With passengers and crew singing, “The Old Interurban ain’t what she used to be,” black-draped Interurban street car No. 227 made its final stop in Norman on Sept. 27,1947, ending nearly 35 years of transit service for early-day Oklahoma City commuters.
The electric street cars, which ran regularly between the Oklahoma City terminal at Sheridan and Hudson streets and Norman’s Main Street station, carried settlers, sailors and students back and forth to Oklahoma City, farther north to Guthrie and west to El Reno, since the first run into Norman on Nov. 15, 1913.
On that day, newspaper reports indicate, three trolley cars carried 139 Oklahoma City businessmen to an awaiting party in Norman. My grandfather rode the trolley to medical school in Oklahoma City in the 1920s. Before that, his parents rode it to shop at stores in downtown Oklahoma City. His children, including my father, often rode it, too.
This month Oklahoma City began construction on a new street car line serving the central business, midtown and Bricktown entertainment district. The five cars will travel along a 4.5 mile route with stops every eight to 12 minutes.
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When the early-day street car closing was first proposed in 1947, the owners told the Oklahoma Corporation Commission that fewer riders were using the streetcars and the Norman route was losing money. The Oklahoma Railway Co. promised better service to Norman residents with a fleet of buses. At the same time, residents were then free of the war-time rationing of gasoline and tires.
The Navy operations in Norman were coming to an end and the booming post-war economy allowed more families to own cars. Highway work on U.S. 77 and later on Interstate 35 made commuting to Oklahoma City easier.
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University of Oklahoma student Kim Bender researched and wrote about central Oklahoma’s streetcars in an article published by the Chronicles of Oklahoma. Bender said the street car frenzy in the early 1900s was fueled mostly by Oklahoma City land developers who wanted a cheap way to connect neighborhoods to downtown Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City’s first route opened in February of 1903. The company eventually expanded to 74 miles. Fares were a nickle for many years but had risen to closer to 50 cents when the last trolleys rolled into Norman. The terminal building at 105 W. Main Street included a turnaround where the streetcars headed back north. Nearby cafes, including the popular Denco Cafe, served hungry passengers.
Bender reported the company purchased the Norman Interurban Co. in 1913 and immediately began building the line between Moore and Norman.
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The historic building, which had a small cafe named, Terminal Cafe inside, later served bus passengers before a new depot was built on Hal Muldrow Drive in west Norman. That depot later closed and bus passengers now are served at a convenience store on North Porter Avenue.
On Oct. 23, 1976 Rusty and Frank Loeffler and Robert Ross opened their first Interurban Restaurant in the building. It was a tough start as the opening followed a rare Sooner loss to the OSU Cowboys in Norman.
When they closed that restaurant, Norman was without an Interurban until the company opened a new one on the corner of Ed Noble Parkway and Lindsey Street. The Firehouse Arts Center later leased the terminal building on Main Street for several years. Benvenuti’s Restaurant currently occupies the space.
Although the historic Denco Cafe across the street closed many years ago and a 2015 fire destroyed the building the owners are currently building another yet-to-be named restaurant there.