In the first in a series of blog posts about forgotten Oklahoma landmarks, Rhys Martin chats with us about his new book Lost Restaurants of Tulsa. Join us over the next several months as we explore demolished, forgotten, or abandoned sites around the state in anticipation of our May 2019 photography exhibit Forgotten Oklahoma.
Tell us a little bit about where the inspiration came from for Lost Restaurants of Tulsa. Why was this project important or appealing to you?
I have long been interested in various aspects of Tulsa history. After driving to Oklahoma City for the final days of the Charcoal Oven in 2016, I wanted to know more about the lost Tulsa eateries I’d heard about my whole life. It became a conduit for me to learn more about the people behind places like Bishop’s Restaurant and the Razor Clam…which is always the part I like best.
Did you learn anything surprising from your research and work on the book?
I didn’t realize how connected a lot of these places were. For example, I’d heard of Miller’s Drive-In on Admiral but I didn’t know it had previously been a Pennington’s location. The Silver Castle Lunch System diner chain, founded in Tulsa in the 1930s, was a launching pad for people like Claud Hobson and Johney Harden who both went on to start their own hamburger restaurants that are still operating today. I also learned about a few cultural touches that are lost in the digital age: did you know that kids from different high schools used to have their own honking patterns to identify themselves when cruising the Restless Ribbon of Peoria Avenue? Now you can just call or text your friends to see where they’re at.
Did you gather most of the materials and photos yourself or did you have help from the Tulsa community?
I started by researching the archives at the Central Library downtown and at the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum. Using that information, I started reaching out to individuals related to the owners of restaurants like the Denver Grill and Villa Venice. In some cases, the actual owners were still around to tell me their story. As I researched, I’d also scour social media for tidbits of information I could use to help fill in a few blanks.
What is it about these old and seemingly forgotten places that you think people find interesting? What is the fascination?
Well, nostalgia is quite a draw. Every generation loves to remember the “good old days” and food is a great connector. I am constantly amazed by the details that people remember from fifty or sixty years ago – and those recollections always come with a deep smile. For people like me that didn’t get to experience these institutions first-hand, it’s a way to learn about simpler time and imagine what life was like. There’s a movement right now focused on farm-to-table operations and locally-sourced food. Back in the day, that’s all there was.
Who do you think the ideal audience is for your book?
As you might imagine, talking about this project with older folks tends to come with more engagement. People are eager to share their own stories and spend a few minutes in yesteryear. I hope the book also resonates with people interested in general Tulsa history and people that want to know a little more about the restaurants they’ve heard about growing up from their parents or grandparents.
Tell us a bit about the book itself: When will it be available for purchase? Where can people buy it from (either online or locally)?
The book comes out on December 3rd and will be available from a variety of local outlets like Magic City Books, Decopolis, Ida Red, and more. It’ll also be on Amazon and on my personal website (www.cloudlesslens.com). The latter is the only place where you’ll be able to get an autographed copy outside of an event. The official launch is at the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum on Saturday, December 8th at 2:00 PM. More events are being planned; you can stay up-to-date (and see photos that didn’t make it into the book) on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/LostTulsaRestaurants