The Eng Family

While researching my book, Lost Restaurants of Tulsa, I met and interviewed a lot of people. During that process, I learned a lot about various family histories tied to eateries of the city’s past. One of my favorite stories is that of the Eng Family. Their journey weaves in and around generations of family, friends, and communities…but the centerpiece has always been food.

The Mandarin Cafe; photo courtesy of Jean Eng

Although the Tulsa part of their story begins in 1930 with the opening of the Mandarin Cafe (the city’s first Chinese restaurant) it actually starts quite a bit earlier. The Engs emigrated from China to the Honolulu Territory of Hawaii around 1880. Even then, the family was known for their cooking skills and worked as chefs and caterers. Albert Eng was born in 1893.

Honolulu Chinatown fire of 1900; photo courtesy of HawaiiHistory.com

In 1899, the plague came to town. Attempts to control the outbreak escalated to burning houses of the dead; in 1900, one of those fires got out of control and the entire Chinatown district of Honolulu burned down. The Eng Family recovered, though, and opened a new restaurant a few years later on the corner of Hotel and Mounakea Streets, across from the famous Wo Fat building.

In June of 1915, Albert (21 years old) left the island and traveled to San Francisco. He spent a whole month exploring the World’s Fair and worked at a Chinese fruit orchard east of town. During his time there, family in St. Louis wrote and asked him to join them as they opened the Grand Inn on Grande Avenue, about half-a-mile from the Mississippi River. In late 1915, Albert did just that. He stayed there until the next year, when more of his family wrote and asked for his help running the Golden Pheasant Inn in Chicago. Albert moved once again.

The Golden Pheasant Inn was on the corner of Clark and Madison Streets. It had a large dance floor; a ten-piece orchestra played three times a day. It was a prosperous time in a rapidly-growing city. When the US entered World War I in 1917, Albert moved back to Hawaii and enlisted in the National Guard. It was then that he met Violet Tseu, who he later married.

Former site of the Golden Pheasant Cafe in Okmulgee

During this time, the Golden Pheasant Inn in Chicago lost its lease. Several partners from the restaurant (Albert’s brothers Yuen, Pui, and Phillip Eng along with Joe King) moved to Okmulgee, Oklahoma in 1919 to serve oil field workers. They purchased the Busy Bee Restaurant at 219 E 6th Street and renamed it the Golden Pheasant Cafe. It was open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; in fact, business was so strong that the Engs sent for the rest of their family in Honolulu.

The Eng House in Okmulgee; photo courtesy of Andy Eng

Pui Eng had a huge house built on Rogers Avenue for the entire family. It had seven bedrooms, a sun porch and large living room, a dining room table big enough to seat 22, even a chicken coop. Under that roof lived Albert and his wife Violet, Pui and his wife Margaret, Phillip and his wife Elizabeth, Buck Eng, Joe King, and others. Business was good there until the oil wells went dry in 1929. The Great Depression hit later that year, closing the doors of the Golden Pheasant for good.

Eng’s Cafe in Bartlesville moved several times; one of their locations is now the Painted Horse Bar and Grille

When the restaurant in Okmulgee closed, the family split up. Some of the Engs moved to the Houston, TX area. Albert and his family moved to Muskogee and operated the Yangtze Restaurant for a few years. In 1939, they moved to Bartlesville and ran a number of restaurants (notably Eng’s Cafe) and enjoyed success. Albert retired in 1962 but lived to the ripe old age of 106. He passed away in 1999.

The Mandarin Cafe in the shadow of the Exchange National Bank Building; photo courtesy of the Beryl Ford Collection

Back in 1930, some of the partners from the Golden Pheasant moved to Tulsa. Brothers Pui and Phillip Eng, along with their wives Margaret and Elizabeth, Buck Eng, Margaret’s brother Loy Pang, and Joe King settled downtown and opened The Mandarin Cafe at 118 E 3rd Street, across from the bustling Hotel Tulsa. Here, too, the restaurant was open all day, every day and enjoyed strong business. Those early years also had more than its fair share of family tragedy. Pui Eng died in 1933; his brother Phillip died five years later.

