Mod Blog

Turkey Days Gone By

Posted by on Nov 21, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

by Lynne Rostochil.  Photos from the Oklahoma History Center.

Of all of the holidays, Thanksgiving is, by far, my favorite.  It’s the one holiday that remains relatively untouched by consumerism and offers us the rare opportunity to press the Pause button on life and take stock of all of the things that make us happy and grateful.  The only goal of the day is surrounding yourself with loved ones and good food and maybe taking in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and football.  What’s not to love about that?

So, to celebrate the day, I’ve compiled some images from the Oklahoma History Center’s vast photographic archive of Thanksgivings past to get you in the spirit for all of the fun.

Thanksgiving is all about (hopefully happy) reunions, like this one from 1955:

And this one from 1953, in which Vernon Cowan was spending his first holiday home after being released from a Korean POW camp:

Yeah, he knows all about being thankful after that experience, I’m sure.  If you’re the crafty type and want to take on more than just cooking for Thanksgiving, why not try making one of these delightful table centerpieces:

Alas, I don’t have a crafty bone in my body, but I can make a mean turkey just like this lovely lady did back in 1950:

Delicious … although these guys don’t think so:

And what’s Thanksgiving without making pilgrim hats out of construction paper and putting on a little show?

Does the cute boy on the left look familiar?  In the newspaper caption, he’s identified as Joey Slack, who has grown up to be one of the most talented and best-known local artists, the incomparable Joe Slack.

Finally, if you like a little cheesecake with your turkey, here’s a cute one from 1948:

If you love old movies and TV shows, she might be familiar to you, too.  She is Phyllis Coates, who would go on to play Lois Lane opposite George Reeves in the movie, “Superman and the Mole Men” and the first season of the TV series, “Superman”:

After the first season, Phyllis left the show and was replaced by the Lois Lane that most of us remember, Noel Neill (who had originally appeared as Lois Lane in a few Superman movies in the late 1940s):

So, there’s your little bit of trivia for the day.  Gobble, gobble!

Hill Crest Heights: Southwest Oklahoma City’s Finest Addition

Posted by on Nov 15, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

by Lynne Rostochil.  Brochure courtesy of Mike Brown.  Photos from the OK County Tax Assessor website.

I always love a good homes brochure, and Mike Brown at RetrOKC recently passed on one he found at an estate sale not too long ago.  It advertises Ferguson’s Hill Crest Heights neighborhood, which is located between S. Kentucky and Blackwelder and SW 59th and SW66th:

The modest but well-cared-for neighborhood began being developed in 1952 and homes were constructed throughout the decade.  Most of the homes featured three bedrooms, 1 1/2 baths, and one-car garages — here are more amenities they offered:

The homes in Hill Crest Heights were built in a variety of styles, from quaint cottages to ranch style to even a modest mod here and there:

The brochure includes six model homes that were available for touring.  All were located on SW 61st Terrace.

Plan 1488-C sold for a whopping $13,850 and featured two exaggerated a-line windows in front that evoked the popular Storybook style:

Here’s the 1488-C today:

The 1486-A was designed for lovers of gingerbread:

The home today:

Next up is Plan 1511-A, a modest ranch:

And the home today:

The fourth model home is quite similar but offers a larger living room and has no dining room:

Here’s the model today:

The L-shaped fifth model features a compact plan that sold for $13,100 in 1961:

The house now:

The last model, 1485-B, combines the living and dining areas and contains a closed off kitchen area:

And here’s this cutie now:

The back cover of the brochure features ads from local businesses:

Good stuff!

 

On the Market: A Sputnik Delight in Belle Isle

Posted by on Nov 7, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

text and photos of home by Lynne Rostochil.  Other images identified in captions.

Last week, I got to tour a recently refreshed beauty in Belle Isle that hit the market on Sunday that has been lovingly restored by realtor Ken Hutmacher and designer Terezia Grillo with Grillo Ventures.  The duo found the original plans to the house and decided to faithfully follow them in restoring the house to its original glory.  This included building new lattices for the two front windows that had been removed long ago.  Here’s a tax assessor site photo of what the house looked like before — pretty sad and dull, aye?

The house definitely looks complete and much more appealing with the latticed windows:

The attention to detail doesn’t end there.  The front courtyard is a mid-century lover’s dream, with rock, beautifully matured palms, and a fab mod mailbox … in turquoise, of course:

And check out the fantastic and all-original zig-zagged walkway:

How snazzy is that?  This lovely 1,800 sf home was designed by Rex Whiting, Jr., very solidly built by Jack Clark, and constructed in 1963.  I had never heard of Whiting before and decided to do a little research about him.  He served during WWII as a Corporal in the 82nd Airborne Division and, after the end of hostilities, returned to his hometown to work with his dad, who was a building contractor.  Soon, he was designing homes.  Even though he was never a licensed architect, the stalwart Whiting’s attention to detail and passion for design made his homes popular destinations on several Parade of Homes tours in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.  According to his son, who is also a home builder, Whiting was quite prolific, designing 300-500 mostly traditionally-styled homes a year during his heyday.

One more modern home that Whiting designed was a longtime favorite of mine until it got botched a few years ago.  The mod lake house was featured as a “plan of the week” in the Oklahoman and was constructed just one year after our Belle Isle beauty in 1964:

Here’s a close up of that house:

It was long one of my favorite homes in the Silver Lake/Ski Island area — here’s what it looked like in 2002:

And here’s what I mean by botched — I can’t stand it!

Pathetic.  But, I’m happy to say that the same ISN’T the case with the Belle Isle house.  Nope, not at all.  I mean look at the perfect front door for this place — if you didn’t know any better, you’d think that it’s been there for decades, it fits so perfectly with the home:

Inside, things get even better with the all original sputnik ceiling fixture, terrazzo floors, and lattice dividers that dramatically offset the entry from the other parts of the home:

Let’s take a closer look at that gorgeous sputnik:

I mean, really, there’s no sexier lighting fixture than this, in my opinion.  Love it!  And, there are two of these babies in the house!

Here’s the view from the entry into the giant living room that overlooks a lush green backyard beyond:

Here’s another view of the living room with another all-original feature, a mod rocked fireplace trimmed in terrazzo:

That fireplace is so elegant and packs a big wow at the same time.  Originally, the room had a dropped ceiling, but Ken and Terezia vaulted it to add even more drama to the space and to make the already large room appear even bigger.  Off of the living room is a separate dining area with a new light fixture that looks right at home with its sputnik uncle in the entry:

The well-appointed kitchen is off of the dining room and features a breakfast nook, original-but-fixed-up cabinetry, and quartz countertops:

The stove/oven and dishwasher are brand new and oh-so-mod:

Man, I’d love to cook on that amazing stove, wouldn’t you?

And, as you can see, the terrazzo runs throughout the common areas of the home and is in excellent condition:

There’s an ample-sized laundry room off of the kitchen that leads to the two-car garage beyond.  On the other side of the home are three bedrooms and two baths.  Ken and Terezia have remodeled both bathrooms — the master got a brand new and very roomy shower with tilework that mimics the pattern of the front door:

But I was very happy to see that Ken and Terezia kept the original countertop that perfectly matches the terrazo floor in the bathroom:

How cool is that?!

The large master bedroom has been painted a relaxing blue/gray and features two vintage pendant lamps that Ken’s dad rescued from a college library that was being botched … ugh, I mean renovated:

This is such a peaceful space, and I love how the exterior lattice provides nice shadow play in the room in the afternoon.  Very nice.

So, I told you that this house has its original plans — check out a section:

The plans come with the original building specs document, too, which is VERY rare.

So, all of this carefully restored goodness in one of the best neighborhoods in town can be yours for $325,000.  If you’re interested in touring the home or have questions, Ken is the listing agent and can be contacted at 405-204-9052.  The address is 2604 NW 61st, and you can see more photos of the home here.

 

Thanks, Ken and Terezia, for inviting me to tour this amazing space.  I hope you decide to restore more mod homes in the future because you obviously know what you’re doing.

On the Road: More Phoenix Tidbits

Posted by on Oct 31, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

text and photos by Lynne Rostochil.

On the last Mod Blog, I subjected you to everything Paolo Soleri in and around Phoenix, and while that was the focus of my trip, my husband and I did check out a few other spots in the area that I thought I’d share with you.  First up is a place that any lover of mid-century modern architecture must have on his/her bucket list, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West:

Of all of our architecture adventures, this destination was definitely my non-architecture-loving husband’s favorite, and we spent quite awhile on the tour marveling at the perfection that is this place overlooking town … and electrical wires.  The wires were erected years after Wright began building this home in the late 1920s.  He was quite miffed that the unsightly wires impeded his view of the valley, so he designed an underground wire system and presented it to the city, but town leaders refused to move the wires.  Wright then decided that he would disassemble and move Taliesin West to another location, but his much more practical wife put the kibosh on that idea, deeming it much too expensive.  Wright resolved the quandary by reorienting entrances and buildings so that the best views were now toward the mountain and away from the valley, which he never wanted to see again.  Go here to read more history about this incredible property, and you’ll definitely want to read this riveting article about the adventures Wright and his gang had on their yearly excursions from Wisconsin to Arizona and back.

