Miami’s Theaters

Miami Businesses

Miami has always had movie theaters, since it was 23 years old. The Dreamland opened at 12 South Main, where Security Bank now sits, in 1914. By 1919, it had been renamed the Grand.

In 1917, the Grand received some competition: the Glory B, which opened directly across the street (at the site of the present-day Jeannie’s). Both of these theaters had stages large enough to accommodate vaudeville acts and live bands.

Glory B and Grand Theater ads, January 6, 1928

Glory B and Grand Theater ads, September 7, 1927

Glory B ad, January 5, 1940

Ottawa and Coleman ads, January 4, 1946

Both theaters eventually came to be owned by Sarah Cardin Staton. A Staton owning a South Main business was a common situation in the twenties. The Grand lasted until 1928. It apparently never converted to sound, and the rival across the street announced it that year. In fact, the last Grand ad was placed in the News-Record the weekend before the Glory B debuted sound.

Vaudeville and Talkies at the Glory B, November 2, 1928

On April 18, 1929, the Coleman theater opened. The Coleman also had a vaudeville stage, and Miamians once again had their choice of two theaters to attend.

Coleman Theater writeup, January 20, 1929, the article mentions three obscure playhouses that Miami had in the past. Click to enlarge.

The article above is valuable because it mentions three obscure playhouses from Miami’s past: the Odeon, the Pastime, and the Airdome. The locations of all three have been lost to history.

January 20, 1933

The Glory B and the Coleman both survived the Great Depression, providing entertainment which was just barely affordable enough, combined with a nice air-conditioned place to escape dust bowl summer heat.

In 1945, Miami again had three theaters, when the Ottawa opened at the same location formerly occupied by the Grand.

Ottawa Theater’s first ad, April 4, 1945

The Ottawa from the beginning advertised itself as a second-run theater, and it did well. But in 1949, the theater scene in town would be shook up by the appearance of the drive-in theater. Click the link to read the history of Miami’s drive-ins.

Sometime after 1950 (1951 and 1952 are missing from my newspaper archives), the Glory B closed its doors. By 1953, the Miami Theater had opened there, complete with a gorgeous art deco marquee.

Artist’s depiction of the Miami Theater.

Miami’s theaters peaked in 1954. There were two drive-ins, the Sooner south of town and the Tri-State to the north, and three walk-ins, the Coleman, the Ottawa, and the Miami. The Sooner would close that year after a flood, promising to reopen but never doing so. The Ottawa would close the next year. The Miami would close in 1958. It would reopen for a few weeks in 1961.

Five Miami theater ads, June 11, 1954

Obviously, television was the culprit. As more and more Miami residences obtained the one-eyed monsters, theaters felt the pinch. By the time I came along in the 60’s, it was the Coleman and the former Tri-State, renamed the Sooner early in the decade.

The Tri-State’s site is covered by a Wal-Mart. But the Coleman lives on, in what is one of the greatest historical renovations ever done. The theater where I watched Mary Poppins, The Monkey’s Uncle, and Bonnie and Clyde (thanks, brother Bill, for exposing me to some great edgy entertainment, and making me the coolest kid in the third grade) is much more beautiful now than it was then. The decrepit balcony had already been closed off by the time I was attending there.

And of course, Miami has a modern multi-screen cineplex. So movie theaters have run continuously here since 1914. That’s impressive, because many communities Miami’s size have stopped supporting them.

George Mayer and Miami Stone

Interesting Local Characters, Miami Businesses

George Mayer was a self-made man. He was born in Rhineland, Missouri in 1915. He was fascinated with airplanes, and in the freewheeling days before FAA regulation, he was able to teach himself to fly. He was good at it, too, good enough to be hired as an instructor in 1941 at the Spartan School of Aviation. Mayer moved to Miami and would soon make a huge impact on not only the business community, but in the looks of structures in Miami and all over the US.

As Mayer would fly around, he was amazed at the mountains of chat all over Ottawa county. What potential for material there!

When the US entered WWII, Mayer enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He earned a Distinguished Flying Cross in the Pacific theater.

In 1949, Mayer opened up a paint and wallpaper store in Miami. One day, while mixing paint, he had an epiphany: wouldn’t a custom colored building stone be quite a popular item? He set up some molds in his garage and started experimenting.

