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Memories of Camelot

Tulsa lost a piece of its history a few years ago when the Camelot Hotel was demolished.

The spectacular tribute to Arthurian legend was built in 1965, just five years after the musical Camelot opened on Broadway and two years before the film version of the musical was released. John F. Kennedy’s presidency was sometimes referred to as “Camelot,” and in the wake of his assassination, Americans couldn’t get enough of the medieval metaphor. Castle-shaped architecture became popular, and Camelot-themed businesses became profitable.

Tulsa’s version was a pink, eight-story behemoth at the intersection of Peoria Avenue and I-44, which carried Route 66 through town during the fabled highway’s later years. The hotel featured a turret, moat, drawbridge, iron gates and extensive castle-themed decor. During the 1960s, it was a popular spot for Sunday brunch, and its lounge was the place to see and be seen, but competition from newer hotels dimmed some of its lustre in the 1970s, and the oil bust of the 1980s didn’t do the Camelot any favors. By the early ’90s, it was a shadow of its former self, and it eventually closed.

A Transcendental Meditation group bought the property in 1993 with the intent of turning it into a meditation center, but those plans never materialized, and in 1996, the city condemned the property, citing various health and safety violations. The building sat empty and continued to decline for more than a decade before being demolished in 2007.

This video by FOX23 provides a glimpse of the Camelot’s history:

Here at the Campbell, we have a soft spot for long-neglected hotels. After all, it hasn’t been too long since the Max Campbell Building sat empty. Had it not been purchased by caring owners who were willing to invest the time, money and effort to bring it back to its former glory, it very well might have gone the way of the Camelot.

As restoration work began on the Campbell, it seemed only fitting to honor the memory of another historic hotel with our Camelot Room, which features a regal motif and a luxurious canopy bed fit for a king.

Our Camelot Room honors the late Camelot Hotel.

To book a night in our Camelot Room, call us at (918) 744-5500 or visit www.thecampbellhotel.com and ask to reserve Room 220.

Historic images courtesy of The Beryl Ford Collection/Rotary Club of Tulsa, Tulsa City-County Library and Tulsa Historical Society.

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2 Responses to Memories of Camelot

