Tulsa is one of the most vibrant cities in the region with a fascinating history. Once you are well-acquainted with the city, you will be able to easily spot some of its historical influences in the naming, layout, and architecture.
The area that has come to be known as Tulsa, was first settled by the Lochapoka and Creek native tribes in 1836. A small settlement was established and named “Tallasi,” meaning “old town” in Creek. This later became “Tulsa,” and remains the name today. In 1898, Tulsa was officially incorporated.
In 1901, Tulsa was still a small town when its very first oil well was established. By 1905, the discovery of Glenn Pool Oil Reserve (located approximately 15 miles outside of present-day downtown) prompted a rush of new individuals seeking employment in wealth in the growing oil industry. Tulsa’s population quickly grew to over 140,000 from 1901 to 1930. Unlike the early settlers of Northeastern Oklahoma, many settlers came from the East Coast and the lower Midwest. This is why even today, Tulsa has more prominent Catholic and Jewish communities than other cities in Oklahoma.
Tulsa became known as the “Oil Capital of the World” for most the of 20th century. This success leads to booms in construction within the town. Those with a keen eye for architecture can spot Art Deco stylings from the time all over town.
In 1925, Cyrus Avery, a businessman from Tulsa, began a campaign to create a road linking Chicago to Los Angeles. He garnered the nickname “Father of Route 66” and established the Highway 66 Association in Tulsa. The highway played an enormous part in establishing the Americana culture of the time and establishing Tulsa as an iconic rest stop for travelers. The “Birthplace of Route 66” held popular icons such as the Meadow Gold sign and the Blue Whale of Catoosa.
During the 1930s, several concert venues, dance halls, and bars gave rise to Tulsa’s music scene which is known for the famous “Tulsa Sound” that blends rockabilly, country, rock ‘n roll, and blues. In this period, Bob Wills and his group The Texas Playboys began performing at venues such as Cain’s Ballroom. Cain’s is considered to be the birthplace of Western Swing and continues to attract famous musicians for operation today. Artists like J.J. Cale, Leon Russell, and Eric Clapton have been known to be inspired by Tulsa Sound in their careers.
For the rest of the mid-20th century, Tulsa had a master plan to construct rose gardens, museums, parks, and churches. They also sought to improve infrastructure and increase their national advertising for tourism. The Spavinaw Dam, built to accommodate Tulsa’s weather needs, was one of the largest public works projects of the era.
In the 1950s, Time magazine called Tulsa “America’s Most Beautiful City.”
In the 1980s and ’90s, city leaders worked to diversity the city away from a largely oil-based economy by bringing blue-collar jobs and internet telecommunication firms and enhancing the aviation industry.
In 2003, Tulsa passed the “Vision 2025” program to further enhance and revitalize Tulsa’s infrastructure. The keystone project of this program was the construction of the BOK Center downtown. Groundbreaking began in 2005, and the building was completed in 2009. Now it serves as a home for minor league hockey and major concerts and events.
Opened in April 2013, the Woody Guthrie Center in the Tulsa Arts District is Tulsa’s newest museum and archive. The Woody Guthrie Center also houses the Woody Guthrie Archives, containing thousands of Guthrie’s personal items, sheet music, manuscripts, books, photos, periodicals, and other items associated with the iconic Oklahoma native. The archives of Guthrie’s protégé, Bob Dylan, will also be displayed in Tulsa in the future.
In 2014, construction began on The Gathering Place, a major expansion and renovation of the Tulsa River Parks area. After years of planning, generous donations, and input from the community, 66 acres of central Tulsa was transformed. The Gathering Place opened in September of 2018, and cost $465 million. With a $100 million endowment for maintenance and family programming from the George Kaiser Family Foundation alone, it one of the largest and most ambitious public parks ever created with private funds. The main attractions are the Chapman Adventure Playground, the Williams Lodge, a boathouse, splash playground, great lawn, outdoor sports courts, a skate park, a wetland pond and garden, and numerous trails among other locations. Tulsa’s Gathering Place was named the Best New Attraction in the Nation in 2018 through the USA Today Readers’ Choice awards.
Tulsa’s future looks bright with continued expansion and improvement projects. That is why now is the perfect time to find yourself in this historically charming city!