Margaret and Elizabeth Eng, along with Joe King at the Mandarin Cafe in downtown Tulsa; photo courtesy of Andy Eng.

Their wives, Margaret and Elizabeth respectively, took over the front-of-house restaurant operations while Joe King and Loy Pang helped run the two-burner wok in the back. The women worked rotating 12 hour shifts and became fixtures of the downtown dining scene. Margaret’s daughter Peggy and Elizabeth’s boys (Clarence, Lawrence, and Donald) helped out as they could since the entire family lived above the restaurant. Margaret later married Joe King. Peggy met Jimmy Char on a trip to Honolulu and fell in love.

Elizabeth Eng with her boys Donald, Clarence, and Lawrence; photo courtesy of Andy Eng

In 1963, the Mandarin Cafe building was sold to the National Bank of Tulsa for a new drive-up facility. The restaurant closed and Elizabeth Eng retired.

Image courtesy of the Tulsa Historical Society

Peggy and Jimmy Char, along with Joe and Margaret King and other family members, opted to keep the family tradition going. The next year, they opened the Pagoda near 51st and Peoria. It quickly became a Tulsa favorite and stayed in the family until 1979 when it was sold to Ben and Virginia Torres.

Photo courtesy of the Tulsa Historical Society

In 1969, Joe King’s family (the Jow’s) opened Ming Palace at 21st and Yale. In 1979, the next generation of the Jow family opened The Golden Palace, just down the street from The Pagoda. Over the years, members of the Jow family became known for their other restaurants in Tulsa (such as Ming’s Noodle Bar) and other eateries in Houston, TX.

The final day of business at the Golden Palace

After forty years, nearly to the day, The Golden Palace closed in mid-2019. The tradition continues, however: the Jow family is currently working on opening a new restaurant near 6th and Boston, just a few blocks away from where Joe King helped establish the city’s original Chinese restaurant.

My wife and I with Jean Eng and two of her daughters

It’s been an amazing journey for me, personally. I’ve gotten to know Jean Eng (wife of the late Don Eng) and her daughters. I’ve met the Jow brothers and had multiple conversations with various family members across the country. In short, it’s been a blessing.

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Bartlesville, Bridges, and Buddy

When I woke up this morning, I wanted to go somewhere. I also didn’t want to go anywhere. My day-to-day has been so busy lately that I haven’t had much of an opportunity to take any road trips and I’ve been fiending for more time behind the wheel. I’m also just plain worn out…so a day on the couch sounded wonderful. It took about an hour of talking to myself before I finally decided to get out of bed and make something of the day. What better motivation is there than the promise of a delicious meal? I hadn’t been to Bartlesville in quite a while, so after I made myself presentable and got into the car I ventured north.

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I arrived in downtown B’ville an hour later, but it wasn’t quite lunch time yet. I bought some coffee beans at Outpost Coffee, a local roaster that has restored a vintage Brilliant Bronze service station. It’s beautiful! I still had some time before lunch & wandered over to the library to look through some of their old phone directories. Yes, I did have a purpose. I don’t look through old phone books for fun.

Well, I kinda do, but, never mind that now.

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Once the clock ticked over to 11:00, I drove to my delicious destination: Murphy’s Steak House. This humble little spot on SW Frank Phillips Blvd is legendary. It was started by Melvel and Lorene Murphy in 1946; although it’s been through a fire and a tornado over the years, the food hasn’t changed a bit. The specialty of the house (and my consistent selection) is the Hot Hamburger: a patty of meat on toast, covered in fries, with brown Gravy Over All. Like all diners of its era, there’s a counter near the kitchen. Of Course that’s where I sat and enjoyed my meal.

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Satisfied and (a little too) full, I re-entered the sauna of the outside world. I walked around downtown, seeking a specific address I’d found in the aforementioned phone directories. Back before Murphy’s opened their doors, there was a restaurant downtown called Eng’s Cafe. It was owned and operated by a member of the same family that ran The Mandarin Cafe from Tulsa’s past; I’d featured The Mandarin my book Lost Restaurants of Tulsa. The building that housed Eng’s Cafe still stands, and it’s actually still a restaurant: The Painted Horse Bar & Grille. I will have to see if I can find a picture of the old place.