  1. NS Carpenter says:

    Worked at the Camelot Inn (NOT HOTEL) after freshman year in college, 1968. Because of that, I missed Woodstock to which my Phillips friends were going (Max Yasgur’s Farm, Woodstock, NY) in Susie Supernaw’s VW bus. Still can’t believe I didn’t go! My Mom, Susie, was reservations manager almost from the beginning. I worked reservations, PBX (switchboard) and front desk, and all shifts at one time or another. “Working ladies” – if not part of the head bellman’s corral, i.e., giving a “pimp” % would be busted by TPD. Housekeepers picked up almost empty liquor bottles, and the bellmen “filled” and “refilled” them with odds and ends of booze. Which were then resold. Despite being underage I could always buy booze from A. afterhours. He always drove a new white caddy. Once had a huge Bowie knife pulled on me at the front desk about 3 am by a green-toothed trucker. Wilma and I levitated backwards; he’d just wanted it from his lockbox, which was behind the front desk. No malice on his part. But scared the Bejesus outta us! Made conversation with actor George Peppard, on the switchboard, while I sent a bellman to get Peppard’s attorney off the line upstairs in the middle of the night. Probably the only one there who knew Peppard was involved in a paternity suit at the time. If I was working back to back – 11 pm to 7 am -
    I’d leave a “wake-up” call with the overnite PBX woman, so I could get back from my TU apartment in time to work again. I didn’t realize Elvis had ever stayed there; I’d thought he’d stayed at the Mayo, as well as Sinatra. The Camelot was, a bit too kitschy for my tastes. They did have a genuine, English “bobby hat” which I would have loved to have, when they sold everything off. It was sad to see the old girl go…she’d seen Bob Hope MANY times too. (One time he gave my Mom a Zippo lighter with his face and ski-nose raised on the front. I now own that.) Gary Player, South African pro golfer stayed, as did Karen and Richard Carpenter. They were regular folks; both carried some of their own luggage. Oh yes, and Marcus Haynes, the manager of the Harlem Globetrotters. A very sweet and kind man, who bought all we women beautiful scarves for Christmas! And the alliterative Nixon VP, Spiro Agnew, who pleaded “nolo contendre” on charges I’ve forgotten. But I’ve never forgotten his “nattering nabobs of negativism” quote. He looked like an “old-time” mobster, never smiled. Men, in packs, can be rather toad-like. If I was registering clients at the south end of the front desk, if the guy was alone, he was usually cordial – and proper. If there were two or more, Jeez, filling out the registration card was a bit racier. Under “Model of Car” a guy would write, and say out loud for my 18-year old ears, “I drive a Grand Prick!” I did’t yet know the Yiddish word “putz” but he definitely was one. I’ve never understood why men go a bit off the rails if they can make someting sexual out of a situation.(Where do you think the word “joystick” for video games came from?) I drove home on evening after my 11 pm shift, left a “wake-up” call (as did the clients). Had just fallen asleep, it seemed, when my phone rang, with CT, a man my age from my Memorial Class of ’68, who was General Manager of the Camelot on the line. “Ahhh, a bit early isn’t it Conley? My 6 am wake-up call came VERY early that morning! And why are you there this time of night?” He said the hotel was “on fire” and they needed me “right away.” It was just before 3 am. I got into my’64 1/2 Mustang, V-8, 289, and sped over there. Thankfully remembered to dress myself first! Windows were broken out, sheets were actually TIED together, hanging down. When I got inside, most everyone was in the lowered, “conversation pit,” including my two friends from Phillips U. for whom my mom had “comped” the rooms the day before. They, as did the others, looked stricken, and had soot on their faces. Caroline and Nancy had been the the same floor, same wing where the fire broke out. The big-wig men were in my mom’s office – she too had been called in. One of the men pulled out a wad of $100 bills, stuffed them into my hands, and told me to take the “stewaredesses” to St. Francis. American Airlines had an entire floor blocked off for their crews, whether ocuppied or not. The “flight attendents” were a hoot, albeit shaken. One had brought her train case, and pulled a bottle of vodka out of it. We all took several swigs as I drove to St. Francis. Later, I got to check out the floor, and the fire had been right next to my friends room! Caroline Brune and Professor Nancy (?) had come to review the graduate “Rhetoric and Writing” MA at University of Tulsa for Brune (her friends called her that.) She took the program, got her MA, was an extraordinary writer, multiple-media artist and opened a donut shop downtown. Followed later by opening the ORIGINAL “Cherry Street Bakery.” Poetry, music nights, and her baked goods were heavenly! Friends could come, drink coffee or tea, or just hang-out. No one was ever rushed out. Caroline died May of’06 from ovarian cancer. We weren’t close, but she was an artistic whirlwind. I, too developed cancer, but not as insidious as ovarian, or the pancreatic that just took Dr. Sally Ride, the NASA astronaut. Ride had a degree in physics, astrophysics, and engineering. But hey, we’ve got *bleepin’* reality shows. How low we’ve gone! Both were Renaissance women in their own right. It was fascinating to work with my mother. She exuded and commanded such respect, and was one hell of a hard worker; I came to appreciate her enormously, as a woman in her own right. Guests names were from a tag off the registration sign-in. If a guest DID NOT want it known that they were guests, that tag would be placed in the appropriate alphabetic slot in PBX room, all “X’ed” out! These were not the trysts I suspected. Typically, it was a woman on a bender. A safe place for an alcoholic, complete with room service. An intelligent and safe way to go, in those days.

    –written by Norma Sue Carpenter
    8/4/2012

  2. Emily says:

    Wow! Wish I could have seen the Camelot in its heyday. Sounds like a little slice of Vegas here in Tulsa. Thanks for sharing your memories. If you’ve never read it, you might enjoy Shellee Graham’s book “Tales from the Coral Court.” She collected stories from the late Coral Court Motel in St. Louis, which started as an unusually classy place from the early days of motor courts but declined — as many Route 66 motels did after the rise of the interstates — into the stereotypical “no-tell motel” before being demolished to make way for a subdivision in 1997. Lots of great stories in there.

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