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.

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.

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

There are those who give an opening date of 1919 for Nott’s Grocery. Following is what I have found documented in print.

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.

I recently gained access to newspaperarchive.com, which allowed me to go as far back as 1926. Note this death notice:

Frank Nott dies at son John’s home and business site, February 1926

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

This newspaper report is 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. Note that other articles give 301 as Nott’s address, this is a typo. 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. John Nott, former dray, founded Nott’s Grocery in 1926, at 301 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

L.K. Newell: Business Giant

Interesting Local Characters, Miami Businesses

L.K. Newell apparently moved to Miami in or shortly before 1954.

Miami Products, Inc. opens in June, 1954

His first mention in the News-Record is as the founder of Miami Products, Inc., which started up in June, 1954.

July 1, 1960: Crane buys Miami Products

In June, 1960, Newell sold Miami Products to Crane Company. But he wouldn’t rest on his laurels, he immediately went to work starting another company, this one would manufacture metal jerry cans for fuel, as well as other metal containers for water.

U.S. Metal Container plant under construction, would open in November, 1960.

The webmaster and a U.S. Metal Container truck, circa 1967

This company would evolve over the years. By the 80’s, it was making mainly plastic gasoline containers. In 1992, it changed its name to Blitz. In fact, there are Blitz gas cans all over the world. But no new ones since 2012. People would pour gas on fires from Blitz cans, get badly burned, then sue the company. Four lawyers were primarily responsible for the lawsuits. Blitz would usually win, but at a great financial cost. Finally, in 2012, unable to secure liability insurance, they closed their doors.

By 1967, L.K. Newell was finally starting to slow down. He purchased a Streamline motor home. But he noticed a few design flaws on it, and pointed them out to the president of the company. The reaction? “If you’re so damned smart, why don’t you buy the motorhome operation from me?”

Newell Coach announced, September 2, 1967

Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to the actual announcement of Newell Coach on September 2, 1967. But the company was a success out of the gate, and in 1973 Newell, his health failing, sold out to Karl Blade and some other partners. In 1979, Blade bought the business outright, and it continues to be successful today, the legacy of a man by the name of Newell who had a knack for starting successful companies.

Miami’s Drive-In Theaters

Miami Businesses

In 1933, the first “park in” theater opened in Camden, NJ. Its owner, Richard Hollingshead, obtained a patent on the concept. In 1949, his patent was overturned, and that year, drive-in theaters started popping up all over the US. Coincidentally, that was the year that the Tri-State opened two miles north of downtown Miami on Route 66.

Tri-State Drive In announced, January 30, 1949

Construction of the Tri-State drive in, February 27, 1949

They were looking to open in March or April, but that was a bit optimistic.

Tri-State opens, June 30, 1949

Full page newspaper ad celebrating the opening of the Tri-State, June 30, 1949. Click to enlarge.

The above ad gives folks some details about how the drive-in theater works, since many if not most hadn’t seen one yet.

Tri-State Drive In Theater, 1950’s

Sometime after the great flood of 1951, possibly in 1953, another drive-in theater opened a mile south of town, on 66. It was called the Sooner.

Ad mentioning the Sooner drive-in, December 31, 1953. The first mention I could find in the News-Record

Sooner announces temporary closing to resurface its lot, June 18, 1954

The Sooner’s location made them vulnerable to flooding. The article above announced a temporary closing due to flood damage. However, no further advertisements appeared in the News-Record for the Sooner south of town. On January 2, 1955, it was mentioned in an ad as one of the five Miami theaters. But this was the last mention of the original Sooner.

The former Tri-State theater now known as the Sooner, October 4, 1965

At some point between 1961 and 1965, the Tri-State was renamed to the Sooner. According to historian Fredas Cook, it was to take advantage of the much nicer Sooner sign formerly used south of town. Fredas also points out that the original Sooner was a traffic hazard due to its screen facing the highway, that may have contributed to its being closed shortly after opening.

Now, of course, the Tri-State/Sooner is long gone, a Wal Mart sits in its place. But Miami residents can visit the Admiral Twin in Tulsa or the 112 in Fayetteville for a genuine drive-in theater experience within a reasonable drive.