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I had plenty of day left, so I opted for a little bridge-hunting. Northwest of Dewey, beyond the Caney River, is a favorite span of mine. The Mission Creek Bridge dates back to the late 1920s and looks like a portal into another world thanks to its placement at the base of a thickly-wooded hill. I could tell the area had suffered from the recent floods as the road was full of potholes and ruts. The Mustang made it fine, though, and before long I was heading back to the main highway.

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When I looked back at my map, I noticed a marker for a bridge nearby that I hadn’t yet explored. I set my GPS and went east. My path took me through Wann, technically a town but there isn’t much to it aside from a post office and a collection of houses. The remnants of a convenience store sit behind a simple roadside attraction: Six Flag Poles Over Wann America. It’s exactly what it sounds like. There was also a cool abandoned stone WPA-style building, which from what I could find used to be the school gym.

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Eleven miles farther east, I made my next stop: the Hickory Creek Bridge. Although it supposedly once carried old Highway 169, it was hard to imagine serious traffic on the pitted gravel lane. I took photos for maybe five minutes before a tired green minivan approached me from the south. It came to a stop near me and a man’s voice called out: “You like old steel bridges, do ya?”

The driver’s name was Buddy. He was a sixty-year-old retired employee of the county, a learning blacksmith that also restored old cemeteries in his free time. He turned his car off and I knew we’d be chatting a while. In between spits of tobacco, we talked about the craftsmanship of steel truss bridges and he tried to think of other bridges he could point me to.

At one point, a truck came up behind him, then came alongside. “Hey, Buddy! Everything okay?” the driver asked, looking at me warily.  Everything was indeed okay, and Buddy immediately engaged his friend’s help to come up with a list of bridges. I stood there and smiled as Buddy and his friend went back-and-forth on various topics, including the fact that the road to the church Buddy attends needed to be graded in a bad way. By the time the truck driver drove off, Buddy had come up with three bridges.

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“West side of Coffeyville,” he said. “There’s a new bridge there now, but the old bridge is just sitting there. Now, go north on the main highway. Go until you get to the main drag, uh…” He thought a moment. “I think it’s 11th Street. Anyway, there’s a stoplight there. Go west. Drive until you pass the old Wal-Mart. You know where that is, don’t ya?”

I did not, but I said that I did.

“Good. Turn south the next chance ya get. It’s just sitting there next to the road.”

Buddy’s other directions were similarly colloquial, to my great delight. We shook hands, Buddy went on his way, and I headed to Coffeyville.

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His directions were perfect! I had actually photographed the bypassed Onion Creek Bridge before, but not in the summer time. It’s a beautiful, unique bridge. Shame it’s just rusting to the side of a county road.

As I crossed back into Oklahoma, I noticed storm clouds gathering. I made my next few stops quickly; the skies opened up on me right as I got to the Winganon Space Capsule. After that, it was a straight drive home.

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I’m so glad that I got myself out of the house today. I saw some new things, some old things, and made a new friend. I hope I run into Buddy again some day.

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Gilligan’s Spring Tour (II)

If you missed my previous post that covered the journey from Paris Springs to Joplin, Missouri — check that out here.

As I ate my breakfast and visited with my New Zealand traveling companions in Joplin, I noticed they were all wearing small red pins. At first I thought they were little guitars, but I soon realized they were poppies. I knew that poppies were a common symbol for World War I, but I didn’t quite understand the significance of wearing them on that day. I asked one of the gents sitting across from me and he told me it was ANZAC Day.

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ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The holiday and remembrance marks the anniversary of the 1915 landing by ANZAC forces at Gallipoli, the start of an eight-month campaign that marked the first major losses for the two countries in the first World War. Since that time, ANZAC Day has evolved into a day remembering losses in all wars. Before we set out for the day’s journey, everyone gathered outside for solemn remembrance punctuated by “The Last Post”.

You can read more about the traditions of ANZAC Day here.