His first thought was towards the discarded chat left over from the mining industry. Virtually unlimited, and almost free. But it wasn’t to be. He couldn’t make strong enough blocks with the chat. The lead it contained would fortunately never be an issue with his new product.

You see, Mayer knew the biggest issue with manufactured stone: porosity. If water could get inside it and freeze, it would break. So Mayer strove for a ridiculously high 5,000 PSI product which would be impervious to water. And they were! Mayer’s quality control include a cycle test, where the stones were soaked in water for 24 hours, then frozen at -12 Fahrenheit for 24 hours, then thawed for 24 hours. This cycle continued for nine months.

If a stone could survive that, mere weather conditions would be a snap to overcome. Sure enough, not even a surface deterioration could be found by independent laboratories.

Miami News-Record article on George mayer and Miami Stone, 1955

He soon rented a building on the Truck Route to refine his concept. By 1955, Mayer had perfected his formula, had purchased a manufacturing site between the curves north of town, and was offering Miami Stone for sale. One of the first buildings in Miami to use it was the new dental clinic on 216 W Central. The first News-Record ad placed by Miami Stone in December, 1955 paid tribute to the new office.

Miami Stone pays homage to one of its first clients, Dr. Leon Lewis’s new office at 216 W Central. December 14, 1955

216 W Central in 2016, the Miami Stone is still in perfect shape

Besides being an inexpensive, durable, attractive building material, it had even more cachet: it looked Mid-Century Modern, the building style that was just beginning to take off across the country. Thus, Miami Stone was an instant success.

To say that Miami Stone was a brilliant design would be quite an understatement. Besides being as durable as can be imagined, its modular design leads to imaginative use. The blocks ranged in size from one to four and a half inches thick (eventually they maxed out at 3 1/2″). The sizes jumped by 1/2 inch, so use a 1/2″ mortar joint and you can create patterns with different block thicknesses.

Miami Stone yearbook ad, 1963

Miami Stone plant worker, date unknown

Miami Stone flyer, early 60’s

Miami Stone flyer, interior. Click to enlarge.

Miami Stone flyer, back cover

But Mayer didn’t stop there. He marketed Miami Stone as a franchise, and soon had locations all over the US making his stones.

By 1968, the MCM look was starting to slow down, and so was demand for the sleek building blocks. Unfazed, Mayer created another stone: the Rus-Tique Brik.

It looked like a brick, but was actually more durable, being manufactured to the same standards as Miami Stone. Mayer’s market from the get-go was franchises for this product. An entrepreneur could have a Rus-Tique facility up and running for $500,000. That’s 1/10 the cost of a clay brickmaking facility!

Rustique brick, currently available from a company in Slovakia

The response to Rus-Tique was even greater, and soon facilities were open in Europe and Australia.

In 1975, Mayer invented the Queen Air, a vented fireplace that kept the heat in the room, instead of sending it up the chimney. In 1979, he formed George Mayer Manufacturing Inc. to begin manufacturing them.  The Queen Air fireplace was a success, but not as big a success as the fireplace insert which could turn any fireplace into an efficient source of house heat. The insert was a monster hit, spawning many copycats, but most folks insisted on the original Queen Air.

Miami Stone’s longtime location, seen in the present day

By 1993, Mayer was looking to retire. He sold his businesses to outside interests. Sadly, they lacked his genius. Within five years, Miami Stone and Queen Air had vanished, and most Rustique franchises as well. But some have held on, and Mayer’s legacy continues.

His legacy also continues in dozens of structures all over Miami, and thousands more across the nation, which feature Miami Stone. And as the Mid Century Modern look has proven to be timeless, people are proudly leaving their 50-year-old and older Miami Stone installations right where they are.

George Mayer, who passed in 1998, would be happy, I’m sure.

The Anti-Horse Thief Association

Everything Else

In 1914, cars were a rarity. The well-to-do had them, most everyone else had horses. The horse was the sole means of transportation, and to lose it to a thief would mean great inconvenience. The police did what they could do, but many thieves went unapprehended. Thus, in 1914, a vigilante group formed in Miami called the Anti-Horse Thief Association. Incidentally, the first one was formed around 1859 in Ft. Scott, Kansas.

