brown paper bags used to conceal liquor bottles during the Prohibition era. The store started with only two employees but was able to make $1000 in sales the first Saturday in business. Byron thought “this is a new industry with unbelievable growth, its pre-marketed and will not go out of style” based on this he decided to leave the fashion business and enter the liquor industry. The original store was 3,900 sq. feet and the first year Byron’s made over a 1 million dollars. Byron could not believe his good fortune.

In Sept. 1959, the State went “wet”,   there were no franchises, no price control and anyone could get a liquor license.

In 1961, the state condemned the property he operated out of so Byron moved to a building owned by the family on 23rd and Broadway.

In 1962, the Liquor price war started. Since the State did not control pricing as volume went up prices got lower. Low cost wholesalers were changing the retail business concept creating the advantage of buying low. This gave Byron the opportunity to buy at low prices and foster to keep the prices low by eliminating various attempts to develop a monopoly of price fixing. In 1963-1965, Byron pioneered in offering the lowest prices to the consumer. Byron’s has not only survived adversity, it has earned a solid spot as Oklahoma’s largest volume liquor retailer. Due to his persistence and tenacity in overcoming the roadblocks placed before him, Byron has throughout the years been a pioneer in changing liquor laws not only in Oklahoma but in other States that have adopted regulations similar to ours.

In the 60’s, he was voted the largest cash & carry liquor store in America. 1970, Byron started a major expansion program that has led to a 30,000 sq foot store. Byron’s was named 1990 Market Watch Leader, an elite list of about a dozen of the nation’s most successful liquor retailers.  Byron has traveled abroad several times to the wine growing areas of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal largely due to the increasing number of people in Oklahoma who enjoy fine wines.  Byron’s is the first retail store to conduct wine tastings off premises.  Some of the promotions that Byron created to attract customers were; Western Months (with real guns) and Tiger-Tank featuring a real tiger with an Old Charter Bottle on the top of the cage and also some famous people to shop at our store; Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley body guards for Elvis Presley (waiting in the limo), William Jennings and George Wallace.

Byron has also been a member of many social, civic and government organizations like MAPS, Midwest Enterprises, Board Member of the Oklahoma Zoological Trust just to mention a few.

A shrewd businessman he is, with a heart of gold to go with it. Pride, thought, hard work, good business judgment in developing and maintaining a serviceable store for the benefit of the people are the best words to describe Mr. Gambulos success. Competitive pricing remains the key part of the store’s philosophy. Through our policy of staying two steps ahead of both our competition and the economy we have managed to maintain an increase in volume despite some less than desirable economic times.

In 1964, Byron’s was bombed twice.  Apparently, there were several bombings of liquor stores around the state during the above-mentioned wholesale wars.

After a second bombing attempt, Bryon constructed a pillbox watchtower above the store for protection:

The tower didn’t last long, though, and came down just eight months after it went up:

Nine months after the first bombing, the police and FBI charged a suspect.  He was a wholesale salesman who was apparently disgruntled because retailers were buying liquor from Byron’s at cheaper than wholesale rates.  He paid a guy $500 and that guy paid someone else $300 to plant a stick of dynamite in the store, where it went off in the middle of the night, causing quite a bit of damage but injuring no one.  I’m not sure if the man was convicted.

Today, Byron’s is busier than ever and there haven’t been any bombings since these photos were taken.

Just up Broadway from Byron’s was Garland’s Drive-In:

Garland’s sat at NW 22nd and Broadway, and according to the Vanished Splendor, “Tis the Taste that tells the tale” was the motto that Garland’s Drive-In Restaurant … used in its advertising.  Garland B. Arrington founded the drive-in in 1939 and it remained at this location until 1950.  The architecture depicted in this view has a certain Art Deco flavor in both the coloring and the design of the building.  The decor inside was characterized by floral wallpaper and decorative wrought-iron fixtures.  Garland’s was known for its Tennessee Country Ham, Fried Chicken, and Corn Fed Steaks, as well as Individual Chicken Pies.  It offered curb service and several people remember that whatever the total bill, the standard tip was 10 cents, if you really wanted to ‘put on the dog.'”

After Garland’s moved out, I believe that El Fenix moved into the building and remained there into the 1980s.  The site is now a parking lot for Byron’s.  Here’s a view of this area in 1951:

And the same view today:

Back on NW 23rd, our last stop of the day is this little batch of buildings just before you hit Broadway:

If you look past the traffic, you can see the whole block of buildings that were once there:

When Broadway Extension was expanded in the early ’80s, they all came down — this photo is from 1982:

Here’s construction of Broadway Extension at NW 23rd in 1986:

That’s the tour for today.  Next week, we pick up where we’re leaving off today and will meander along NE 23rd.  Click Part 4 to read the final installment of the series.