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Our first stop that morning was a delightful mural in downtown Joplin. It featured a map of Route 66 along with a fabricated half-Corvette stuck out from the wall that folks could pose around if they so desired. After a few quick pics, we continued west into Kansas and the town of Galena. The New Zealanders loved getting to pose with the collection of Pixar-esque vehicles at Cars on the Route. As everyone wandered about, several local vehicles drove past and gawked at the crowd. Several honked and waved, surely wondering how far these people had traveled to see their little corner of Kansas.

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We had one more place to visit in The Sunflower State: the Brush Creek Bridge in Baxter Springs. I’ve photographed this concrete Marsh Arch bridge many times, but never with such a collection of cars on it! We were joined by Sam’s other vintage automobile, a 1966 Oldsmobile, which had broken down on the way to Chicago a few days before the tour started. Although the group boisterously encouraged me to do so, I did not scale the sides of the bridge for more photos.

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Our first stop in my home state was the Dairy King in Commerce, OK. The Dairy King occupies an old Marathon service station, which originally opened in 1927. Although it has traded gasoline for burgers and ice cream, it has operated continuously for 92 years. Today it’s operated by Charles Duboise and his mother, Treva. Charles is known around the region for his knowledge of local history, which he tells with great gusto; notably the time that Bonnie and Clyde killed a local constable. Dairy King is also known for serving the “one and only” Route 66 cookie. They are pretty tasty! I’ll definitely be back when I can stay longer, I just gotta remember to bring cash. No cards or checks!

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Not far down the road in Miami (pronounced My-am-uh) we made our next stop: the Coleman Theatre Beautiful. I am excited any time I step into this gorgeously-restored 1929 theater and listened intently as our group was told about the history of the Coleman, from the early Tri-State Mining days to the restoration that took place in the 1990s. The stage was being set up for a performance to take place that evening; the main set piece was a giant radio dial!

Clantons

I skipped ahead past the Ribbon Road alignment to get everything set at Clanton’s Cafe, our lunch stop in Vinita. Everyone was starving by the time they arrived, which was a good thing: Clanton’s always takes good care of their guests. Sam purchased a few orders of their famous calf fries and offered them to the group before telling everyone what they actually were. To my surprise, it was mostly a non-event. It was a much bigger deal when we all surprised Sam with a piece of cake and a room full of people singing him Happy Birthday.

Whale

The rest of the journey to Tulsa was more of a free-form experience. The tour booklets and hand-programmed GPS units gave travelers the option of any-or-all of several attractions, including Totem Pole Park in Foyil, the J.M. Davis Gun Museum in Claremore, and the Blue Whale in Catoosa. I headed straight for the Blue Whale so I could chat with Linda Hobbs, who runs the gift shop. Kiwis came and went in a piecemeal fashion as I wandered around the familiar old roadside attraction and had a nice visit.

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That evening, I joined the gang for a final meal together at Baxter’s Interurban, conveniently right next to their hotel. The next morning, I waved goodbye to my travel companions at Route 66 Village in west Tulsa. I headed back to work as they continued west towards Oklahoma City. It was a fun couple of days & I’m envious of their experience as they progress towards Texas and New Mexico.

It occurred to me that leading tours is something I’d like to do more of in the future. I’ll have to look into that…

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Gilligan’s Spring Tour (I)

For the last several years, I’ve met up with the Gilligan’s Route 66 Tour group as they’ve come through Tulsa. Gilligan’s is operated by Sam Murray, a gent from New Zealand that also owns and operates a 1916 boutique hotel on the south island. As such, Sam’s bi-annual tours typically cater to Kiwi travelers. They fly into Chicago, rent a fleet of Mustangs, and drive Route 66 all the way to the Pacific Ocean. It’s always a treat to meet the folks making the journey with him and this year I had the pleasure of following along for a few days.

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On Wednesday, I set out from Tulsa to Paris Springs, Missouri in order to rendezvous with the gang at Gary Turner’s Gay Parita station. I had time to make a short detour, so I stopped for a bit near the town of La Russell to photograph a historic bridge. The clouds were low and air was thick with moisture; it gave the secluded country road a bit of a mystical feeling. The Spring River rushed by beneath my feet as I walked the grated deck. It was just me and the tweeting birds.

