New Sonic on historic corner could open as early as October

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Multiple angles of the pile of debris just days after the demolition began.
Multiple angles of the pile of debris just days after the demolition began.

The old Sapulpa Fire Station No. 2 building and the Taco Mayo were leveled by the weekend and by midweek most of the remains hauled away. The historic lot on the southwest corner of Mission and Dewey and the one immediate west are being prepared for construction of a new Sonic Drive-In restaurant.

Larkin Bookkeeping and Tax Service last occupied the corner across from Sapulpa High School. Taco Mayo has been closed for months. Larkin has moved across Dewey further west to what was formerly the Humpty Pharmacy at 1001 E. Dewey.

Larkin purchased and utilized the former Fire Station No. 2 building in 1998 after it became city surplus. The two-bay station actually had changed in appearance from when it first became a fire station. Sapulpa’s first fire department was housed in the old Sapulpa City Hall on Dewey Street. A subsequent station, probably the first stand-alone station, says long-time resident J.E. Williams, was at 123 E. Hobson Ave. where the Creek County Ambulance Service is currently housed.

The original Fire Station on the corner of Dewey and Mission. (Photo courtesy Sapulpa Historical Society)
The original Fire Station on the corner of Dewey and Mission. (Photo courtesy Sapulpa Historical Society)

The Sapulpa Fire Department was founded in 1898 and was originally an all-volunteer department. In 1907 the City of Sapulpa hired the first paid professional firefighter and appointed the first fire chief in 1908.

But the history of the corner including the station’s flag pole is at least tri-fold. It was home of Fire Station No. 2 until the new Central Station was completed just west at 800 E. Dewey. Station 2 is now at 911 N. 9th St. (on the Highway 97 hill); Station 3 is at 10 E. Murphy (South Heights); and Station 4 is at 7400 New Sapulpa Road (Highway 66).

The Sapulpan Drive-In
The Sapulpan Drive-In

Besides the fire station, Larkin Bookkeeping, and Taco Mayo, these lots have been home to a small park, a kid’s play area and, interestingly, the Sapulpan Drive-In. The community’s first free-standing car wash was here. (Not the one still operating adjacent to Taco Mayo property).

The old flag pole is still standing and Sonic management says it will become part of the design in its new layout which will be “uniquely Sapulpa.” Besides the island speaker curb service, the new Sonic will feature a drive-through window service.

The speed of the demolition of the buildings and the clearing of the lots are precursors to the pace of construction. Local manager Colby Hopper said this week that the new restaurant is expected to be completed and open for business in October, That’s this year.

“We’re very excited about re-locating to that corner,” Hopper said. “We will still be on historic Route 66,” right across from the high school, highly visible and with more access.

Sonic currently is on the corner of Dewey and Maple east of the old Washington School building (Sapulpa School’s Administration Offices). Ironically, and in the scheme of things, this same Sonic location was once home to another popular drive-in, “The Big Dipper.” It, the Sapulpan, Dairy Queen, a root beer stand and others were among popular pit stops for teens of the 50s, 60s, 70s “draggin’ the main” cruise route from The Beacon Drive-in through town to Cornwells’ and back again.

Hopper, who started to work for Sonic in the summer of 2012 and soon became its general manager, said he believes the community also will be excited about the new restaurant as the local drive-in tradition continues. Sonic Corporation owns the store.

historic-tree-google-maps
This Google Street View screenshot shows the tree still standing in November 2007, just a month before it would succumb to a terrible ice storm.

Roots to an even deeper history have to do with a 100-year-old Cedar that served as “the Community Christmas Tree” for more than 60 years. The tree fulfilled a dream and honored the legacy of a pioneer settler.

The tree was planted in 1932 as a bequest of John F. Egan, one of the town’s founders and first merchants. He had been granted a license to do business in Indian Territory and came to the area in 1892.

Egan opened one of Sapulpa’s first general stores, served as postmaster and was instrumental in the actual founding of the town as well as what would become the Sapulpa School District. He remained a civic, city and school leader the remainder of his life.

While establishing a home for his family after settling here, Egan found and pulled up a cedar sapling from the Arkansas River bottom near Keystone. By the late 1920s the tree had grown to maturity in the yard on South Poplar. It was also at that time in 1927 that the Kiwanis Club was promoting a city-wide beautification program.

John F. Egan’s son, John Sterl Egan, recounted to local history writer Virginia Lane how the tree ended up on the corner of Dewey and Mission.

“Dad suggested that a tree be planted that would be used and enjoyed by the people of Sapulpa and by those who might come our way,” he said. “Dad died before the site could be picked.”

The senior Egan did have a site in mind, however. He willed the tree to the city and county with hopes it would be planted on the lawn of the Creek County Courthouse, according to one old newspaper article.

Egan died in 1929. The Kiwanians sought to plant the tree on the courthouse lawn but it was already full of trees. That’s when the Fire Station No. 2 corner was suggested. The city agreed, and in February of 32, according to Egan’s son, City Parks Superintendent Arthur Cole dug up the tree from the yard of the Egan home and moved it by sled to its new home where it was planted and stood for the next 75 years. It grew to nearly 50 feet tall and was 100+ years old.

Until the time Kirk Larkin bought the property, Sapulpa firemen decorated the tree each year with electric lights. It also became the site for toys (some assembled or rebuilt by firemen) to be distributed to boys and girls.

Larkin kept the historic tree and flag pole in place and lights were hung but in 2004 John F. Egan’s grandson, Pete Egan, felt that the community participation his grandfather had so wanted had disappeared from the corner.

With Larkin’s blessing, Eagan sought the help of Sapulpa Main Street Program to reinstitute community participation through the annual Christmas “Lights On” event. Main Street raised money for new lights, the Fire Department would again hang the lights, and the Historic Preservation Board and City Planning Commission agreed that the tree and its location be included in the Preservation District. The Sapulpa Chamber of Commerce at the urging of Pete’s daughter, the late Pam Berry, placed a plaque at the base of the tree designating its importance to the community. Egan retrieved the plaque before the demolition began.

“My grandfather was a very outgoing person who enjoyed people and this time of year,” Pete Egan told a newspaper reporter covering the restored community tree lighting in 2004. “And he wanted to give something back to the community that had given him so much, The tree was one way for him to do so.”

The old tree like the community itself was a survivor. There were winds, rains, droughts and winters. finally succumbed to the ice storm of 2007. The Sapulpa Historical Society with the help of nearby Tulsa-Sapulpa Union Railway nursed a couple of young cedars along for a time but both failed.

Will a Christmas tree appear at the corner again? Who knows? But the legacy of one of our founders and his community spirit endures.

Don Diehl

Don Diehl

Don Diehl is the original founder of Sapulpa Times and regularly contributes from his Facebook Page.

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