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In the Rearview: A Look at the Life and Times of OKC’s Most Notorious Bootlegger — Part 2

Posted by on Aug 29, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

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

This week, we continue our series about notorious Oklahoma City bootlegger Lindsey Chambless with the sad story of one of his loves, for whom he committed murder.  Go here to read Part 1:

From Bootlegging to Murder

On the chilly Tuesday evening of January 7, 1947, “salesman” (i.e., bootlegger) Bill Eltzroth, 43, and his bride of five years, 35-year-old Stella, left apartment B of their charming, ‘20s-era building on NW 18th:

(Oklahoma County Tax Assessor)

The couple drove down the street to a party at Lindsey’s house located at 2914 NW 17th:

(Oklahoma County Tax Assessor)

By the time they got there, Lindsey and his other guests were imbibing large quantities of the bootlegger’s product, namely whiskey, and Stella and Bill joined in the fun.  As the hours – and drinking – wore on, a more-than-tipsy Lindsey decided that he was going to drive to Kansas City to bring in a load of whiskey, and Bill opted to go with him and introduce his fellow bootlegger to his contacts in his hometown to the north.  But, they nixed that idea in favor of staying at Lindsey’s cozy abode and drinking even more.

At some point in the evening, the two men began arguing, perhaps over the beautiful but luckless Stella.  The fighting quickly escalated and Lindsey staggered to retrieve his deer rifle, which he aimed at Bill’s chest.  Suddenly, the entire room exploded in blood and gun smoke, and when everything cleared, Bill was laying on the floor, mortally wounded.  He was taken to Wesley Hospital, where he died the following morning.

Lindsey was arraigned for Bill’s murder and released on $20,000 bail.  While he was out on bail, Lindsey and the newly widowed and obviously impulsive Stella ran off and got married.  Stella was no stranger at visiting the altar; Lindsey was her fourth husband.

Poor, sad Stella was not the best judge of men.

Stella and Her Earlier Marriages

Stella Pearl Embry was her parents’ late, perhaps not-so-welcome Christmas present when she was born on December 28, 1911.  Clint and Luvena already had seven children when they left their ancestral farm in Kentucky and moved to Chandler, Oklahoma just two years before statehood in 1905, where two more children were born before Stella came along.  Here’s a photo of Stella’s parents that I found on Ancestry.com:

(Ancestry.com)

It wasn’t easy feeding 10 children on rented farmland, and the hardship was compounded when Clint died in 1926 at the age of 58; Stella was just 15.  Although she had uncles who were prominent lawyers in Chandler, they could hardly afford to care for their dead brother’s kids, so Luvena struggled to find a way to manage in the aftermath of Clint’s death.  Perhaps it’s no surprise that Stella left her sad surroundings as quickly as she could.

A young girl with little education had few avenues for escape in the 1920s, so Stella followed her mother’s lead and got herself pregnant then married in quick succession.  Lucky husband number one was Leland Smith, who was 10 years Stella’s senior and a farmer like her dad.  They married in December of 1928, and their daughter (and Stella’s only child), Mary Lou, was born the following May when the young mother was barely 17 years old.

The marriage wasn’t a happy one.  Perhaps Leland was bossy, abusive, or not in love with his wife or perhaps Stella got bored with the endless chores and duties associated with farm life and craved some fun and adventure.  Whatever the cause, by 1935, the attractive young mother with dark hair and forlorn eyes had left her husband and daughter, was working as a full-time waitress in Shawnee, and living at 512 N. Bell:

(Googlemaps)

During her time in Shawnee, Stella met husband number two, Courtney “Corky” Orrell, a stocky man with strong arms, wavy dark hair, and a ready smile who labored as a rough neck in the nearby oil fields.

Corky was born on June 10, 1910 in Ft. Pierce, Florida to Raymond and Ethel, who quickly had three more boys in the next four years.  Like Stella and Lindsey, Corky lost a parent when he was young.  His mother died when he was just six, and overwhelmed with the situation, Raymond placed the four “interesting and handsome” little Orrell boys in the Christian Church Widows and Orphans home in Louisville, Kentucky.  They spent at least a few years there but got a reprieve from institutional life when their maternal grandmother took them to her farm to spend the summers.  Although he was moving around the country for work, Raymond also appeared to spend as much time as he could with his nearly orphaned children.

In early 1930, Corky enlisted in the U.S. Navy and headed to Illinois for training.  While there, tragedy struck the family again when his youngest brother, John, died back home in Kentucky at the age of 15.  Corky went home for the funeral then returned to training and served four years in the Navy in California before being honorably discharged in 1934.  The following year, he was living with Stella and her young daughter, Mary Lou, in the quaint A-frame cottage on Bell Street in Shawnee, and the two married in 1938.

Apparently, theirs was a rocky marriage, perhaps because Corky, who now labored long hours in the hot and mucky oil fields of Central Oklahoma with one of Stella’s brothers, Dewey, was a heavy drinker … and when he was drunk, ole Corky wasn’t a very nice guy.  After one particularly big battle in the summer of 1941, Stella kicked Corky out and moved to Oklahoma City and in with her brother to get away from all of the negativity surrounding the debacle that had become her second marriage.  She found a job as a waitress at a nearby café, and tried to start life anew.  Here’s where she and Mary Lou called home:

(Oklahoma County Tax Assessor)

Unfortunately for a lot of people, Corky wasn’t quite ready to let go of his beautiful wife

On Sunday, August 17th, Corky drove into Oklahoma City to cajole Stella into returning to him.  When she balked at his attempts at seduction and desperate pleas, Corky hit the bottle – obviously, he had his own bootlegger like just about everyone else in the state.  Who knows, maybe it was Lindsey who supplied the fuel that got Corky started that day.

The more he drank, the more Stella resolved to end the marriage, and the more angry Corky became.  After not getting anywhere in the fight, a dejected Corky left Stella’s late in the evening and drove her brother to work at an oil well near Guthrie.  He dropped off his brother-in-law at around 11:00 p.m.  Still drunk and upset by the day’s events, Corky started up his brand new maroon 1941 Ford Super de Luxe coupe and headed down Route 66 back to Chandler.

(Google images)

Corky Meets Billie Grayson

Oklahoma in August can be hellishly hot, and even more so in the days before air conditioning.  For 18-year-old Billie Grayson, the sweltering hot month was a chance to get away from her position as a domestic in Elk City and spend a few weeks with her favorite aunt on her farm in tiny Warwick just west of Chandler.  Here’s a photo of Billie:

Dressed in a “gay print dress and pink slip” cinched with a black braided belt and wearing blue anklet socks with her shoes, the former high school choir singer was walking through her friend, Helen Grandstaff’s property one quiet Sunday afternoon when the 12 year old invited Billie to go swimming with her at a friend’s pool on a neighboring farm.  Eager to escape the heat, Billie readily agreed and the two girls headed off for a chance to cool off and have some fun.  Afterward, they were returning to Helen’s when the teens made an impromptu decision to walk four miles into Warwick to attend evening services at a church there.

On the way to church, the girls met up with a friend of Helen’s named John Terrell, who invited the girls to ride with him to Chandler to pick up a watermelon.  That sounded like more fun than church, so the girls skipped the service and hopped into their friend’s truck for the seven mile drive down Route 66 to Chandler.  They got the watermelon and headed back, where John dropped off the girls along Route 66 between Wellston and Warwick.  Helen thought her dad might be in Wellston, so she and Billie started hoofing west to find him.  They walked to the Pioneer Camp, a motor court and restaurant east of town (now home to the Butcher BBQ Stand)…

(legendsofamerica.com)

When they arrived at the camp, the girls decided that they were too tired to proceed into Wellston and turned around, heading back to Helen’s house to spend the night.  A couple waiting for a friend to arrive by bus at the Pioneer Camp saw the two girls turn around and head east on Route 66.  A few minutes later, they saw a dark colored car pull up next to them in the distance.

By this time, it was around 11:30 and the girls were tired and ready for bed.  They started walking along the dark and lonely stretch of highway punctuated by the zoom of a car here and there.  Perhaps they were chatting about their favorite movie stars or the thrilling and terrifying “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” which had been released just days before:

(IMDB.com)

Or maybe they were gossiping about their latest crushes or their feelings about school and work starting back up the next week.  Whatever they were chatting about was suddenly interrupted when a man driving toward them in a two-door maroon Ford pulled up next to them and said, “Don’t you know you girls shouldn’t be walking on the highway?  You’d better get in with me.”

Helen thought the man was a Highway Patrolman and perhaps Billie did, too.  Billie would certainly have obeyed a Highway Patrolman’s order since her step-father was a member of the force in Chickasha.  So, always taught to listen to their elders, the girls jumped into the car; Billie got in first and scooted next to the driver, then Helen followed and claimed the space by the front door.  After walking for miles throughout the day, they were probably grateful to have this nice man chauffeur them the rest of the way to Helen’s house, just a few miles up the road.  When she got into the car, Helen noticed the time on the man’s dashboard clock: 11:30.

The three listened to the country music playing softly on the man’s radio as he drove east on Route 66 back toward Warwick.  Suddenly, he pulled off the highway and started driving south down a dirt road (likely FM 3370) and over a bridge at the Deep Fork River:

(Googlemaps)

The man broke the silence by commenting on how far apart the homes in this area were, then he pulled his Ford coupe over to the side of the road, parked under a large pecan tree, and turned off the engine.

The same scene today:

(Googlemaps)

Everything was deadly quiet for a few seconds, with the only sounds coming from the chirping cicadas and croaking frogs outside.  Then, without warning, the man “grabbed Billie and they began to fight,” according to Helen:

(Philadelphia Inquirer/Newspapers.com)

“I knew then what was happening and I jumped out of the car.” Helen stated.  She continued, “Billie tried to get out, too, but he grabbed her and pulled her back.  Then he started his car.  I had one foot on the running board and I began to run after them.  I wanted to help Billie get out.  But I couldn’t keep up with them and he drove on up the road.  I could hear Billie screaming until the car disappeared.”