Garys

I arrived in Paris Springs just after 11:00 AM, which was perfect timing – it wasn’t even ten minutes later that the first Mustang emblazoned with the Gilligan’s Tour logo arrived. Before long, the rest of the pack had surrounded the little Sinclair station. Roughly two dozen New Zealanders wandered the grounds and talked to George and Barbara, who run the station now that Gary has passed on.

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Bob “Croc” Lile and Jim Livingston (both from Amarillo, TX) were also tagging along with the tour group and working on their book project, I Am Route 66. A German couple had also come along for the trip this time around, driving one of Sam’s vintage cars…a big old boat of a Mercury. An Englishman and his daughter was also in a Gilligan’s Tour Mustang, but he was doing the self-guided version of the tour to allow for a bit more flexibility. We encountered him several times over the next two days.

Red Oak II (1)

After about half-an-hour of exploration, the group saddled up and continued west. The next big stop was at Red Oak II, a remarkable community outside of Carthage, MO. You could call it a ghost town, but it isn’t really – it’s the handiwork of local artist and creative spirit Lowell Davis. Lowell’s home town of Red Oak had completed faded off the map by the 1980s and Lowell decided to convert his cornfield into an homage of sorts. He bought a number of buildings from the original town (as well as other rural communities that had suffered the same fate) and moved them to his farm. So, Red Oak II is and isn’t a real ghost town. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.

Lowell

Although I’ve been to Red Oak II several times, this visit was the first time I had the honor of meeting Lowell Davis himself. He’s a real charmer with a great sense of humor and a wealth of knowledge. His passions go beyond his homemade town, however: Lowell is known worldwide for his painted art and metalwork, too. The “Norman Rockwell of Rural Art” has sculptures all around Jasper County, notably throughout nearby Carthage. Red Oak II itself is full of quirky, fun metal art and the old barn houses an art gallery of Lowell’s works. The whole place is just magical.

Boots

I left Red Oak II just a bit before everyone else so I could drop in and say hello to Debbie at the Boots Court in Carthage. We visited for a few minutes and I told her how I’d discovered that Bob Boots, son of Arthur (original owner of the motel), had been the original owner of the Boots Drive-In in Tulsa! She directed me to where I could find the late Bob Boots’ grave marker in town – it was emblazoned with images of the Boots Court and the original Boots Drive-In, also started by his father, right there in Carthage.

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The destination that day was Joplin, Missouri. Before dinner, we were treated to a bus tour headed by Patrick Tuttle, director of the local visitor’s center. He took our group around town to show us areas impacted by the devastating 2011 tornado. The tornado was nearly a mile wide and caused enough damage to be the costliest single tornado in United States history. It also killed over 160 people. Cunningham Park has been turned into a memorial to that terrible event; there’s an interpretive plaza that overlooks the rest of the park with several “pencil sketch” outlines representing destroyed homes. The park is a beautiful tribute to all that was lost in that terrible event.

Night fell and we all dined together; I loved hearing everyone’s excitement about the things they’d seen and the people they’d met so far. Several travelers began asking me questions about Oklahoma and I, too, was excited about the things we’d be seeing together the next day. For the time being, however, we’d all earned a good night’s rest.

Wilders

To Be Continued…

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Rendezvous in ABQ

When I was elected as the new President of the Oklahoma Route 66 Association, I also became a board member of the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership.  This nationwide group just entered their third year of operation and their annual board meeting took place last weekend in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After taking the Mustang in for a check-up, I packed a bag and headed towards the Land of Enchantment.

panh sunset

Driving all the way from Tulsa to ABQ in one day is doable, but not advisable. I spent a quiet Wednesday night in Shamrock, TX (The Western Motel, right across from the U-Drop Inn, is comfortable and economical) and continued early Thursday morning. Rather than head straight west, though, I took a detour through the Texas panhandle for a very important stop.

When my mother was a little girl, her family lived in Pampa Texas. I’d recently come into possession of a few old photographs from that time with a street name on the back – but no specific address. Using Google Maps, I found where the photos had been taken…but the street view was way outdated. I had no way to know if the house still stood.

