The Union Depot, 5 S. Boston Ave., was built in 1931 by the Public Works Administration to create a centralized hub for three rail companies: Frisco, Santa Fe and Katy (Missouri, Kansas, Texas). Designed by R.C. Stephens of St. Louis in the Moderne art deco style, the facility cost $3.5 million, paid for by a bond issue passed in 1927.
While the Depot was being constructed, four north-south overpasses were built crossing South Main Street, and South Boulder, Cincinnati and Boston avenues so rail traffic would not interrupt street traffic in the area.
During the Jim Crow era, white passengers entered the Depot from the west and Black passengers entered from the east. Separate waiting rooms were divided by central ticketing and baggage handling facilities. Restrooms were separated, as well.
In its heyday, the Depot welcomed at least 36 passenger trains per day from as far as St. Louis and Kansas City. It had a coffee shop, a soda fountain, a drugstore, a barber shop, men’s and women’s lounges, and a newsstand. Beginning in 1952, passengers reached the trains by escalator. Today the concourse leading to the tracks is gone.
The Depot was abandoned in 1967 when passenger service was discontinued in Tulsa. Many proposals were made for the property while it sat empty, including a Native American heritage center, a classic car dealership, a technical college and a courthouse annex. It was frequently vandalized and faced demolition.
Williams Realty Co. purchased the property in 1980 with plans to make it a retail
complex. Eventually deciding that would compete with its downtown Williams Center Forum shopping mall, the company converted it into office space, preserving as many architectural details as possible. The original contractor, Manhattan Construction Co., also served as contractor for the restoration and moved its offices into the building for a time. Ownership eventually passed to the Tulsa County Industrial Authority.
In 2007, the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame began operations at the site, which underwent a $4 million renovation from Vision 2025 funds. It became a popular spot for jazz performances as well as wedding celebrations, corporate meetings and fundraisers, but struggled financially in recent years.
Off the rails
In November 2020, TCIA filed a lawsuit to terminate the building lease with the Jazz Hall of Fame and to recover past-due taxes and utilities. In January 2021 the Jazz Hall declared bankruptcy. C.J. Webber-Neal was named interim director and CEO.