Desperate to save her friend, Helen ran a quarter of a mile to the nearest house, which was owned by farmer Luther Poole.  Unfortunately, Poole didn’t have a phone or working car and Helen was too terrified that the man would come back for her to try to make it to another house.  So, she stayed there and no one reported Billie missing.

The next morning at 8:15, Buster Devins, the caretaker at the Oak Park Cemetery in Chandler, was mowing the the grass when he caught a glimpse of something strange in the distance.  He walked through a few rows of headstones and stopped cold in his tracks when he came upon the sight of a naked girl laying on a grave with her head propped up on a tombstone.  “Even in death and with the unmistakable look of fright upon her rigid features, she was beautiful.  Her unseeing eyes were gray; dark curls framed a face that once must have been piquant.  Now a necklace of bruises grimly told the story of how she had died.”

The girl’s shoes had been carefully placed under her head as a pillow, various items of clothing were strewn around her, and it looked like she had a bloody nose.  Devins also noticed scuffs on the poor girl’s knees and forehead.  Here’s where she was found:

Devins immediately called the police, who retrieved the body and took it to the mortuary in Chandler.  With nothing to identify the girl, the mortician carefully laid out the body in the main room of his parlor, and soon, over 200 curious townsfolk lined up to view the morbid scene.  After two hours of steady traffic through the funeral parlor, the girl still hadn’t been identified, but all of that changed when a man from nearby Wellston stopped at a barbershop in Chandler to get his hair cut.  Of course, the main topic of conversation centered on the young girl now being ogled at by housewives, kids, and men looking for a macabre diversion on this already-hot Monday morning.

The visitor told the barber that his niece and her friend had some trouble with a man the night before, and the barber and uncle immediately put two and two together and called the police.  Surprisingly, even though Helen’s uncle knew about what had happened the night before, no one had reported Billie’s abduction to the police by mid-morning that balmy Monday, which is why she wasn’t identified sooner.

By that afternoon, the hunt was on for the “Chandler Graveyard Murderer”.  Helen was interviewed by police:

The girl gave a good description of the suspect because even though it was dark when Billie was taken, she said she could see the man by the dashlight of the car.  She also provided details about the car itself – a newer red or maroon Ford with a clock on the dash and a manual gearshift on the steering wheel.

(Google images)

As police got to work in search of the killer, Billie’s body was examined.  The coroner concluded that she had a broken neck and had been strangled with a rope.  The girl’s braided belt was missing, so they assumed that it was used to cause the ligature marks around her neck.  Her underwear were also missing, but there was no sign of rape.  After the examination, Billie’s remains were given to her grieving father:

The beautiful teenager was quickly laid to rest — so long, beautiful and fun-loving Billie:

Amid the frenzy, reporters looked for a new angle to the story.  One wrote this, “Could the killer have been an acquaintance who repented after she was dead and fantastically sought to atone for his deed by giving her a solitary funeral with himself as the only mourner?”

On the Run

Corky was in a panic when he pulled into Stella’s driveway at around 1:00 a.m.  that Monday morning.  He banged on the door until she wearily answered.  Still drunk and obviously desperate, Corky begged his estranged wife to run away with him so they could “start all over again.”  They could go anywhere – up north, California – but they had to leave Oklahoma tonight.  When she refused, Corky became angry, twisted her arm, and tried to drag her from the doorway to his car. Stella later said that Corky was “crazy drunk” and threatened to kill himself if she didn’t go with him, then he stormed into her bedroom and violently pulled the clothes off of her closet rack and raced to the car.  Stella chased after him to try to reason with him, but he threw the clothes in the back of the Ford, hopped into the driver’s seat, and took off for the second time that day for Chandler.

Stella tried to make sense of what had just happened then called the police to report the incident.  But before they could do much to help, her mother, who lived in Chandler, called Stella to let her know that a repentant Corky came by her house and dropped off Stella’s clothing and then headed out of town.

When Corky didn’t call in or show up for work on Monday, August 18th, his brother-in-law and other co-workers didn’t worry too much – maybe he was depressed about his failing marriage and had gone on a bender.  But by Wednesday when he was still nowhere to be found, they grew concerned and put the word out that they were looking for him.  Soon, Oklahoma County and Chandler police heard about the missing man with the maroon Ford and started investigating him.

On Wednesday, August 27th, Lincoln County Sheriff, Marvin Roberts issued a warrant for the 30-year-old’s arrest for the murder of Billie Grayson, and the press got the story three days later.  Roberts said, “I don’t think he had (murder) in mind when he picked the girls up.”  He also stated that the State had a “mighty fine case” against Corky.  Now, all they had to do was find him.

The same day that the press learned about him, Corky sent a letter from Boston to Stella in Oklahoma City.  It is a sad and rambling missive that provides a lot of insight into their relationship and his state of mind in the days after Billie’s murder.  Here it is:

Boston, Massachusetts

August 30th 1941

Dearest Stella Pearl-

I’ll bet you never expected to hear from me from this section of the country did you? I’m just aimlessly wondering around looking for something to do and have several things in mind that if they pan out everything will be O.K. I hope. I have worried and wondered about you ever since I left Oklahoma City. How are you getting along and how are you lined up at present. I’d give a months pay right now to talk to you for just one hour. I’m going to show you that I can make good just because I know you think that I can’t. I know that I’ve been an awful heel and have let you down plenty but if I can ever make the grade at all it will be now and if you haven’t already broken faith with me permanently by the time you get this I’ll be on my way to doing something right for a change.

My main idea for getting in touch with you is to straighten out some financial deals for me. I have twelve days pay coming that I want you to get from Poalie and make that $31.50 bank payment. Then you can get that $15.00 relief check from Chandler and give it and $36.00 to the O.K. Furniture Co. and get rid of them. In case the G.E. people haven’t already repossessed the ice-box ask Dude if he’ll pay that up and let me know what amount is necessary to get back in good standing with them. If you can take care of this for me I would appreciate it a whole lot for I’m not in a position to present myself just now. Tell Poolie that as soon as I’m located I’ll get in touch with him and that although things look bad right now that I don’t intend to let him down. I’m sorry that you are not out of the reach of my creditors for I know how they are going to pester hell out of you, I’ve firmly resolved to pay all my debts as quickly as possible and if I get the job I’m working on it won’t take very long to get on top again.

Did you ever file any more papers or withdraw that complaint that you had in against me? I hope so for I want to see you before too long. In case I get a job at $70.00 per week that will last quite a while would you leave Oklahoma to live with me again. School will be starting next week and I’m just wondering what you are going to do with Mary Lou. Every time I see a girl about her age or size I get the funniest feeling I’ve ever had. I know that she has a hell of an opinion of me but although most of it is justified I know I still have hers and your interest at heart.

Really Stella, I love you more than anything in the world and would like to make you the happiest girl in the world but I know that things can’t go on like they have and while I know your attitude on apologies I’m willing to apologize and try to start over where I got off on the wrong track if you will only let me. I’m only going to ask you for one more chance for I need your companionship and love to work for and I’m sure if you’ll let me try again I’ll profit by my mistakes and make you a good husband in every sense of the word. I’ve been so lonesome for the past two weeks that I’ve several times thought that I couldn’t got on but I want to hear from you again and see how you feel about things.

My present plans call for me to fly to Kentucky as soon as I hear from Marvin and meet him there for a couple of days and talk over a business deal so if you’ll write me a letter addressed to Courtney D. Orrell, c/o Marvin C. Orrell, Rye Beach, Huron, Ohio, I’ll get it with only about two days delay. That is, if you write back right away. I would give you my address here but I’ll only be here two more days and then I’m going to head south again. I haven’t any money to enclose in this letter but I’ll send you some just as soon as I can.

Tonight is Thursday night and I’d give anything to tune in KVOO and hear Bob Wills and the gang but my radio won’t get them up here. This Ford is getting to be a pretty poor hotel and I’ve slept so much in the front seat that I feel like my skin is just about as rough as the seat covers. How are Dude and Belle getting along. Tell Belle that I’m going to write her a letter before long. Please write to me honey and tell me all the news for I’m practically lost up here by myself and there are lots of things you could tell me. Goodnight and I want you to remember that regardless of how bad I have behaved that I still love and honor and cherish you and want you to come home and make me a home and let me show you that I can be as much of a man as you are a woman. Thanks a lot and with all the love that a man can bestow on a woman I am still as you would like for me to be.

Yours forever,

“Corky”

The comment in the letter about Stella’s daughter, Mary Lou is particularly creepy, especially when considering she was the same age as Helen Grandstaff.  Also, Corky never went to Boston – he had a friend mail this letter from there.  This effort to mislead Stella would come back to haunt Corky in the months to follow.

With their prime suspect on the lam, Sheriff Roberts notified police precincts around the country to be on the lookout for the missing man.  On September 4th, they caught a break when police who had been staking out Corky’s brother’s home 1,100 miles from the crime scene in Sandusky, Ohio, spotted a maroon Ford with Oklahoma tags pulling into the driveway.  They watched as the man went into the house, and they waited.  A few hours later, he exited the house and got into his car and pulled away.  The man drove to a nearby ice cream parlor and went inside.  When he exited a few minutes later, ice cream cone in hand, the police pounced and arrested him without incident.  A few days later, Sheriff Roberts and Oklahoma County Sheriff, Bob Turner, drove to Ohio and returned with the suspect to Lincoln County, where Corky was locked up on the top floor of the 10-story jail behind the Courthouse.

When Stella heard that her estranged husband was back in Oklahoma, she hopped in her car and raced the 45 miles up Route 66 to Chandler to see him.  Reporters were on hand to record the heartfelt and tearful reunion:

An Oklahoman reporter wrote this about the Stella and Corky’s first moments together:

Mrs. Orrell, maintaining her belief that her estranged husband did not murder the Grayson girl, met her husband with open arms as he stepped through the barred door….  (Corky) held her in his arms and kissed her repeatedly, then they went to a corner of the jail corridor. 

‘Honey, tell me you didn’t do it,’ said his wife.

Orrell kissed her.

‘Tell me,’ she urged.

He kissed her again.

‘Tell me you didn’t do it,’ she repeated. 

‘I didn’t do it,’ he whispered, and kissed her again.