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Thankfully, it was still there – and I was able to take a few photographs. I also drove by the site where my grandfather once owned a service station – though today it’s a Braum’s. I bought a coffee and went on my way.

The next place I stopped, just over the border in New Mexico, was a small town called Nara Visa. In 2000, it supposedly had a population of 112…but that number feels really inflated in 2019. The only signs of life came from the occasional car coming through on Highway 54. The truck stop was closed, the bar was shuttered, and one of the motels had collapsed.

Nara Visa NM (1)

I soon found myself in Tucumcari, but I wasn’t quite ready to settle on a straight shot to my destination. Instead, I took the 1926-1938 alignment of Route 66 northwest to Las Vegas, NM. The road through the mountains was a beauty; a recent snowfall cloaked the ground in sun-shaded spots. By the time the road took me past Santa Fe, though, the weather had warmed and all the ground was dry.

I took the off-ramp once more at Tewa Pueblo so I could cross off another stop on my map. The Santo Domingo Trading Post dates back to 1922 and enjoyed a spot on that original Route 66 alignment for a little over a decade. The trading post survived after the Main Street of America was re-routed, though, and it served the community until the owner passed away in 1995. Six years later, a fire nearly claimed the site but it has since been mostly restored.

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Finally, after a long (good) day of driving, I arrived in Albuquerque. My home for the next few days was the El Vado Motel – a remarkably resuscitated roadside relic.

The El Vado was essentially abandoned when the city took over some years back. Parts of the adobe were caving in and the parking lot was filled weeds rather than tourists. Today it’s a stunning example of 21st Century vision. The parking lot was turned into a large, lounging patio area (complete with swimming pool – a vanishing amenity). The front few rooms have been converted into “food pods”, basically small restaurant spaces. Several other rooms hold retail shops and a tap room sits adjacent to the main office. Reminds me a bit of Mother Road Market back home, actually.

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And the rooms – marvelous! They have been restored using the same building methods and materials as were used back when the motel was originally built in the 1920s. Although the covered garages were converted to additional rooms, they were designed with history in mind. They are fronted with deeply-tinted glass to simulate those car ports of long ago. There’s even an event space in the back. The restored neon sign out front is the icing on the cake.

El Vado Sunset

It’s the perfect place for a bit of rest – or a bit of work, as was the case for me. The next few days would be full of introductions, revelations, exploration, and recommendation. But all of that will have to wait for another post.

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The Brookshire Motel

In the summer of 2018, I was put in touch with a man named Robert Brooks. Robert is a successful spinal surgeon in the Tulsa area…but I didn’t need surgery. I did have a great desire to speak with him about history. Robert had a connection to an eastern landmark on Tulsa Route 66 that seemingly nobody knew much about: The Brookshire Motel.

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The Brookshire in 2014

When I first laid eyes on it, The Brookshire Motel was an empty shell of a roadside motel near 11th and Garnett. Although their old neon sign still stood, I’d never seen it lit. In fact, I’d never seen ANY lights on at the property. Most of the windows were boarded up and the single car in the lot spoke of a single resident in the old office building. In my research, all I’d found was a series of scandalous arrests and legal issues in the late 1980s and 1990s.

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Meeting Robert Brooks

Robert’s story went back a ways farther. His parents owned and operated the Brookshire back when 11th and Garnett was a country intersection known as “Dead Man’s Corner.” What follows is the history of his parents and the Brookshire Motel as he knows it.

Cecil Jesse Brooks was born in 1906 in Crossett, Arkansas. Cecil’s father was in the railroad business, but abandoned the family early on. Cecil, his mother, and his brother Silas moved to Tulsa in about 1907-1910. Cecil’s mother started a boarding house on Admiral between Peoria and Utica.

Gusetta Juanita Sechrist was born in 1904 in Wichita Falls, TX. When she was 7 (1911), the family moved to Pawhuska Oklahoma in a covered wagon to follow the oil boom. Her stepfather, Raul, became a butcher and lived in Osage County his whole life. After graduating from high school, Gusetta took the train to Tahlequah Teacher’s College. Once her schooling had completed, she moved to Tulsa. She took up residence in the Brooks boarding house while she taught & attended Draughon College (later known as Tulsa School of Business.). Cecil would occasionally borrow his Mom’s car to pick Gusetta up from school; soon, they started dating. Cecil and Gusetta later married.

