Wednesday, 22 October 2014

1927

The Poncan Theatre was built in 1927. 





My uncle Pat took us on a tour. We’d been before, but only when he was doing a play there. He was pretty excited about the place then, so you can imagine how nice it was to be the Director, and he could give us the whole tour. We also learned about the ins and outs of running an operation like this. There are a lot of different groups to keep happy: board members, sponsors, volunteers, not to mention actors, directors and I don’t know who all. Sounds like it requires far more patience than I'm likely to ever have. 

It's at its romantic best at night,but then it's tough to get good photos.




Also, a building this old needs constant attention. The interior is something Italianate and seems like a theatre prop itself, never mind what’s on stage. 




It sounds like a juggling act to me, but he seems really happy with it all. Short of perhaps becoming a world famous, rich movie or stage star, I’m thinking this is perhaps his dream job.





I was in heaven poring over celebrity photos of the 1920s and 30s. 

Helen Ferguson; never heard of her, but she was a beauty - and check out her stationery!

Pat pointed out a number of the wonderful old movie posters, unusual in that they are double printed to look better in the lit boxes. 

I so loved Loretta Young when I was a child!


There are hundreds of such posters – mostly more modern ones – up in the attic. No one seems to know what to do with them.






Another amazing feature was what Pat called the ‘Black Stairs’. I expected to see stairs painted black, but instead it was a perfectly ordinary staircase rising from a separate front entrance door, now used by the radio studio that rents an upper floor. 

This photo of Ginger Rogers sure makes me think of |Meg Ryan (with different hair, of course).




He showed us the special closet used for a ticket office and the twelve seats in the balcony allocated for persons of colour. The twelve seats were the same as all the others, just that section at the back on the left side was the allocated space.  

1932: Edmund Lowe




Bill was aghast that they would go to the expense of building a separate entrance and stair well for the purpose segregation, and for no more profit than one could make from twelve tickets. 

A 1931 comedy...


Clearly the principle was larger than the profit motive. It’s completely crazy, but that was how things were back then. I can't eve begin to imagine what life in in that time with that frame of mind would have been like.

Another 1931 film: pre-code, as in before censorship!


We also got to see the attics and the storage cupboards, full of old costumes and props, posters and popcorn boxes, old films and projectors, amazing stuff. Pat needs a load more volunteers ready to do odd jobs if he’s ever going to shift some of these things, so it’s likely to all be there when we next visit. I saw some amazing purses that had been donated…. And a great view of the stained glass window from the inside. So that's the part I remember from my photos. 




This is more of the official version:

The Poncan Theatre had to make the transition between live performance and the ‘new talking pictures’. Built by the Boller Bros of Kansas City who were known through out the mid and south west for their theatre design and this Spanish Colonial Revival was their specialty.  Several of their theatres, including the Poncan, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The interior similates a ‘romantic outdoor Mediterranean courtyard’. Theatres such as this were very popular in their day because they helped audiences escape their everyday life and took them to exotic places.

One more poster; you know this lady, Gloria Stuart, even though you may not recognise her. 


Costing $280,000 to build, the theatre initially had special lighting effects and equipment used for vaudeville, singing, opera, drama and dancing in addition to silent movies. There was also a $22,500 Wurlitzer organ, two concert pianos and an orchestra.

The manager was Fred Pickrel, formerly of the Pathe Exchange in OKC. Because of his former position he was able to bring to Ponca City, a town of only 16,000 people,  the latest newsreels direct from New York, Chicago and the west coast, delivered twice weekly via airmail.

In 1929, because of the popularity of ‘talkies’ the theatre was wired for sound. The Great Depression hurt the ticket sales of theatres across the nation, but in the 1930s the Poncan featured Bank Night.  In addition to the film viewing, tickets included movie goers in a lottery. As you had to be present to win, the pool sometimes reached over $600 and not only did if fill theatre seats, sometimes the crowd had to stand outside to listen for the winning ticket.


Gloria Stuart played Kate Winslett's older self in Titanic!

Television again challenged ticket sales in the 1950s and the Poncan was remodeled, enlarging the marquee, replacing seats and updating the curtain. Musical instruments were sold. Still, it carries the grand atmosphere of the interwar years and continues to delights audiences with its dream inspiring decor.

