Max W. Campbell was a big man.
He weighed 261 pounds, according to newspaper advertisement he placed in a special supplement about the grand opening of Southland Shopping Center in 1965.
Campbell built Southland, the largest shopping center in Oklahoma at the time.
He had big ideas and also a big heart. He died in 1970 leaving no close relatives, his wife having died in 1959.
Campbell bequeathed the bulk of his $2.1 million estate to a trust fund, with the income divided among the University of Tulsa, Oral Roberts University and Boston Avenue Methodist Church. He also left $50,000 each to his secretary and his housekeeper, along with $25,000 to his chauffeur and $20,000 to his maid.
Nine nieces and nephews contested the will, charging that Campbell was “suffering from insane delusions.” But co-executor Joe Francis said of Campbell, “He told me that he made his money in Tulsa and wanted it left to Tulsa charities.”
Campbell himself once said, “Tulsa and its development have been my life.”
The challenge was thrown out.
Campbell graduated from Vinita High School in 1914 and later moved to Tulsa because an abstract company offered him a job paying $75 a week. He was working as a deputy in the Tulsa County Court Clerk’s office when World War I broke out.
He entered the U.S. Army in 1916, returning after the war to find his job had been taken. Campbell began selling real estate, eventually building and selling homes on a small scale.
In 1921, Campbell married Tookah Stansbery, daughter of Tulsa pioneer Lon Stansbery.
First suburban mall
That same year, he bought a 10-acre tract on 11th Street between Columbia and Birmingham avenues – then considered too far east – where he built what is considered Tulsa’s first suburban shopping center. Built in 1927 in the Spanish colonial revival style, the Casa Loma featured a 33-room hotel on the second story with barber and beauty shops, a drug store and a grocery store occupying the first level.
For years, the Casa Loma was the only hotel on the eastern outskirts of Tulsa, according to the Tulsa Preservation Commission. The hotel was a convenient and low-cost option for travelers passing through on Route 66. A trolley line provided a link to downtown.
By 2008, the Casa Loma was considered a derelict property when a group of investors bought it and began renovation. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010 and reopened as the Campbell Hotel and event center in 2011. Two years later, Maxxwell’s restaurant opened in a one-story addition constructed on the west end of the building in 1932.
After the success of the Casa Loma, Campbell ventured into residential development, building eight housing additions in southeast Tulsa. But his most ambitious project would change the retail landscape of Tulsa for good.
The southeast corner of 41st Street and Yale Avenue was occupied by a woman who kept a flock of geese and lived in a boxcar when Campbell bought the farm land in 1950. He and his wife built a house on the site and lived there for several years.
In 1955, Campbell approached architect Malcolm L. McCune with the idea of building a shopping center on the property. Ten years later, Southland opened for business, with 40 stores filling 650,000 square feet of retail space on a 50-acre tract. There were 3,500 parking slots.
Mall had unusual feature
One of the most unusual features was unseen by visitors. Over the objections of financiers, Campbell had a large tunnel built beneath the shopping center for merchandise delivery service and stocking. No shopper needed to worry about delivery trucks blocking entrances or parking.
Southland’s anchor tenants were Brown-Dunkin, JC Penney and Froug’s. Other stores included Clarke’s Good Clothes, Jenkins Music, Borden’s Cafeteria, Peacock Jewelers, Safeway, TG&Y and Walgreen’s. A store called Star Sports Center sold boats.
A 40-foot-wide courtyard with landscaping, decorative lighting and fountains ran down the center. Wide overhangs on either side sheltered shoppers from the weather.
Two years after Southland opened, Southroads Mall was built across the street, making 41st and Yale Tulsa’s favorite shopping destination.
Southland was closed in 1985 and extensively renovated as Tulsa Promenade, an indoor mall now anchored by JC Penney, Macy’s and Dillards.
The tunnel is still there.
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