The last word
Taking it to the streets
For a variety of reasons (weddings, reunions, etc.), in the past few months, we happen to have made quick visits to a number of unique and uniquely different places: Los Angeles, Houston, New Orleans, South Padre Island … Oklahoma City.
And, of course, anytime I return from a couple of trips, especially stacked one atop the other as these were, I can’t help but drive around Tulsa almost involuntarily creating my own compare/contrast list.
This time, for whatever reason, what most stuck in my mind as we visited each town were individual streets or neighborhoods — among them, Hollywood Boulevard and Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles; Canal Street, Oak Street and St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans; The Heights in Houston; and in Padre, well, the beach.
With all the changes taking place in the Brady District, Brookside and Cherry Street here in Tulsa, I found myself thinking that locally, Tulsa streets and neighborhoods stack up nicely, or at the least, the promise of Tulsa stacks up nicely.
Keeping in mind that the populations of Los Angeles and Houston rank them Nos. 2 and 4 nationally (we’re 46), one can make an excellent case that local offerings are strong. Museums and restaurants? Tulsa, per capita, does well and, most importantly, seems poised to soon do even better.
Fun, enjoyable ballpark? Check. Beautiful skyline? On this one, I’ll go the homer angle and just say that Tulsa slugs way above its weight class.
In fact, the only cityscape that would beat us is that of Los Angeles on the four days of the year when the air is clear and snow sits on the San Gabriel Mountains. (Look it up; it’s a spectacular sight, and it takes several seconds before you realize you’re actually looking at L.A.) The other 361 days, we win.
But what I realized may be the most interesting, most standout street in Tulsa is one that does not resemble any of the places we visited. On this particular street, there are no fusion restaurants, no galleries, no clothing stores. So what’s happening here that’s so interesting? Work.
Mom-and-pop work. Machine-shop work. Mill work. Home to the kind of small-shop industrial work that today seems more like myth than reality. The street looks like the backdrop to a million Miller High Life commercials.
As mentioned above, it was the recent tour I took down some of the more historic streets in America that made me realize just how historically unique Tulsa’s Sixth Street truly is. Take a look. There is a shop that does artisanal stonework, while across the street sits its logical counterpart, Angle Ornamental Iron Works. On the corner of Sixth Street and Peoria Avenue, Bill and Bud’s Import Automotive. Up a couple of blocks, you’ll find Chuck’s Automotive. Across from Chuck’s, Corvette and Specialties by Rudi, and sharing a wall with Rudi’s is Wortman Central Air Conditioning Co.
Make note of the names: Bill, Bud, Chuck, Rudi, Wortman. Sounds like the starting line for one of OU’s circa-1950 wrecking crews.
Sitting 50 feet away from Wortman is the Tuloil building, which BKL Inc., a local architecture and engineering firm, recently gave a spectacular update. A full history, with before and after images, can be found at BKL’s website, www.bklinc.com. And further up, on the corner of Sixth Street and Utica Avenue, is a company called Bendmasters. What does it do? On the website, you learn: “Bendmasters, Inc. is regarded nationwide and in Canada as the foremost craftsmen in the pipe and tube bending industry.”
That’s something else that stands out about the small businesses lining Sixth Street: The work they do is in the name they use: stone, iron, cars, air conditioning, pipe bending. It’s all right there above the door.
Needless to say, there are undoubtedly body shops and artisanal stone works in all of the cities mentioned above. But they are likely tucked away in low buildings on the outskirts of town, while here, right in the middle of it all, mere blocks from the very cool buzz surrounding all of Tulsa’s cultural growth, is a place where work is being done. Hands-on work. Dirty work. Good work.