2006 was a landmark year for the Tulsa Press Club. It was our 100th anniversary.
It was in 1906 that a group of “newspaper” men formed an organization with the purpose, “To make the path of newspaper men more beautiful and have a little fun on the side.” William Stryker, editor-publisher of the Tulsa Democrat, forerunner of The Tulsa Tribune, was president. It was before statehood, before taxes, before women’s suffrage, before TV and radio.
The Club underwent three reincarnations. The first was in 1911, but there is no documentation as to the why or what of the change.
In 1916, the Tulsa Press Club sponsored the showing of the movie, “The Fourth Estate” at the Majestic Theater, raising enough money for the Club’s reorganization. J. Burr Gibbons was president and Glenn Condon served as secretary-treasurer.
Probably the most important rebirth of the Club was in 1932, when the present Tulsa Press Club was chartered, mainly for the purpose of bringing the annual Oklahoma City Gridiron Show to Tulsa. The first presentation of the show “The Bells of St. Murray’s” was at the Mayo Hotel in early 1932.
The first “home” for the Tulsa Press Club opened on July 30, 1950, in the “swank” quarters on the mezzanine of the Adams Hotel, at Fourth and Cheyenne. Outstanding features included the zebra-striped bar and a couple of large pillars supporting the roof. Despite the pillars, Club members found room to dance. Hours were from late morning until the middle of the night and a half-day on Sunday.
That same year, Julie Blakely, women’s editor of the Tulsa Tribune (and later women’s editor of the Tulsa World), was named the first female president of the Tulsa Press Club. At that time the Club had 162 members.
Those were fun years, punctuated by prohibition, poker games, picnics at the Joe Branham farm with great barbecue prepared by J. Q. Branham, and the start of Tulsa’s own Gridiron Show in 1954.
The final reorganization came in 1956, when the Tulsa Press Club became a benevolent association and moved to the basement of the Enterprise Building at Sixth and Boston, tripling its space. It also “doubled its pleasure, doubled its fun.” The Club had its own kitchen with cook “Beulah” turning out mouth-watering apple pies, chicken dumplings and other delicacies. There was ample space for dancing and frequent parties. A TV set was donated. Members played “Dudo” and a sort of South American liar’s dice at lunch and after work. Among the devotees were the late Ted Rodgers, Doug Renfrow and Lew Miller.
In 1957, the Club honored 10 outstanding Tulsa leaders as its “Headliners.” We now have more than 72 Headliners, strong supporters of the Club and its endeavors.
Other “events” during the Enterprise tenancy included fire, floods, robbery and a bombing. The bombing was aimed at an establishment on the street floor, but the Press Club suffered smoke damage and fractured pipes with consequent flooding. In 1966, the Club was raided and the bartender arrested on suspicion of operating an open saloon.
In 1970, the Club moved to the second floor of the Mayo Hotel. It stayed there until the hotel was sold in 1980, when the Club took up residence at the Court of Three Sisters Tavern on Fourth Street near the Adams Hotel. In December 1981, when it was clear that the Mayo would not reopen, the Press Club moved back to its original home in the Adams Hotel.
Whoever signed the lease apparently had not inspected the premises and expressed great surprise – and disappointment – upon discovering interior flaws. A campaign was immediately launched to raise money for new quarters. Thanks to the generosity of many Tulsans and the hard work of many members, the Club was able to move to the lower level of the 201 West Fifth Street Executive Center in 1987.
In 1990, the Club moved to its present location on the Street Floor of the Atlas Life Building.
The Tulsa Press Club today are very different in many ways from the group that formed in 1906. Today’s members not only work for (or have retired from) newspapers, radio and television stations, they are also involved in advertising and public relations at agencies and corporations. Some members come from outside the media, including lawyers, politicians and businessmen. Currently, the Club’s membership stands at 469, shooting for 500.
Today’s Press Club is also motivated by somewhat broader and more altruistic goals, hosting Page One speakers, awarding journalism scholarships and recognizing radio, television and press icons.