What’s old is blue
Downtown’s Blue Dome began as a service station before inspiring a beloved arts and entertainment district.
The White Star Service Station in 1924
When there were no interstate highways, local character fascinated people traveling the 2,451 miles of Route 66. The Arcadia Round Barn and the Blue Whale of Catoosa are remnants of what made travelers “ooh” and “ahh” as they passed through the Sooner State.
The above photo of the White Star Service Station depicts one phenomenon built in 1924 to attract road-trippers. Remembered for its blue dome, this station’s design was inspired by the Hagia Sophia museum in Turkey.
“Someone suggested we paint the dome blue and call the station the Blue Dome,” said T.J. Chastain, owner and manager of Chastain Oil Co. of Tulsa, in a 1920s Tulsa World article. “I didn’t like the name at first, but it has stuck and proved to be a successful trade name.”
During the Blue Dome’s prime, an attendant living on the second floor helped travelers around the clock fill up their tanks and sold them essentials.
This golden era of diners, motels and the open road proved short-lived in Oklahoma, especially for the Blue Dome. Travelers were cut off from the service station when Route 66 moved south to 11th Street for a more direct route through Tulsa, and farther south when Interstate 44 was completed in 1953.
As the well of travelers dried up, the dome was left purposeless.
The building was listed for sale in 1999. Michael Sager, a local commercial developer, bought the building within an hour of its hitting the market in hopes of saving it. He revived the rotting structure, recruited a Tulsa classic, Arnie’s Bar, as partial tenant and watched as the neighborhood came to life.
“One of the biggest things about the Blue Dome is that little things matter,” says Sager, who now calls his business Blue Dome Properties. “This is not amazingly huge, and it makes a big difference.”
As Sager continued developing the area, many entrepreneurs like Elliot Nelson, owner of The McNellie’s Group, filled the blocks with restaurants and bars, bringing recognition to the Blue Dome District. Nelson’s organization now uses the Blue Dome gas station for its headquarters.
“(The Blue Dome) was the engine on which everybody hooked their economic cars,” Sager says.
Today, people expecting an exciting story wander into the building. Nelson says he can see their disappointment when he tells them it was just a gas station. However, for Tulsans it is one sliver of history that was saved, and it inspired the revival of an entire district.
“It is the epicenter of Tulsa Tough, it is the epicenter of the Blue Dome Arts Festival, it is the epicenter of St. Patrick’s Day,” Sager says. “It’s the namesake of the neighborhood.”
The words of Chastain ring even more true today: the Blue Dome name stuck.