Do you have any amazing historic buildings in your area?

Monday, 20 October 2014

Mickey Gilley at the Poncan Theatre

Thus begins what turned out to be Bill’s Musical Tour. If I let him, every one of our vacations would be skipping between places mentioned in the lyrics of songs he grew up hearing. As it happens, I chose all but the last of our destinations, for reasons nothing to do with music.  

We went to Ponca City to see my Uncle Pat.  He happens to currently be director of this lovely old theatre there. Pat was very excited to have Mickey Gilley perform and to provide us tickets (also free popcorn and cokes - what a great thing, knowing the right people!) We knew that he would be busy with work and that we would basically be hanging out at the theatre during our visit, but that was fine by us.

I knew the name, Mickey Gilley, but had to Google it to remember why. Does anyone remember Urban Cowboy, Debra Winger and the mechanical bull? Yeah, that Mickey Gilley. I’m not a great western music fan, but I was prepared to humour my uncle.


video


Turns out it was actually a pretty darn good show. Gilley is 78 and recovering from a paralyzing accident – it’s a miracle he can walk, never mind perform. He sang and even did a couple of dance steps with his nurse maids back up singers, but I mostly enjoyed his narrative. He interspersed his songs with the story of his music career, told a few jokes, dropped a lot of big names and made a couple of humorous references to the famous cousins I didn't know he had: Jimmy Swaggert and Jerry Lee Lewis (amazing family, eh?) Listening to his voice, I could hear his kinship with Jerry Lee, though their music styles are quite different.

Pat marvelled that the band – all nearly as old as Gilley – set up and tore down for themselves, and he said Gilley was as nice as he could be. After the show there were photo ops and autographs on offer, also music, pictures and t-shirts for sale. 






I stayed seated and watched the band pack up. After their enormous coach pulled out – they were due to play in New Orleans the next night – we went out to dinner with Pat and some of his colleagues. It was good to see my uncle looking very contented.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Dog Dish Salad

We headed for Ponca City by way of one of Bill’s favourite towns: Guthrie OK. (I can see I need to add a category, Small Town America). We looked at buying a house there but didn’t pursue it very hard. 





It’s just that this is one of the few small towns that seems to have capitalised on celebrating its history. That wasn’t meant to be a pun, but could have been: Oklahoma’s first state capitol was at Guthrie before being relocated to Oklahoma City.



We stopped for lunch at an attractive place called the Blue Belle Saloon. As you can see I occupied myself snapping photos whilst waiting for our meal, even though we’ve been before.


Across the road.


Built in 1889, Tom Mix was a bartender here before becoming a silent film star. The building has housed any number of businesses over the years. The upper floor, called a 'hall', had 17 small rooms around a lobby and was probably a bordello. 




I had to look up what 1959 had to do with anything...

Although Prohibition ended in the U.S. in 1933, there was a strong 'dry' lobby in Oklahoma that prevented sale of anything stronger than beer (3.4%, I'm guessing). This continued for more than two decades until

On April 7, 1959, Oklahoman's went to the polls and contradicted Will Roger's adage that they would vote 'dry as long as they could stagger to the polls.' They repealed prohibition...The legislation did not permit liquor by the drink, and that particular provision remained law until 1984, when the state voted it out.    ---   Source





I opted for a salad with grilled chicken and Bill had ‘fried chicken salad’. Who ever heard of ‘fried chicken salad’?






And tell me that metal bowl doesn’t look like a dog dish? It was good, all the same. I expect we’ll be back again.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Kitchen Experiments

---We interrupt this series for a special 
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from the 'Sponsors' who enable us to bring you the 
What Bill & Shelley Did This Summer 
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Bill can always tell when I'm feeling anxious about money: I quit buying food. This generally happens around the time of doing my taxes or after we return from a long holiday. As it happened both events coincided this month and I think he started to worry. It's not that we could possibly go hungry, there is far too much food in this house for that to happen; just we might not have the exact same things he's used to. 

For example, he's never had a mango/grapefruit/strawberry yogurt gelatin for dessert. Neither have I, but looking at what was waiting in the pantry/freezers waiting to be used up, this is what I selected. 

