Once Grand Camelot Hotel Had a Quick Demise

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a multi-part series investigating the demise of the Camelot Hotel. Once one of the most popular gathering places in Tulsa’s history, and the host at one time to President Richard Nixon, the building has become an eyesore and health menace. This series of articles looks at the history of the building and its possible future.

Greater Tulsa Reporter/July 1, 2005
By Nancy K. Owens

During the Kennedy administration in the early 60s, “Camelot Fever” swept the nation. It settled in Tulsa in 1965 at 4956 South Peoria with the construction of The Camelot Hotel. Originally called “The Camelot Inn,” the name was later changed to “The Camelot Hotel,” though it was always affectionately known simply as “The Camelot.”

Back then, it seems an eight-story, 330-room building built in the form of a pink castle, complete with turret, massive iron gates, moat, drawbridge and a swimming pool shaped like the top of a medieval spear was the epitome of luxury and class.

Ainsley Perault, a builder and promoter from San Francisco, who later moved to Tulsa, built the pink castle and oversaw its early reign of glory. Construction began in 1965 and took two years to complete. Prior to its opening, it had a large sign that ran atop of the building that said “Totally Electric.” But because of two electrical fires the sign was taken down, before the doors, or rather entry gates, were opened for business. It was sold in 1968 to the Tulsa-based Kinark Corporation for $68 million. At the time it was the largest real estate transaction in the history of Tulsa.

The Camelot was known in its early years as Tulsa’s hotspot–the “place to be.” It certainly was the place to be on Sundays after church. As Dean Sims, a very active public relations practitioner at the time remembers it, “The Sunday brunch at the Camelot restaurant was quite an event and drew between 200 and 300 people regularly.” Those who could not make it to the Camelot could watch the weekly television show, broadcast from the Camelot on a cable access channel featuring Tulsa’s local movers and shakers.

Sims reflects on the stream of famous guests whose presence graced the hotel over the years, “People today would be surprised to find out that President Richard Nixon stayed at the Camelot when he came to Tulsa in 1971 to dedicate the Kerr-McClellan navigation system. Lt. Governor George Nigh wouldn’t stay anywhere but the Camelot when he was in town and during the National Governor’s Convention held in Tulsa: Mike Wallace chose to stay there. A high-ranking member of the British Parliament even stayed at the Camelot when he visited Tulsa.” Apparently, the British gentleman was amused by the contradictory Robin Hood and King Arthur exhibits in the hotel.

The Camelot also drew plenty of high profile local events such as high school reunions and proms, civic club meetings and family reunions. It was also a popular destination for honeymoons and wedding receptions.

Many children considered the Camelot to be a real treat with its front area moat and drawbridge, and the swimming pool, which was centered in a courtyard in the middle of the U-shaped complex, surrounded by the many hotel rooms.

To many people, the Camelot is most remembered for the popular Red Lion nightclub. It was the home of the “in-crowd.” The lights were low and music played. Everyone mingled, enjoyed cocktails and reveled in the scene. Longtime Tulsa resident Tena Green remembers her days as a regular at the popular bar. “Young professionals, myself included, would often meet after work for a drink at the bar.” She chuckles, “I even had breakfast at the Camelot restaurant every Saturday morning with some of the members of the Tulsa Ski Club. It really was the place to be.” The phrase “the place to be” seems to reverberate the most in people’s minds when they reminisce about the once special hotel.

Those were the days. They’re not now. Now, and for years, what was the glorious Camelot Hotel has become a blight on the landscape of the fair city of Tulsa.

According to Assistant Fire Marshall Ron Fegaly, “A big concern with the Camelot is securing the building. It’s a fire hazard and unsecured. It’s dangerous. Transients are able to move in and occupy it. In the past they have started small fires. This presents a serious danger not only to them but also to our firefighters.” He adds, “Several years ago we contacted the owners and told them they would be required to secure the property. They’ve done this, but with out-of-town owners this always presents a concern.” The current owners of the Camelot list a Kentucky address with the assessor’s office.

A hurricane fence currently surrounds the property and the windows that aren’t boarded up are punctured by bullet holes. A police officer, patrolling the outside of the building, said that at one time vagrants and drug addicts hung out in the hotel, though he noted that now they do not, as there is full-time security.

The Camelot was condemned in 1996, and many people think that the building should be torn down. The building that was made nationally famous with its showing in the movie “Tex” has been deemed by the Tulsa City–County Health Department as a fire and health hazard. The City filed liens against the owners every year from 2000-2004 for cleanup and mowing. The owners paid all outstanding fees in February 2005.

David Gurthet, Inspections Supervisor, Inspections Division, Development Services, Tulsa Public Works Department, explains why the building has not been torn down. “The building has been condemned for habitation. City engineers conducted a thorough investigation of the building and determined that it is structurally sound. Although no one can occupy the building, it cannot be torn down by the city because structurally speaking it is not considered a hazard.

So, the Camelot remains standing as a sad monument to devastated real estate.

A grotesque parody of its former glory. A tragic leftover of remembrance of things past.

Better times. What happened to it? What brought it to its present dilapidated, ruined state? In researching this article I have discovered that, as Churchill would say, “it is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

Sometime during the mid-to-late 1970s the Camelot started to lose its regal appeal. New world-class hotels were built in Tulsa, attracting a fickle and interested public to more modern facilities. By the early 1980s, the oil business had crashed, cutting into the disposable income of many people. The once spectacular and lively social scene dwindled away. People became disenchanted. The era of Tulsa’s Camelot faded away.

The castle languished. The neglected interior, once considered sumptuous and glamorous, turned shoddy. It became more difficult to rent rooms. The swinging Red Lion bar and popular hotel restaurant had lost their appeal. The television show was cancelled. Eventually, by the mid-1980s, the Camelot was nothing more than a place for various groups to hold meetings and conferences.

Part 2: The Camelot has become a mysterious place, one possibly controlled by what some call a worldwide cult. An investigation into what may be the Camelot’s future will be highlighted in the Mid-August GTR Newspapers.
Part 3: A look into the Mararishi’s organization and the possible future of the Camelot.
Part 4: Man fails to fly sues Camelot owner: A deeper look into the teachings and plans of the Maharishi Mahesh Yoga.

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