Here are just a few of the shots I took of the place:

The living room is beyond glorious and, originally, the room was open to the elements with the windows covered in canvas.

I loved the rock art by Wright’s pal, Clare Booth Luce:

After the devastating fire and murder at Taliesin in Wisconsin, Wright wanted to make sure that any fires could be easily extinguished in his desert home.  So, he had pools built near the kitchen, both in the front and back of the house.  This is one of them:

The intimate theater was pretty impressive, too:

I highly recommend signing up for either the first or last tour of the day to get the best light for photographing the buildings.  There’s also a night tour you can take, which will definitely be on my list for next time.  We were on the last tour of the day and hung around after the tour as the sun creeped below the horizon, creating a spectacular light dance with the home:

Another stop on our architecture tour was the dramatic Valley National Bank, located at 4401 E. Camelback Road in Scottsdale:

The bank, which is featured on the cover of Midcentury Marvels: Commercial Architecture of Phoenix, 1945-1975 (I highly recommend it),  was designed by Wright associate, Frank Henry, and was completed in 1967.

It’s a stunning mix of rock, sharp curves, and clerestory windows, and saucer-like exterior umbrellas that provide much-needed shade from the brutal sun:

Unfortunately, you can’t take photos inside this beauty, but you can definitely go in and marvel at the gorgeous design.  There’s also a plaque with a history of Henry and the bank near the vault door.  Check it out!

Another stop we made was at the David Wright house, which was designed by his dad, Frank Lloyd Wright and completed in 1952.  The spiral-shaped home on chunky stilts came close to being demolished a few years ago but is now open as a museum.  Unfortunately, when we were there, the home was closed and it looks like construction is being completed on a parking lot.  I did sneak a photo of the home through the fence, though:

Can’t wait to tour this beauty the next time we’re in town!

Next up was the glorious Biltmore Hotel in Scottsdale.  I’ve wanted to tour this place for a LONG time and was not disappointed.

Designed by Wright protege Albert Chase McArthur (with Wright as a consulting architect), the luxurious resort was completed in 1929 and has been the go-to place for presidents, movie stars, and just regular Joe’s like you and me ever since.

The pre-cast, uniquely-patterned concrete blocks were made onsite and are the hotel’s most interesting feature:

Although a room at the Biltmore is quite pricey, it’s well worth stopping and having a snack or drink and checking out this extraordinary piece of architecture.

Another hotel that is a must-see is the super hip Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale:

Located just a couple of blocks from Old Town Scottsdale, the Valley Ho was revamped a few years ago and restored to its mid-century modern splendor:

The rooms are pretty spiffy, too:

Although the rooms aren’t cheap, it is well worth splurging to stay at the Valley Ho, not only for the great atmosphere at the hotel but also because you can walk from the hotel to all of shops, restaurants (like the wonderful Italian Grotto), and galleries in Old Town.  You can also stroll to the Civic Center district, where the Performing Arts Center and the Museum of Contemporary Art are located.

There are so many incredible examples of mid-century modern architecture in and around Phoenix that I’m already planning my next trip to the city to take in more of the goodies there.  Can’t wait!

On the Road: Exploring the World of Paolo Soleri

Posted by on Oct 25, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

text and photos by Lynne Rostochil.  Vintage photos from the Wright Foundation and Cosanti Foundation, respectively.

For years, I’ve been more than a little obsessed with architect Paolo Soleri, his philosophy about what the urban environment should look like, and, of course, his charming bells, so I was especially excited to hear about a new exhibition of his work at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary of Art.  That gave me the perfect excuse I’ve been looking for to head to Arizona and soak up all things Soleri!

Soleri was born and went to school in Turin, Italy and discovered the wild, arid beauty of Arizona when he arrived at Taliesin West to study with Frank Lloyd Wright in 1946.   The two men didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things.  For one, Wright’s ideas about urban planning contrasted sharply with his apprentice’s.  Wright foresaw the car-reliant, urban sprawl of the 21st century city with his plan for Broadacre City, in which the architect would be the master planner in creating open, verdant urban areas free of densely packed central districts in which the car reigned supreme.  Soleri took the complete opposite view of urban development that he called “Arcology” (architecture and ecology), which called for vertical urban areas that were densely packed with multi-use buildings where people could easily walk from home to work to just about everywhere.  Unlike Broadacre City, Soleri’s vision would use less land, reduce the strain on natural resources, and eliminate the need for a complicated, spread out infrastructure all while maximizing walkability and enhancing a sense of community.

The two men also had very different ideas about appropriate dress.  Wright was very formal and always wore a three-piece suit, even in the heat of summer:

In contrast, Soleri was much more comfortable roaming around wearing just a pair of shorts or a makeshift sarong:

At Taliesin West, all apprentices spent a considerable amount of time doing such non-architecture-related duties as cleaning, cooking, and serving the very imperious Wright and his equally formal wife, Olgivanna.  One story goes that Soleri had the audacity to serve dinner to the haughty Wrights while wearing his skimpy sarong, and that sent Mrs. Wright over the edge.  The Wrights knew that Soleri was planning to set up a school similar to theirs in Italy and wanted him out, anyway, and this was the last straw.  I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it makes a great story!

Through his connections, Soleri met his first real client, Nora Woods, and soon had a commission for her desert house north of Phoenix.  The glorious and amazingly original Dome House was the result, and along with the commission, Soleri scored a wife when he met and married Woods’ lovely daughter, Colley.  The pair, along with some of their friends, constructed the home — check out a short video about the place here.  Soon after the home was completed, the couple moved to Italy, where Paolo designed the dramatic Solimene Ceramics Factory, which is still in use today.

The Soleris returned to Arizona in 1956 and began construction on Cosanti, their home and first compound.  To help support themselves, Soleri began designing and producing his iconic wind bells.  Today, you can tour most of Cosanti (except for the living quarters) and, if you’re lucky, watch workers make the bells.  The foundry was closed the day we were there, but the place is truly magical and a must see if you’re in the Phoenix area — and it’s free!  Check out this skeletal structure:

And here are several examples of Soleri’s ceramic bells:

There are bells, bells, bells everywhere!  And don’t even get me started on how powerful the primitive-looking concrete architecture is.  I think that the creators of The Flintstones used Soleri’s buildings as inspiration when they were drawing Fred and Wilma’s world, I really do.

The foundry is pretty impressive, too…

… and take a look at some of the living quarters that overlook the work area:

Perhaps the most popular sight at Cosanti is the fabulous Bell Tree:

On a breezy day, which we fortunately had, the gently jangling of the bells creates a delightful aural backdrop for the jaw dropping architecture.

About 70 miles north of Phoenix is Soleri’s greatest achievement, Arcosanti.

This was the place where the architect and visionary urban planner was finally able to put his philosophies about architecture and ecology into practice.  The aptly named Arcosanti — which means “against materialism” — got off the ground when Soleri purchased 25 acres of desert land out in the middle of nowhere … and I mean NOWHERE … near Mayer, Arizona.  In 1970, the building began, and over 7,000 people have worked to construct Soleri’s “urban laboratory” in the ensuing years.

Soleri’s plan called for 25-story towers that would house 5,000 people and contain both work and recreational space, but to date, just 5% of his dream has been completed.  Even though it is modest in size, Arcosanti is as magical and mystical as its sister in the Phoenix area.  Brutalist buildings with giant circular windows are surrounded by towering cypress and honest-to-goodness olive trees that overlook a rocky desert valley and a red-rocked butte beyond.  It’s a powerful place, indeed.  The Crafts III building contains Arcosanti’s impressive gallery, the cafe, and housing for workshop students, who come from all over the world to learn about Soleri and what he accomplished here.

The cafe is especially impressive at dinnertime as the sun sets in the west:

There’s also a recreational area in the cafe that includes a piano and a chess set with bronze pieces forged at Arcosanti — these buggers were HEAVY!

The Ceramics Apse was completed in 1973.  All of the pottery bells and pots are made here:

Nearby is the Foundry Apse, where Soleri’s iconic bronze bells are produced.  We were lucky to crash a tour of the foundry being given to some guys from Canada who were visiting for a one-week workshop.  It’s quite an impressive operation, from the making of the molds using packed sand…

to the pouring of the bronze into molds…

Here, recently cast bells are awaiting assembly:

Here are more photos of the foundry and its work rooms:

Look at all of the molds that have been made for the bells:

Here’s a box of fins ready to be acid washed to create a lovely green patina:

And another kind of fin:

There’s also an arched workspace where the ceramic tiles and switchplates are made:

The first structure to be completed at Arcosanti was the South Vault, which was built in 1971 and offered a shaded area for outdoor activities and work.  The North Vault was completed four years later:

The amphitheater is surrounded by apartments and a lounge area for Arcosanti’s workshop visitors and residents:

There’s also a fantastic pool overlooking the valley if you want to cool off on a hot summer day … or, in Arizona, any day.

