Look at a photo long enough, and details that first escape one’s attention come into focus. And in the case of a panoramic photo taken on April 22, 1913, the photo also tells more than just one story.
The photo, kept sealed for 100 years in the Century Chest at First Lutheran Church, was not seen by the public until it was put on display earlier this year by the Oklahoma Historical Society.
The photo was taken at NW 4 and Broadway on the rooftop of The Oklahoman’s then three-year-old home (the newspaper moved to Britton Road and Broadway Extension in 1991 and the building at NW 4 and Broadway is now home to the YMCA of Oklahoma City).
The photo was taken by Fred Stone, who was capturing images of Oklahoma before and after the 1889 Land Run. He claimed to have been the first photographer in Oklahoma City to use a special panoramic camera, and boasted his firm once had a photo of every major commercial building in the city. In those early days before and after statehood, Stone — whose firm was known as “That Man Stone” — promoted himself as the official photographer for The Oklahoman.
The photo captures an Oklahoma City that has successfully secured its status as the state Capitol, built a thriving industrial district in what is now Bricktown, and boasts upscale hotels including the Skirvin Hotel (built in 1911) and the Huckins Hotel (built in 1908).
Oklahoma City was experiencing an important transition in 1913. Only a few traces remained of the territorial town of 10,000 that had popped up overnight on April 22, 1889. A handful of rundown, Land Run-era homes can be seen along what is now Robert S. Kerr Avenue. Other such homes had already disappeared during a building boom that transpired between 1908 and 1912 that included construction of the Huckins and Skirvin hotels, The Oklahoman, and the Hales, Baum and Colcord buildings.
The population of Oklahoma City, which still stood at 10,000 in 1900, jumped to 61,000 in the 1910 census. The city was transitioning into the modern age. Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co. was incorporated in 1902, and its early day home a block south of the Skirvin on Broadway was showcased with a seven-story sign capped with a large globe with the words “light and power.” Telephone and electric poles are scattered along every street.
Advertisements are painted on the sides of buildings throughout downtown. Carnation Milk signs are painted on at least three buildings, while other advertisements promote cigars, billiard halls, clothing stores and various downtown merchants.
Downtown was bustling on the day the photo was taken, with children riding bicycles across Broadway, people visiting in front of cafes and hotels (including a gathering on the second floor balcony of the Skirvin facing Broadway). On a side street west of Broadway, a lone man strolls past a couple of benches outside the Hadley Inn and an art supply store.
A few cars can be seen on roads that are still controlled by horse-drawn carriages. Streetcars are seen rolling along Broadway past the Skirvin.
Much of the downtown shown in the 1913 photo is just a memory now. The grandiose Oklahoma County Courthouse’s spire can be seen in the skyline — the building was torn down by developers in 1950 after years of neglect. Hundreds of structures, including the Hales and Baum buildings, survived for decades and were still in good shape when they were torn down by the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority in the 1970s.
One area, however, survived largely intact — Bricktown. The district has a different appearance in this photo, largely because the BNSF railway tracks, now on a raised viaduct, were at ground level in 1913. The warehouse district overlapped east and west sides of the tracks, though only the east side survived, largely due to the separation from the rest of downtown created by the viaduct.
Oklahoma City would encounter tough times after 1913, including multiple recessions, World War I, and political battles over corruption at city hall and the influence of gamblers and bordello operators. But more boom times were ahead — and the last traces of territorial town disappeared soon after “That Man Stone” printed his panoramic photo and packed it in a time capsule that today tells hundreds of great stories of the city’s past.