I looked on the gelatin manufacturer's website, as the package gave little instruction. The first recipe I came to said to use 100 ml boiling water with a sachet of gelatin and it called for roughly 50g of sugar and 550g of other ingredients. So that's the recipe I used, pouring in two thawed pots of yogurt, pulling any membrane off the grapefruit before tossing it in and making up the 550g with part of a large tin of mango pulp. Don't ask me why I bought mango pulp. It's not particularly sweet...it was cheap...I was feeling adventurous?

It was a big success. The only thing I'd do differently is to puree the grapefruit to distribute it more evenly. 'Floating fruit' was what I was thinking, but perhaps that's only effective in clear Jello. I also have it in mind to increase the ingredients per sachet. This set solid in only five hours and I'm thinking I could have stretched the sachet to more than five servings.





There is plenty of frozen fruit and a lot more of that tin of mango waiting to be experimented with, though it may not in the freezer in the mean time. If I get tired of gelatin I can always fall back on spice cake.






Have you had any kitchen experiments lately?

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Overholser Mansion

The last day I went to the OHS I was determined to spend as much time as it took to find 'my people' so Bill made another plan: as part of his marathon training he would walk the 11 miles back to our hotel – in the 90-something degree heat. 


Love the curve at the top of the ceiling!






I made sure he had his phone and some cash and plenty of water and then set him loose. He had a great time exploring and found all sorts of things to photograph.










One stop he made was to see the Overholser Mansion. We’d been twice before with no luck and it sounds as though they aren’t really in it for the money, but his perseverance paid off. 



Photos without flash aren't as clear, but may be 'atmospheric'.




I only wish I’d been with him.  Next time we’re in OKC I definitely want to visit, if we can get in.









He swears he doesn't remember much about the people who lived there, only that the original Overholser, Henry, made his money selling horses to the U.S. Army and that he was the first to build 'out in the country' in what was to become the grand area, Heritage Hills (a funny name, since it is flat as a pancake). 






I remember Bill telling me that Henry and his wife, only had one daughter - whom they named Henry! She had no children either. 





Upon her death (1959) her husband inherited the house. He lived until the 1970s and the house was purchased by the Oklahoma Historical Society...where I was 'digging up ancestors'. 


Love that quilt!


Oh, heavens, I just looked up Henry Overholser and learned that he had a previous wife, a daughter (Elizabeth) and a son (Edward - so he had no call to go and name his second daughter Henry!). He was divorced from his first wife, Emma, around 1880! And he still managed to get a lake named after him...


Packratting at its best.


I think it's terribly sad that such a grand house was only inhabited by two generations, but then it was only built in 1903, which no longer seems that







old to me. Bill said there was still a lot of work needed to renovate it. I expect wood doesn't hold up as well as brick or stone, the primary building materials in Britain.




Overholser eventually had some rather grand neighbours, though these days they all seem rather 'cheek by jowl' to me, with barely a few yards between them. I suppose I've become accustomed to grand houses have 'estates' to go with them.


Growing up I thought having a transom must be the height of antique elegance. Who knew there was a saying 'like pushing a piano through a transom' about childbirth and any other difficult undertaking...


Still, I remember when Heritage Hills was being dragged back to its former grandeur. Not only did one have to be able to afford the house and its renovation, but also security systems and a private school for the children. Still, you'd have a very impressive house, with a lot of living space within a short proximity to the downtown business district. 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Time Travel in OKC

I headed for the Oklahoma Historical Society every chance I got when we were Oklahoma City, even if only for a couple of hours at a time.  I never managed to meet up with several living family members, but I spent a very satisfying couple of days chasing dead ones I’d never met. Crazy, I know, but not just a selfish pursuit, as I get to share valued information with several cousins around the world.

Also in my defense, the Oklahoma legislature in its questionable wisdom chose to protect its citizens against identify theft by making it virtually impossible to procure a birth or death certificate unless you are named as next of kin, in the will, etc. Some one said you had to be the dead person, but I don’t think they are quite that stupid. I knew it would be difficult so I went to the Health Department in person to talk with a person. I didn’t find a person, however, only a brick wall. I couldn’t produce legal documents to demonstrate I was related to my great-grand uncle – I can’t even prove he was born, since Oklahoma didn’t require birth registration in his day. So my next port of call was historical newspapers.