The Trial

Corky’s trial got underway just a few months after Billie’s murder.  The case was pretty much a circumstantial one, but one where all of the various pieces appeared to add up to the oil field worker being the culprit.  The sheriffs who picked him up in Ohio testified that they found newspaper clippings about the murder under a floor mat in Corky’s car, and the defendant tried to mislead Stella into believing he was in Boston when he was really in Sandusky when he wrote her the letter.  Also, in spite of the defense’s vigorous attempt to discredit Helen, she steadfastly identified him as the man who picked up the girls on that sweltering August night.

However, the defense claimed that Helen had to be told who Corky was before she could successfully identify him.  Also, Bill Taylor, Chandler’s chief of police, testified that Corky was a respected man in town and enjoyed a good reputation among locals there.  Finally, Stella supported her husband’s story that he was driving around all night in preparation for a move to Ohio the next day and that he was certainly not “crazy drunk” as she had reported earlier.

After closing arguments, the jury began their deliberations.  Hours then days passed with no verdict, until finally, on November 23rd, the judge announced that the jurors were deadlocked and declared a mistrial.  Corky was released on bail and tried to reunite with his relieved wife, but even though she supported him during his trial, Stella was finished with Corky for good and filed for divorce.

Seven months went by, during which time the United States entered the war after Pearl Harbor.  In June 1942, Corky’s second trial began.  During the trial, Corky “divided his attention between the jurors and a large banner behind Judge Kenneth Jarrett.  It read: ‘God Bless America – Life, liberty, and justice for all.”

While Corky remained calm and quiet, the Oklahoman stated the courtroom was aflutter with activity and people, “sitting in windows, standing in aisles, craning their necks for a glimpse of the dark-haired, handsome man with the big jaw…. Women held babies in their laps, men in overalls held larger children on their knees, a woman nonchalantly crocheted through the more tedious testimony, and outside in the corridor, a tired mother deposited her baby on the concrete floor.”  I imagine the scene looked something like the small-town courtroom scene in one of my favorite movies, “To Kill a Mockingbird”:

(IMDB.com)

During opening arguments, Assistant State Attorney General and the case’s prosecutor, Sam Lattimore got things off to an emotional start when he declared that “the body of Billie Grayson lying there in the cemetery calls not for vengeance but for justice.”  Here’s a photo of Mr. Lattimore that was taken the year before the trial:

Defense lawyer, Jim Embry (who was Stella’s uncle), countered that “the Grindstaff (sic) girl was road-running that night.  Don’t angelize her.”  (I had to look up the term road-running, which the Urban Dictionary defines as “driving around the city making money; doing anything to make money fast from sun up to sun down.”  I imagine that the definition was pretty much the same back in 1942.)  He also claimed that, “every time she has talked, she has changed her story.”

The Oklahoman begged to differ with that assessment, however.  According to the newspaper, when Helen was called to the stand, “the farm girl, wearing white cowboy boots, a red sweater, and a blue skirt, her hair in yellow ringlets, was definite and positive in her identification (of Corky as the man who abducted her and Billie).”

The State also offered up the testimony of two of Corky’s cellmates from the Lincoln County Jail, Silas Lowery and Howard Anderson.  Both men stated that Corky admitted to taking Helen and Billie out but tearfully denied killing anyone.  He claimed that Billie killed herself by flinging herself out of the car while he was driving at full speed.

In closing arguments, Corky’s defense attorney claimed that the state “is trying to build a house by erecting the roof first ….  The roof has been crashing down into a bunch of theories of inconsistency.”  But, the defense once again appealed to emotion when the prosecutor called Billie’s murder “one of the greatest atrocities ever committed in the state of Oklahoma.”

This time, when the jury — which consisted of nine farmers, one garage operator, and a car dealer — adjourned for deliberation, it didn’t take long for them to declare that Corky was guilty.  Now a convicted murderer, the former oil worker was sentenced to life imprisonment.  He unsuccessfully appealed and was sent to McAlester to serve out his term.

When he was up for parole in 1957, Corky admitted to murdering Billie Grayson.  “I make no attempt to deny responsibility … but I was convicted for murder.  I always believed that murder was for killing someone violently with the intent to do it.  I never had any intention of harming her.”  While Corky wasn’t released from prison after that particular hearing, he was eventually paroled and lived the rest of his days quietly near family in Cleveland then Savannah, Georgia.  He died an old man at the age of 81 in 1991.

As for Helen, she spent most of her life in the same area where all of these events occurred.  During World War II, she served in the Women’s Army Corp and worked as a jet engine tester.

(Ancestry.com)

Isn’t she lovely?  Helen married and had three children, and her obituary says a lot about her scrappy personality, so I thought I’d share the last part of it with you:

Helen was feisty and ornery and was known for her practical jokes. She loved to fish and watch fishing programs, and enjoyed playing music with her late husband…. Helen was a great cook, Thanksgiving was huge for her – she’d start preparing food 2 weeks ahead.

As for Stella, her bad luck with men continued when she hastily married salesman and bootlegger Bill Eltzroth in Oklahoma City around the time of Corky’s conviction in June 1942.  The two and Stella’s now-teenaged daughter, Mary Lou, settled into life in the flat on NW 18th Street, and all was quiet until Bill and Lindsey Chambless’ deadly quarrel on January 7, 1947.

 

Quotes about Billie’s death scene and Corky’s defense came from this fascinating article about the murder and trial from 1942 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

You can also read more about this sensational case in book, The Lonesome Death of Billie Grayson, and Other Killings in Early-Day Lincoln County by Wayne Pounds.

 

Next week in Part 3 of our series, Lindsey marries again, gets caught up with Cuban Revolutionaries, and continues his bootlegging ways.

In the Rearview: The Life and Times of OKC’s Most Notorious Bootlegger — Part 1

Posted by on Aug 22, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

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

As you may know, I love a good true crime story, and when I learned about an Oklahoma City bootlegger named Lindsey Chambless, who operated in the Metro throughout the 1940s and 1950s, I decided to do a little Mod Blog post devoted to him and his activities.  Well, my research opened a Pandora’s Box filled with interesting characters and fascinating stories that turned my intended short article into a giant tome that uncovers more twists and turns than a meandering Oklahoma back road.  Over the next few weeks, you’ll learn all you ever wanted to know about Prohibition in the Sooner State and some of the people who made the time after World War II such a lively period in our history.

 

On a chilly, rainy November night in 1957, three lawmen made their way to the Rowland farm along the South Canadian River, not far from the Municipal (now Will Rogers) airport.  Oklahoma County Sheriff Bob Turner, Deputy Sheriff E.A. “Boots” Capshaw, and the head of the FBI in Oklahoma City, D.A. “Jelly” Bryce plodded through weeds and overgrowth and sloshed through mud to a large tree near the river bank.

That’s where an anonymous tipster may or may not have told them they could find the body of a long-missing bootlegger named Lindsey Chambless.

Sure enough, after they uncovered less than a foot of earth, the men came across the badly decomposed remains of a man still dressed in a brightly patterned shirt and casual slacks.  In the corpse’s pockets, the men found corroded nail clippers, a watch, two sets of keys, and several loose coins.

In the coming hours, the sky cleared and the site around the tree became a hub of activity as more investigators arrived, along with news-hungry reporters and photographers eager to get a juicy story for the next edition of the Oklahoman.  Amid the controlled chaos, the body, which was no more than a skeleton bound by disintegrating clothing, was removed to the Coroner’s office and the surrounding area was inspected for further clues.  Just before the sun began to rise to awaken the day, people began clearing out to interrogate witnesses and file stories, and once again, quiet claimed the landscape for itself.

Lindsey’s Early Years

Orval (sometimes known as Orville) Lindsey Chambless was born on January 30, 1916, near the flat, dusty West Texas town of Plainview, where his father, Hiram, had recently transplanted the family to work as a farm laborer.  Working in West Texas with no family around couldn’t have been easy, so soon after Lindsey was born, the family packed up and headed back home to the lush, rolling hills of East Texas in Red River County.  There, Hiram went to work on his parents’ farm while Lindsey’s mother, Edna May tended house and looked after Lindsey and his two older siblings, Van and Zelma. Sadly, just as they were settling into their new life, Edna May died at the age of 25, leaving two-year-old Lindsey and his brother and sister motherless.

Ten years later in 1928, 40-year-old Hiram married a young girl of 18 named Cordie.  She was just six years older than Lindsey, and Van and Zelma may have disliked this new living situation because when the family moved to Oklahoma City soon after the marriage, Lindsey’s siblings didn’t go along for the ride.  In the city, Hiram found work as a distiller for an oil refinery, and the couple with a teenaged Lindsey in tow moved frequently from one cheap flat in the southwest part of town to another.

A year after their marriage, Cordie gave birth to Hiram, Jr., but the celebration was short lived when, in 1930, Lindsey’s older brother, Van, died.  He was just 20 years old and left behind his 17-year-old wife, Verda, who was nine months pregnant, and a one-year-old daughter.  More sadness came when, after Cordie had a second child, she and Hiram called it quits.  Cordie moved to a farm in rural Oklahoma with her youngest child, but she left young Hiram with his dad.

Marriage number three seemed to be the charm for Hiram.  In 1933, he wed another young woman, 20-year-old Lula, who would go on to bear two children when Hiram was in his 60s.  Here’s the couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary in 1958:

At the time of Hiram’s third marriage, Lindsey was 17 and already proving to be quite a trouble maker.  In 1934, he was arrested for second-degree burglary and was sentenced to serve 14 months in the Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite, which at the time only housed inmates under the age of 23.

The Reformatory, “Mother” Waters, and Escape

The Oklahoma State Reformatory opened in 1910:

When Lindsey arrived as an inmate in 1934, the place was run by Clara Waters, the first female warden in charge an all male prison in the U.S.

Waters was appointed to the position in 1927 after her husband, George, suddenly died while serving as warden.  The mother of eight, she ran the reformatory as an efficient, spic-and-span household, where “lewd pictures and suggestive inscriptions were ordered removed from the walls” and where inmates had to take off their hats in the presence of women, refrain from reading paperback novels, and use clean language.

