European Settlement (1900-1945)

Tulsa History

When Oklahoma opened for settlement in the late nineteenth century, emigrants were moving to the United States to escape agricultural depressions in Europe. Many came to establish farms on the free land offered by the United States government. Some came to work in the oil fields and mines of northeastern Oklahoma. It was a common practice for companies to recruit ethnic Americans with experience working in the oil fields and mines, and on the railroads in other parts of the United States. Many of the ethnic groups were attracted to the area because of the zinc and lead smelting in northeastern Oklahoma, a business which was labor intensive. In the urban areas, immigrants and ethnic Americans often found opportunities as grocers, tailors, and dry good dealers.

The percentage of European immigrants and ethnic Americans in the Tulsa area at the beginning of the twentieth century, and for many years following was very small. It was two percent in 1910. Prior to 1920, Tulsa’s ethnic population was predominantly English, Irish, and German. These ethnic groups favored employment in the petroleum industry. Tulsa’s swift population growth did not encourage the growth of ethnic enclaves. Although immigrants first settled near the downtown area, they dispersed throughout the city as the downtown expanded and their property was bought up and redeveloped for commercial uses. However, a Greek community, which began arriving in Tulsa in the 1920s, did settle together in a neighborhood on the southern edge of the central business district. Mostly merchants and tradesmen, the Greeks preferred city life. They established their church in 1925, but didn’t have their own building. Services were held in various downtown buildings. They obtained their own building on the corner of 11th Street and Guthrie Avenue in 1928. Most of their neighborhood was demolished when the Broken Arrow Expressway was built in 1968. Their Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox church was then relocated to its present site at 1222 S. Guthrie Avenue.

There have been Jews in the Tulsa area since it was Indian Territory. Most early Jewish settlers located on the north side of Tulsa and many of their recreation activities were centered at Owen Park located at 560 N. Maybelle Avenue. A landmark of that old Jewish neighborhood is the Washington Irving Monument. The first Tulsa Jewish Community Council, forerunner of today’s Jewish Federation of Tulsa, was established in 1930. The Council’s first President was Gershon Fenster. The original Jewish Institute, the forerunner of the Tulsa Jewish Community Center, was used for cultural and social events. It was located at 627 N. Main Street, but closed in 1930 as the Jewish community moved further south. The downtown Progress Club was an expensive Jewish social club that was established because Jewish people were not allowed membership in other private clubs in Tulsa. It was located in the basement of the Beacon Building and operated until approximately 1934. The Meadowbrook Country Club in South Tulsa was formed after World War II for the same reason. The Tulsa Garden Center, one of Tulsa’s most famous landmarks, is the former home of the D. R. Travis family. This Renaissance villa, patterned after the Governor’s Mansion in Nashville, Tennessee, was built in 1919 at a cost of $100,000. The Travis family (originally named Robinowitz) were very orthodox and their home even contained a mikvah, a ritual bath. The City of Tulsa acquired the Travis home in 1954. Over the years, many of Tulsa’s cultural assets were brought about by the philanthropy of its Jewish citizens. It was through the efforts of such men as Alfred Aaronson that the city was able to built the Central Library. The library’s auditorium is named for him.