Thanks to Rhys Martin for writing this blog article for us! Rhys is a Tulsa author and photographer, is the President of the Oklahoma Route 66 Association, serves on the Tulsa Route 66 Commission, and is an adviser for the Route 66 Alliance. See more of Rhys's work at his site here.
Ninety-five years ago, on July 15th, 1928, a little theater opened in Tulsa’s first suburban shopping district. The Circle quickly became a popular neighborhood cinema, showing silent movies and cartoons a matter of months after US Highway 66 was formally established. Even though the famous Route 66 was realigned in 1932, the advent of talking motion pictures ensured the Circle remained a staple of the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood. In fact, the story of the Circle closely mirrors the story of the Mother Road.
Route 66 gained popularity in the 20th Century by providing a vibrant and reliable journey across the country. It became a pop culture icon – much in the same way that American movies became a world-wide phenomenon. But there were downs as well as ups. The 1970s and 80s saw a decline, with the Circle going completely dormant in the 1990s. Most folks assumed the book was closed on the decertified Highway 66, too.
But that was not the case. The theater survived, standing as Tulsa’s only historic theater. It was restored right alongside the revitalization of Route 66, each leveraging their own unique history to build a plan for the future.
Traveling Route 66 is about experiencing each community and the people that make them special. The Circle is a community gathering place, a spot where you can just as easily watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster as participate in an intimate discussion about local productions.
Today, people come from all over the world to cruise the Main Street of America.
There is a vibrant brotherhood of historic theaters along the famous highway, from the Rialto Square Theater in Joliet, Illinois to the Tower Theatre in Oklahoma City to Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Pueblo Art Deco gem, the KiMo Theatre. The California Theatre in San Bernardino, California was built the same year as Tulsa’s Circle Cinema and it was the last place that Will Rogers performed.
In Tulsa, people flock to the Circle for an experience they can’t get anywhere else. The neon glow of the movie house marquee bids them all welcome and encourages them to linger a little longer in the Capital of Route 66.
By Rhys Martin