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The Tulsa Coliseum


Before the Oilers played in state-of-the-art BOK Center,they played in equally impressive building. The Tulsa Coliseum, a facility that was christened by the Oilers’ first game and closed in tragedy.

Both buildings were located downtown. The BOK Center is currently located at the historical intersection of 4th and Denver, the Coliseum located at 5th and Elgin. That, however, is where the similarities seem to end between the buildings that were built eight decades apart. The Coliseum at the time cost $800,000 to construct, even with inflation; it was more than $100 million cheaper than the BOK Center. The Coliseum could seat 4,500 people to an Oilers game; today 17,000 can enjoy the action at the BOK Center. The 300-foot-long, 48-foot-high Coliseum was humongous for its time. Comparatively, the BOK Center is the 42nd largest indoor entertainment venue in the United States, measuring a staggering 134 feet high — with an area of 565,000 square feet. Both facilities were considered top of their class for their respective time periods.

The Tulsa Oilers take the ice at the Coliseum 

People around during its time still remember the Coliseum fondly. Perhaps it was the fact that it was the first indoor ice rink south of the Mason-Dixon line. Maybe it was because it opened on New Year’s Day 1929 with the Oilers’ first home game of their inaugural 1928-29 season — a season the Oilers would go on to win the American Hockey Association championship. Some undoubtedly loved the building for its foundational qualities; a combination of incredible engineering and beautiful display of terra cotta art wrapped into its beautiful Saracenic architectural style. Whether it was for physical or sentimental reasons, there is no doubt that everyone who witnessed Tulsa Oilers hockey at the Coliseum left with fond memories.

However, the Coliseum’s technological advancements may have lead to its ultimate demise. KAKC radio, which broadcasted Oilers’ games, was located in the basement of the building. The radio tower on the roof of the building attracted lightning during a storm on Sept. 20, 1952. The Coliseum’s all-wood roof — a roof celebrated at the time of construction — quickly spread a fire across the entire building. The blaze was so immense, an estimated 12,000 watched the destruction — roughly 7,500 more than could fit inside the building.

The ruins of the Coliseum after the tragic 1952 fire

A building that had periodically continued operating through the Great Depression and World War 2 eventually succumbed to mother nature, and with no home, the Oilers’ wouldn’t play again until 1954. But nothing would stop the hockey hungry community from finding another home for their team, and now the Oilers’ are celebrating 90 years in Tulsa.

Stay tuned for more installments in our Tulsa Hockey History series — celebrating 90 years of Tulsa Oilers hockey.

The Tulsa Oilers have existed as four separate franchises in five different leagues over their 90-year history. Each team had its own challenges, accomplishments and famous alumni that could rival that of any professional hockey franchise.

The original Oilers team was founded 90 years ago in 1928. The team was an expansion member of the American Hockey Association, a league that was founded in Minnesota, but would become the first pro league to spread into the southern United States. The new kids stunned the league, winning the championship in each of their first three seasons. Perhaps the most interesting player of this era was Burr Williams, a native of Okemah, Oklahoma who went on to play in the NHL for the Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Eagles and Boston Bruins. The original Oilers franchise ceased operations in 1942 when the AHA folded in response to World War 2.

The Oilers began operations again after the war, this time in the United States Hockey League, a rebranded version of the American Hockey Association. The team was led by Hockey Hall of Famer Clint Smith, who won the USHL MVP. However, Smith couldn’t lead this Oilers team to a championship, despite the team book ending their existence with USHL Finals appearances.  

Tulsa hockey remained dormant for 13 years before the Oilers joined the Central Professional Hockey League, which was later shortened to the Central Hockey League. Originally owned by Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd., the Oilers operated as the primary development team for the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. The Oilers’ affiliation led to many great players honing their craft at the Tulsa Assembly Center and the Expo Square Pavilion — the two homes during this era. Before current Tulsa Oilers Color Commentator Zack Reynolds donned plaid suits, famed NHL broadcaster Don Cherry wore his own before lacing up his skates for the Oilers. Bill Baker, Dave Silk, Rob “Mack” McClanahan, Steve Janaszak and Bob Suter of Miracle on Ice fame also played for Tulsa. After the Leafs relocated their affiliation to Oklahoma City, the Oilers turned into a farm team for the New York Rangers. Las Vegas Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee played for the team during this period, alongside the NHL’s all-time winningest U.S. born goaltender, John Vanbiesbrouck. All these incredible alumni led the Oilers to three separate Adams Cups as CHL champions. Perhaps the most impressive Adams Cup was earned in 1984, during which, the Oilers folded operations in Tulsa. The league took over operations and the team played the last six weeks of the season on the road. Remarkably, they went on to win the title by sweeping the Indianapolis Checkers in four games.

NHL Iron Man Garry Unger was instrumental in bringing the Oilers back during the reincarnation of the Central Hockey League for the 1992-93 season. Once again the new kids came out on top by winning a championship in their inaugural season — defeating the regular season champion Oklahoma City Blazers in the playoffs. The team has continued operations every year since being founded, despite the CHL collapsing and merging with the ECHL before the 2014-15 season. The team was purchased by the current owners, the Stevens brothers, in 2013, ensuring stability for the franchise into the future.

With every franchise winning the championship except for the USHL iteration, the Oilers are one of the most successful professional sports franchises in the history of North America — both in terms of on-ice performance and longevity.