It was a secret society, for good reason: in addition to catching thieves and turning them over to the authorities, they would sometimes dispense their own form of justice, which would typically involve a rope in a tree. Keeping the membership secret would discourage retaliation from the thieves’ friends and family. Plus, if the thieves didn’t know who the members were, they wouldn’t avoid them.

Call for an anti-thief organization to stop thefts of mining equipment, January 16, 1927

As the years went by, the group performed fewer lynchings and became less secret. A May 1930 article in the News-Record gives minutes from a group meeting in Vinita where officers were elected and named. They would post signs on properties advertising rewards of 25 to 50 dollars for the arrest and conviction of thieves of any type of property. By 1947, the national group had changed their name to the Anti-Thief Association.

By the 50’s, the group had faded away nationwide. There are still scattered branches, but they have become social clubs, not vigilante groups. Nowadays, we have Neighborhood Watch programs to keep an eye out for wrongdoers. But step back to Miami’s early years, and there was a similar organization with a lot more teeth.

 

Mrs. Cottam’s First Grade Class, 1965

Everything Else

This set of photos rates its own post, not because of the class picture (which is amazing, IMHO), but because of the bonus on the back: the names of the students! Unfortunately, one name is missing: the girl between Cindy Tam and Kim Kissee. It’s Jamie Swank.

Mrs. Cottam’s first grade class, Nichols Elementary, 1965-66. Click to enlarge

Mrs. Cottam’s first grade class, Nichols Elementary, 1965-66, names of students. Click to enlarge.

Mushroom Horticulture, Circa 1932

Interesting Local Characters, Miami Businesses

Miami currently has a thriving mushroom business, good news in times where any type of local manufacturing is becoming scarce in the US. But make no mistake: it’s not the first in the area to raise edible fungi.

Dick Wills’ Cardin mushroom farm, 1932

A grandson of Miami pioneer J.F. Robinson, Dick Wills envisioned a use for the inactive Anna Beaver mine in Cardin. Grow mushrooms! The temperature was perfect, the lack of light was perfect, and the humidity was just right.

Mushrooms weren’t Wills’ first choice. He tried growing various vegetables and flowers under artificial lighting first. He actually achieved some success with, strangely, tulips and rhubarb. But then he tried his hand at mushrooms, and the mine’s fate was set.

Popular Science article from May, 1933, telling about Dick Wills and his mine

Temperatures varied by two degrees year round in the mine. The humidity likewise remained fairly constant in certain areas. And there was already an elevator system in place, ready to go.

So Wills shipped in ten traincars full of compost material and went to work. Wills went with the dryer areas of the mine, since it was easier to add than remove moisture from the air. He strategically covered and uncovered test holes in the ceiling to provide just the right amount of ventilation.

Dick Wills wants horse manure! 1932

After much trial and error, he got the knack of setting out molded manure as a growing base and replacing it just as its nutrients were depleted. He hired a work force that eventually reached twenty, and was soon shipping 450 lbs. of top quality mushrooms a day to Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Chicago.

Wills paid royalties to the Indian owners, just like the miners.

Dyer Bros. Grocery sells Dick Wills mushrooms, 1932

The last mention of Wills and his trade was made in the News-Record in April of 1934, when he spoke to a local businessmen’s group about mushroom farming. After that, the Wills name is only mentioned in the sense of his wife and social events. According to a recalled conversation by a local Miamian, he had to stop his operation because of a problem that they don’t have in Washington D.C.: a lack of horse manure.

The equine by-product provided the perfect base for growing, but Wills couldn’t get it in sufficient quantity to stay afloat. He attempted to create a contract with the army base at Ft. Sill, where horses were still being used for military purposes, but was unable to make it happen. Thus, he shut things down.

J-M Farms should have a photo of this fungal pioneer hanging in their office.

The Year Without a Fair

News Events

1957 was a wetter-than-normal year. The abundance of moisture contributed to a virulent outbreak of a scourge which caused half of Ottawa county to be quarantined, and which also caused the cancellation of the 1957 county fair.

Anthrax outbreak in Welch, July 22, 1957

The first indicator of trouble was an outbreak in Welch.

