Thursday, September 29, 2005

Casa Bonita
21st & Sheridan
Closing Sept. 30, 2005

Update: 10/03/05 According to this KTUL article, they are renaming Casa Bonita to Casa Viva. Everything is to be left the same as it was before, down to the little flags on your table to call for service. It's said that the only change besides the name is that the food will be better. We'll see.

When I heard about Casa Bonita closing this Friday, I figured I'd head over there and take some final shots. Tulsa's Casa Bonita and its sister restaurant, Crystal's Pizza were absolutely fantastic places to go in their day. Both had huge video arcades that I frequented during the golden age of video games (1980-1983). Although I've never been a fan of the food at Casa Bonita (except the sopapillas), I've always loved the atmosphere. It's like a Mexican Disneyland, with enormously high ceilings, faux caves, cliffs, water features and tons of nooks and crannys to discover. I figured they'd let me shoot some pics if I didn't use a flash. However, when I showed up at around 6:30pm, there were about 200 people there in line to eat. They were literally lined up all the way around to the rear of the building. Hmmm...maybe I won't get any new interior shots before they close down. After all, this is a hobby, not a job. Hopefully, someone else will post up some interior shots. Here's my exterior shots, including the mob of people that showed up to eat the night before it closes.

I'll never be able to think about Casa Bonita without hearing Eric Cartman's voice in my head..."Casa Bonita, Casa Bonita! Food and fun in a festive atmosphere, Casa Bonita!" [.wav] from the South Park season 7 episode, Casa Bonita. I do realize they were referring to the Denver Casa Bonita...but hey, there's only two in the world.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Starship Records and Tapes
11th and Delaware

I'm sad to hear that due to a land grab by Tulsa University, Starship Records and Tapes at 11th and Delaware have been evicted and will be moving to 12th and Lewis. TU has plans for a grand entrance to the campus there at the intersection of 11th and Delaware and they don't include these two tiny blue and yellow cottages. There's detailed information on the move in a recent Urban Tulsa article. Some fantastic background history and pics were posted at Tulsa TV Memories. Starship's location has always been a part of their identity. Since I moved to Tulsa in May of 1980, I've heard the phrase "Starship Records and Tapes at 11th and Delaware" on numerous radio spots. I loved the Christmas pleas for your money (just put it on the credit card!). I always shopped here for those hard to find albums from Thin Lizzy, Frank Zappa and Pat Travers Band (man, I wish PT would come back and play T-town). I also purchased most of my concert tickets from them during the '80s. I'm sorry to see yet another Tulsa landmark targeted for demolition.

I only have a handful of external pics of the buildings here. The murals on the fronts used to be very they're faded to the point that you can barely read them. I meant to get interior shots, assuming they'd let me take photos inside...but I doubt I'll make it back over there before they close. I'm sure by now it looks like a garage sale (oh, already did!! ;-)

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Eastland Mall
14002 East 21st Street
Tulsa, OK

The first time I saw Tulsa's Eastland Mall in 1981, it was a sprawling abandoned building left to rot on the NE edge of Tulsa. A friend and I crawled through a cut in the tall cyclone fence that surrounded the property. He had been here before, and wanted to show me the inside of this monstrosity. I was completely taken aback by the size of this structure, and the fact that it had never been completed. It was caverous and concrete. No detail work had been started, so it felt like it could almost have been carved out of stone. Aside from a little grafitti, there was little that could be vandalized. We wandered for nearly an hour before getting spooked and heading out.

It would be 10 years before I saw Eastland Mall again. By then, it had been built out into a modern, albeit small mall with all of the amenities of Woodland Hills or Promenade. Apparently, during the late-80s, the mall had been completed and quickly filled with chain stores taking advantage of the traffic driven by the anchors of Sears, Dillards, Penney's and Service Merchandise. In addition, a new Target and Toys R Us was built across the street. The first time I walked into the completed mall, I marveled at the huge tents similar to the ones used at Denver's airport. A huge waterfall fell near the escalators going down to the food court. They had really done a fantastic job creating an open environment with a bit of personality.

This was the image that I still had in my head when I purchased a home last summer less than 2 miles down the road from the mall. I should have done much more research into the area that I was moving near. I had no idea that things had changed so drastically. Due to the new growth in Tulsa continuing towards the south, east Tulsa has seen an influx of lower income families. These are typically hard-working people who usually avoid higher-priced malls for cheaper discount stores. Like dominos, one by one the stores began to close. By 2001, when JC Penney closed, even many of the local businesses that had moved in to fill the empty spaces had gone out of business as well.

What's left of Eastland mall is a decently well maintained building of empty storefronts. There are two remaining anchor stores. Dillards looks like a typical mall Dillard's from the outside. Walking inside, you quickly realize that this isn't the case. There are absolutely no store displays. Nothing on the walls, no mannequins or tables displaying the latest fashions. There's no jewelry section or cosmetic counters with lab-coated women behind them. Instead, there are rows and rows of racks for as far as you can see. This is possibly the only Dillards surplus store in the US. Near the mall entrance, they have a floor full of surplus furniture for sale. The other anchor is a Mervyn's. This one is the nicest I've seen. It's two floors and fully loaded like the department stores of the past, with full linen and housewares sections. Unfortunately, due to cost-saving measures just announced last week, they will be closing all 3 Tulsa Mervyn's including this one at Eastland. It will no doubt be a severe blow that the mall will unlikely overcome.

At any given point of the day, a handful of cars can be spotted outside of this mall. Most likely they are there for Eastland Cinema, a former big-chain 6 screen theater. Now independently owned, they advertise themselves as the lowest price first-run movie theater in Tulsa. A few other odd draws like Mickey's, a 30-lane bowling center with food, laser tag and billards attract a small local group. Somehow, Simon Properties, the owners of all three major Tulsa malls, managed to get Bath and Body Works to open a new store in Eastland during 2004. They have big banners on the corners of the mall advertising that B&BW; is now open in Eastland. I sense that there must have been some arm-twisting going on between the owners of B&BW; and Simon.

East Tulsa has recently seen a surge in activity. Complete renovations and new construction have occurred all along 31st St, and very high-end housing has been going up like crazy in the Battle Creek area near 145th and 41st. However, I seriously doubt that the yuppies moving into these areas will be doing much shopping anywhere except Woodland Hills or Utica Square. The easy access to Hwy-51 makes it much easier for people to use this part of town as a bedroom community, with most work and shopping done further away from home.

Someday, they'll hopefully come up with a suitable alternate use for Eastland Mall. In the meantime, I will continue to anxiously watch and wait for what happens to this area that I so unwittingly bought into.

For those who forgot that the picture up top is the link to the photo set, here's another link.