Waters believed she could truly reform the young men in her care, so she created the first “fully accredited, behind-the-walls secondary school (Lakeside School) in the United States.”  She also started a popular boys’ band, invested in a library, and set up religious programs at the institution.  Here are photos of the band and the “Negro quartet”:

The matronly warden was always on hand to give her beloved “boys” motherly talks instead of harsh punishment.  When that didn’t work, the warden had some very interesting ways of punishing prisoners who got out of line.  Instead of confining them or beating them as was common in other institutions, Waters had them dress up in women’s clothing and paraded them in the Rotunda, where visitors and other inmates could laugh at and ridicule them.

Lindsey’s arrival coincided with a couple of interesting events at the reformatory.  First, while Waters had easily weathered two previous administrations, she was coming under unprecedented scrutiny by newly-elected governor, Ponca City oilman E.W. Marland, who took office January of 1935.

A former inmate had reported Waters for extreme cruelty, and Marland, who apparently had little respect for the female warden, was using that as an excuse to replace her.  Just as that was happening, the second event unfolded on February 17, 1935, when 31 inmates made a spectacular and bloody break from the reformatory.

According to the Oklahoman, armed with a couple of smuggled arms, two of the inmates threatened to shoot a guard if he didn’t turn over his keys.  He did and the inmates added to their ranks as they ran down halls “howling insanely.”  Then, “the mob of plotters ran upstairs in the administration building to the visitors’ room where 15 or 20 women and children” were waiting to visit loved ones.

The inmates used the women and children as human shields as they made their way through the reformatory to the entrance.  There, one of the armed escapees murdered a tower guard who was about to take aim at them while others scrambled into nearby two parked cars and made their getaway.  The rest of the gang made a desperate mad dash for the highway that ran next to the reformatory just as Clara Walters ordered her surviving tower guards to open fire on her once beloved boys.  This is where a lot of the fire came from:

“Slugs from … (the guards’ guns) … ripped into the flesh of eight convicts.”  They and two others were immediately captured, but the rest of the convicts made it to the road, hijacked unsuspecting drivers, and took off.   Eighteen young men were able to get away but most of them were quickly captured and returned to prison.

The three ringleaders of the break were the last of the bandits to be caught.  W.L. Baker, Jr., was an 18 year old serving 15 years for manslaughter, Dale Stamphill, 22, was at the reformatory after receiving 20 years for armed robbery, and 21-year-old Malloy Kuykendall was serving 75 years, also for armed robbery.  After breaking out, the three blazed a spectacular trail through rural Oklahoma and Texas that began when the trio robbed the Seiling First National Bank just 10 days after escaping from the reformatory in Granite.

Kuykendall injured his hip in the robbery, so the men tracked down and kidnapped the local doctor, Fred Myers, and forced him to treat the desperado’s wounds and drive them over the state line into Texas.  After they thought they were safe, they released the doctor, saying that his car was too slow and they needed a faster one.  But, for some reason, the not-so-bright boys didn’t get another car and instead hiked through fields and farms back into Oklahoma.

On Tuesday, March 5th, lawmen got a tip that the young men were hiding out in a ditch at the John Jester farm 15 miles west of Fairview.  A posse of over 100 men and an airplane scout descended on the farm and surrounded the escapees, who were hiding in an earthen dugout.  “Trapped in a hole like so many rats,” the three men emerged with guns a’blazing.  Kuykendall was shot and wounded by one of the officers, and the other two fugitives, seeing that there was no way out, quickly surrendered.  Here’s a photo of Stamphill, Kuykendall, and Baker soon after their capture:

All of the escapees were back in custody and several of them, including Kuykendall, Stamphill, and Baker, were tried and convicted for the murder of the prison guard and received life sentences to be served at the Oklahoma State Prison in McAlester.  In addition, the three ringleaders were brought up on federal charges for the bank robbery and kidnapping of Dr. Myers.  Once again, they were convicted and since they were known escapees, the men were sent to Alcatraz:

Here are Kuykendall’s orders to go to Alcatraz and his file there (photos here and of inmates from the Alcatraz archives):

I’m not sure what ended up happening to Baker, but Kuykendall, whose first arrest was for stealing chickens when he was a young teen, was now inmate #434 at “the Rock”.  Because he had two escapes to his credit (the first was when he broke out of a Tecumseh jail a few years prior to the reformatory incident), he was placed on 24-hour watch at his new home on the craggy island.  He would serve two stints at Alcatraz and time in Leavenworth…

… before being released in the early 1960s.  Now that he was older and wiser and a free man again, Kuydendall opted to live a quiet life and married and had children.  He died in 1967 at the age of 53.

Dale Stamphill became prisoner #436 at Alcatraz:

The restless young man didn’t like being locked up and even though he, too, was closely monitored at Alcatraz, the criminal with more gumption than brains attempted another brazen escape in 1939.  In the middle of the night on January 13th, Stamphill…

… and four of his buddies, Arthur “Doc” Barker (son of the notorious Ma Barker),

William Martin,

Rufus McCain,

and Henri Young…

… used saws and benders to open up the window bars in the supposedly secure D Block isolation unit.  The five men pulled themselves through the windows and ran through the chilly night to the water, where they gathered wood to construct a makeshift raft.

Suddenly, the prison siren blared and tower lights searched back and forth before resting on the men, who were in their underwear by this time because they had been using their clothing to tie the wood pieces together.  Shivering in the brutal cold on the shore, Martin, McCain, and Young immediately surrendered, while Barker and Stamphill still thought they could make a getaway if they just put a few more pieces of the raft together.

A series of shots pierced the quiet night.  “Doc” Barker was shot in the head and lay mortally wounded, and Stamphill was wounded in both legs.  One bullet nicked an artery, nearly killing the Oklahoman, and he survived only to be placed, along with his fellow escapees, in solitary confinement for 22 months.  (Read a much more detailed version of the prison break here.)

After the wannabe escapees’ release back into the general prison population in 1941, Young killed McCain by plunging a spoon handle into the man’s neck.  Young’s story and the resulting trial were the basis of the 1995 movie, “Murder in the First.”  Stamfield remained in prison for at least another 25 years, but he was ultimately released, got married, and lived out the rest of his days in Kansas, where he died in 1998.

As for Clara Waters, the reformatory break out back in Granite was the last straw for her nemesis, Governor Marland, and his cohorts, one of whom stated, “… there is a bad moral condition out there (at the reformatory).  A woman just can’t manage it.”  She was removed from her position of eight years the day after the breakout and replaced with a man, who I’m sure did a much better job … at least in the eyes of Marland.

She didn’t let that setback stop her, though.  Not at all.  In fact, this trailblazer ended up serving at the vice-chair of the state’s Democratic Party and was tapped by Franklin Roosevelt to head the Oklahoma women’s program of the National Youth Administration.  She lived to the ripe old age of 89 and died in Stillwater in 1977.

Perhaps because he was due to be released in a few months, anyway, Lindsey Chambless didn’t participate in the reformatory escape.  In fact, he uncharacteristically stayed out of trouble during his stay under Mrs. Waters’ care and was released later in 1935.  Unfortunately, her motherly talks didn’t make much of an impact on Lindsey.  Perhaps he enjoyed dressing up in women’s clothes or maybe he just liked the thrill of living on the edge; either way, he was soon committing crimes again, which landed him in federal prison for two stints in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Lindsey Becomes the “Flying Bootlegger”

By 1947, Lindsey was 31 and one of the best known bootleggers in Oklahoma City.

The Sooner State had been dry ever since statehood in 1907 when prohibition was included in its constitution.  Even after national prohibition was repealed in 1933, Oklahoma remained mostly dry – the only exception was a law passed the same year that legalized low-point beer because it was deemed non-intoxicating.

From 1936 to 1949, Oklahomans voted three times to repeal prohibition, and it failed each and every time.  According to the Oklahoman, that didn’t mean that the state was comprised mostly of teetotalers.  On the contrary, “the referendums may not have accurately reflected Oklahomans’ views on the issue.  Because liquor was not regulated by the state, drinkers could buy smuggled alcohol cheap and were not excited about paying state taxes.  As long as they could get their alcohol, Oklahomans had little problem with the law.”

With so many eager buyers on hand, bootlegging was quite a profitable business, and citizens from every socio-economic background had their favorite bootlegger, who could easily supply bourbon, whiskey, or any other spirit and surreptitiously deliver it to their door … their back door, of course.  Here’s a bootlegger’s card I found at a flea market a few years back:

Lindsey and his adventurous cohorts made all kinds of money during the celebratory and carefree days after World War II, and while they may be raided on occasion…

… for the most part, luck was on their side.  For example, Lindsey was one of the first to use planes to smuggle in his contraband from surrounding wet states, which earned him the title of the “Flying Bootlegger.”  In September 1948, according to a 2008 Oklahoma Today article,

Oklahoma County officers got a tip that a plane carrying whiskey was flying into Tulakes Airport in Bethany.  The local police and two Oklahoma Highway Patrolmen positioned themselves at the airport to make a bust.  Chambless arrived to wait for the plane, along with an accomplice, William Jefferson Hutto.  According to police, Chambless learned of the stakeout by listening to the Highway Patrol wavelength on his radio and ran onto the airfield to wave the plane off.  Bethany policeman Chester Longacre and his twin brother, Lester, a Nichols Hills constable, were hiding inside a hangar almost a mile away and attempted to block the plane’s takeoff with their car.  As they raced onto the runway, the plane took flight and escaped, narrowly missing the top of the Longacres’ vehicle.  Police only were able to charge Chambless with driving without proper license tags.

Lindsey was likely very happy to escape this incident with such a light charge because he was already in trouble for a much more serious crime – murder.

 

Next time, Lindsey is accused of murdering his lover’s husband and she has a pretty sad history with men.  Go here to read Part 2.

 

Tulsa Takes to Glass Walls: Lortondale in House + Home

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

by Lynne Rostochil.

