Sunday, July 17, 2011

i often notice that aging produces a variety of seemingly surprising or inappropriate reaction to thoughts of things newly or always around me whether natural or manmade. simply put, i get into them what seems to be more than i ever have. one result is a desire/need to record or pass on my new 'discoveries'. but there is an even more surprising aspect of the phenomenon. i find that often what catches my eye has been literally in plain sight and maybe even all around me all along. art deco generally and what i call courthouse deco has in fact been all around my workspaces, courthouses at a number of venue, and within my view all round oklahoma city, even in capitol hill, and not just in tulsey town.
tulsa is still legitimately oklahoma's official art deco capitol and my official starting place for appreciating art deco. art deco is instantly in sight downtown and elsewhere and the community trumpets its art deco. oklahoma city's art deco came into view for me more when the courthouse was massively - and wonderfully refurbished in the late 90's. the refurbishing accented the art deco within, particularly by wonderful subtle but strong painting of the interior. once my eyes were reopened i noticed that city hall and the civic center auditorium directly to the west had art deco exteriors and the first national bank building was art decvo all the way. and i started noticing the art deco in other courthouses around here, particularly grady and pott counties.
the courthouses
by my count there are ten courthouses that have some claim to being art deco and one that i think deserves mention with an asterisk. most were built in the 1930's. two architects, solomon layton and walter vahlberg were responsible for 5 of the 10 but apparently did not collaborate. almost all have the outside trappings of art deco and some show art deco on the inside. [1] the outsides typically display half sculptures coming out of the granite walls - i saw them described as friezes. these sometimes geometrical design and other times iless than successful attempts to show indian people and white settlers symbolically. the building also often use aluminm for elaborate window grills and sometimes the sculpture.

oklahoma county - oklahoma city

the oklahoma county was built in 1937 with pwa funds. here is where it all started for me. art deco abounds inside and out. check out the whole front of the building, the mailboxes by the elevator with the streamline airplane image, the light fixtures. there are so many things to see that i suspect i'll need to make some kind of slide show and the whole outside but especially take a little while to stand on the second floor and look around. bad and good has happened to me on this floor in the 40 years i have been visiting. today i often stop just to take in the view to make the day bearable. the floor was originally the first floor which you entered from the front steps until 'security concerns' closed those doors. that's truly sad because walking past the outside onto this floor was meant to be.
'There are many art deco structures, but none with a space to match the two-story lobby with its third-floor overlooks, its terrazzo compass in the floor or marvelous abstracted wagon wheel chandeliers. And none with the whimseyed art deco meets American West ornament," he said.'
grady county - chickasha

the courthouse in chickasha was designed by the same architect as oklahoma county courthouse some three years earlier and like it contains wonderful interior art deco details in the stairways, halls and courtrooms. unfortunately it has not had a similar spruce up update which it very much deserves. the entrance includes lantern structures which reappear before later in oklahoma county and a more bizarre than average version of the classic frieze.

okfuskee county - okemah
i include this courthouse here because it was designed by the same architect some eight years before grady. 1926 is a little early for art deco and there would seem to be a question whether it qualifies for the term. i spot the decorations at the top of each floor and on the second floor east wall facing to the right. one person described it as having 'an interesting wedding cake look'.
cleveland county - norman

the cleveland county courthouse was built in 1939. it's been described as the popular combination of ' the classical revival form with art deco ornamentation. the upstairs courtooms in the old building and stairways continue art deco based looks.

haskell county stigler
i've included this 1931 courthouse here because the architect is the same. this courthouse is obscure to me but it has two claims to fame, one for art deco period. it's arguably art deco in design but has a somewhat bizarre color scheme - a kind of turquoise blue upper floor. the courthouse is also famous for posting a copy of the ten commandments on the grounds. the tenth circuit court of appeals had to order its removal for obvious constitutional grounds. the fact that adultery was misspelled on the sign was not listed as a grounds.

pottawatomie county - shawnee
i've always liked the inside of the pott county courthouse - except for the stairs. signs of art deco are present in the stairways, the courtrooms and on the outside. the single relief aluminum indian images are singular but i don't yet have a picture of them.
pawnee county - pawnee
the pawnee county courthouse is genuine art deco on the outside but the most memorable decoration is the 4 relief works. two on the left, literally the west, show indians facing off against the images on the4 east of approaching settlers.

other counties
for now i'll content with myself with notes as to four other counties. the adair county courthouse in stilwell was bilt in 1931 and includes indian images in the art deco front decorations. the woodward county courthouse built in 1936 has classic art deco accutrements on the outside. the wagoner county courthouse in wagoner was built in the late 30's but seems to have has its art deco moments covered up. it is however still decribed as art deco. I have not been in the refurbished pontotoc county courthouse in ada but two things have always made me think art deco when i'm near the place. first the suggs clinic, a classic art deco building is right across the street. second, the courthouse elevator doors have always sported a clear art deco pc insignia.

i'd love to add inside pictures to this blog and have the whole subject develop more. for now i just suggest you avoid the classic courthouse bad times by looking around at the art deco.