Underneath the pool is what will one day (hopefully) be greenhouses, along with one that they are using now:

Even before Soleri’s death at the ripe old age of 93 in 2013, construction at Arcosanti had pretty much ground to a halt due to financial restrictions, and his vision will likely never be fully realized.  But, for the 100 or so people who work here and call this communal experiment home, it remains viable and well loved.  Here are a couple more photos of Arcosanti (yes, that is a manhole cover that was made onsite) — this is really such a photogenic place that I could post 100 photos and still have more that I’d want to share with you.

My husband and I stayed the night in the guesthouse, which provides modest but clean rooms with a shared bath for a meager $40 a night/including breakfast.  The rooms don’t have air conditioning, but there is a screened door that you can open to let in cool breezes at night — it was more than comfortable for us.  And, if you want TV, you won’t find it here, but you will find plenty of other interesting guests sitting out on the front porch of the guesthouse to chat with, and that’s much better than anything the tube can offer.  Also, if you want to eat dinner at Arcosanti, it’s a whopping $10 per person/all you can eat.  There’s a bar that is sometimes open in the cafe, so if you want to be assured a drink or two, bring your own.

(You can also rent a private apartment at Arcosanti for just $95 a night from Airbnb or stay in the Sky Suite for $100 a night.)

Sunrise at Arcosanti is pretty incredible and definitely put us in a happy mood for the entire day:

The final stop on our Soleri adventure was an exhibition devoted to the architect that recently began at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary ArtRepositioning Paolo Soleri: The City is Nature runs through January 28, 2018, and includes original drawings and models, some of Soleri’s more intricate bells, and models of bridges he designed.

So, if you have a long weekend in the near future, I highly suggest taking in the exhibition and both Cosanti and Arcosanti.  You may decide, like I did, that a workshop is definitely in your future.

 

St. Patrick’s and Sts. Peter and Paul in Liturical Arts Magazine

Posted by on Oct 4, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

by Lynne Rostochil.  The Liturgical Arts articles and photos from the OU Architecture Library collection in Norman.  Vintage images by Julius Shulman, and the modern-day photos by Lynne Rostochil.

 

Last week, the Oklahoma City Foundation for Architecture sponsored a tour of one of my very favorite buildings of all time, the glorious St. Patrick’s Catholic Church on NW 19th and Portland.  This building is special for so many reasons, from the architecture itself to the manner in which it was constructed.  You can read all about the fascinating history of the church in the Mod Blog.  There’s also this Mod Blog featuring St. Patrick’s in Progressive Architecture, where one of Julius Shulman’s images of an angel made the cover.

The modern cathedral, which was designed by Robert Lawton Jones of the Tulsa firm, Murray Jones Murray, was also the subject of an article in the August 1962 issue of Liturgical Arts magazine.  Its sister, Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, is also featured in the magazine, so I thought I’d share both with you.  The article begins with an editorial (click a photo to enlarge it):

 

Then, there’s an article entitled “Vitality in Oklahoma,” which provides a historical context for the building of these two very modern takes on Catholic church design:

Next up is a spread on Sts. Peter and Paul, which was designed by Murray Jones Murray and is located in Tulsa.

How great are those exterior angels?  Here’s a close-up photo of them that I took a couple of years ago:

And, here’s the spread on St. Pat’s, which had recently won the first prize in the annual Spaeth-Cardinal Lercaro design competition:

Also, there’s an interesting article in the magazine about abstract art in the church:

Finally, I can never get enough of the angels at St. Pat’s and had to take tons of photos of them during the tour.  Thought I’d share a few of the images with you:

The inner sanctuary surrounded by angels.  I learned from architect Tony Blatt that the skylights in the sanctuary were covered soon after the church was completed because they leaked so badly.  They remained that way for decades until Tony and some friends came up with the idea of making a domed-shaped skylight to cover the existing ones to block out the rain.  So, now the sanctuary is as light and bright as it was the day it was constructed.

It’s such an amazing feeling to walk among the 50 angels that surround the sanctuary.

The Felix Candela-designed thin-shell concrete umbrellas that allow for such openness inside:

The Reverand Thomas McSherry has had the honor of calling both Sts. Peter and Paul and St. Patrick’s home and he’s an excellent caretaker for this stunning piece of mid-century modern architecture.  Here, he’s telling tour goers some of the interesting history of the church:

Finally, a parting shot of St. Pat’s as the sun was going down after the tour.  Even in silhouette, it’s a stunner:

 

The Flamingo: Bringing a Little Palm Springs to OKC

Posted by on Sep 26, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

by Lynne Rostochil.  Photos by Charlie Merida of Kevo Properties.

Over the last year or so, many of us have excitedly watched the transformation of the former University Manor Apartments, located at 1844 NW 23rd across from OCU.  Here’s what the building looked like in 2010 (from the Tax Assessor website):

It’s always been a building I’ve admired for its mid-century style and the repeating pattern of the walkway in front.  It’s a beautiful design and the building, which was constructed in 1961, looks like it has always been well maintained, but the bland tan paint job didn’t show off the complex to its full potential.  Well, all of that has changed in a big way with the structure’s stunning transformation from University Manor to the sleek and fabulous Flamingo:

How fun is this?  I’m so in love with all of that color, I can’t stand it!

The 32-unit complex offers 31 one-bedroom, 550-square-foot apartments and one two bed/two bath apartment, along with on-site laundry.  Inside, the light and colorful units have been completely updated and feature well-appointed kitchens (with custom-crafted dividers) and crisp, clean bathrooms.

The nice-sized living areas, which open to the kitchen, are a pleasant surprise, too:

Two couples, Jason and Sara Kate Little and Ben and Jessica Chamberlain are the brains behind this beautiful renovation, and the team was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the project.

Why did you decide to go with a mid century theme?

Flamingo disappeared on 23rd Street before we painted it and we felt it deserved a Palm Springs style upgrade.  We chose a mid century design because it fit the lines and the era and left room for playfulness and that we thought could bring the property to life. — Jess

Do you have any original drawings or photo of the complex?

I spent hours looking through the archives at the Historical Society and never seemed to stumble upon that “needle in the haystack.”  Instead, we gained inspiration from roadside motels from Route 66 and Palm Springs, as well as Luis Barragan for his use of color and form.” — Sara Kate

What has the response been to this project?

The response has been really favorable.  It’s been really fun to see so many people get excited about the design and most surprisingly, the color.  I never thought I would have men messaging and approaching us to tell us how much they loved the pink!  It makes me very excited that our city is embracing something that is a little quirky and outside the box. — Sara Kate

Is this the first project like this you’ve done?

I consult on aesthetics for clients and Jason helps broker real estate investments for his job.  We were really looking for a way to start doing design and development projects together and so we created “Nostalgia Shoppe” as a vehicle to do that.  We partnered on this project with some of our best friends, which was fun, but we are also working on another project independently that will hopefully be live next year. — Sara Kate

We have bought and renovated several historic multi family properties in Oklahoma City but Flamingo is a unique project for us because we have collaborated with the Little’s and we have exercised a little more creativity on this renovation.  Luckily, we have a solid team of subcontractors who are willing to with us on installing a custom made metal bar cabinet or making sure we get the lighting just right or helping us bring the color palette to life.  It has been fun to let our eccentricities come through in design versus picking a safer route and even more fun collaborating with dear friends.  — Jess

Do you plan to do more projects like this?

At some point in the future there will be more projects after a respite from construction.  It was fulfilling to see the vision come to life in the end.  Ben

Well, if the Flamingo is any indication of what this dynamic team of friends can do, I can’t wait for them to get started on their next colorful, fun, and invigorating project.  If you are interested in leasing an apartment at the swanky Flamingo, contact Shawn Shafer at Kevo Properties — 818/915.3168.

In the Rearview: The Life and Times of OKC’s Most Notorious Bootlegger — Conclusion

Posted by on Sep 21, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

by Lynne Rostochil.  Photos from the Oklahoma History Center unless otherwise stated.

This week, we wrap up the story of bootlegger, Lindsey Chambless and his cohorts in crime.  To read previous installments, go to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

“On a Job”

On the balmy evening of Thursday, July 5, 1956, Lindsey, Mary Lou, and the kids were entertaining fellow bootlegger, Seth Stone and his wife at their home across the street from the lot where Putnam City High School was about to be constructed.  I imagine that Lindsey and his family were enjoying a lazy summer week of attending fireworks demonstrations, eating fried chicken, drinking cold lemonade (likely spiked in Lindsey and Mary Lou’s case), and having watermelon seed spitting contests in their backyard.  It was summer, after all.

