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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 hit a major roadblock on February 6th, 2019.
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. An inspection by the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture called the structural integrity of the main building into question.
Hope held out for a little while as the Commission continued to work on finding a solution to save the site. Pieces of the neon sign were sold off by the landowner. Two more fires in 2020 caused significant damage to the rear building, which had been occupied by several homeless people. Tragically, one lost their life in the May 2020 fire. There was no longer a motel to save.
On October 12, 2020 the site was razed. For a short time, part of the sign remained but it, too, disappeared in December. Rest in Peace, Brookshire.
Many thanks to Robert Brooks for his story and sharing the vintage family photographs that fill most of this post.