Friday, April 26, 2013

The Brook Theatre and Restaurant

Flying down the freeway in my friend's Firebird Friday, I figured it was finally time to foray forth towards the Ribbon again, so I finagled financing for the fuel and floored it, looking forward to foraging for history, fineries and flavourful food for the weekend there on 1300 block East. Forging up I44, I took the now unfamiliar 'new and improved' expanded exit onto Peoria and suddenly realised I had made a horrible mistake; I should have borrowed a Range Rover instead of that F body. The pounding that poor Pontiac took proceeding down Peoria was pitiful. Lord have mercy...that street is bad. I've been through tank traps at Camp Gruber that were better...
Anyway, after a quick rest stop at my buddy Mike's new/old house there a few blocks east of Whole Foods, and allowing the poor car to recuperate a bit from the bone and suspension jarring abuse just sustained, I went in search of sustenance. Deciding on a leisurely and [very] late lunch, YrHmblHst combined food with history and went to the Brook.

Now, here at the Restless Ribbon, current restaurant reviews are not the norm nor our raison d'etre. However, an exception may be made here because of the location and it's history on the Ribbon.  The Brook Restaurant is located within the confines of the historic Brook Theatre, and encompasses the old Lewis Meyers Bookshelf as well as part of the building directly south of the old box office; a bank now occupies the rest of that space where OTASCO once resided. The restaurant is [somewhat surprisingly] modern in decor, replete with those damnedable, omnipresent televisions, and homages to it's past scattered about. Looks just as I remember from the last time I was in a couple of years ago. Given the time of day, they weren't too busy and I was immediately seated in a comfy booth against the south wall. My server ['waitress' as a term is passe' these days is it not?] came and introduced herself as Emily. Emily was excellent. Extremely efficient, entirely engaging, and eminently easy on the eyes, Emily excelled in exercising the duties of her profession. Throughout the meal, beverages were never allowed to get below half a glass plus she suggested the Mac & Cheese. The Mac & Cheese was great. Everything else was pretty good too.
The next two trips there over my long weekend weren't quite as satisfying. In their defence, it was a zoo Saturday at lunchtime. We were seated by a window near the front of what was Lewis Meyers' store bitd. The noise was way above average, partly due to acoustics in that section and partly due to noisy patrons. There seemed to be a quite noticeable [to me at least] smell of industrial grade cleaners and tepid, dirty dishwater ; don't know how else to describe it. The young lady I was with stated her meal to be pretty good, and the service was average, considering. My lunch was another matter. YrHmblHst hates to complain at a restaurant, but when a manager made a routine stop by our table to ask if everything was alright, I wouldn't lie either. The 're-do' of my entree was much better. Average taste and slightly overcooked,  but acceptable. Except the mac & cheese - it was fine the first go-round. The last stop late the next evening for appetisers, iced tea and dessert netted good tea, fair [at best] fries and pretty good desserts. My companion stated her queso to be above average though. Service was again above average. So, the 'Official Restaurant Review' will be - 'Food inconsistent, but average across the board for the type of venue, with both highlights and lowlights; Service above average; Prices average; Portion size very good; Atmosphere maybe a little above average but would have liked to see it more reflective of the building's history. [Of course, I may be a little prejudiced there, given the location] Overall well worth the trip.'  Just be sure and ask for Emily and get the Macaroni & Cheese.
YMMV naturally.
And speaking of the history of the building, back to the original intent of the post.

The Brook Theater was designed by architect William Henry Cameron Calderwood in basically a Streamline Deco / Moderne style, with seating for 690 patrons.  Different sources list the opening in 1945 or 1949; however all agree that "Father Was A  Fullback" was the first feature film. As Father Was A Fullback was not released until 1949, YrHmblHst must naturally assume that 1949 is correct...
The new movie house was, by all accounts, an immediate success. Feature films dominated the scene of course, but Saturday afternoon matinees with serials and cartoons were also presented. I was told by a parishioner recently that the Brook was even used by St Mary's Catholic Church for Sunday Morning Services early in the theater's existence, before the congregation had it's own building.
Your scribe remembers going to the Brook as a kid and seeing Winnie the Pooh, as well as The Love Bug and That Darn Cat. I'm sure I suffered through The Sound of Music there too, as it played in the house for nearly 2 years. I asked my mom and she claims to not have recollection of subjecting me to that, but I know better...
Situated right in the heart of Brookside, the Brook Theater chugged along nicely through the 50s and 60s. In the early 70s, it was purchased [along with the Delman] by the Loews Theater chain.