As the group sat down for dinner just before 7:00, the phone rang … and not the liquor store phone that Mary Lou got busted for taking orders on several months before.  Lindsey went into the living room to take the call.  When he hung up, the 40-year-old rum runner excused himself, saying that he had to go “on a job.”  Then, he grabbed his rifle and revolver and, as he was heading out the door, told Mary Lou, “If you don’t hear from me by noon on Friday, have Dave Tant (his attorney) start looking for me.  I’ll be in jail somewhere or in trouble.”

The rest of the group finished their meal, then Stone and his wife left.  Interestingly, Stone and Lindsey and recently stopped working with large wholesalers, led by big time bootlegger, Grady King, and planned to start their own rum running syndicate, which apparently wasn’t going over well with local underworld bosses.  Meet Grady King:

In fact, just a couple of weeks before on June 24th, Stone was sitting in his living room when a car drove up and shot at him through the living room window.  He fared much better than Lindsey had when he was shot; however, because the bullet barely missed Stone and the would-be assassin scrambled back to the waiting car and quickly took off.

Stone and his wife came from the Lawton area, where the bootlegger once claimed to a local reporter, “It is much more wide open than in Oklahoma City.  The girls here, well they just … uh, you know, it is wide open.  Of course, it’s an Army post town and all that.  But it looks to me like an Army post town would be more strict than other towns for this type of activity.”  His wife also lamented about the poor quality of spirits – presumably brought in by other bootleggers and not themselves – when she said, “Tell me one place you can get a fifth of Ancient Age whiskey (a high quality brand).  (The whiskey sold in Lawton) isn’t even fit to make a cocktail out of.”  Maybe that’s why the couple moved to Oklahoma City and hooked up with Lindsey – to get better quality booze and move up to the big leagues.

Lindsey Doesn’t Come Home

As the night faded into morning, Mary Lou began to worry about Lindsey.  He always called when he was out on a job, even if it lasted for days.  She should have heard from him by now.  With the kids in bed, the house clean, the dinner dishes put away, and the TV networks signed off for the night, there wasn’t much for her to do but smoke, pace, and imagine the worst.

Thursday became Friday and Friday turned into Saturday, and she still hadn’t heard from Lindsey.  The young wife’s trepidation turned into near panic, and Mary Lou knew that it was time to do the unthinkable … call the police.

Sheriff Bob Turner and Deputy “Boots” Capshaw arrived, interviewed Mary Lou, and began an investigation immediately.

(Sheriff Bob Turner after a raid in 1955.)

(“Boots” Capshaw – right – after a 1957 raid.)

Within hours, they found Lindsey’s car abandoned in the parking lot at the Municipal (now Will Rogers) Airport.  There was no evidence of a struggle; the bootlegger’s shotgun was missing but his hat and pistol remained in the car.  The pistol made police suspect the worst.  One vice squad officer who had many dealings with Lindsey over the years said, “I don’t believe Chambless would have got in another car of his own accord without his pistol….  He never trusted anybody that far, not even his good friends.”

Lindsey’s old pal in the Cuban robbery, Gene Paul Norris, was brought in for questioning but denied all involvement in the bootlegger’s disappearance.  Before he was released, however, the killer told authorities, “Don’t bother looking for Chambless.”

Immediately, informants came forward saying that Lindsey had been murdered, but as days turned into weeks and months with no sign of the missing man, others speculated that he had run off to avoid the five-year sentence looming over his head.  Capshaw told reporters, “I’m not going to speculate on whether he’s dead or alive.  I just want to know if he’s standing or lying down.”  Mary Lou’s gut told her that Lindsey was surely “lying down” somewhere.

A few months later, police uncovered a crazy gangster plot indicating that Mary Lou’s instincts might be right.   Apparently, a group of Dallas mobsters that included Lindsey’s old pal from the Cuban holdup, Gene Paul Norris, met with a few big time Oklahoma County bootleggers during OU/Texas weekend in Dallas.  Led by “the mastermind of the Oklahoma bootlegging syndicate,” Grady King, the Oklahoma gang supposedly offered to pay their Dallas friends $15,000 to kill five bootleggers in the Sooner State.  These guys are some of the players in the conspiracy — that’s Grady King signing the paper:

One of the intended victims was Seth Stone, who had fled back to Lawton after Lindsey’s disappearance because he knew he had a price on his head and the next shooter might not miss him.

By eliminating these five competitors, the two gangland groups led by Grady and Norris reasoned that the bootlegging wars could end and they would take over the entire Oklahoma operation for themselves.  However, their plan derailed when one of their hired guns turned out to be good friends with one of the intended marks and told him all about the nefarious murder plan.  In a plot twist straight out of a Hitchcock thriller, the intended victim and his supposed assassin then schemed to double cross their bosses.  The assassin would go back to Norris with some of the victim’s possessions as proof that he killed his target, get paid for the assassination, and the two friends would split the proceeds.

With all of the plotting, planning, and scheming going on, it’s no big surprise that someone blabbed to the wrong person and the police found out about this latest and most daring episode of the bootlegging wars.  Since the plan took place so soon after Lindsey’s disappearance, authorities suspected that he may have been the first hit in this crazy plot for control and one detective told reporters, “We intend to break the back of that outfit before anything else happens.”  As for the double crossers, it was never a good idea to go against Norris, and, not surprisingly, one of them soon ended up in a ditch.

Although Grady King and his associates were arrested…

… they were soon released for lack of evidence.

Meanwhile, with no one to support her and the kids, Mary Lou lost their house out in the country and moved to Cisco, Texas, to be near her mother and Lindsey’s former flame, Stella.  Looking for a fresh start in life after her divorce from Lindsey, Stella had moved to the small town in 1949 and was working as a waitress in a popular café.  There, she met a local mechanic and World War II vet named Robert Massey, who was a widower 10 years her senior.  The two married in 1953 and, grateful for the quiet of her new life, Stella quickly settled into small-town life and became a regular fixture at the local Methodist Church.

Mary Lou still had to face charges of running a liquor store out of her Oklahoma City, home, though.  After a short trial in the spring of 1957, the young mother was found guilty and given probation.  As for Lindsey, he was still nowhere to be found, although rumors swirled that he was in Mexico, San Antonio, Lawton, Wichita Falls, back in Oklahoma City, or buried somewhere in the Arbuckles.

The wild rumors were put to rest, however, on that rainy November night over a year after Lindsey’s abrupt disappearance when Sheriff Turner, Deputy Capshaw, and FBI agent, D.A. “Jelly” Bryce found the rum runner’s decomposed body in the shallow grave on the Rowland farm not far from where they had found Lindsey’s car at the airport 17 months before.  The cat-and-mouse game that they and the “Flying Bootlegger” had been playing for decades was finally over.

Norris Seeks Revenge

When police examined the remains of Lindsey Chambless, they found that he had been shot twice (once in the head and once in the hip) and had received a “crushing blow to the head,” according to the Oklahoman and Lindsey’s death certificate:

(ancestry.com)

Lindsey’s wife, Mary Lou, and his sister were among the handful of mourners at the bootlegger’s graveside as he was laid to rest less than 10 miles from where his car was found at the airport the year before.  There is no marker on his grave.

(findagrave.com)

While police highly suspected that Gene Paul Norris either hired someone to take out Lindsey or, since he was known as “the Smiling Killer” and had been seen in Oklahoma City at the time of Lindsey’s disappearance, pulled the trigger himself, they had no evidence.  Either way, karma finally caught up with the charming but cold-blooded gangster, who law enforcement in Texas and Oklahoma called the “most dangerous man in the Southwest” and would kill anyone, man or woman, for a price … or just for revenge.

That was the case in April of 1957, nearly a year after Lindsey’s disappearance, when Norris followed through on a long-simmering plan to seek revenge against the man who, he believed, landed his beloved big brother, Pete, in prison 20 years before.  Pete “Big Boy” Norris was 10 years older than Gene Paul and, as with many sibling relationships, the younger brother adored his older sibling and followed him everywhere.

In 1937, Pete labored as an oil field worker and rum runner in Stafford, Texas (which has now been pretty much gobbled up by Houston) when he killed fellow bootlegger, R.E. Rutledge after a dispute.  Gambler Johnnie Brannan was a witness to the events and testified against Pete in court.  The elder Norris was convicted and sentenced to a long stretch in nearby Ferguson Prison.  In 1942, Gene Paul concocted a successful plan to break out his big brother, and the siblings went on the lam for several months, robbing stores and banks to get enough money to live on.  The escape and robberies landed Pete at the top of the Oklahoma and Texas authorities’ list as Public Enemy #1.