I found the story of my great-grand uncle’s mysterious accidental death in 1929 – crushed by a steel beam that fell on him. You know football is big when the headline reads: "Athlete’s Father Killed in Local [oil] Lease" (and he just played high school football in Bristow!).  


Visiting Rose Hill Cemetery, where my close family are. But mainly to solve a genealogical mystery...


My my great-grandfather died 1930 and the article revealed a major surprise: his wife had been married before and the first two sons were not his, something none of us suspected! It did explain why they got married after the sons had been born, a mystery to us all.  I’m still trying to find that first husband/marriage!

On the other side of Mom’s family, we all grew up hearing that her uncle Cecil had died at the age of 21, accidently killed when out hunting; a gun leaned against a barbed wire fence slid and discharged a bullet into his stomach. I found that article, too. They were hunting rabbits and he was only 20 years, nine months and 18 days old. In some ways newspaper articles can be far superior to obituaries.

It seems that obituaries weren’t often done back in the 1920s and 30s, at least not in small towns about regular people. The newspaper printed brief articles announcing the deaths right between news about new paving for roads and the success of the Baptist ladies church social, sometimes without even a separate headline. I had to read closely to find the article I hunted, sometimes in several tiny local papers. Along the way I found croquette recipes, a story about C.C. Pyle and Andy Payne doing their second Trans-America race (memorialised in a great novel, Flanagan’s Run, a perfect gift for any runner in your life), adverts for questionable medicines.

I was astonished by an ad apparently inserted by the actual Ku Klux Klan, saying they were 2,000 strong in Coalgate, OK, and were against communism, socialism and organised labor (no mention of blacks, or other minority groups) but were for Christian family values, etc., etc.. The United Mine Workers of America countered with an article standing against the KKK, saying it was their right to fight for better pay and conditions. It made me proud of my mining ancestors.  There were also more pieces than I care to remember about violence against and amongst black people. Knife fights, burned homes, imprisonment and burned jails, all sorts of frightening stories about life back then. I was lucky to find the articles that I did about my family, there was so much to distract me! I spent hours wide-eyed.

Small Town America was seemingly interested in the doings of the British royal family, the fact that a local lady had injured her knee, who would be the new Pope, that someone’s cousins were visiting from a neighbouring town, the state of relations between European countries and everything in between. The assets and liabilities of the local bank were published for all to see on a routine basis. I’d like to see that practice continued.

I sometimes found it startling to ‘awaken’ from this alternate world, finding myself at a microfilm screen instead of a kitchen table, wearing shorts instead of a cotton dress and a hat, sitting in a large air conditioned room instead of a frame house on an acreage. If you like time travel but lack a machine, I suggest you visit your nearest historical society!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The New and Old in My Hometown

I’ve not lived in Oklahoma City since I was 35, back in the 19th Century; 1991 to be precise. A few things have changed in OKC over the years. (Warning, I may sound like a cranky old woman in the next few paragraphs.) There were also some familiar things that gave me comfort.

The Devon tower has sprouted like the bean-stalk since our last visit. I had to laugh, though I couldn’t get a good photo, when one very rainy day the low hanging clouds rested neatly atop every other downtown building, swallowing the top half of the Devon. Served them right for the height of their arrogance, I thought.



Looks stupid, right? (Source, Wikipedia)

The place is littered with some sort of birds with iridescent black feathers and long tails. I'd guess they were grackles, but these had longer necks. They should have been pretty, except for looking ratty, with feathers all askew. The phrase ‘dragged through a bush backwards’ came to mind. 

Hotel buffets don't provide milk for your coffee: it’s either half and half (milk / cream), or something vanilla or caramel flavoured, all disgusting to someone accustomed to enjoying skimmed milk. I bought the skinniest milk I could find in groceries. 

I figure the Waltons are rich enough already so I skipped visiting WalMart. The next nearest grocery store to our hotel seemed to be a Buy for Less on on SW 27th Street. That is a Hispanic neighbourhood now, judging from the large selection of tortillas and peppers on offer. I was very pleased to see so many healthy foods available for under $1 a pound and it was fun to wonder what they did with banana leaves and what looked like cactus leaves.  We tried to save money and calories by having 'room picnics' and so long as our hotels had a fridge and a microwave we were all set. 