A number of flickr sites have courthouse pictures. One of the most comprehensive is available at 'courthouselover's' oklahoma collection. I combined other pictures on flickr for two collections: oklahoma courthouse deco and deco ii.
Three websites provide good materials on the oklahoma county courthouse: two with good histories of the courthouse: oklahoma county's site and living places. oklahoma county lawyer doug loudenback's blog includes a Civic Center page which gives the history of the whole area from the courthouse to the police station which was a major civic improvement plan in the 1930's.
A tulsa art deco website has a good art deco primer.


Thursday, July 07, 2011


’"Conway Twitty, ... seems to have been written out of rock'n'roll history for some reason. Perhaps his rock'n'roll output was overshadowed by his incredible success as country singer. ... Compared to George Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard who all made their best country sides during that same time period, Twitty's country output is nothing special. But his rock'n'roll sides (1957-63), to my ears, are much better, in fact he cut out a pretty nice niche for himself as a rocker, with a penchant for making histrionic ballads sound just a tad sleazy. "’
A blogger who calls himself Hounddog and is responsible for my title.

When Conway Twitty opened his Twitty Burger restaurant in 1970, he was 36 years old , a resident of far south oklahoma city, and an established country music star, and he had settled comfortably into life under a stage name like few others. [Check out: TWITTY BURGERS, ROCK N ROLL, POETRY AND THE LAW - PART 1.] By 1975 he had moved on to Nashville, and our local memories had begun to get more remote, particularly after his death in 1993.
What had also disappeared was the story of his transformation from a small town country boy talented in country music and baseball to a career as an early years rock and roller with a new name, records, movies and a life living and performing all over the country. In fact the story really lasted less than 10 years but it was full of action and featured his performing music in a way his later country career belied. I continue to write so we won't forget either part of the Conway Twitty story.


Conway Twitty was born Harold Jenkins 1933 in a town called Friar's Point, Mississippi, some 70 miles down the Mississippi River from Memphis. His family moved across the river to the Helena, Arkansas area. The area up to Memphis along the delta was a musical hotbed for the beginning intertwining of black and white country music that would become rock and roll and rockabilly. Harold had his own country band by the age or ten, performed regularly in the area as a teen-ager and even had a radio show. At 21 his career was interrupted by the Army which sent him to Japan until 1956 where he managed to play a lot of music and a little baseball. [1] The Army had taken him away from the delta area right when Sam Phillips and Sun Records were overseeing the real beginnings of rock and roll. Harold /Conway was never known to be slow and he turned his life over to rock and roll in the next 5 years with such speed and gusto that I’m hard put to actually assign dates to the happenings except as dates on his pictures give clues.
1] As Harold he formed a rockabilly band called the Rockhousers.
2] He took his band with him to audition for Sam Phillips and placed himself under the wing of Sam Phillips who, no doubt, did help train him:
Phillips didn’t bite at first, but he liked Jenkins’ original composition,
Rockhouse, enough to acquire the publishing, and then pass the tune
on to Roy Orbison. Orbison rewrote some of the lyrics and recorded it.
Jenkins recorded several songs for Sun, but none were released until
well after his later success on other labels.