One of the best MCM neighborhoods in all of Oklahoma is surely the gloriously mod Lortondale in Tulsa.  The unique homes in this great area were designed by local architect, Donald Honn, appeared in the January 1954 issue of House + Home magazine, and ultimately won numerous design awards.  He even built a home for himself in Lortondale (you’ll see it in a minute).  Here’s the fascinating article about this beloved neighborhood:

And here’s a great photo of Lortondale that I found in the Oklahoma History Center archives:

Today, Lortondale looks pretty much the same, with new homeowners restoring and loving these classic modern designs as much as original owners did 60 years ago:

Here’s the home that Honn designed for himself (he later moved to this swank abode that we profiled on the Mod Blog a few years ago):

      

More Lortondale goodness:

Honn is also responsible for developing the Dollie-Mac neighborhood in Tulsa, as well as similar neighborhoods in Lubbock and El Paso.

If you’d like to see more vintage photos of Lortondale, check out the neighborhood’s website.

And, as an extra bonus, Robyn found this spread about another Honn-designed home in the January 1961 issue of Better Homes & Gardens:

Back to School, Mod Style

Posted by on Aug 9, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

by Lynne Rostochil.

Kids are bummed but parents are thrilled to get back into the school routine, so to celebrate, here are some vintage images from the OPUBCO collection at the History Center of school days of the past.

New desk set up at John Marshall High School, 1950:

These guys skipped out on six and a half months of school in the mid-1950s — no wonder they look so glum at being caught and sent back to the halls of academia:

Playground fun — who didn’t love tetherball?:

You’ve got to love those desks:

Riding the bus to school — that wasn’t a lot of fun during the days when kids were driven all over the place and far from home as part of busing:

Oh how I hated those ankle socks with the ruffles that slipped down to the bottom of your heel during recess:

School fashion for 1967:

Here are some of the mod buildings these industrious students gathered at every day:

D.D. Kirkland, 1958:

Douglass High School:

Herbert Hoover Junior High under construction:

Ridgeview Elementary:

West Nichols Hills Elementary:

Have a great school year, kiddos!

Herb Greene Visits Norman and His Prairie House

Posted by on Aug 3, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

text and photos by Lynne Rostochil (unless otherwise stated).

Certainly, one of the biggest highlights of 2017 so far was getting to meet the genius behind the Prairie Chicken House in Norman and the Cunningham House in OKC, the one and only Herb Greene.  He came to town way back in April to meet with Brent Swift and Hans and Torrey Butzer, who plan to faithfully restore Greene’s iconic house on the prairie just east of Norman.  While he was here, Greene also gave a talk at OU about architecture, Bruce Goff, and his creative process:

It was fascinating and Herb was funny, charming, and a great story teller.  Luckily, someone recorded it, and you can view the entire chat here.

The following day, a gaggle of us accompanied Herb and his lovely niece, Lila, to the Prairie Chicken House for a little look-see before restoration work begins.

For years, I’ve pretended to be lost and have pulled up in the driveway to supposedly turn around … while really straining past the giant No Trespassing signs to sneak a peek at this glorious creation.  Once, I even parked the car and braved beyond the clearly stated warnings and my fears of being chased off by a shotgun blast to knock on the front door.  The barely visible house was surrounded by untended overgrowth, but I snapped a few shots of the home while waiting for someone to answer.  Soon, the door creaked open to reveal a very sweet elderly woman who wasn’t terrifying at all.  In fact, she was very friendly but refused to let me inside for a tour.  So, when I finally got a chance to tour Herb Greene’s masterpiece and hear his stories about the home, it was like Christmas Day.

When Julius Shulman photographed this house in 1961 (as it was nearing completion), he stayed in the “eye” of the house for four days while he captured this one-of-a-kind abode on film.  He said that it was so amazing to look out this window and see nothing but tall grass everywhere and the strong Oklahoma wind making it dance.  Here are some then and now exterior views of the eye:

(Julius Shulman)

Shortly after it was completed, Greene opened his new home for a tour, where one incredulous observer asked in all seriousness if the place had been hit by a tornado.  I’m sure that all of the curves and angles were a mental stretch for a lot of people, but just a few moments in the glorious space surely changed their minds.

In his book, Generations, which he co-wrote with his niece, Lila Cohen, Herb talks more about the Prairie Chicken House:

My objective was to emphasize the importance of bodily and mental experience through metaphors such as the curved half circle of the west window, which can suggest a sun as well as an eye.  I project feelings of pathos or tragedy from the looming “wounded creature” look of the Prairie House.  

Feelings of protection are expressed by the sense of an enveloping coat and the cave-line interior.  The soft textures, human scale, war color, and lifelike rhythms contribute a feeling that the house is in some way living; mixing cues of sharp and piercing forms with others that are soft and gentle, in the context of the wounded creature, suggests pathos….  I juxtapose that which is vulnerable with that which is protective, sheltering, and comfortable.

That’s EXACTLY how this house feels — vulnerable, protective, cave-like, womb-like.

Here, Herb walks into the home for the first time since he left Oklahoma for good in 1964 to become a professor at the University of Kentucky:

The floor in the entry hall …

… and a fireplace greet visitors:

Once inside, all of the warm-hued shingles direct your eye up, up, up to take in the full drama and delight of the organic goodness of this amazing space:

This house is SO incredibly photogenic — there’s not a bad angle anywhere.  Here, Herb makes his way up the first staircase to the living area…

… while another visitor ascends the second-level staircase to the rooftop deck:

Herb beautifully describes the interior of the home in his book, Mind and Image:

If a combination of rhythms can be harmonized in an image, the result is like a dialogue or conversation in which one rhythm informs, supports, or offers contrasts to the other.  The value of rhythmic dialogues is that they allow and encourage us to organize complex groups of contrasts much in the manner of orchestration in music.  In the interior of the Prairie House, there are several rhythmic systems in dialogue.  One is in the shingled walls; another consists of the lines formed by the intersections of walls, floors, and ceiling; a third is provided by the stairway.  

The walls are covered with wood shingles.  They speak of human scale, warmth, softness, and vibratory activity.  They suggest feathers, scales, nests, baskets, ebb and flow, and life and motion.  The lines made by intersecting surfaces suggest animate gestures and give a feeling of recovering one’s balance with the vertical.  The lines lead inward and then outward, as they close the space and open it.  The stairway presents a contrast of “the straight away” with the surrounding curves.  It also sets up contrasts to the sense of enclosure one reads into the space.  We feel that there is an escape, a place beyond.  

Everything about Herb Greene is poetry, from his writing to his art (yes, he’s an artist, too, and a good one) to his architecture.

The home wouldn’t have received nearly the national and international recognition it has if not for the efforts of Julius Shulman.  Throughout his long career, Shulman often ventured inland from his base in California to check out what was happening in architectural design in other regions of the United States.  During these trips, which spanned over 30 years, he frequently stopped in Oklahoma and photographed some of the state’s most innovative modern architecture.

Mr. Shulman (I never could call him Julius, for some reason, so he was always Mr. Shulman to me) told me that upon his return to New York City from this particular Oklahoma trip, he was chided by his colleagues and editors, who said, “Why would you want to go to Oklahoma?  There’s no good architecture there.  All of the great architects are on the coasts, so you should spend your time there.”  Knowing better than that, Shulman gave them a confident Mona Lisa smile and told them to wait until he developed his batch of images from the Sooner State.

When he returned, Shulman and his curious editors gathered around a light table.  One by one, Shulman laid out his slides of Herb Greene’s masterful creation on the windswept prairie.  With each image he placed on the table, the editors grew more and more excited.  They were stunned, delighted, humbled, and enthralled with what they saw and immediately decided that the images had to go in the very next issue of Life magazine, which dubbed this fascinating piece of Organic Modernism the Prairie Chicken House.  Shulman’s photos made Herb Greene known to many far beyond the small college town of Norman, Oklahoma, and gave his career an enormous boost.

Greene and his family lived here just a few short years.  After that, he rented it to a couple who later finished the teepee’d Magyness House in Norman.  Then, in 1968, Greene sold his “wounded creature” to local business woman and nightclub owner, Janie Wilson, who loved and lived in the house for the next 50 years.

Today, the new owners are working with Greene and Hans and Torrey Butzer to figure out ways to not only restore the house but to also make it better.  For example, Greene recalls that he could never get the temperature above 58 degrees during the cold months, so Brent Swift and his team will work to insulate the home better.

This little guy has some plans of his own, too:

I hope that one of the changes is some kind of railing around the rooftop deck — yeah, that’s the mom in me coming out:

Lila and Herb share a moment on the deck …

… while taking in the spectacular views:

Also, during our time at the house, KFOR’s Galen Culver arrived to interview Herb:

Here’s Herb waxing poetic about the place during his sit-down with Culver:

Check out Galen Culver’s interview — it’s very interesting:

The Prairie House architect comes home to see his famous structure for the first time in more than 50 years.

And here are a few more interior shots, including the eye where Shulman slept:

That light!  I haven’t touched up these photos at all because I didn’t need to.  The light and warmth are just perfect.  Here’s Lila taking in the view:

Finally, you can’t help but want to have the full tactile experience with the shingles:

So, restoration work will begin soon on the home, and the Mod Squad will try to schedule a tour when it is completed.  You won’t want to miss seeing this insanely stunning home in person!

Low Cost Housing for Urban Renewal: Architectural Research Report, Part 2

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

by Lynne Rostochil.  Brochure from Lynne’s collection.

Two weeks ago, we reviewed three schemes proposed by the OU School of Architecture for low-cost, multi-family housing as part of Urban Renewal in Oklahoma City.  Go here to review Part 1 of this post.  Today, let’s look at a fourth scheme and other goodies in the report.

Scheme D:

Architects came up with this scheme to utilize “modular planning techniques to provide for all apartment types — efficiency, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, three and four-bedroom, without altering the structural module in either size or method.”

Renovation and Rehabilitation:

“… this project is both unique and significantly important because of its emphasis upon the rehabilitation and renovation of a large metropolitan area.  Some may regard this aspect as possibly its greatest contribution to urban planning.  So far as ascertained at present, there is not another Urban Renewal project that has placed an important emphasis and effort to maintain the many sociological values that existing neighborhoods can and do contain and contribute.  Too frequently the approach has been a bulldozer clearance of a total project area.  Such clearance has often destroyed the relationships and friendships that neighbors and families have constructed over periods of many years.”  Over 460 homes would be rehabilitated as part of this project, and owners would be able to obtain FHA financing to update their homes and still pay less than they would in rent.

