If you’re visiting the Tulsa area, or if you live in Tulsa but have guests in town, these are the places you need to go. These spots are iconically Tulsa — the must-see places for the Tulsa visitor. So bust out your cameras or Instagram, and get ready to take cheesy pictures of yourself at these spots.
1. I’ll start with a double-whammy of prayer, a spot in south Tulsa constantly frequented by tourists from all over the world: Oral Roberts University, an educational institution known worldwide for its unique architecture and two particularly intriguing landmarks.
1a. The Praying Hands.
The 60 foot, 30 ton bronze sculpture by sculptor Leonard McMurray (cast in Juárez, Mexico in 1980), is supposedly the second largest bronze statue in the world — at least that’s what I was told when I was in school there. The statue is located on S. Lewis avenue at 77th st. It was originally situated in front of the City of Faith (now CityPlex Towers), but it was moved to the University entrance on Lewis in 1991.
When I was an ORU student, rumor had it that you could actually crawl inside the Praying Hands. I’m not really sure if this is true or not, but I have witnessed many a student climb on top of the Praying Hands. (not that I’m encouraging that kind of rabble-rousing — please don’t take my degree away, ORU).
1b. The Prayer Tower.
Yes, a second landmark dedicated to prayer in Tulsa…imagine that! Truly, though, I love the Prayer Tower. It is a spiritual icon recognized worldwide. Situated at the center of campus, it includes a gathering room for corporate prayer and an observation room that offers great views of the campus. The flame located at the top of the Prayer Tower is known as the “Eternal Flame” because it supposedly never extinguishes.
The tower stands 200 feet tall. An aerial view of the Prayer Tower reveals the Star of David. From the ground a view of the observation deck represents the Crown of Thorns with red tips, denoting the blood of salvation.
2. The Golden Driller
Let’s move past ORU and on to the Tulsa State Fairgrounds. An icon of the industry that built Tulsa, oil, the Golden Driller stands 76 feet tall on 21st st. between Yale and Harvard.
The original Tulsa Driller was built in the ’50s by an oilfield supply company, which set him up in 1953 for a trade show at the Tulsa State Fairgrounds. That driller was so popular that the company erected a second temporary statue six years later.
A third and final giant, tallest of all at 76 feet, took up residence at the Fairgrounds in 1966. Built of steel and concrete, he weighs nearly 22 tons and is expected to survive 200 mph tornadoes. The plaque at his base dedicates him “to the men of the petroleum industry who by their vision and daring have created from God’s abundance a better life for mankind.”
3. The Blue Whale
OK, I know, I know, the Blue Whale is not technically in Tulsa…but it’s just on the outskirts in Catoosa. The Blue Whale, located on historic Route 66, has been an icon of the Tulsa area since 1972.
It was built by Hugh Davis, who wanted to erect something fun for his wife on the pond on his family’s property. The result was a 20-foot tall, 80-foot long structure, welded by Davis’s friend, Harold Thomas. In the ’70s, the Blue Whale quickly became a popular place for travelers to stop for fishing and swimming.
Sadly, the Blue Whale was closed in 1988 due to Davis’s crippling arthritis. Davis passed away in 1990, but thankfully, the Catoosa Chamber of Commerce refurbished and reopened the landmark in 1997. Still a popular spot for swimming and picnicking, the Blue Whale is a must-see spot just minutes away from Tulsa.
Located in downtown Tulsa, the Center of the Universe is easy to find. A brick path leads to the pedestrian bridge that goes over the railroad tracks, accessible from the corner of W. Archer St. and N. Boston Ave. It is located directly northwest of the old Union Train Depot (now the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame) at 111 East 1st Street.
The actual Center of the Universe isn’t much. It’s actually just a concrete circle, about three inches in diameter. When you find it, stand in its center, and start talking. You’ll be amazed that your voice will echo back to you – a true acoustic miracle!
Several feet southwest of the Center of the Universe stands the “Artificial Cloud,” pictured above. Native American artist Robert Haozous erected the 72 foot sculpture for the 1991 Mayfest.
While you’re at the Center of the Universe, be sure to check out its neighbor, the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, as well as the many fantastic art galleries in the Brady Arts District, located just north of the landmark.
5. Greenwood District
Greenwood is an example of how something good can arise even out of something awful. Greenwood, located at Greenwood and Archer St., is a part of Tulsa’s history that people don’t talk about a lot when you’re being raised here — trust me. I had no idea what had happened at Greenwood until I was a college student.
During the early 1900’s, Greenwood was one of the wealthiest African American communities in the Unites States, filled with successful shops, hotels, and more. Sadly, many of the businesses were destroyed during the riots, but were rebuilt to some degree following the riots. During the 1960’s, the area disintegrated due to desegregation. However, it is now experiencing somewhat of a revival thanks in part to ONEOK Field being built just on its outskirts, as well as several high rise apartments being built nearby.
It’s definitely worth taking a stroll through Greenwood and noticing the plaques on the pavement that acknowledge the former businesses that once existed. Be sure to head down to the Greenwood Cultural Center to take in the Black Wall Street Memorial. While you’re in Greenwood, you can enjoy some delicious food at Abears or Fat Guys Burger Bar. Thanks to attention from the African American community, Greenwood is once again a thriving part of the Tulsa scene.
Which Tulsa landmarks are your favorites? Let us know your favorite spots that are iconically Tulsa!