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Cecil Brooks and a Clermont Club delivery van

Cecil worked as an accountant for an oil company before opening a sundry shop on North Cheyenne and West Haskell. He also owned and operated Clermont Club Bottling Company for several years on Archer, one block south of the Brady Theater. Fun fact: Clermont was the first company to bottle Dr. Pepper in Oklahoma.

After the depression, Cecil owned and operated a sundry store at 4th and Harvard and a billiard hall on 11th Street across from Skelly Stadium. Their son, Robert, was born in a nearby duplex (7th and Harvard) in 1946.

In 1950, the Brooks purchased a motel at 11017 E 11th St and renamed it the Brookshire. To help make ends meet, Cecil also drove a cab at night. Five years after their purchase, 11th street was widened from two lanes to four. A block of rooms next to the road were demolished to make room for the expansion. From that point on, the lowest room number at the Brookshire was 7.

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Rooms 1 – 6 were demolished in 1955. That’s 11th Street on the left.

The most significant building at the motel is the office building, which also served as residence for the Brooks family. Rooms 7 & 8 are directly behind the cottage/office. 9 & 10 (SW corner of the property) had garages while 11 & 12 (immediately north of 9 & 10) did not. The six rooms in the back were built shortly after the first six rooms were demolished in 1955. The room numbers on that building started at 21 as Cecil didn’t want a Room 13. Although swimming pools became very popular, one was never added to the Brookshire. This was partially due to the fact that Robert’s brother Silas tragically died in a drowning accident shortly after the family moved to Tulsa.

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Cecil and Gusetta. Rooms 9 & 10 in the background.

At some point, the Brooks’ purchased the house next door (to the west, now demolished) and divided it into thirds for additional lodging. The house came with a laundry, which was offered for use to guests. The garage was converted into a workshop with a regulation pool table in the back. Also, two trailers were placed on the property just east of the cottage and were offered as longer-term accommodation.

Brookshire Sky Label

Cecil’s had a philosophy, which he even printed on stationary: “I live by the side of the road and I am a friend to man.”

The cottage/office had a front door and a back door. The back door was utilized by patrons wishing to rent rooms by the hour. Robert, who lived at the Brookshire until 1963, learned to not ask questions or acknowledge these customers in public if he recognized them. On the flip side, he was fascinated to learn the many dialects he heard from customers that hailed from around the country.

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Gusetta and Robert in front of the office/cottage

The Brookshire was doing so well that Cecil purchased another property farther east. The stone tourist complex at 15625 E 11th St became Brookhaven Court; the rooms there were mostly rented to tradesmen and businessmen on a weekly basis.

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Brookhaven Court

The Tulsa water lines had not yet made it that far into the country when they first owned it, so the Brooks had an old GMC pickup truck fitted with a custom steel tank in the back. They would go to town, fill it up, and bring it back to replenish the cistern that provided water for Brookhaven. Robert remembered the view of Tulsa from their hill was a stunner, as the Brookhaven sat on the highest point directly East of Downtown.

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Ready for water delivery to the Brookhaven

Around 1970-72, the Brooks’ sold the Brookshire to a man named Jerry Gordon. The Brooks moved out to the Brookhaven where they lived in the mail house. After a period of time, Jerry defaulted on his payments for the Brookshire and ownership transitioned back to the Brooks family. After some work to get the place in shape, it was sold again…this time for good.

After they sold it the second time, Robert knew little about the Brookshire Motel’s history. The Brooks lived at the Brookhaven until Cecil passed in 1981 at 78 years of age. The old tourist court was then sold to Jack and Verna Lewis. Gusetta lived until the age of 101, passing away in 2005.

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Cecil and Gusetta. Sign for the Oasis Motel in the background

The Brookshire itself faded along with much of Route 66 in that era. In 1984, one year before Route 66 was federally decommissioned, the motel was purchased by Madhu Patel. Business was getting slower every year and budget motels to the east were close to the Interstate and siphoning guests. Several high profile busts and other negative headlines only furthered the motel’s decline. It continue to operate as a motel for many years, though, even with a poor reputation. Eventually, however, it shuttered completely.