“The street illustrated here is an actual one.  It is better in some respects than others, but in some others, it is typical of the area.  We hope it points out the advantages of the overall planning and design and that other areas in Oklahoma City might well consider such a joint effort to improve their own neighborhoods.”

Save the Circle: A Brief History of the Donnay Building and Why We Should Save It

Posted by on Jul 20, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

by Lynne Rostochil.  Photos by Lynne Rostochil unless otherwise stated.

Last week, OKCTalk.com released a story about Braum’s plan to demolish the iconic Donnay Building, which is home to Charlie’s Records, the Drunken Fry, and the Hi Lo Club, along with the building in which the iconic Classen Grill is housed.  Right away, the Mod Squad posted a petition in protest, which now has over 13,000 signatures.  With all of the uproar, every major TV and radio station covered the news, and the first protest, organized by City Councilman Ed Shadid and the group, Save Classen Circle, was held just two days later:

One guy even made a bunch of t-shirts on such short notice:

Here’s Ed Shadid being interviewed by KFOR’s Bill Miston:

This lovely lady, who is in her ’70s, remembers going to the Patio Restaurant as a kid and braved the 100-degree weather to join the protest:

There was even a guy there banging the drums and keeping everyone rhythmically entertained:

So, why all of this fervor over a building that has, admittedly, fallen into disrepair since the owner, Red Oak Properties, purchased it in the mid-’90s?  Well, let’s go into a bit of the building’s history to learn why.

The Donnay Building was the brainchild and namesake of Matt Donnay, a WWI vet who worked as an architect and home builder after his return from the war.  Here’s a photo of him during a VFW ceremony in 1984 — he’s the chipper older gentleman on the left:

(OPUBCO collection at the History Center)

In 1949, he branched out of his single-family comfort zone when he designed and built his first apartment complex, also named the Donnay and now known as the Chardonnay in the Paseo District:

 

(Oklahoma County Tax Assessor)

The complex was originally 12 units and cost $25,000 to build, and the Donnays lived here during the time that he developed the property at Classen Circle.

I believe that he also designed his self-named mixed use building along the old Classen Circle.  The Donnay Building may have been constructed in two phases, the first in 1948 and the second in 1954.  A few things lead me to believe this.  First, I have phone directories from 1949 and 1950, and the only mention of the Donnay Building is for Matt’s construction office and also for an insurance company he owned.  I looked up other businesses that may have occupied space — restaurants, bars, attorneys and architects offices, beauty salons and barber shops, etc. — and didn’t find anything else listed at that address.  Although I looked around in my phone book, I still need to check a reverse directory to verify that Donnay’s businesses were the only ones located in the building in 1949 and 1950.

Another thing makes me think that the building may have been constructed in phases is this photo from Historicaerials.com:

The Donnay Building is in the upper right corner of the photo — here it is blown up:

This aerial shot was taken in 1954, and it looks like the entire front, rounded part of the building (where the Patio was located and where the Drunken Fry is now) hasn’t been built yet.  In every other aerial photo after this one (1969-2013), it is easy to spot the circular portion of the building, as well as the section where Charlie’s Records is now, but neither seem to appear in the 1954 shot.  As an example, here’s the 1969 view of the Donnay Building — it’s yucky and grainy and has a water mark, but you can clearly see the space where Charlie’s is now and where the Patio was:

Here are the detail shots from 1954, 1969, and now (from Googlemaps) so that you can see the difference between the 1954 version of the structure and later versions:

1954

1969

2017

The shadow from the diagonal portion of the building on the west side is apparent in all of the images after 1954, but it’s not in the 1954 photo.  So, I think that those parts of the building were added very soon after the 1954 photo was taken.  What do you think?

I believe that the Matt Donnay waited until after the Classen Traffic Circle was completed in 1952 before he decided to expand the building.  It seems that, when it was announced that the circle was going to be constructed, the City took some of Donnay’s land and didn’t pay him for it.  He filed suit against the city and they went back and forth for two years until a jury sided with Donnay and awarded him a $4,450 settlement.  Perhaps he used that money to expand the building once the traffic circle was constructed.  Here’s a photo of the Classen Traffic Circle soon after it was completed in 1952:

(Oklahoma History Center)

This is the intersection looking south from Classen just north of the circle.  That’s Horn Seed in the foreground on the right.  The vacant plot of land just to the left of the circle is where Jimmy’s Egg is now.  Anyway, apparently there was so much confusion on how to use a traffic circle that the City produced a local TV show called “Going in Circles” to teach citizens the “proper driving procedure” in using the unusual intersection.  Um, okay.  I guess Oklahoma City drivers were just too dumb to know how to handle a traffic circle, even though they had been exposed for a decade to another one at the intersection of May and NW Expressway, which was completed in 1940:

(Oklahoma History Center)

The May Avenue traffic circle was replaced with its current and odd three-clover-leafed exchange in 1952 — probably because people didn’t watch “Going in Circles”:

(Googlemaps)

I find it very interesting that city planners chose to build a circle at Classen and the same time they were opting to remove the one at May.  Anyway, more about Classen Circle later….

Here’s a ’60s photo from the Oklahoma History Center’s collection of the lovely Donnay Building in all of its mid-century glory:

Soon after the circle was constructed, the first of the Donnay Building’s iconic businesses, the Patio Restaurant, opened on October 9, 1954, perhaps the same year that the building was added on to.

(Mark’s Super Blog)

With its giant, amoeba-shaped sign, the Patio was one of the big hot spots in town for well over three decades.  Here’s a photo of the Patio and its beautiful sign from 1975:

(Oklahoma History Center)

How glorious is that?  The sign, along with the Donnay Building itself, was such a staple in the community that artist Greg Burns took the time to paint it in the 1980s, and it has remained one of his best sellers:

(Greg Burns)

Almost anyone who lived in town during the restaurant’s heyday remembers the tiny, 900-square-foot space that seated just 34 people.  There was rarely a day that the place wasn’t packed with enthusiastic patrons devouring one of owner Loreta Eckles’ sweet treats or a Joe Miller burger (named after an Oklahoman photographer) prepared by her husband, Vern.  According to Classic Restaurants of Oklahoma City by Dave Cathey (a book that I highly recommend, by the way), Loreta and Vern were working for the Beverly’s chain when he drove by the Donnay Building one evening.  “It (the future Patio space) was so cute I fell in love with it.  I bought it the next morning, went home and told my wife and she wouldn’t speak to me for a year.”  She must have forgiven him pretty quickly when she saw the line of people out the door day after day.

Back to my theory that part of the Donnay Building was constructed around 1954, six years after the original structure was completed.  I found a classified ad in the Oklahoman stating that there was a “new luxurious office space” for lease above the Patio Restaurant.  This ad was placed in September 1954, just a month before the Patio opened for business.  “New” certainly makes me think that this was, duh, new and not just a revamped space.

As for the Patio, it remained in business in one form or another until 2000, when it closed for good.  Bummer.

The next of the Donnay Building’s long-term businesses to open was the HiLo in 1956.

It looks like the Hi Lo has been the scene of many an interesting evening.  Perhaps the most unusual event to happen on the premises was in 1966 when a man (possibly a boyfriend) was seen loitering outside the Hi Lo.  When a woman exited the bar at 1:30 a.m. on a quiet Tuesday night, he fired shots at her, dragged her kicking and screaming to his car, threw her inside, and took off.  Witnesses saw the incident and called the police, but the man, who was 27, and woman, 22, were long gone by the time they arrived.  According to the Oklahoman, police found “a coat, which contained four bullet holes, two pairs of shoes, a skirt and sweater, and other articles of clothing when they arrived at the club.”

After leaving the parking lot, the man drove onto the Turner Turnpike heading toward Tulsa.  At the Chandler turnpike gate, the woman escaped the vehicle and started running.  The man jumped out of his car and took off after her.  Luckily, a highway patrolman saw the two struggling at the gate and came to the injured woman’s rescue.  While he was assisting the woman, the man got back into his car and took off toward Tulsa.  The officer took the woman to the Chandler hospital, where she was treated for “minor flesh wounds and powder burns.”  The police found the man in Tulsa and initially arrested him for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon but vacated that charge in favor of a more serious one, assault with intent to kill, which carried up to a 20 year sentence.  The man was the son of the owner of the Tulsa Oilers baseball team and was released on a $2,000 bond.  I haven’t been able to find out if he was convicted or went to jail, but it looks like he was a free man and living in Texas by the 1990s.

Even from its earliest beginnings, the Hi Lo was a place to hear great music.  I found this image of local pianist, Leslie Sheffield, playing at the Hi Lo in 1960:

(Oklahoma History Center)

Surprisingly, even with all of its original vintage charm, the bar looks quite a bit different now, doesn’t it?  That’s because there was a fire that gutted the bar in April 1970.  Here’s a photo of the bar’s charred remains from the OPUBCO collection at the History Center:

Those poor, beautiful lights and all of that great furniture ruined.  So sad.  Here’s another image of a fireman on the roof struggling to put out the blaze:

Happily, the club was rebuilt and opened not too long afterward.  I say happily because the neighborhood watering hole morphed into one of the first public spots in town where members of the LBGTQ community could gather without fear of being discriminated against, beaten up, or worse.  The Hi Lo was a safe haven — it was home.  Now, the Hi Lo is home to anyone and everyone who walks in the door and remains one of the most popular taverns in town.  And, the fact that the decor hasn’t changed a bit since after the fire makes the place a true treasure for all kinds of reasons.

The uplit bar is the BEST in town:

And the stage where all of the great music and drag show magic takes place:

Here’s a photo of KFOR reporter, Bill Miston interviewing bartender Topher last week:

The next oldest business that calls the Donnay Building home is Charlie’s Records:

Here’s a little blurb I wrote about Charlie’s a few years ago:

As always, the atmosphere was low key and funky at the venerable Charlie’s in the old Patio building on Classen, which is the premiere store in town to search for old jazz, blues, and R&B records.  An eccentric’s lusty wet dream (and a neat freak’s worst nightmare), Charlie’s is a crazy-but-cool amalgamation of all of the Charlie’s passions — music, old band instruments, wild African masks, and ancient microphones and cameras — all of which is for sale for the right price.   