No anthrax in Ottawa county, says county agent. July 25, 1957

Local farmers were justifiably concerned, but the county agent assured them that “all is well!” just like the ROTC officer in Animal House. However, cases soon started appearing in western Ottawa county, and on August 2, this story was across the front page:

Anthrax quarantine in effect, August 2, 1957. Click to enlarge.

Dairy farmers were also affected by the quarantine.

Milk trucks stopped during 1957 anthrax quarantine. August 4.

The quarantine area missed most of Miami itself, but it did get as close as the fairgrounds. Therefore, a decision was made to cancel the fair and horse races.

1957 Ottawa county fair canceled due to anthrax quarantine

As the article points out, this was the only non-war cancellation of the event since it began in 1916.

By mid September, the epidemic had played itself out. About 1,000 head of livestock were lost in Craig, Mayes, and Ottawa counties. Most quarantines were lifted by September 17, although some farms remained isolated for several more weeks until every trace of infection was gone.

Thus ended a year made sadly unforgettable by those who remember it. And when terrorists attempted to release anthrax spores in 2001, some terrible memories must have been rekindled.

OK Plumbing: Getting There by Horse or by Motor

Miami Businesses

In 1912, Miami was nineteen years old. Main Street had recently begun to be paved, but other streets in town were dirt that turned to pure mud in a rain. Oklahoma, the state, had been in existence for five years. And OK Plumbing Company was born.

OK Plumbing wagon, circa 1912, with Lisle Torbert Sr.

Lisle Torbert and his father, William, set up shop at East Central, close to what would be known as the Cardin Building, Security Bank’s long-time home. They had a store with a section where the newest plumbing fixtures were displayed.

In 1913, two spinsters were scandalized by the appearance of one of those new-fangled flush toilets, right there for the whole world to see! When Torbert’s new wife refused to remove the offending fixture, the ladies took great pains to stay on the opposite side of the street.

In the 1919 city guide, OK Plumbing is listed at 104 North Main.

OK Plumbing display window, 1924

By 1927, they had moved to their location remembered by Miami baby boomers: 34 North Main. That address was shared by the Canteen, a news shop/snack bar/delivery service/bus station. They stayed there for the rest of their existence.

By 1929, OK Plumbing was well-enough established to land the job of plumbing the five story building being built for First National Bank. With a Depression on, it was welcome work. That winter, temperatures dropped to -25, but the plumbing held up during construction, and is still working fine. Indeed, buildings all over Miami have OK Plumbing-supplied pipes and fixtures.

Around 1964, Lisle Torbert Sr. passed away, and Junior took over. Lisle senior was active in the local Lions Club, and Lisle junior kept up the tradition. Both ended up 50+ year members, and Lisle senior’s wife managed the Lions Eye Bank for many years.

Mary Lee Torbert, Lisle senior’s granddaughter,  at North Main, next to the sign for Lion Torbert Park, late 50’s

The Torbert family was honored by the Lions when the park at 1802 NE E was dedicated in their honor in June, 1957. The park was actually named for Lisle senior. The park is still there, by the way.

OK Plumbing stayed at it until the late 90’s, when Lisle decided to retire. But it had an amazing run, beginning with a horse-drawn wagon, and ending close to the 21st century.

Nott’s Grocery

Miami Businesses

In 1919, 604 N Main was evidently a dwelling. It’s listed in the city guide as being occupied by S Lee Hall, with a designation of R. I believe that stood for Renter, there was also an O used which I believe stood for Owner.

Golden Rule Grocery robbed, 1927

In the 1925 guide, there was a Golden Rule Grocery listed there. My News-Record access goes back to 1927. This article about the Golden Rule robbery was from October 3, 1927.

Young J.W. Nott hit by a car and injured, September 4, 1927

The first mention of Nott’s Grocery I have located was in a newspaper report dated September 4, 1927, about a 17-month-old J.W. Nott being hit by a car in front of 310 S Main, the location of a home AND a store owned by J.B. Nott. The 1925 city guide shows that address was a residence only for John Nott, his occupation listed as “dray.” There are no Notts in the 1919 city guide.

