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.
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.
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.