Interesting Corrections—The Renberg’s Building

Doug MillerDowntown Tulsa0 Comments

interesting connections

As I was writing 4th & Boston: Heart of the Magic Empire, I knew that regardless of how careful I was, I would find some errors after it was printed. And today, I found my first one (it’s actually not the first, just the first I’m willing to admit).

Half way down pages 80 and 81, I used a wonderful Library of Congress panorama of Tulsa taken from the roof of the Robinson Hotel in 1908. In the cutline for the photo, I identified a building as the “Renberg Building.” In actuality, it was not the Renberg Building—yet.


1908

Image with cutline from page 80 of 4th & Boston: Heart of the Magic Empire. Original image, Library of Congress


According to a 1988 Tulsa Tribune article written to celebrate Renberg’s clothing store’s 75th anniversary, the paper reported that Sam Renberg, an immigrant from Delmenhorst, Germany, came to Tulsa to open his first modest 25-foot wide storefront in 1913. That first store was located at 116 S. Main Street—under the Williams Resource Center of today (a part of the complex that I will forever hold in my heart as the “William’s Center Forum”).

Around 1918, “Mr. Sam” as he was affectionately known, moved his store two blocks south to 319 S. Main into the bottom two floors of the Drexel Building. It was in this building that the incident that precipitated the Tulsa Race Riot occurred in 1921. Renberg’s only stayed in the Drexel until 1924 when 1st National Bank acquired and demolished the Drexel to construct the second half of its building at 4th & Main—the building that is today known as the Reunion Center.


 

The east side of Main Street looking south between 3rd and 4th, c.1920. The building with the three arches would become home to Renberg's in 1924. When this photo was taken, Renberg's was located in the Drexel Building, the four story building that is the second from the last structure on the block. The tall building next to it is the first phase of the 1st National Bank.

The east side of Main Street looking south between 3rd and 4th, c.1920. The building with the three arches would become home to Renberg’s in 1924. When this photo was taken, Renberg’s was located in the Drexel, the four story building that is the second from the last structure on the block. The tall building next to the Drexel is the first phase of the 1st National Bank of Tulsa. Beryl Ford Collection


After leaving the Drexel, Renberg’s Department Store then settled into it’s permanent location at 311 S. Main. The building they moved into was originally the Brown’s Furniture building (which is, I believe, how I should have identified it in my cutline on page 81).

The beautiful triple arches of the old Brown’s building would be home to Renberg’s until it was destroyed by fire just before Christmas, 1945. Mr. Renberg died a month after the fire. Depending on the account you read, he either died of exposure (it was 4-degrees the day the building burned and he was outside at the scene all day) or from the stress of losing everything. It was probably a combination of both. In any case, before his passing, he vowed to rebuild. True to their father’s wishes, his sons George and Herbert rebuilt on the same lot creating the familiar storefront that still graces the address of 311 S. Main Street with the bold chrome “RENBERG’S” moniker.


On December 19, 1945, Renberg's burned to the ground. It was a total loss and led to the passing of Sam Renberg.

On December 19, 1945, Renberg’s burned to the ground. It was a total loss and led to the passing of Sam Renberg.  Beryl Ford Collection


Another interesting thing that most folks may not realize is that the old Renberg’s building on Main Street is anything but abandoned and unused. It’s actually fully leased and used for indoor parking and storage for patrons in the 320 South Boston Building. And like the 320, it’s owned and well maintained by the Bumgarner Family. Like all the buildings they own, the Bumgarner’s love and respect the old Renberg’s Building. In fact, more than once they’ve turned down lucrative offers to purchase and remove the beautiful Renberg’s sign. Instead of selling it, they keep those distinctive chrome letters meticulously maintained and nicely polished—just the way old Mr. Sam would have wanted it, even though he didn’t live to see them.


Renberg's Building, 311 S. Main St. 2016. Douglas Miller.

Renberg’s Building, 311 S. Main St. 2016. Douglas Miller.


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