Ed Millner and His Stores

Interesting Local Characters, Miami Businesses

17-21 North Main looked dramatically different in the 1920’s. There were two distinct buildings occupying that stretch. Millner-Fribley sat at 19-21 N Main at the time of this photo.

19-21 N Main about 1920

In 1934, Ed Millner became sole owner of Millner-Fribley, in business since 1902.

Millner-Fribley Ad, 1934. Click to Expand

1946 News-Record Ad Giving the History of Millner Hardware

1957 News-Record Article Telling the History of Ed Millner

In 1947, Ed Millner Hardware became Millner-Berkey. The original buildings were demolished, and the new two-story stretching from 17 to 21 North Main was constructed. Here’s a News-Record article telling the details about the August 15 opening.

A year later, tragedy struck. A massive fire consumed the building, leaving a burnt-out shell.

August 19 Article from the News-Record Detailing the Fire

August 18, 1948 Fire at Millner-Berkey

August 18, 1948 Fire at Millner-Berkey

The Burnt-Out Millner-Berkey Building in 1948

Less than a month later, on September 18, 1948, Millner-Berkey reopened at 14-16 South Main. Not a bad recovery, huh?

In January 1949, Walter Schmidt was selected to begin rebuilding the store.

On Friday, August 19, the brand new building had its grand opening.

 

Millner-Berkey reopens at 19 N Main.

The long history of Ed Millner’s stores came to a close on January 27, 1966, when it was announced that Millner-Berkey had been purchased by the Belk’s corporation.

The Belk’s in Miami is gone, but the chain continues to thrive, as opposed to so many others in the post-Wal Mart era.

When Manufacturing Was King

Miami Businesses

An early 60’s trade show featuring NEO manufacturers Newman Industries, Burlington Manufacturing, Corbus Springs, Dumas Manufacturing, and Safe Anchor Co.

Once upon a time in the early 70’s, an American ping pong player got on the wrong bus. He found himself surrounded by Red Chinese players. He was pretty shook up, but one Chinese player, who spoke a little English, reached out to him and made him feel welcome. This eventually led to Richard Nixon visiting China, and ultimately to American manufacturing nearly dying, as China became the maker of the world’s goods.

Once upon a time, Miami and surrounding communities had dozens of manufacturing facilities. We made everything from boats to gun holsters, from pottery to clothing, from giant tires to mattresses.

George Newman, boat manufacturer, gets an award

Newman Industries began making boats in Commerce in 1959. By 1968 they were making 13 different models of fiberglass boats. That year, they were manufacturing in North Miami and were expanding. They continued as an independent company until 1986, when they were purchased by Bayliner.

Burlington Manufacturing ad, 1954

In 1952, clothing manufacturer Burlington opened up a facility in Miami. They started out at 22 S Main, but moved to 226 N main in 1959. By 1968, they were still going strong. The Miami facility closed sometime after 1969, and the company itself went bankrupt in 2001.

Dumas Manufacturing ramps up production in 1946

Dumas Manufacturing started up about 1929, making a variety of stuff like toy hoops for kids to roll around with a guiding stick, boat seat cushion/life preservers, lawn mower guards, dog mats, and other items. W.L. Dumas also purchased the Miami Tin Shop in 1919. He employed a bunch of Miami and local residents over the years. Dumas Manufacturing was still in business as of 1968.

1957 article about the Safe-Anchor Co. of Quapaw

In 1955, Joe Smith of Quapaw began making anchors which he invented, and marketed as Safe-Anchors. I was unable to find anything on the company on the internet, or any mention of them after 1961 in the News-Record. But two years after opening up shop, they had shipped anchors to all 48 states and to Canada.

At presstime, there is still manufacturing in Miami, but a tiny fraction of what was once here. Newell Coach in Commerce is a bright spot, so is ThermoFisher Scientific. But the days of families being supported by the manufacturing of a wide variety of products are sadly over. Things are hopping in China, though. :-/