Although Charlie died recently and his 18-year-old grandson, Justin, took over the shop earlier this year, the record store remains the best place to go in search of that longed-for jazz or blues album.

The baby in the building is the Drunken Fry, which opened in the old Patio space in 2009 and offers a great beer selection, as well as french fries with over a dozen dipping sauces.

This place is always hopping and, if the Donnay Building is saved, promises to be around for a long time like its much older neighboring businesses.

When it was constructed in 1948 or 1954 (or both), the Donnay Building was one of the first mixed use projects to be built in town.  The building contained retail and office space, as well as apartments.  Today, the apartments are still being rented — I don’t know how anyone sleeps in them with all of the activity downstairs, but at least tenants don’t have far to go after an evening of pub crawling around the building and across the street at Edna’s.  (Another early example of a mixed use building is the old Nuway Cleaners on May, which was designed by Hudgins Thompson & Ball and built in 1953.)  To me, it’s so exciting to realize that these buildings are the grandparents of all of the mixed use projects sprouting up in Midtown, downtown, the Plaza District and, really, all over the city.  They were the first.

The Donnay Building is not the only one on the chopping block — so is the one that houses one of the most popular breakfast spots in town, Classen Grill:

(Remax Oklahoma)

As for Classen Circle, it was obsolete within a few years of its construction.  By 1966, over 55,000 cars were going through the circle daily, many more than it could handle.  There was usually a back up along NW Expressway, and there were too many accidents to count.

(OPUBCO collection at the History Center)

Ouch!

In 1966, a columnist for the Oklahoman wrote, “As soon as we get everything straightened out on the moon, I wonder if we could start working on the Classen Circle traffic bottleneck.”  In spite of an effort in 1972 to stop the bottleneck by enlarging the circle, the complaints and accidents continued.  Finally, in 1976, funding was approved to remove the circle and start over with something new.  A few years later, city planners announced that the circle would transform into an “interstate-type intersection with thoroughfare ramps.”  Area citizens and business owners protested this solution, though, citing that it would be even more difficult to get around the area with all of those ramps — not to mention how ugly all of that would have looked.  The plans were changed to omit the elevated ramps and create some kind of semblance of a proper intersection.  The new non-circle opened to traffic in 1981, but it wasn’t much more effective at curtailing confusion, traffic, and accidents than the circle — and it was a lot uglier, too.  Over the years, the non-circle has received more facelifts to help with traffic problems, but all to no avail.  It’s still a mess of an intersection and probably will always be.

(Googlemaps)

So, even with all of this interesting history, why should we worry about saving an obviously dilapidated structure like the Donnay Building?  Why shouldn’t it come down to make way for a Braum’s parking lot?  On the practical side, because the area is already congested enough with traffic — NW 50th can be a big pain in the butt at certain times of the day, and people still can’t figure out the whole jumbled Classen Circle/non-Classen Circle intersection.  Imagine what all of that will be like if a Braum’s comes in and amps up the traffic by thousands of cars a day.  I don’t know about you, but I will want to stay far away from that mess.

Also, with each historic and unique building we lose, Oklahoma City loses a little more of its identity, which, in my opinion, is more important than building yet another ugly, soulless box.  Also, the long-standing businesses in the Donnay Building may not reopen if their homes are demolished.  Imagine a celebratory Saturday night with no Hi Lo or Drunken Fry or an early morning Sunday brunch without the delicious fixin’s and freshly squeezed orange juice at Classen Grill.  Oh no, I can’t — I just can’t.

For those of you who love the Donnay Building and its businesses, you can fight to save them by signing the petition and by showing up at the City Council meeting on August 24th at 1:30 that will hear Braum’s motion to rezone the area so that the company can build on the site.  Also, you can join the Save Classen Circle Facebook page to learn about planned protests, etc., or keep up with everything on the Okie Mod Squad Facebook page.  Finally, I will update this Mod Blog with all news as it happens.

Save the Circle!!

(Save Classen Circle Facebook Group)

(OKCTalk.com)

A huge thanks goes to Pete Brzycki at OKCTalk.com for always being on top of things in OKC and for breaking this story.

Low Cost Housing for Urban Renewal: Architectural Research Report, Part 1

Posted by on Jul 11, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

by Lynne Rostochil.  Brochure from Lynne’s collection.

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Not too long ago, I found a really fascinating booklet called Low Cost Housing for Urban Renewal.  It was put together by the OU School of Architecture research staff, which included these guys:

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From the names on this list, I’m guessing that this booklet was created in 1964 or 1965.  Sponsored by the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority, the report “consists of studies to determine the feasibility of moderate income housing within the University Medical Center Urban Renewal Area.”    This is a pretty thick booklet, so I’ve selected some excerpts for you to enjoy.

The Urban Renewal Plan:

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According to the booklet, the architects “were concerned with the problems of the ever mounting construction costs in all types of building, and the necessity of arriving at the desired low cost rent.”  As part of their research, the group studied different materials that could be used to reduce construction costs, and they also constructed a small test building to illustrate how materials and efficient building methods could control costs.

Scheme A:

Scheme A was designed in accord with the FHA’s “Minimum Property Standards for multi-family dwelling units” and intends to “give maximum variety and interest to the buildings … to avoid the anonymous character generally associated with housing developments of the same size.  Emphasis is placed on the importance of the individual and to give him in these apartments, a proper environment in which to live and raise his children, with beauty and economical living and full use of space.”

The architects designed “a flexible grouping of three types of living units ….  Each entranceway serves a maximum of nine families in the few instances of the three story units, but the vast majority will serve only six families, and yet the amount of space given to circulation is minimal….  Through the provisions of the pleasant garden type entrance there is an atmosphere that suggests a garden apartment but takes full advantage of the economies of the urban row house.”

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Scheme B:

“All of the living units are to be placed so that they are parallel to the parking lots and facing the surrounding exterior streets.  The admirable aim of this plan is to grant greater freedom for the courts and play areas as framed by the buildings.  This will create an architectural regularity and unity from the street side by placing the buildings in a symmetrical arrangement.”  With the buildings constructed on the periphery, the inner courtyard and play spaces could be easily protected and controlled.  The buildings themselves mostly would be three stories and constructed of budget-friendly pre-cast concrete.

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“It is not difficult to imagine that living in this environment would be both relaxing and friendly.”

Scheme C:

This plan “provides a good car/occupant ratio” and uses an “open exterior balcony for the access corridor to the apartment units.”  The buildings would be constructed with “controlled density concrete” and would “provide a maximum amount of living floor area.”

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Next week, we will look at Scheme D and discuss some of the ways the group suggested to improve the area surrounding the proposed site of this multi-family housing.

Go here to see Part 2 of this post.

The 2017 Oklahoma Modernism Weekend Mod Home Tour, Part 2

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

text and most of the photos by Lynne Rostochil.  Other photos are credited below.

Today, we are finishing up with the Mod Home Tour that was the capper of the Oklahoma Modernism Weekend.

Gray House
Bush Hills
Designed by Thomas Goto
1964

Bush Hills was the brainchild of developer J.A. Bush.  He started advertising lots for sale out in the country in April 1929.  Lots would be one to 10 acres with a starting price of $1,500.  A few homes were built along the back side of the lake and on Bush, but the area didn’t develop much during this time due to the Depression.

After WWII, the building boom was on and more plots were sold to people eager to live the country life in what was rapidly becoming an urban area off of Route 66.  Development exploded in the 1950s and most of the sites were filled with homes by the 1960s.  As Bush Hills filled in, surrounding land began being developed, including the parcel where this home is located.

In the 1960s and 1970s, architect Thomas Goto worked with housing developer, John Gray, in designing homes in the Lansbrook, Penn Park, and Canyon North additions. During the early years of their partnership, Gray, Goto, and a few of their friends decided to buy lots on a quiet cul-de-sac and build their homes there.  Goto’s home was at the head of the cul-de-sac and the home he designed for Gray was a few doors down.  A native of Hawaii, Goto incorporated many elements of modern Hawaiian residential design in this residence, including a low-slung, U-shaped plan surrounding an intimate, central courtyard.

Current owners, Michael and Jennifer Hopkins are avid collectors of all things mid-century modern, including an original Princess Grace Ford Thunderbird Landau.  Here’s a photo of Michael telling us all about the interesting history of this car:

Apparently, Princess Grace (formerly Academy Award-winning actress, Grace Kelly) chose the color scheme for the car — Corinthian white with dusk rose accents.  It’s as elegant as the lady herself:

Just 2,000 of these special edition cars were made, with #1 going to Grace’s husband, Prince Ranier himself.  Learn more about the exciting history of this rare care here.

With Michael’s discerning eye, the rest of the Hopkins’ house is just as interesting as the car.  Take a look at this living room, which is sheer perfection:

Original owners, the Grays loved to entertain and had a distinctive buffet built in the dining room with carved tropical flowers that further accentuates the home’s Hawaiian style.  You can see it along the back wall in this photo:

Other features include original slate flooring, an honest to goodness Flair in the kitchen…

… and, a rarity for Oklahoma, a large basement den.  The lighting wasn’t the best in the den, thus the blurry shot of the space.  A blurry shot is better than no shot, so I’m going with it:

Michael also collects all things Playboy, and the upstairs bar is the perfect place to show off his finds:

The stuffed bunny is a decanter from the early 1960s and the key is from the same era:

If that key could talk….  Here’s another shot of Michael and Jennifer’s loungy bar area:

Pretty great, aye?