North wind. (Love the dramatic skies!)



Beyond choosing salads for lunch – the only food I was certain didn’t come straight out of a freezer and into a microwave - I found it pretty difficult to eat healthily in restaurants. Part of this was my wish to re-visit old favourites like BBQ ribs, chicken-fried steak, Johnnie’s onion rings (alas, they have changed) and Tex-Mex food, so I can’t blame it entirely on the restaurant business. With a few delicious exceptions, I thought many places served nothing but deep fried or watered down slop. There is so much batter or cheese sauce (a nasty surprise) on veggies, no health benefit can remain. It’s a miracle I only gained six pounds on this trip, though we did walk a lot and drank gallons of water and unsweetened iced tea. 

That was something else new: iced tea used to come with ice, tea and lemon if you asked for it. You added sugar from the table dispenser – or not. No sugar on the table any more, not that I mind, but what exactly goes into sweetened tea?  I hadn’t realized until this trip how spoiled I have become, eating at home. I guess I am now a healthy food snob, or maybe just a control freak. All I know is that after a week in Oklahoma City I didn’t feel as well as when I arrived. Looking at menus and grocery shelves I started to understand more about America’s health problems.


Aack! Didn't realise David Carradine was dead! (sorry)


It’s not just restaurants that are hazardous to your health, apparently. When I went to the state health department to get birth/death certificates for my genealogy research (no chance, more of which later), we had to get past two guards, stating our purpose and showing photo ID. I was amazed. They said they would soon be installing metal detectors as well. I asked if there had been incidents but they said not, it was just being done. I don’t know whether to be sad about everyone’s fear or happy they are creating jobs.


South wind.



What used to be nice streets are now very run down.  A few of the old neighbourhoods have kept their value but some of the older houses I used to think were grand and elegant looked old and tired, though they still looked cared for. Perhaps I’ve just become accustomed to the grandeur of European architecture? I’m not sure that explains it, but I was sad not to be thrilled by those houses any more.

I visited some shops I used to think were fairly nice and I was shocked at how run down the buildings were, what cheap tat they offered. Places that used to offer brilliant London Fog coats with detachable hoods and linings – just the ticket to get me through British winters at the bus stop – now sell cheap clothes, Halloween costumes and candy. I didn’t find a single coat worth carrying home with me. I’ll have to aim higher next time, I guess.

I did visit 50 Penn Place (I remember Grandma and Grandpa being awed at the size of the car park when it was built as Penn Square Mall near their home). I found shoes and NYDJ’s at Dillards (Bill keeps saying DillArds, not DillErds, which cracks me up) and some blouses at Ann Taylor. I think I spent about $300 on clothes which will do me for some time. I didn’t visit my usual PayLess Shoes, vowing to try out the idea that better shoes last longer. We’ll see how that goes.

I had a great time visiting my old office, where I had probably the best job of my whole life. I hunted down the few remaining people that I used to work with and it was great to see and talk with them. 

I got the impression that Oklahoma hasn’t really experienced much of the recession. There were signs all over the place ‘now hiring’. Perhaps age has caught up with the suburbs that were once fashionable and the nice parts are now further out, or back in the wonderful Bricktown area near downtown where I see there are something like row houses being built.


Some things about OKC were still familiar. I met some bugs I knew. I wouldn’t call them ‘old friends’ but they reminded me of my childhood and are much different to the few British bugs I’ve seen (one of my favourite things about where I live, the dearth of horrible insects).



I say siKAda; Bill says SIKuhduh. This one says nothing - likely dead, but I didn't check.


I was pleased to find that they still have proper sized pumpkins (too big to carry), not the silly little ones sold in Britain as ‘large’ – that always makes me laugh. I loved the huge plums but was perplexed by diminutive bananas; what is their purpose? 

The old money section, Nichols Hills, still has lawn sprinklers that shower on in spite of pouring rain. It looks ridiculous, but no one thinks to turn them off; a great example of ‘conspicuous consumption’.

Sept 11





The searing heat – in the middle to upper 90s – was also familiar, though I was so cold in the air conditioned places the heat was nearly welcome. I didn't seem to use my sweater much, I migrated between frozen and fried. 

I used to hate the ever-present winds, but at least they counteract the heat…and are also useful for unfurling flags.