In late February 1943, a tip led a 75-man posse to a remote farm in Texas where the two brothers were holed up.  The brothers surrendered without incident, and Gene Paul got eight years for planning the breakout and the robberies (he was paroled after two years).  Pete was sent back to prison, escaped again in 1944, then was caught a few days later in Detroit. The big league trouble maker then received a 700-year sentence, which all but ensured he would spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Gene Paul long fostered a great hatred for the man he blamed for Pete’s initial incarceration, Houston gangster Johnnie Brannan, and resolved to take revenge.  According to an account by Texas Ranger, Johnny Klevenhagen:

Houston police received a call from a known associate of Brannan.  He said that he had been trying for hours to telephone Brannan, all to no avail.  A patrol car was dispatched to Brannan’s home.  The officers knocked on the door, but received no reply.  They tried the front door and found it unlocked.  When they entered the house, they were greeted with a gruesome sight.  Both Brannan and his semi-invalid wife were dead, and the heads of both victims had been beaten to a bloody pulp.  In fact, Brannan had been hit so hard that one of his eyeballs had been literally knocked from his head.  The crime-scene investigation revealed that, after the killers had massacred their victims, they had gone into the bathroom and washed blood off themselves.  Then they had calmly gone into the kitchen and drunk coffee.

At first, no one suspected the gangster of the brutal double homicide, but when police picked up Norris’s bodyguard, William Carl Humphrey on a public intoxication charge a few days later in Temple, Texas, they noticed he was wearing a gold ring in the shape of a horseshoe, which was just like one Brannan wore and that was missing from the murder scene.  However, Humphrey had bailed out and skipped town before homicide detectives to get to him and question him about the slayings.

The Brutal End of Norris and Humphrey

The two criminals laid low for a few weeks until they popped back up near their old stomping ground: Fort Worth.  Fort Worth Police Chief Hightower got word that the criminals were planning to hold up the Fort Worth National Bank branch on the Carswell Air Force Base in this, the most daring crime of their already-impressive careers.  On April 29th, Norris and Humphrey, who were both just 35 years old, were driving along Meandering Road near the base in Norris’s souped up and shiny new ’57 Chevy heading to heist the $225,000 payroll at the branch (which would be worth $1.8 million in 2017).  They were spotted by police, who were told to keep an eye out for the duo.  A thrilling pursuit began.

I’ve combined two accounts from the Texas Rangers website about what happened next:

Heading toward the area, the Rangers soon spotted the pair, and the race was on. Humphrey was driving the outlaw car. Jay in pursuit, Ranger Jim Ray was in a second car right behind his captain. Hitting speeds of 115 mph, the chase continued. For the next several minutes, a running gunfight covered an area over much of the western area of Fort Worth. 

Finally, Humphrey made a fatal mistake: he turned onto a country road that was covered with caliche (crushed rock). It had rained shortly before, and the road surface was very slick. When Humphrey turned onto the road, he fishtailed several times before straightening out.  (Texas Ranger) Jay did two complete spins himself, but ended up heading in the right direction.

The race continued along the road that ran beside the swollen Walnut Creek. All the while, Norris and Klevenhagen were hanging out their respective car windows, firing away at one another. Just outside the tiny community of Springtown, the chase came to an end.  

Charging into a curve too fast, the bandits’ ’57 Chevy slid off the road and slammed into a tree. 

(Police inspecting Norris’s car after the incident.)

Jay tried to stop behind the killers’ car, but instead slid right up beside it. He said later that this really worried him. He was concerned that Norris would be able to level his deadly shotgun—Norris’ weapon of choice—at the Rangers. He need not have worried. Though shaken, Norris and Humphrey stumbled out of their car and started running up a nearby hill.  Jay rolled out of his Dodge and gave chase. In a desperate effort to escape, Humphrey and Norris jumped into the flooded Walnut Creek and made for the far shore. Humphrey headed north and made it to a small island in the creek. He died on that island in a hail of Jay’s gunfire. Meanwhile, Norris was trying to go straight across the creek. He made it to the water’s edge.  Norris surely knew what was about to happen, but he also knew that all he had waiting for him if he surrendered was the electric chair.  He started shooting and, in turn, he took a full twenty eight rounds.  Banks started at Norris’s ankles and worked his way to the top of his head.  (Norris was shot 16 times while Humphrey was shot 23 times.)

As Jay said, the most heartless of killers, Gene Paul Norris, “died screaming like a baby.”

(okhistory.org)

You can read more of Norris’s murderous exploits here and here,

Gene Paul Norris was buried in the family plot near his family’s farm in Healdton:

(findagrave.com)

Where Was Lindsey Murdered?

With the death of Norris, the investigation into Lindsey’s murder was shut down and the case was closed, but there has been speculation ever since Lindsey’s bones were discovered in the shallow grave about how and when he actually ended up there.  Here’s one account from a blogger at oklahomahistory.net that fits in with several other accounts I’ve read.  The author accidentally got Gene Paul Norris’s name mixed up with another of Lindsey’s cohorts, George Fuqua, but the store is intriguing and has a ring of truth to it since Norris’s family had a farm in the Healdton area.  I’ve changed the references from Fuqua to Norris to avoid confusion (the name is not in italics and isn’t part of the actual quote):

Chambless’ remains were officially found near the South Canadian river, south of Wheatland and a bit west of Will Rogers Field (OKC), but he had actually been killed and first buried on a farm near Healdton. The killer was one Gene Paul Norris, who himself was later executed by Dallas police while en route to hold up the Carswell AFB finance office. Unknown to Norris, the FBI had an informant who witnessed the murder but could never testify to it because she was Norris‘s wife. She said that Chambless was forced to dig his own grave, then shot.  After Norris’s death, the FBI dug up the remains and moved them to the spot where they were officially found, then waited for a rainstorm to cover their tracks and settle the ground over the new grave before “receiving a tip” and uncovering the bones.  … Norris’s parents were decent folk who in no way shared any responsibility for their son’s criminal activities, but the killing took place on their farm. That’s why the FBI covered up the original burial and the transfer. 

Lindsey and Gene Paul Norris were gone, but the debate whether or not to end prohibition in Oklahoma was heating up once again.

Oklahomans Will Vote Dry as Long as They Can Stagger to the Polls

… or so said Will Rogers, and he was right for a long time.  Although illegal, it was easy for Oklahomans to obtain liquor (beer was legal), and because it was bootlegged, they didn’t have to pay taxes on it.  Another benefit was that bootleggers would discreetly deliver their product to customers.  And, with just less than 10% of illegal alcohol being confiscated, bootleggers made a ton of money with relatively little risk of being caught by authorities and supplies were ample.

All of that changed with the election of Tulsa County attorney, 33-year-old J. Howard Edmondson, who took office in 1959.

To force the repeal of prohibition, Edmondson began strictly enforcing the ban on alcohol and, as a result according to okhistory.org, “Oklahoma came closer to being truly ‘dry’ than ever before.”  A petition was circulated calling for the issue to come before voters yet again…

While, as usual, religious groups, concerned mothers’ groups, and others fought hard to retain prohibition:

(Leaders of the Mothers Against Prohibition group.)

Election day came.

While some people gathered at the State Capitol to eagerly watch the vote…

… others against repeal gathered in churches to pray for continued prohibition:

The votes were gathered and tallied, and by the evening it was announced that the “wets” had won the day.  Tulsa World reporter, Gene Curtis, wrote that “more than 700,000 voters cast ballots, and the state’s growing urban centers flexed their political muscle. Tulsa County provided the largest margin for the wets’ victory — 86,600 to 23,700. Oklahoma County voters approved repeal by a vote of 81,000 to 48,000.”

At long last, prohibition was over … but not everyone was happy about it.

Curtis reported that “a Dallas bootlegger told a Tulsa World reporter: ‘Just like that. It happens just like that. After building up my business for years, those damn Oklahomans go to the polls and vote to make me a bankrupt.  I tell you, it just ain’t right,’ he added.”

Meanwhile, liquor store owners happily began stocking all kinds of spirits:

Aftermath

After Lindsey was officially declared dead, his young widow, Mary Lou stayed in Cisco, Texas, near her mother and Lindsey’s previous wife, Stella.  She remarried around 1958 and had a daughter with her second husband.  She spent the rest of her life in the area and died in 1993.  Stella, who had to be the unluckiest women in the world when it came to finding love in all of the wrong places, died in 1964.

The beautiful Western Hills Motel in Fort Worth where the Cubans were robbed burned to the ground in 1969, and a collection of ugly, nondescript buildings occupy the lot today.

As for the Cubans, their efforts to reinstall deposed President Carlos Prio Socarras ultimately failed, and the former leader died in exile in Miami in 1977. The man who overthrew him, Fulgencio Batista was himself overthrown when Communist-backed Fidel Castro seized the country on New Year’s Day, 1959.  Sadly, Socarras later and very aptly stated, “They say that I was a terrible president of Cuba. That may be true. But I was the best president Cuba ever had.”