3] He recorded a small number of songs for Sun but they didn’t pass sam’s tests and Sun didn’t release them. He never appeared in publicity with Sun’s big boys. But later when his career took off with other labels Sun released the songs and included them in compilations. I played history detective and found a picture of a wall in sun with various sun performers’ pictures. ‘On closer inspection’ I found that they did have a picture of conway but it was in fact a photo of him from another label.
4] He acquired a manager Don Seat who may or may not been responsible for Harold officially changing his name to Conway Twitty, using the names of small towns in Arkansas and Texas, which was officially adopted in 1957.
5] Seat got Conway a deal with Mercury Records which went nowhere. Then he sent Conway to play at a club called the Flaming Lounge in Ontario, Canada where he polished his act and became a local star. He also spent similar time in Des Moines, Iowa., somewhere along the way.
6] And then Seat managed to get him a deal with MGM records where his career as a successful rocker began with his first national hit “ It’s Only Make Believe” in 1958. [1] Check out Danny Boy from the MGM years and tell me doesn't sneak up on you and get you rockin along.
7] Seat even steered Conway into hollywood and 3 unexceptional teen movies. In one of them "College Confidential', he got to 'neck' with Mamie Van Doren, a sex symbol of the time. And there was one story from along those time that produced a truly singular item on Conway's resume. His name was adapted for a musical based on elvis’ going into the army. The main character was called 'Conrad Birdie', and the musical, which later became a movie, was entitled 'Bye Bye Birdie'. I didn't research whether he got credit or remuneration
8]. Conway continued to travel and perform, even in Oklahoma City. But in 1960 he began writing country songs again and sang a variety of songs. In 1962 MGM let him go and in 1965 at Tony Mart's nightclub in Summer's Point, NJ, Twitty ‘put down his guitar, walked off stage, and made his move full time into the "Country" arena. It wasn’t too hard because he had been recording under a new label’s Nashville branch anyway.

Levon Helm, later of fame with 'The Band' backing up Bob Dylan gave us a personal vision of conway/harold and the delta rockabilly days. I was lucky enough to borrow his 1994 autobiography, This Wheels on Fire”. [2] There Helm tells of the local music scene that included ‘Elvis, Jerry Lee and ‘our own Phillips County hero Harold Jenkins, before he was known under his stage name: Conway Twitty.’ He also tells of then Harold and his Rockhousers performing at a local store opening where he and his sister sang a few songs before the rockhousers kept the crowd dancing with rockabilly. More importantly for Levon that turned into his first real public performance when Conway let him play a song when was appearing at a West Helena club and includes the following:
One night I'm in there listening to Conway Twitty and the Rock Housers, who were the best band around. Oh boy, were they. Conway was from Friars Point, Mississippi, but moved to Helena when he was about ten so his daddy could pilot Charlie Halbert's ferry. His first band was the Phillips County Ramblers, a country-style group but that changed when Elvis's "Mystery Train" inspired young Jenkins to begin writing rockabilly songs. He went Add Imageup to Memphis worked with some of the Sun musicians, like Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee, and often came through our area with a series of good bands. ...
So I'm in the Delta Supper Club, and Conway's doing "Jenny, Jenny," and the place is just going nuts. He had all the rock moves—the stutter, the twitches, the strut—and the band, ..., provided a raw rockabilly jolt. Girls loved Conway's big, heavy-lidded good looks and long hair reminded 'em a little of Elvis.”
The next day Conway left for his Canada adventure.


Harold was Conway Twitty when he came to OKC to play at the old Springlake Amusement Park back then and gave me one of my few tastes of real rock and roll. I’m not sure if I was there for the time he caused a mini-riot there 1961. His friend Gene Jones tells the story and provides these two picture of one of the quiter moments.

When Conway appeared at the Springlake Amusement Park Amphitheater in 1961, a riot resulted with fans mobbing the stage and Conway retreating to a small building behind the stage that served as a dressing room. The band and other Members of the show barricaded the doors to keep fans away for fear of harm to him until Park Security arrived to restore order. After that show the Park installed an eight foot cyclone fence between the stage and the audience to keep that from happening again. From that time until the Park was closed several years later, the fence was known as the "Conway Twitty Fence.

So truth is Conway's rock and roll years are worth viewing and listening to, both for the music and to watch his hair style evolve.

[1] His Army music days were documented by Gene Jones who played with him in the army in stories and photographs including one of Conway playing with legendary Kiowa guitar player Jesse Ed Davis. His website is good for stories and pictures. I have also used photographs from an 8 CD set which in fact has all of Conway's rock time music. The photos were provided to a newfound internet friend in Finland, Marko Velijalainen, who used some of them in some youtube videos of Conway's rock songs. I have these and a number of other links as a word perefect file if anyone wants to check it out.
2] From Gary Ackley, a long time Assistant District Attorney in oklahoma county, who, much to my pleasure, has always been willing to discuss much more than just the law. He and I both recommend the book for a wonderful range of stories from the front lines of the best of the rock world.
3] The later picture in bad color of Conway at springlake was provided by Kitty Houston who apparently is still singing around the city. She tells stories in her website about hanging out with him because she was married to one of his players.

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