Certainly the highlight, at least to my mind, of the theatre's time under the Loew's banner was the premier of 'The Buddy Holly Story' in 1978. Starring Tulsans Gary Busey and Gailard Sartain - thats Teddy Jack Eddy and Mazeppa Pompazoidi to folks from 'Tussa' - the movie was not only a big hit, even garnering Academy Award nominations, but the premier in Tulsa was a Happening with a capital H.
You should see the film if you haven't, dear reader. There's some inaccuracies and some spin, but well worth the time.
Buttons announcing that 'Buddy Holly Lives' were passed out at the premier; mine is pictured here, just a little tattered from hanging on the map pocket of my old Corvette for years.
The American Theatre Company became the Brook's tenants in 1979. 'Mainstream' movies pretty well dried up, but that doesn't mean that the projectors stood idle. Independent, 'underground', concert and classic movies were shown when the stage wasn't being used for pursuits of the thespian kind. A Midnight Movie program was launched. I saw some really interesting things there - both on the screen and in the audience - at the midnight movies. I also saw American Graffiti more times than I can count. A couple of other films really stand out that I saw there; 'The Fantastic Animation Festival' which was a series of animated shorts, and Rust Never Sleeps. The Neil Young movie is well documented, but I have yet to talk to very many people who remember the Animation Festival. And google isn't much help either. Oh well. Fell asleep once in the middle of 'Woodstock' . Let's face it - that movie is long and pretty boring in places. My slumber was rudely awakened though by some '1 %er' biker types sitting down front at the tables that were set up in the orchestra pit. Napping peacefully, I bolted upright and nearly came out of my seat when they, in unison, screamed "Alvin Lee!" at the tops of their lungs as Ten Years After appeared on screen. Then they all jumped up and started dancing and jumping up and down on the tables...Guess you had to be there.
The Brook hosted a few concerts too. Went to hear Jimmy Spheeris and also John Lee Hooker. The acoustics were good and the relatively small size of the room made for an intimate, personal setting for listening to music. I understand that the performers liked the atmosphere too.
As American Theatre Company was, surprisingly enough, a theater  group, stage productions took, um, er, dare I say it, center stage. Productions ranging from Shakespeare to Broadway were presented at the Brook, as well as many little known plays and local, original work. The not-my-cup-of-tea-but-apparently-very-popular Joyce Martel played for several seasons too.
What was my 'cuppa' though was the ATC's Eddie and the Ecclectics. The American Theatre Company was fortunate enough to bring Eddie Edwards, the man who wrote every rock-n-roll hit song in the 50s thru the mid 60s, out of retirement to play 2 gigs a week at the Brook.
Along with the Eddiettes and band mates Tommy Thompson, Mike Michaels, Mitch Mitchell, Jeff Jeffries, Rob Roberts and 'The Secret Weapon, Gentleman Johhny Johnson' , Eddie rocked the Brook throughout the 80's. You can count on one hand the number of weeks YrHmblHst missed Eddie the first three seasons - often showing up to both shows. It was that great.
Another guy who showed up nearly every week was a fellow riding a vintage Triumph. He parked it by the box office, got off, slicked his wind tussled hair back, adjusted his shades, took a Lucky out of the pack rolled up in the sleeve of his T-shirt and lit up while he waited at the entrance of the theatre. 501s and engineer boots, this guy didn't just look right, he was livin  it!

Later in the decade, the ATC tried to buy the Brook from the then-current owners to make themselves a more permanent home. Negotiations broke down, I am told, over the costs of asbestos removal, and the ATC moved their shows to The Brady. The theater then fell mostly silent, only occasionally used for special events, including being shown in Uncle Zeb's [Carl Bartholomew] 1989 film 'Cole Justice'. Deterioration began to set in until the Jim Glass Company of Tulsa sat about renovating and rehabilitating/repurposing the building in the early 90s. Which brings us back to now and the Brook Restaurant and the offices and studios now on the top floor.
So next time you're in the area, stop in, have a bite, and enjoy the memories of this historic place on The Ribbon. And get the Mac & Cheese. Trust me.

 photos courtesy Tulsa Gal, Tulsa Gentleman, Tulsa TV Memories and the Tulsa City County Library archives

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