When people from east Tulsa — the part of Tulsa that east Tulsans refer to as “Tulsa” — go to west Tulsa, they often get lost.
They cross the Arkansas River and 21st Street somehow turns into 23rd Street. The familiar landmarks of home disappear, and their world comes slightly unhinged just west of the Lot A Burger. Pretty soon, they find themselves in the parking lot of Crystal City trying to reorient themselves on Maps.
Ambling down the center of this confusing landscape is Southwest Boulevard, a rough-hewn street that seems to have been slapped together by a committee ... because it was.
In 1957, the Tulsa City Commission created Southwest Boulevard at the suggestion of Southwesttulsans Inc., which had rallied 2,000 petition-signers to its cause. The new road was made up of former portions of Fifth Street, Maybelle Avenue, Quannah Avenue, Sapulpa Road and 41st Street.
(Forty westside businessmen objected to the idea, but the Southwesttulsans’ argument that the new names would eliminate confusion and “give dignity to the southwest side” carried the day, according to newspaper reports of the day.)
The result is a meandering main street for the west side that’s sometimes commercial, sometimes industrial and sometimes rural.
The unofficial capital of west Tulsa is Ollie’s Station, 4070 Southwest Blvd., with its famous model trains and ought-to-be-famous chocolate meringue pie. The family diner is where you can eat breakfast any time and admire the great railroad memorabilia.
But, arguably, the better emblem for Southwest Boulevard might be across the street: Tulsa Stove Hospital.
The 12,000-sqaure-foot building at 4067 Southwest Blvd. once housed a drug store, a variety store and the Red Fork post office, but today, it’s home to Richard Stufflebeam’s business, which is restoring vintage gas stoves. The building is packed with old Maytags and Magic Chefs from another century, and there’s a strong whiff of natural gas in the air.
For people from west Tulsa, the road to dignity that started in 1957 has been full of potholes.
On April 1, 1992, April Fool’s Day, Sen. Lewis Long shut down the legislative process to demand a little westside respect.
The longtime westside lawmaker mounted the Senate’s first filibuster in a decade over a previously uncontroversial bill to reduce the number of people on the Tulsa planning commission from 12 to 11. His objection was there weren’t any west Tulsans on the commission and, as far as he could remember, never had been.
He held the floor for two hours, demanding a call from Tulsa Mayor Rodger Randle to promise a westsider would be appointed to the commission. Fellow legislators brought him sandwiches and a phone book to read from if he ran out of complaints about how east Tulsa treated west Tulsa. He didn’t really need the phone book.
The Senate galleries bulged with spectators, fascinated to see how long Long could keep talking, while Senate leaders tried desperately to find Randle, who was thought to be driving east on the Turner Turnpike.
“We get the sewer plants, the trash dumps and the hazardous waste,” Long said. “The east side gets the museums, the colleges, the vo-techs, the parks and the tennis courts.
“They get the gold. We get the shaft.”
Someone had recently suggested a state prison for west Tulsa, and Long said he wouldn’t stand for it.
“I want a vo-tech campus; I want a TJC campus; I want tennis courts, I want a museum, and I want sidewalks.”
Randle finally called and — thanks to the fact that Long held the telephone receiver and the microphone in the same hand, everyone listened to his side of the conversation.
“Where’s he live, mayor?” he asked.
“Was it in the paper?”
It turned out Randle had appointed an attorney who lived just across the Arkansas River to the commission four months earlier.
Long grumbled that the appointee was a “downtown lawyer who probably doesn’t know anything about the problems in west Tulsa,” but, his point made, he surrendered control of the Senate floor and sat down.
The planning commission bill passed. Long was one of the six voting against it.
Today, there is a good museum — Gilcrease. Tulsa Community College opened its west campus in 1996. Tulsa Tech opened its Riverside campus in 1996. And the Route 66 historical village sits at 3770 Southwest Blvd.
Something to be proud of, indeed.