Another of Lindsey’s many underworld associates, longtime Dixie Mafia hood George Fuqua, met a bloody end.  Fuqua was one of the guys who helped Lindsey run other bootleggers off the road and stole their stock, remember?  Anyway, in 1968, the 45-year-old gangster and his 28-year-old girlfriend, Doris Sorrells Grooms, were found murdered, their bodies tossed into a ditch along what is now Spring Creek Parkway in Plano, Texas.  Both had been shot in the head several times.  Interestingly, there’s a connection between George Fuqua, the man who supposedly killed him (but was never arrested for the murder), George McGann, and the Kennedy assassination.  Read all about it here.

Here’s Fuqua’s death certificate:

(ancestry.com)

And here’s a photo of his beautiful but unfortunate companion, Doris, in earlier days:

(ancestry.com)

While many of the gangsters in this story ended life in a very dramatic and bad way, a few like rum running kingpin Grady King, survived into old age.  King, who, along with Norris, may have been the one to fix the hit on Lindsey, diversified his interests while still a bootlegger.  He invested in oil companies in the region and was able to easily make the transition to a legitimate businessman after the end of prohibition.  He died in Edmond in 2009.

Another of the bad guys in this story lived a long life.  Although he received a 700-year sentence that was meant to keep him behind bars for life, Gene Paul Norris’s elder brother, Pete, was released on parole in 1960. During his long years in prison, Pete took advantage of every educational opportunity he could and studied agriculture, law, psychology, and painting.  He told one reporter that education changed him and said, “If I hadn’t changed, I’d be a stark, raving maniac.”  He married, tended to the family farm in Healdton (where Lindsey was supposedly murdered and initially buried), died there in 1974, and is buried in a nearby cemetery.

And that’s it for the meandering saga of Lindsey Chambless.  Believe it or not, during my research journey into his crazy life, I met a lot of characters that I didn’t introduce here.  So, you may be seeing more stories of Oklahoma during prohibition in the future — yay!

Finally, I found a few resources that I thought I’d share with you in case you want to do further reading:

The bars and clubs along Jacksboro Highway in Fort Worth were big-time havens for members of the Dixie Mafia, and you can read more about the illustrious history of the highway here.

Go here to read the full Tulsa World article about the end of prohibition that I quoted above.

Read more about the history of prohibition here and here.

The book, Oklahoma Tough: My Father, King of the Tulsa Bootleggers is a fascinating account of the life of one Tulsa bootlegger.

Here’s a brief history of Cuba in the 1950s.

 

In the Rearview: The Life and Times of OKC’s Most Notorious Bootlegger — Part 4

Posted by on Sep 12, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

by Lynne Rostochil.  Photos from the Oklahoma History Center unless otherwise stated.

 

The life and times of bootlegger, Lindsey Chambless get much crazier in this, the fourth installment of the series.  To read previous installments, go to Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3.)

 

The Flame of Gunfire

On October 25, 1952, just a few weeks after his return from testifying in Fort Worth about the Cuban incident at the Western Hill Motel, Lindsey, Mary Lou, and their two sons were enjoying a rare Friday night together in their tidy Village home.

The young boys had been sick and slept all day and when they awoke late in the evening, their parents agreed to let them stay up to watch the late show on the family’s new television set.  Shortly before midnight, Mary Lou was in the kitchen, the boys were on the floor glued to the TV, and Lindsey sat on the couch in front of the picture window taking in the domestic bliss when, suddenly, a single shotgun blast shattered the suburban quiet.

Sitting just 12 feet from the picture window, Lindsey was struck in the chest just above the heart, his right leg, and his groin with .00 gauge buckshot from a double-barreled shotgun, but it could have been much worse.  Just ask the TV, which received the brunt of the blast and likely saved the bootlegger’s life.  Here’s what a new TV from 1952 looked like:

(vintageadbrowser.com)

After the ambush, the injured bootlegger stumbled into the kitchen to get to Mary Lou and collapsed on the floor.  The kids weren’t injured, but Mary Lou later lamented the loss of their new gadget, “Well, I guess it didn’t hurt him (Lindsey) too bad. But it certainly ruined our new television set.  And we hadn’t even made a payment on it yet, either.”

As she spoke those shockingly callous words, Lindsey was recovering at Mercy Hospital at NW 13th and Walker after undergoing surgery to remove the buckshot in his chest.  Here’s what Mercy Hospital looked like around the time of Lindsey’s stay:

By Saturday afternoon, an armed guard stood outside Lindsey’s hospital room door, but that didn’t stop the victim from chatting with eager reporters.  When they asked the bedridden man if he was surprised by the previous evening’s events, Lindsey replied, “If I had been expecting them to get me, I never would have sat in front of a picture window with the lights turned on…. It caught me by complete surprise.  The first time I knew something was up was when I noticed the orange flash from a gun outside the window.  Then I was hit.”

Although Mary Lou believed that the assassination attempt was made by a rival bootlegger who recently got into a fight with her husband at a local nightclub over her affections, both the police and he quickly dismissed that notion. Lindsey told reporters, “She was just popping off.  She don’t know anything about this Fort Worth deal at all.”

It definitely looked to everyone besides Mary Lou that the true culprit was a professional hitman associated with someone involved in the Cuban robbery a few weeks before.  Lindsey summed up the situation when he claimed, “an international gang is trying to get me.”  With several of the bandits from the Fort Worth heist still on the run, it certainly seemed like a probability.

Rounding Up the Robbers

While Lindsey was recovering from the shooting, the police were still working on the case against a group of suspects in the Fort Worth robbery.  One of them was a notorious gangster named Gene Paul Norris.

(Oklahoma Today)

The 31-year-old Oklahoma native was known throughout the Sooner State and Texas as a real bad guy who may have been responsible for murdering upwards of 50 men.  In fact, the short and thin man with searing brown eyes and wispy caramel-colored hair was so prolific at killing that one Texas Ranger, Ed Gooding, claimed that there were old water wells all over the state that Norris had stuffed bodies into.

Decades later in a Texas Monthly article, writer Gary Cartwright recounted a meeting he had with Norris, who was known as “the Smiling Killer” for his charming ways.  He recalled:

The first killer I ever interviewed was Gene Paul Norris, a notorious badass in Fort Worth in the mid-fifties. He had been hauled in on some vague charge and had requested to talk to a reporter, any reporter. I was a cub on the police beat for the Star-Telegram, raw as a lamb chop, but I was the only guy available in the pressroom. Norris was a high-profile player in what was known as the Dixie Mafia, and every newshound in town would have given his trench coat for an interview. Envisioning a page-one byline, I grabbed a fistful of notepaper and rushed to the holding cell. Norris was seated in a chair, the only piece of furniture in the room, and he smiled and offered me his seat.

In his mid-thirties, Norris was an angular, rawboned man, taller than his mug shots suggested, more cordial than I had expected, and far less menacing. His cat-gray eyes had a soothing effect, and he talked with such apparent sincerity that I ran out of paper before I could ask a question. Later, when I reviewed my notes, I realized that the only straight thing he’d told me was a telephone number to call, with the message that he was back in jail. An older and more experienced newsman eventually informed me that I had fallen for a scam Norris regularly pulled on young reporters. It was his way to get word to his lawyer. (In those days, the Fort Worth police weren’t big on civil rights).

Norris was known far and wide as a gangster, so authorities weren’t too surprised when the Cubans identified him as the man they were playing cards with at the Western Hills Motel.

(Ridgelea Historical Society)

Police arrested the career criminal, who quickly bonded out, but they still couldn’t find the money.  Leaked underworld gossip was that the loot was buried somewhere, but police weren’t so sure.  They were looking for one more suspect, a man who posed as a candy maker but who had a long criminal record dating to 1930.

Forty-year-old Floyd Allen Hill had been in trouble with the law most of his life.

Much of his adulthood had been spent in various penal institutions – Oklahoma State Prison (twice), Alcatraz (twice), and Leavenworth.  It seemed that every time he was released from jail, a new robbery crime wave hit whatever town he decided to call home.  Like Norris, the burly, 6’ 2” Hill was known as a smooth talker who could charm the ladies, but he also had a horrible temper.  According to a newspaper report from 1953, “one of the grim mysteries about Hill involves his ex-wife.  The woman vanished in August 1952, reportedly after sadistic treatment at his hands.”

Hill was definitely not a good guy.

Just a few weeks after Lindsey was shot, Hill was captured just outside of tiny Azle, Texas on November 3rd.  A tipster, who was later identified as Hill’s latest wife, Juanita, told police that they could find the robber’s share of the money buried in a clearing in some woods just off of a country lane.  While one cop shadowed Hill in nearby Ft. Worth, a group of lawmen drove to the site and started digging.  Soon, they uncovered a gallon milk thermos and an olive jar filled with money.  Not only was $128,000 of the Cubans’ cash recovered, but also another $4,250 in government bonds that had been stolen from a wealthy rancher in Kilgore the previous August.

