Tulsa History

Urban Development (1901-1945)

Urban development in Tulsa proceeded at a very slow pace until 1901, when oil was discovered at Red Fork. Before wildcatters and entrepreneurs flooded into town, Tulsa consisted of a few frame residential structures and some sandstone and brick commercial buildings. The years following the discovery of oil were fast paced, and construction could be seen at every corner of town. For a period of almost fifteen years, the city never looked finished. Local regulations for sanitation, sewer and construction were passed soon after the turn of the century and, by 1903, telephones had been established throughout the city. That same year, an ordinance was passed declaring that sidewalks had to be constructed of brick, asphalt, or cement. In 1907, First and Second Streets downtown were paved with brick. Before long, it was a battle between horses and cars for surface rights and speed limits.

In 1901, a group of Tulsa businessmen formed the Tulsa Commercial Club. This group traveled around the entire nation praising the virtues of Tulsa and bringing national publicity to the city. These efforts were successful. Tulsa’s population quickly increased as newcomers came to Tulsa to make their fortunes in the surrounding oil fields. By 1904, Tulsa was suffering a housing shortage and the city limits were deemed too small. That same year, North Tulsa, directly north of downtown Tulsa, was annexed. The population in Tulsa grew from just over 1,000 to 6,500 by 1905. By 1907, the population was 7,298; three years later, in 1910, the population of Tulsa had grown to over 18,000. By 1920, it had quadrupled to 72,000. And ten years later, in 1930, the population had again nearly doubled to 141,258.

By 1907, the City of Tulsa was primarily located within the boundaries of the railroads on the north and east, and by the Arkansas River on the west. The Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway (M K &T) ran along the north side of town, parallel to the Frisco, several blocks to the south. Tulsa’s early warehouse district laid between these two sets of railroad tracks. Downtown Tulsa was located south of the Frisco Railroad tracks. Tulsa’s original townsite was platted at right angles to both the M K & T and the Frisco tracks. However, all subsequent plats were corrected to a north-south, east-west axis.

The Frisco tracks became the north/south dividing line for street names and Main Street became the east/west dividing line. Streets west of Main Street were named for western cities and streets east of Main Street were named for cities east of the Mississippi River. Streets running both north and south of the Frisco tracks were originally to be numbered but it was later decided that the northern streets be named for prominent Tulsans and other notable Americans. Archer Street, for example, was named after Jeff Archer, owner of Tulsa’s first hardware store.

Use of the alphabetical system, however, was not completely satisfactory. When personal names for streets north of the Frisco tracks were exhausted, names such as Pine, Virgin, Ute and Zion were chosen. By the time development in north Tulsa reached Zion Street, the decision was made to proceed with numbered streets. As the Tulsa city limits moved east, the selection of eastern cities with names beginning with such letters as “X” and “Z” proved difficult, resulting in street names such as Xanthus and Zunis. By the time Tulsa had expanded as far east as Sheridan, the city had adopted a new numbering system beginning with 66th Street. In 1920, the city established Admiral Boulevard from stretches of other streets such as Berry and Park Place. Admiral Boulevard then became Tulsa’s north/south dividing line. Federal Boulevard, which originally marked the boundary between the Creek and Cherokee Nations, was renamed Admiral Place during this same period.

In 1908, an engineer resurveyed the townsite for a new city charter, and an ordinance was passed declaring how the city was to be laid out and how streets were to be named and numbered. Some of the original street names were changed. Residential areas began branching out in all directions. Early neighborhoods extended to the northwest with Crosby Heights (1908), Owen Addition (1906), and North Tulsa (1904), a part of the Brady Heights Historic District. To the east, several neighborhoods were developing and “Central Park” was platted. To the south, neighborhoods were prospering between 13th and 17th Streets from Elwood to Cincinnati Avenues.

Owen Park neighborhood was developed by 1915, as well as others, including Irving, Brady Heights, Cherokee Heights and the area surrounding the Greenwood neighborhood. By 1915, Tulsa had also developed south to 21st Street between the Arkansas River and the Santa Fe Railroad. On the eastern side of town, a residential area was developing between Lewis and Harvard Avenues between First and Tenth Streets. The west side of the Arkansas River was also developing and included the Riverside Addition in West Tulsa (1909), Taneha/Oakhurst (1909), Garden City (1910) and Carbondale (1921).

Tulsa experienced a second period of growth during the 1920s when the price of crude oil reached a peak of $3.50 a barrel. More oil was discovered in the Tulsa area, including some in the Osage Nation. Housing again became scarce and additions were platted, houses built, and trolley lines laid all over the city.

In 1928, new oil fields in northeast Oklahoma and Texas continued to be discovered, including the Oklahoma City Oil Field. The price of oil dropped from $3.50 per barrel to ten cents per barrel and Tulsa suffered from overproduction of oil, the very product which built the city.

By the mid-1930s, New Deal programs, such as the Public Works Administration (PWA), were created to alleviate some of the housing shortages by providing funding for low-cost housing. PWA allocated $2 million to Tulsa for housing units which cost less than $2,500 each to build at the time. This program was later replaced by the Federal Housing Administration.