Since I’ve been involved in the Tulsa Route 66 Commission, we’ve been trying to find a way to save the property. It was in bad shape, but the bones were still intact. Route 66 travelers seek out authentic experiences and we saw an opportunity to revive a forgotten relic. However, that journey came to an end on February 6th, 2019.

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A photo was posted on Twitter and I rushed out the door. Ten minutes later, I stood on the pavement of old Route 66 in front of the Brookshire Motel, watching the cottage belch smoke into the evening sky. Fire had claimed the long-standing survivor at 11th and Garnett. A visit by the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture confirmed that the main building was beyond saving.

Gone, but not forgotten. Can it be resurrected? Anything is possible – but I am highly doubtful at this point. Rest in Peace, Brookshire.

Many thanks to Robert Brooks for his story and sharing the vintage family photographs that fill most of this post.

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A New Chapter on 66

Last October, the President of the Oklahoma Route 66 Association announced he would not be seeking re-election in 2019 due to an imminent move to Texas. As the meeting adjourned that day, one of the members of the association came up to me and proudly said they’d already nominated me for the position.

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Chandler, Oklahoma

I thought long and hard about it. Brad Nickson had served the association well for six years and I already had a lot on my plate. I didn’t want to potentially serve in the role and not give it the attention it deserves. When the association met on Sunday, January 27th, I decided to go for it…and after a vote, I was elected President of the Oklahoma Route 66 Association. I am excited to see what the future holds, and this has also given me the opportunity to look back and examine the journey that has brought me to this moment.

Compared to most everyone else I know in the greater Route 66 community, I am a newcomer to the fold. I’d been on and around Route 66 most of my life (having lived in Claremore and Tulsa) but I’d never really paid attention to it. I took my first “66 specific” road trip on July 5th, 2013. I drove from Tulsa to Miami, OK to see the beautifully restored Coleman Theatre.

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The moment I had finally traveled Route 66 end-to-end; Chain of Rocks Bridge in St. Louis

Soon after, I explored 66 from Tulsa to Oklahoma City. In 2014, I ventured into southwest Missouri and as far west as Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 2015 I finally drove the rest of the route through California, Arizona, and Illinois.

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I knew none of these people when I took this photo in 2015; many are now friends

Along the way I met so many wonderful people that I now consider friends. The first “roadie” I met was Dean Kennedy, who gave me a lift from the Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon, MO to the 2015 Gasconade Bridge Rally. I met authors like Jim Hinckley and Michael Wallis. I met passionate collectors like Steve Rider, Mike Ward, and Joe Sonderman. I met fellow photographers like Judy Walker and Jax Wellborn. I visited with business owners like Laurel Kane, who would later officiate my wedding, and Croc Lile. I became connected to a great family.

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Lebanon, Missouri at sunrise

In January of 2017, Brad Nickson asked if I would like to be the Tulsa County Rep for the Oklahoma Route 66 Association. By then I was serving on the Tulsa Route 66 Commission and helping occasionally with the Tulsa-based Route 66 Alliance. I said yes and time sped up beyond my comprehension. How is it 2019 already?

With these roles and the launch of my book last year, I have had much less time to spend on the road. There have been times when my camera has stayed in its bag for weeks at a time, only coming out for a specific local purpose. I don’t expect that to change drastically this year, but I do already have a few trips lined up that I am really looking forward to.

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Lunch at the Tumbleweed Grill in Texola, OK

Looking back, I can see how I got here even if I can’t quite reconcile how quick it was. I am honored to be a part of the Route 66 revival happening across the country and proud of the work we’ve done in Tulsa. All of the friends I’ve made on 66 helped get me to where I am today and I am so grateful for them.

Most of all, I am eager to find ways to help others join this community, whether they’re on a one-time bucket-list trip down the Main Street of America or if they’re like I was: someone that jumps in the deep end and falls in love with what Route 66 symbolizes.

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New roadway shields, a project by the Tulsa Route 66 Commission

Here’s to a great 2019 and beyond. See you on the road!

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