News » Metro

Blast from the past

by

comment

A small, but growing, band of self-described “history nerds” have taken an interest in preserving the heralds and other remnants of the city’s storied history. When the bridge was scheduled for demolition as part of the old Interstate-40 crosstown, members of Retro Metro OKC took action.

Dedicated to collecting and sharing Oklahoma City’s history, the group partnered with the Oklahoma Historical Society, the Oklahoma Railway Museum and the state Department of Transportation in a successful effort to save the engraved logos.

“This was another piece of Oklahoma City’s history that we were about to lose until Retro Metro OKC worked to save it,” said Gary Githens, editor of The Dispatcher, a publication of the Oklahoma Railroad Museum, where the heralds ultimately found a permanent home.

The members of the group, formed in 2009, include lawyers, urban planners, writers and real estate professionals; to a person they are all history enthusiasts intent on preserving the city’s history.

“Our group is dedicated to not only preserving history, but making the history of the entire metropolitan Oklahoma City area available to everyone,” said Jack Money, a Retro Metro OKC board member.

Money and Steve Lackmeyer, who together co-authored OKC Second Time Around and Skirvin, said they learned during their research that OKC history was not always found in the museums around town.

“The thing that stymies learning about our history is that it’s hidden in homes and businesses,” said Lackmeyer, a longtime reporter for The Oklahoman. “These documents, photos and memorabilia are part of a family or business’ heritage. It’s handed down through generations.”

Cresent Grocery circa 1913
courtesy: Retro Metro OKC

While Retro Metro organizers have found that most people are willing to share that history, some had been reluctant to donate such materials or sell to a museum. Retro Metro OKC offers another alternative.

Online treasure trove

There is no physical museum. Photos and documents collected are scanned, often at the business or home of the owners. Then, the collections are shared online at retrometrookc.org.

Photos and documents found online are purposely uploaded at a lower resolution to avoid anyone copying the materials for retail or commercial use.

Buddy Johnson, reference librarian for the Metropolitan Library System and vice president of Retro Metro, said the organization does not want to become a “research site.”

“We facilitate the availability of research material,” he said. “In other words, we wouldn't provide research on restaurants in Oklahoma City, but if you were researching restaurants, you could find photos and menus on our site and have access to a community of knowledgeable people who can help with your research.”

A streetcar on N. Robinson
John Moore/Stan Hall Collection/Retro Metro OKC

The site and Retro Metro’s Facebook page are for anyone who enjoys history.  

Current collections are growing and include a vintage matchbox collection, the Oklahoma Railway Company collection of George Winn and historic restaurant collections.

“People are pretty enthusiastic when they find the site,” Johnson said. “The collections usually stir up some memories, and people like to share their personal experiences with what they find on the site.”

A couple of Retro Metro OKC collections can be seen around the city. Kyles 1025 restaurant, 1025 N.W. 70th St., shares menus from historic OKC eateries such as Beverly’s Chicken in the Rough. The restaurant’s collection of memorabilia from Beverly’s and many other OKC places is used as decor in Kyles.

Heralds of the old Rock Island-Frisco railroad lines being removed
courtesy: Retro Metro OKC

Chad Huntington, co-owner of the Bricktown Red Dirt Marketplace, created a mini-museum at the Marketplace featuring Retro Metro’s collection of Oklahoma Railway Co. photos. The exhibit highlights the city’s downtown and former industrial area, now known as Bricktown.

“It’s been a draw for people who hear about it and come in,” Huntington said. “It’s been great to see their reactions. I had one man point to a photo and then share stories of when he worked there.”

Got pics?
The historic photos and documents stir memories and feelings long forgotten. Members of Retro Metro OKC, all of whom are volunteers, hope it also stirs up additional collections. Currently, the group is working with an out-of-state museum to borrow a collection involving Oklahoma City’s historic Deep Deuce area.

“Our group members have one common characteristic, and that is that we all are history enthusiasts,” Money said. “If you are one, we are your kind of folk, and we hope to see you at one of our meetings soon. Our group includes both men and women, and we have members as young as 17 and as old as 70.”

Monthly meetings are often a history lesson, with speakers coming in to share their knowledge of the city’s past. Topics have ranged from downtown’s Film Row to Automobile Alley.

Anyone who has personal photos, documents, photos or video that tell the city’s history is invited to share their collections by contacting Retro Metro OKC at info@RetroMetroOKC.org.

Add a comment