Tulsa had never seen anything quite like the Camelot Inn when the 330-room hotel designed to evoke the atmosphere of Merrie Olde England in October 1965.
No alligators swam in the moat, but the drawbridge lowered and a doorman costumed as the Keeper of the Realm welcomed guests to step back to a time when knighthood was in flower.
Owners Ainslie Perrault and Richard O. Wheeler built the $5 million, nine-story hotel at Interstate 44 and Peoria Avenue to resemble a medieval castle. They had originally planned to stock the 8-foot-wide, 3-foot-deep moat with small alligators, but dropped the idea upon learning that the reptiles couldn’t survive in such an environment.
“Don’t let it be forgot
“That once there was a spot
“For one brief shining moment
“That was known as Camelot.”
Betty Wheeler, wife of one of the co-owners, devised the hotel’s décor, working with an array of suppliers, many of whom created custom furnishings.
The spacious lobby was a modern take on King Arthur’s Court, complete with a Round Table and a throne. In the courtyard, a replica of Excalibur, the sword which King Arthur withdrew from the stone in the fable, was imbedded in a 700-pound boulder.
All of the rooms had two telephones, including one in the bathroom.
Each of the four luxurious bi-level tower suites on the eighth floor featured a living room with a bar, poker table, color television and powder room on the lower level with the bedroom (with a black-and-white TV) and bathroom upstairs. Entrance to the suites, named Musk Ox, Mandril, Unicorn and Walrus, was through double doors with huge brass handles imported from Spain.
The public rooms were just as posh. In the swanky Red Lion Club, guests were served by “lionesses” decked out in gold lame pelts with red ostrich feather tails. The bar had thick plaid carpeting, stained-glass windows and red swivel chairs upholstered with black leather.
Whether an elegant showplace or a kitschy version of English charm, the Camelot drew curiosity-seekers and weary travelers alike, eager to “sleep in a castle tonight,” as billboards along I-44 advertised.
In the words of 1963 Broadway musical’s title song,
“In short, there’s simply not
“A more congenial spot
“For happily-ever-aftering than here in Camelot.”
President Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley were among the Camelot’s VIP guests. The Republican governors’ conference was held there in 1968 and local high schools booked their proms at the hotel. The hotel even made a cameo appearance in the 1982 Matt Dillon film, “Tex.”
But the Camelot had its share of controversy.
Protesters from local churches marched near the Camelot when 13 contestants competed in the Miss Gay Oklahoma Pageant in the hotel’s Great Hall, World reporter Tom Carter wrote on Sept. 1, 1985.
By 1992, the hotel had seen better days. After operating briefly as the Camelot Parkside Hotel, it closed.
The crumbling castle was purchased by followers of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who renamed it Heaven on Earth Plaza Hotel with plans to transform it into a school. They offered to rid Tulsa of crime through Transcendental Meditation for $26 million a year. City officials declined.
Hell on Earth was more like it. Raw sewage spills, faulty wiring, vandalism and fires led the health department to condemn the structure in 1996.
Bargain-hunters turned out at a public sale of the hotel's furniture, fixtures and other items in 2002.
QuikTrip Corp. purchased the 5.9-acre property and demolished the hotel in 2007. Five years later, the convenience store chain built a store on the site, chosen because it was near the spot where QT’s first store opened in 1958.
“Ask ev'ry person if he's heard the story,
“And tell it strong and clear if he has not,
“That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory