This Week in Sapulpa History: A Reel-y Big Fire

Rachel Whitney, Curator, Sapulpa Historical Museum

There have been significant fires in Sapulpa’s history. To name a few: the Main St fires in 1899, Loraine Hotel in 1949, the oil fields and refineries in the 1910s, the High School nicknamed “the Castle” in 1911, the Meyer Clothing and Mize Drug Store in 1917, the Max Meyer’s home in 1959, the Frankoma Pottery plant in 1938 and 1983, and so many others.

This week in Sapulpa history, a Reel fire broke out.

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“Third fire for Sapulpa since Loraine Holocaust.”—The term holocaust in this instance was used to mean “complete destruction by fire.”

Standing on the corner of Dewey and Water at 26 E Dewey, on July 7 near 11:20pm, one of the owners of Reel Drug Store named Harry Smith, locked the store down for the night. It was said that Smith had turned off the fans in the store before leaving “because of the coolness of the night.”

The corner of Water Street and Dewey Avenue in the 1930s, looking southwest.
The Royal Cafe, circa 1920s.

After a quick drive to 618 S Bixby, Smith was ready to be home.

Unfortunately, “a few minutes after he got home, he said he was called by a customer and told his store was on fire.”

The fire department quickly responded. “The fire department received the alarm at 11:33 pm when Arthur Phillips, a former fireman, saw the red blossoms in the interior of the already smoke-filled store. Phillips jerked the call box and also dashed to the telephone office where he reported it by phone.”

According to eyewitnesses, the central fire took place along the east wall of the Reel Drug Store, where the store met with its neighbor, Royal Cafe, “the central portion that divides the store.”

This image from a parade during the 1950s shows the the businesses on East Dewey during a parade, including the Royal Cafe, Butlers, and Gilliam Furniture.

Similarly to the Meyer and Mize fire of 1917 of the same location of the Reel fire, the upper floors above the Reel Drug Store and the Royal Cafe were used for storage, “for bulky paper and cloth items.” Then, “the flames spread into the Royal Cafe at the rear of the building and broke through the ceiling in the storage area between the dining room and the kitchen. A large quantity of perishable food stuffs in the cafe was apparently unharmed, although, the refrigerated cases in which they were kept damaged and badly soiled.”

Ironically, “in front of the drug store, an unharmed delivery bicycle and a large quantity of ice cream at the fountain was still unmelted and was picked up by the Tulsa firm that serviced the business.”

The firefighters had a battle on their hands. They fought the inferno for over two hours. “Five pieces of fire fighting apparatus answered the call and firemen poured towns of water into the building in the course of the two hour, 35 minute battle with the flames.”

“The Reel Drug Store is gutted by fire.” And the Cafe was damaged from the smoke and water. “One section of the ceiling fell in under the pressure of hundreds of pounds of water.” Next door to the Cafe stood the Butler’s Men’s Store. It was unharmed “except for traces of smoke which came in through a ventilating fan at the rear of the building. A fire wall between the two buildings protected it.”

Both Reel Drug Store—later named Smith Drug Store—and the Royal Cafe reopened at their location.

“It marked the third large fire in Sapulpa since December 2, 1949 when the Loraine Hotel burned. About six months ago, the Oklahoma Gas and Electric offices burned. It also marked the second major fire for the building involved. In 1917, a fire broke out in the building which was occupied by a clothing store, and the building’s interior was heavily damaged then, although the walls remained sound.” As stated earlier, there have been many fires in Sapulpa’s history.

Little did they know, just two years after the Reel fire another large fire would engulf three buildings on South Main St in 1954.

(Sapulpa Daily Herald, July 8, 1952, July 11, 1952; Democrat News, July 10, 1952)

Newspaper coverage from the event

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