High House
Nichols Hills
Designed by Norman Berlowitz
1958

In 1929, real estate developer, Dr. G.A. Nichols announced that farmland in what was then the far reaches of OKC would be converted into a 1,280-acre neighborhood of luxury homes and estates.  Previously, Nichols had developed such neighborhoods as Paseo, Military Park, Gatewood, University Place, and Lincoln Terrace, but his self-named neighborhood would be much different, with plenty of parks, green spaces, and winding roads.  Wonder if he was influence by Edgemere Park when he began platting Nichols Hills….  As with the other pre-WWII neighborhoods in town, development in Nichols Hills was slow during the Depression and war years and didn’t begin to really boom until hostilities ceased.

Nestled on a quiet residential street in Nichols Hills surrounded by much more traditional homes, the unique, two-owner ranch we toured provides all kinds of indoor/outdoor living opportunities with an uncommon and very private front courtyard and a lush backyard pool area:

Inside, the home is nearly all original and is perfect for today’s casual living with its open-plan common areas offset by a huge two-sided fireplace overlooking the dreamy backyard, which has been expertly updated by current homeowner, Monty Milburn:

Tour goers relaxed by the pool…

Enjoyed the art…

And had the opportunity to look at original blueprints and before/after shots of the master suite:

An addition to the master bedroom was a paneled disaster that Monty beautifully remedied this way:

So, the bedroom is on one side of the fireplace, and the gorgeous sitting area and master bath are on the other and overlook the pool.  How great is that?

Cunningham House
Quail Creek
Designed by Herb Greene
1964

From Nichols Hills, we mosied north to Quail Creek to view an internationally recognized gem of a house that was surely the “big wow” of the tour.

Quail Creek was built on farmland once owned by Virgil Browne, and developers anticipated that it would be the “showplace of America.”  The developers — Jack Johnston, his dad Paul, his brother Paul, Russell Caston, Ben Head, Tom Downs, Gene Moss, Carl James, and Bud Krogstad — believed that there was a large need for higher end neighborhoods in OKC, and they were right because lots began selling quickly in the $44 million neighborhood that included a mid-century modern country clubhouse with a giant pool and championship golf course.  The platte consisted of 860 sites, with 177 “estate homes” on larger lots surrounding the golf course.  The minimum home size was 1,800sf and averaged $35,000, while the larger “estate homes” were priced from $60,000-$150,000 in 1961 dollars (that’s $490,000-$1.23 million today).

This stunning home was designed by Bruce Goff student and former OU professor, Herb Greene and is certainly one of the most impressive examples of mid-century modern residential architecture in the city.  Here’s a photo I took of the front of the house in the winter — you can’t see much of the front once the trees bloom in the spring:

In the common areas, curved walls lead to a swooping, wood-planked ceiling that hovers over giant windows running along the back, offering a panoramic view of the golf course beyond:

Owners Tammy and Kent Switzer have decorated the home to perfection, too:

Yes, that’s a genuine Murano mid-century mod disc hanging on the ceiling — love it!

And I also love the bedroom with accordion doors that open to the living spaces and also to the golf course view beyond:

Looking up into the bedroom from the dining area downstairs:

Tammy and Kent also shared some interesting ephemera and books about Herb Greene and the home:

Check out this amazing fireplace:

Outside, four iron screens add even more visual interest:

Back inside and up the stairs to the ground floor level…

… is a den with its own private patio sanctuary:

There’s even a built-in stereo in the studio/office:

To say that this is a mind blowing space is a vast understatement!

Krogstad House
Quail Creek
Designed by Robert F. Reed, addition by Ken Fitzsimmons of TASK Design
1964, 2016

The final home of the tour is also located in Quail Creek and was designed by Goff student, Robert F. Reed, for one of the neighborhood’s early developers, Bud Krogstad.  This organic modern head turner provides quite a bit of visual eye candy with repeating rock pillars inside and out …

…vaulted beamed ceilings, and angled windows:

A master-suite addition completed in 2016 beautifully complements the original architecture.

 

And that’s it for the 2017 Mod Home Tour!  I’d like to thank all of the tour homeowners for very generously letting us enjoy your spaces for a few minutes.  Also, a huge thanks goes to Jim Jordan, who made sure that every home had a classic car parked in front.  And thank you to all of the people who sponsored, volunteered, vendored, and/or planned the Oklahoma Modernism Weekend.  Finally, we’d like to thank everyone who attended this year — see you in 2018!

The 2017 Oklahoma Modernism Weekend Mod Home Tour, Part 1

Posted by on Jun 29, 2017 in Mod Blog | No Comments

text and most of the photos by Lynne Rostochil.  Other photos are credited below.

 

This year’s Mod Home Tour was another great Oklahoma Modernism Weekend event, and I thought I’d share photos of the homes we toured for those of you who couldn’t make it.  I’ve included a little history about each home and its neighborhood.

Papahronis House
Edgemere Park
Designed by John Bozalis
1954

Edgemere Park was developed by Leon Levy and lots began selling in 1928.  Levy wanted the neighborhood to be a “garden city” so he included 20 acres of green space and a park with rolling hills, mature trees, and the Deep Fork Creek running through it.  This was one of the first examples of community planning in OKC with winding streets and boulevards surrounded by lots and homes of all different sizes.

Site prices began at $1,050 – almost $15,000 today.  Small homes averaged around $5,000 – about $78,000 today.  Edgemere Park contains 300 homes, with just a few examples of more modern architecture sprinkled among more traditional styles.  Lots along Broadway weren’t bought in the first wave of development – they were finally developed after World War II and included several quaint apartment buildings — I found a photo of this block of buildings in a 1949 edition of the Oklahoman:

Interestingly, a resident on the block, Keith Pouder, caught this image of a lightning strike on the nearby WKY and KOCY towers the night before:

If you go to Historical Aerials and type in NW 36th and Broadway, you can find an aerial view of this block in 1954 and 1969.  The block was demolished when I-235 was expanded in the 1970s.  As for the rest of Edgemere Park, it was added to the National Register in 1980.

In 1954, Johnny Papahronis, owner of the iconic Lunch Box in the heart of downtown, hired architect John Bozalis of Bailey Bozalis Dickinson & Roloff to design a new home for him and his family.  The result is this L-shaped, low-slung beauty that features an open-plan living and dining room — here’s the space with current owner, Matt Goad, chatting with tour goers about the history of the house:

The living room is anchored by a stunning flagstone fireplace:

Matt, who is just the second owner of this beautiful space, told us that the tri-colored sofa came from an office at the Tulsa Airport — very cool.  As for the dining room, the wall of windows overlooking the backyard make for a very inviting space:

(Kelly Moore)

Love this pass-through to the kitchen and that dreamy, honey-colored paneling:

Matt painstakingly remodeled the kitchen, but it looks so perfectly vintage that no one would ever guess it’s not original:

Even his collection of Russel Wright matches:

Matt has done an excellent job of enhancing all of the home’s amazing original features with his exciting modern furniture and art collection, including vintage album covers that adorn the walls in his den.

(Bren Johnston)

(Kelly Moore)

Morey House
Wildewood
Architect unknown
1957

One of OKC’s best kept secrets is the hilly Wildewood addition.  The neighborhood sprang to life in 1955 after brothers Lamar and Med Cashion bought up 220 acres of untamed woodlands in the northeast part of town.  Unlike most of flat-as-a-pancake Oklahoma City, this area looked more like the eastern part of the state, with rolling hills and canyons containing winding creeks and tall, mature trees.  Wisely, the Cashions decided to capitalize on the natural wonders of their newly acquired land and advertised that the development they named Cashion’s Wildewood would be filled with “large palatial homes for families who like a blend of modern living and nature in the rough.”

Lots in the exclusive neighborhood would run from $5,000 to $10,000, depending on location and size, and various local architects and builders were invited design and construct custom homes that would range in price from $20,000 to $100,000 — from $178,000 to nearly $900,000 in 2017 dollars.  Soon after the first announcement that land was being cleared for the neighborhood’s scenic, twisting streets, new homes started popping up on the hilly, tree-studded lots in Wildewood.  By 1957, the first phase, including this split-level delight, was pretty much complete.

This flagstone stunner takes full advantage of its hillside site with this light-filled, split-level plan.  Upstairs, an expansive living/dining area overlooks the wooded backyard:

Current owners, Matt and Cara Greenhaw, recently completed a very sensitive re-do of the kitchen, which is a vast improvement over the ’70s-era yuckiness that was there before:

(Kelly Moore)

A spiral staircase in the formal living room…

… leads to a comfortable den with wood paneling, rock floors, and flagstone walls that ground the home on one side…

… and, on the other side, sliding doors that lead to a giant deck overlooking the wild expanses of the hilly wooded lot beyond:

Originally designed for developer Jimmy D. Morey, the distinctive home is being thoughtfully updated by Matt and Cara, who are making some pretty fantastic design choices, I think:

Morgan House
SOSA
Designed by Brian Fitzsimmons, AIA and Mike Morgan
2016

This neighborhood located south of St. Anthony’s (thus its name, SOSA) was originally comprised of homes built in the early 1900s.  It was a sad, derelict area when, in 2005, architect Randy Floyd and her partner, Michael Smith, renovated two territorial homes.  Mod didn’t arrive until Brian Fitzsimmons designed his personal residence on a hilltop overlooking downtown in 2010.  A few more modern homes sprouted up in the next few years and then the building boom began in earnest; now, there are over 51 completed projects with many more on the books, and the neighborhood has quickly become a modern architecture mecca in the city.

Homeowner Mike Morgan stepped into dual roles of design collaborator and general contractor to create the perfect home for him and his wife, Lea.  Here’s Mike welcoming tour goers:

The home sits on an elevated corner with prime views of downtown Oklahoma City…

(Kelly Moore)

… and features two cozy outdoor spaces on the first level where you can sit and enjoy all of the surrounding architectural eye candy:

Inside, the first level is home to Mike and Lea’s extensive library and art collection:

An exciting surprise awaited those who trekked to the garage:

Upstairs, an open-plan living, dining, and kitchen space makes full use of every square foot of space and serves as the perfect backdrop for more of the Morgans’ amazing art:

(Kelly Morgan)

Corten steel, wood, and brick mix to create a warm, almost cabin-like modern home, and the natural landscaping in front further adds to the homey ambiance.

Next week, we will finish the tour with a look at a home in Bush Hills, one in Nichols Hills, and two in Quail Creek.