The police removed the evidence, filled in the hole, and staked out spots surrounding the clearing in anticipation of Hill’s arrival, which Juanita had told officers would be later that same evening.  Just like she said, a car pulled up to the scene at around 3:00 a.m., and a large man exited the car with a garden hoe in his hand.  As he was walking toward the spot where the loot had been buried, cops pounced and arrested the thief without incident.

Hill was taken to the Tarrant County Jail and booked as the suspected trigger man in the robbery at the Western Hills Motel.  Now, the police believed they had all of the robbers identified and charged, even though half of the money was still missing.

Another Jail Break, the 10 Most Wanted, and a Trial

Floyd Allen Hill languished just a few weeks in jail when he and several of his fellow inmates hatched a plan to escape.  In unison, the prisoners attacked their guards on the morning of February 18, 1953 and fought their way out of the obviously poorly secured jail.  A couple of prisoners made off in stolen cars, while others just ran for it.  Officers shot and captured some of the escapees, but 10, including Hill, got away.

Just over a month later, all of the convicts had been recaptured, but Hill was still on the loose.  The FBI added the career criminal to their 10 Most Wanted List on March 30, citing that “his ruthlessness and brutal exploits incite fear and terror in the underworld itself….  (He is) surly, violent, and goaded by a ‘persecution complex.’”

While Hill was on the lam somewhere in Texas or near his home in Duncan, police believed, Gene Paul Norris was the first of the suspected robbers to go on trial.  Even though the Cubans positively identified the gangster as the man who played cards with them that night in the cabana then assisted in holding them up, the notorious gangster produced a witness who testified that Norris was with him in Oklahoma City and couldn’t have been in Fort Worth.  Shockingly, the jury sided with Norris and exonerated him of the crime on April 10, 1953.

Meanwhile, Hill’s time as a free man was about to end.  Just nine days after Norris’s verdict, police on a stakeout of Hill’s known associates produced results.  They found him at a friend’s house outside of Dallas.  According to a later report, “he (Hill) was taken completely by surprise on a planned raid by FBI agents, sheriff’s officers, Dallas city police, and Texas Rangers.”  He didn’t resist arrest and was placed under close guard until he could be tried for the robbery.  Ultimately, Hill pled guilty to the robbery and the Tarrant County Jail breakout and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Lindsey was never tried in the case, and the fourth suspect, Sam Brown Cresap, was acquitted for lack of evidence.

I don’t know if the rest of the Cubans’ money was ever recovered.

Lindsey Gets Into Trouble Again

You would think that, after being involved with such violent criminals and nearly being shot to death, Lindsey would have wised up and decided that maybe the criminal life wasn’t for him, but, as you may have guessed, that didn’t happen.  As soon as he was well, the scrappy bootlegger was back in business, but maybe a little more savvy than before because he, Mary Lou, and their kids (now including a baby daughter) were on the move around the Metro and never stayed in one place very long.  He also kept his name out of the papers … at least for a little while.

On October 19, 1954, a local liquor runner named Albion H. Potts, Jr., reported to the Highway Patrol that, on his return from a liquor run in Texas, bandits in a souped up Lincoln chased him at 100 miles per hour then shot out the back tire of his car as he turned onto a farm road near Lawton.  Here’s a photo of Mr. Potts:

And here’s a 1953 Lincoln Cosmopolitan:

(Custom_Cab on Flickr)

The highwaymen continued shooting as Potts stopped on the side road, escaped the car, and hid in front of it to avoid the gunfire.   With nowhere to go, the bootlegger meekly surrendered to the bandits, who forced him to help transfer 50 cases of liquor valued at $5,000 from his car to theirs.  Then, they scurried back to the Lincoln and took off, leaving a bewildered Potts to fend for himself.

The following week in a similar incident, police found a wrecked car three miles west of Mt. Scott in the Wichita Wildlife Refuge.  According to the Oklahoman:

Trooper John Duke and an ambulance were dispatched to the scene after an unidentified motorist reported the accident.  When Duke arrived he found a wrecked 1952 or 1953 model Pontiac with a Missouri tag which contained about 10 cases of liquor.  The car was so badly wrecked officers couldn’t be certain of the model. 

Evidence at the scene indicated the car had been travelling at a high rate of speed and overturned on a curve.  There were also indications someone had been injured.  But a check of all hospitals and clinics in that area failed to locate the injured man.

Troopers, who say rum runners are usually careful drivers, especially when they are hauling liquor, think the car was being chased by a liquor bandit and was wrecked.

Rumors soon began swirling in underworld circles that Lindsey, another bootlegger named George Fuqua, and two others were the culprits in these Comanche County robberies.  Meet George Fuqua:

According to the Thisandthat blog at okhistory.org, “Fuqua was reputed to use a red hand spotlight to impersonate a patrol car, to stop his victims. Around Christmas of 1954, someone impersonating a trooper attempted to stop a northbound vehicle between Gainesville and Thackerville, but the driver did not stop and was run off the road into a tree with fatal results. Turned out he was the owner of a truck line, speeding north to the scene of an accident involving one of his trucks. It was widely speculated that Fuqua was involved in this but it was never proven.”

Police believed the rumors, and Lindsey, Fuqua, and their pals were charged in connection with the Potts case.  During a preliminary hearing, Lindsey claimed that he was in his Oklahoma City home at NW 50th and Meridian (then a rural area of quiet farm houses, now part of Dolese Park) playing canasta with his family, including his ex-wife and now mother-in-law, Stella.  He was released on a $15,000 bond.  As for George Fuqua, he was laying low in Texas and fighting extradition to Lawton to stand trial.

Why would Lindsey resort to stealing from fellow rum runners?

According to the Oklahoman, “the situation was created when a few bootleggers with criminal records were ‘too hot’ to conduct retail business in ‘dry’ Oklahoma.  They banded together and began stealing liquor from runners working for other bootleggers, then selling their contraband to still other rum dealers.  The runners started fighting back and the war was on.”  Police also got really worried when the bootleggers began terrorizing innocent highway drivers on the road between Dallas and Oklahoma City.  Several ordinary citizens were targeted by these nefarious bandits as possible rum runners, chased, pulled over, and beaten up.  One terrified innocent was even killed when he crashed his car into a tree during a high-speed chase with a marauding bootlegger.

After several delays, Lindsey finally went on trial for the Potts robbery in October, 1955.  The career criminal vehemently denied being a part of the robbery, saying, “I’ve been guilty of a lot of things, but I’m not guilty of this.”  At one point during the trial, reporters found a visibly shaken Lindsey out in the corridor weeping because he was worried about what all of this was doing to his young wife and three children.

Back in court, Mary Lou and Stella backed up his alibi that he was in Oklahoma City the day of the robbery, but the 12 jurors didn’t buy it and returned with a guilty verdict a mere 30 minutes after they began deliberations.  Lindsey quickly appealed and remained out on bond, but the law wasn’t finished with him yet.

In early 1956, the police busted Lindsey again, this time for running a retail liquor store without a federal stamp out of his home.  Mary Lou also was charged for taking customer orders over the phone.  Court documents stated that Lindsey, Mary Lou, and another bootlegger in their gang earned $12,315.05 in just a two week period in December 1955 when they were being monitored by police.  Police stated that the group delivered “five cases to a large architectural firm, two cases to a public utility firm,” and several cases to other reputable companies around town.  (Wonder which firm was the boozy recipient, don’t you?)

Once again, Lindsey posted bail and yet another trial was scheduled for the troubled bootlegger.

 

Next week, the Lindsey’s brutal end, the death of Prohibition, and more sordid stories.  Read the final installment here.

In the Rearview: The Life and Times of OKC’s Most Notorious Bootlegger — Part 3

Posted by on Sep 6, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

by Lynne Rostochil.  Photos from the Oklahoma History Center unless otherwise noted.

This week, Lindsey gets into all kinds of trouble.  (If you’ve missed past posts, go to Part 1 and Part 2.)

Lindsey Marries Again

It was 1947 and Lindsey Chambless was now married to the widow of the man he had recently murdered with his deer rifle during a drunken brawl.  Here, Lindsey (center) is being arraigned for the murder of fellow bootlegger, Bill Eltzroth:

Maybe Lindsey married Eltzroth’s widow, Stella so that she couldn’t testify against him during his upcoming murder trial.  Or maybe she told him that he could atone for his sin by meeting her at the altar.  Whatever the reason, between the marriage and the murder, Lindsey was trapped … and he didn’t like it.

Soon after the wedding, 32-year-old Lindsey took up with his wife’s now 18-year-old daughter, Mary Lou, who became pregnant with the couple’s child. The following year, 1948, was a busy one for Lindsey — Mary Lou gave birth to their son, Lindsey and Stella divorced, and the bootlegger kept it all in the family by marrying the mother of his baby.