The Golden Rule wasn’t mentioned in the paper after 1927, except for a disputed tax in 1928 which often happened after a business closed.

In January, 1928, a two-room apartment was listed for rent at 301 S Main in the name of Nott Grocery.

April 5, 1929, first mention of Nott’s Grocery at 604 S Main

On April 5, 1929, the first printed ad appeared in the paper giving Nott’s Grocery an address of 604 S Main.

Nott’s 41st year in a 1967 ad

Then, sealing the deal, I found a mention of Nott’s celebrating their 41st year in a 1967 ad.

So there you have it. Nott’s Grocery was founded in 1926, at 310 S Main. When the Golden Rule Grocery closed, they moved three blocks south to 604.

Miami News-Record Celebrates Miami’s 50th

Miami Businesses

On May 6, 1941, the News-Record presented a nice three-page summary of Miami’s history. Here they are for your viewing pleasure, click on each image to open it full-sized in a new window.

Miami Golden Jubilee, Page 1

Miami Golden Jubilee, Page 2

History is history, and some of it is unpleasant. The page above gives some rare published evidence of Miami’s sundown policy, and the 1941 article makes it pretty obvious that it was still in effect at that time.

Miami Golden Jubilee, Page 3

Bonnie and Clyde Invade Miami

Interesting Local Characters

Miami was no stranger to armed holdups in the 30’s. The newspaper has lots of accounts of grocery stores and gas stations being robbed at gunpoint during that decade. But one notorious outlaw caused havoc in Miami and more in nearby Commerce on a Friday in 1934.

Cyde Barrow and Pretty Boy Floyd involved in Joplin killings, April 19, 1933

The article above gives an account of 1933 killings of police officers in Springfield and Joplin, and Clyde Barrow’s involvement. Joplin was just 30 miles up Route 66 from Miami.

Clyde Barrow’s car found near Miami, December 7, 1933

According to gang member W.D. Jones, Camp Welcome, south of the fairgrounds, was a frequent stopping place. In December, 1933, hunters discovered a bullet-ridden car close to the Neosho River northwest of town which was identified as Barrow’s. A manhunt turned up empty, he got wind of the search and just managed to escape.

Trap set for Clyde Barrow in NE Oklahoma, April 2, 1934

On April 1, 1934, Barrow and his gang shot and killed two Texas state troopers near Grapevine, and headed to Miami. The article above tells how local cops got a tip saying that they were headed up here, and had a trap set. Evidently, they were confident that Barrow didn’t read the newspaper.

April 5, 1934 front page of the Miami News-Record detailing manhunt for Clyde Barrow. Click to enlarge.

On April 5, Barrow showed up, and the trap was sprung. Barrow took off like a rocket in his V8-powered sedan, but got stuck in the mud in Commerce. A gun battle ensued, and constable Cal Campbell was killed. Percy Boyd, Commerce police chief, was taken hostage and later released unharmed.

This article in the Miami News-Record recalls how a Commerce family witnessed the shooting, and how a young son found bullet casings and silverware with “BP” engraved on them after the fact. Here’s another good source of information, and proof that tripod.com sites still survive.

Bonnie and Clyde killed, May 23, 1934. Click to enlarge.

On May 23, 1934, the law caught up with Bonnie and Clyde in Louisiana. Thus ended the lives of two cold-blooded killers who had somehow become cult heroes.

In 1967, my brother took me to see Bonnie and Clyde at the Coleman. I was one of the coolest kids in class, one of a few who managed to see the adult-oriented film (thanks, Bill!). I am impressed that Miami had such a connection to the gun-toting duo, even though I was unaware of it at the time.

Miami district judge J.J. Smith provided details of Bonnie and Clyde’s Louisiana ambush for the 1967 film. Article dated May 12, 1968. Click to enlarge.

Many folks in Miami had personal remembrances of Bonnie and Clyde when the movie came out, but none more so than district judge and Miami resident J.J. Smith, who served as the defense attorney for Henry Methvin, the man tried and convicted for killing the Commerce constable. Incidentally, Methvin and W.D. Jones provided the inspiration for C.W. Moss in the movie.

So the next time you think about Bonnie and Clyde, remember that they had more than one brush with Miami and the nearby area.