During this time, Lindsey was also convicted of manslaughter in Bill’s death.  Here’s a photo of Lindsey’s deer rifle being investigated by County Attorney, Warren Edwards and his deputy, George Lipe during the trial:

Still out on bail, he appealed the case and continued his bootlegging ways until his case could be heard.  Not long after his near-bust on September 7, 1948 by the Longacre twins at Tulakes Airport, Lindsey encountered the determined lawmen again.  On November 29, 1948, the lawmen were on hand when two planes landed on a dirt airstrip located at NE 63rd and Bryant in rural Oklahoma City.  They witnessed four men unloading cases of whiskey onto a truck and into a car and busted them as they left the field.  The scene may have looked something like these busts captured by the Oklahoman:

When he was being arrested, Lindsey glibly offered the brothers 35 cases of whiskey “to forget they ever saw him,” but the incorruptible officers refused and added to Lindsey’s existing troubles by booking him for bootlegging.

His streak of bad luck continued when, the following summer, the “Flying Bootlegger” cracked up one of his planes as it came in for a landing, and he left it empty and abandoned in a ditch just off of the field at the old Wiley Post Airport:

 “City Plane Skids Into Limelight Again. Plane belongs to Orville Lindsay Chambless, city bootlegger. This plane is well known to Oklahoma county law enforcement officers. They have tried to seize it several times because they said it was hauling whiskey. It cracked up early Wednesday at Wiley Post airport.”

In what sounds a lot like this incident, OKC native, Jim Shaw recalled:

I remember one incident (I think I was still in grade school), when a bootlegger overloaded his plane & attempted to takeoff to the south after dark.  He got off the ground, but failed to clear the line of trees on the south side of Britton Road.  Word spread throughout the neighborhood like wildfire & all the dads rushed to the scene….  Everything that wasn’t broken was cleaned out before the police arrived. I don’t know what became of the bootlegger.

At the time, the airport was located at Britton and May — here’s the view looking from May toward Lake Hefner:

(Photos from the airfields-freeman.com website)

To give you an idea of what the airport and surrounding area was like back in the late 1940s and into the ’50s, one Squadder who grew up in the area at the time recalled, “Back then, it was all country out here.  Dirt roads, tumble weeds.  … my friend, Betty, and I were at the airport a lot. Her dad owned it.  My brother and I went there often, also, to climb around the war surplus airplanes scattered on the field.  I have no idea how many planes were there, but we sure had fun climbing up in the cockpits and facing off against each other in our own plane and playing like we were shooting each other down.  I can remember, yelling at the top of my lungs, ‘take that, you dirty Jap.'”

Two months after Lindsey’s plane ran off the runway, he and one of his pilots, Pete McGinnis, discovered that another of the bootlegger’s planes had been slashed to pieces, likely by a rival gang.  That’s our bootlegging pal on the left in the photo:

Lindsey’s bad luck didn’t change when, in March of 1950, the bootlegger learned that he had lost his appeal and had to serve his three-year manslaughter sentence.  Like Corky before him, Lindsey decided that running away was a better idea than facing the law, so he jumped his $3,000 appeal bond and took off to Mexico, leaving Mary Lou and his now two young tots behind.

Authorities posted a $1,000 fugitive bond and guessed that Lindsey had gone to Mexico City to settle yet another of his troubles involving a plane.  One of his frequent pilots, Oklahoma City barnstormer, Al Guthrie was languishing in a Mexico City jail after being busted for “smuggling $12,000 worth of lace on which duty had not been paid.”  Guthrie argued that he just stopped in Mexico City to refuel on his way to Guatemala where he planned to pay for the lace, but authorities didn’t buy his story.

Lindsey wasn’t the generous friend the authorities thought he was, however.  Instead of fighting to save his friend in Mexico, police found and arrested him in Fort Worth in April and returned him to Oklahoma City:

Finally, three years after he aimed his deer rifle at Bill Eltzroth, Lindsey was serving time for the crime.

Two years later, in May of 1952, Mary Lou and her toddlers excitedly greeted Lindsey when he was released from prison.  Instead of learning his lesson and going straight for the sake of his family, however, the career criminal was soon back to smuggling whiskey and anything else he could think of.  Within a few short months, the “Flying Bootlegger” would encounter a more sinister kind of trouble than he had ever known before, trouble that would culminate in murder.

Lindsey and the Cuban Connection

The wild story began when legally elected Cuban president, Carlos Prio Socarras was deposed by U.S.-backed military dictator and former Cuban president, Fulgencio Batista in 1952.  Here are photos of Socarras (above) and Batista (below):

Socarras fled to New York City, where he holed up in an upscale Manhattan hotel and plotted his triumphant return to power.  To get the ball rolling, the former leader invited three fellow refugees and loyalists, Candido de la Torres (49), Manuel Fernandez Madariaga (38), and Jose Duarte (33) to meet at his hotel.  Once there, the four men hatched a plan.  Socarras gave his cohorts $240,000 (over $2.2 million today) to purchase as many arms as they could.  The dissidents would then distribute the guns to fellow loyalists and together, they would return to Cuba and take back the presidency for Socarras.  The far-fetched idea sounded good … at least in theory.

After leaving Socarras, the three refugees travelled to Mexico City, where they connected with a group of American “businessmen” (i.e., gun dealers) who promised to provide them with the munitions they requested.  The group agreed to meet at the classy, newly-built Western Hills Motel in Fort Worth in a few weeks to make the exchange.

The large, W-shaped inn along busy Camp Bowie Boulevard in posh Ridglea Hills was a local hot spot for nice suburban lunches that probably involved lots of gelatin, cocktail parties where well-coiffed guests discussed the latest gossip, and, surely, illicit trysts that kept suburban life lively.  Here are some of the images that popped up when I Googled the motel:

What a fabulous looking place, aye?

For those trysts and other private tête-à-têtes, guests could rent one of the private cabins that surrounded the motel:

It was in one of these cabanas that the Cubans and their American dealers arranged to meet.

Two of the Cubans, de la Torres and Fernandez Madariaga, arrived at their nicely appointed cabana and were soon joined one of their American friends.  While waiting for the other Americans to arrive with the munitions, the three men decided to count the Cubans’ money to make sure it was all there.  Satisfied that the amount was correct, the waiting men passed the time by playing cards.

As evening faded into late night, the three friends were still playing cards when they heard a noise just outside the door.  Without further warning, the cabana door burst open to reveal two armed men, who quickly stormed into the room. The surprised victims drew their pistols, but their paltry arms were no match with the machine guns the bandits aimed at them.  Still trying to process what was happening, the Cubans turned to their card-playing American comrade and saw that his pistol, too, was pointed in their direction.  Knowing they were beat, the Cubans meekly dropped their arms.  The robbers ordered one of their victims to the ground and kept the other at bay while they gathered the $240,000 and an additional $8,000 that one of the counter-revolutionaries had on hand “to buy his wife a station wagon.”  (That would have been quite a car considering that $8,000 in 1952 would be nearly $75,000 today.)

The thieves stuffed the money, which was all in $100 bills, into a leather pouch and fled into the dark night.  Just as quickly as they arrived, the Americans were gone and all was quiet except for the sounds of distant traffic on Camp Bowie and other guests swimming and socializing in the motel pool.

Once they got over the shock of what had just happened, de la Torres and Fernandez Madariaga called the police to report the robbery.  Within hours, the Cubans’ initial contact man, used car salesman Sam Cresap, was in jail and a warrant was issued for Lindsey’s arrest in the theft.

Almost as soon as he learned about the warrant, Lindsey turned himself in to Oklahoma City authorities.  Although Lindsey admitted to making several trips to Mexico and knowing the Cubans, he adamantly denied any involvement in the robbery, claiming that, “the whole thing is a frame-up.  Sure I was offered a proposition, but I turned it down.  I’m not going to get tied up in anything with international complications.”

Lindsey claimed he could prove that he wasn’t in on the robbery, too.  “I have been in bed sick for two or three days and was in Oklahoma City when that robbery was supposed to have taken place.”  He even offered to call his doctor to the police station to vouch for him, then angrily stated, “I’ll make those guys (the Cubans) catch a rabbit when I get back to Fort Worth.  There’s something rotten someplace.  I think I know what they did with the money.  They’re not going to make me the goat.  This is one time I’m not guilty and I’m going to yell like a panther.”

Once again, Lindsey claimed that the “deal was too big for me” as he was led off by FBI agents to be charged with being the trigger man on the job.  However, after a long interrogation in which the bootlegger told all he knew about the arms deal gone awry, the authorities released Lindsey on a $5,000 bond and the case against him soon collapsed.  He ended up going to Fort Worth to testify before a Texas grand jury and then he was free.  Here are the Cubans at the same hearing:

Apparently, ole Lindsey was innocent after all … but no one likes a squealer.

 

Next week, in Part 4 of our series, Lindsey goes missing and there are all kinds of suspects.