Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Leo Sanders Collection

Leo "who," you say? That would be Leo "Cyclone" Sanders, an Oklahoma City hero!

Once again, Norman Thompson has graced me (and, therefore, you) with a whole set of new images ... but, until yesterday, I didn't exactly know what to do with them all ... they form an eclectic group of images showing various items of construction, mainly in Oklahoma City, but how would I fit them "all together" into a common theme?

After doing some independent research in The Oklahoman's archives, the answer to my quandry became obvious ... call them, "The Leo Sanders Collection," and tell a little bit about this extraordinary man and his accomplishments.

I've updated this post a bit with some pics I took this afternoon (5/13/2007).
But, the original black and white photographs shown here belong to Chris Sanders, grandson of Leo ... Norman Thompson, who provided the images for the Springlake post, as well as the cool Biltmore Hotel Brochure, and some other stuff, is Chris' cousin. So, with thanks to the "Sanders" family, so to speak, this post remembers Leo Sanders, an Oklahoma City Hero!

Click on pics for larger images

Leo C. Sanders was born in Union City, Oklahoma (south of El Reno), April 2, 1894. He died in Oklahoma City on December 22, 1980, his wife, Jessie, having predeceased him. I don't know what the "C." really stands for, but he came to be known as "Cyclone," and this post will explain why that was. He worked his way through the University of Oklahoma, earning his degree in civil engineering in 1920. And, whether you know it or not, you, I, and all Oklahoma Citians are the beneficiaries of much of his life's work in that field.

He had lots of construction "stuff" ...

A January 14, 1931, Oklahoman article describes him this way:

A laborer at 19, a general contractor sought after by the nation's leading builders at 35. That is the story of Leo "Cyclone" Sanders, who levels business blocks overnight, sets foundations over weekends and leaves eastern capitalists generally amazed at finding such a dynamo of speed and efficiency in the vast pampas of North America, where 10–story buildings are still exciting.
A January 18, 1931, Oklahoman article said,

"If it can't be done, let Sanders do it" has become more than expression among many of the southwest's largest builders who have found where speed is as vital as carefulness, Leo Sanders, Oklahoma City contractor, accomplishes the seemingly impossible in combining cyclonic speed with minute accuracy.
Montgomery Wards. One of Sanders' early projects was clearing the surface for, and then creating the foundation of, the Montgomery Wards building at Main and Walker, in 1929. In the picture immediately below, notice the "old" Oklahoma County Courthouse in the background, looking southwest ...

Exchange Avenue Viaduct. These images show construction on the "Exchange Avenue Viaduct", over the North Canadian, in July 1930. It appears that Mr. Sanders' business is shown in the background. This project should not be confused with a later replacement (1954-1955) bridge which contract was awarded to his son, J.C. Sanders, but over which Leo was the project director. I don't have any pics of the latter project but I've included a pic, below, which I took this afternoon of the "current" Exchange Avenue bridge, for reference.

The "Viaduct" Today, South Side of Oklahoma River

The Rock Island Depot. A 1930 contract had to do with the razing of the old Rock Island Depot on the immediate north side of the Skirvin Hotel (roughly where the Skirvin's ballroom areas are today). Maybe you didn't know that an east/west railroad passed along the north edge of the Skirvin? It did!

Sanders' job was to demolish the depot within the space of 4 days' time. The above 1/14/1931 Oklahoman article said,

Last month Rock Island railroad officials were doubtful about being able to clear their station off the right of way in the four days they were allowed. They called on Sanders. In 24 hours the station was just a memory.

YWCA. The depot demolition was in December 1930, I believe. At about the same time, Leo was contractor for the YWCA project (immediately south of the current Oklahoma County Courthouse). Here are some "groundbreaking" pics ...

Looking North Toward OG&E ... Notice That It's Sans The Current Courthouse

Looking South

See my "other hotels" post for the finished product.

Ramsey Tower. Perhaps the most remembered of Sanders' "projects" was is doing the foundation work for the Ramsey Tower in 1931. He also had the job of "razing" the buildings that Ramsey Tower would replace. The following images show what was to be "razed" and what was done by Sanders in the "race" with the 1st National Bank immediately to its south.

Buildings Going Down

Looking Northeast

Looking Southwest

Looking Northwest

East Along the Old Katy Right-Of-Way (now Couch Drive)

Looking Southeast

Construction Begins – Looking South Across 1st Street (Park Avenue)
The 1st National's "hole" is in the background

Ramsey Tower Focus

And The Buildings Grow

1st National's Progress and the Perrine Building In Background

Skirvin Tower. Mr. Sanders was selected to do the foundation for the Skirvin Tower – it has 2 basements, by the way – in 1931. In 1936, he would construct the tunnel under Broadway connecting Mr. Skirvin's buildings.

Looking Southeast

Looking East

Will Rogers Courts. The federal government selected Mr. Sanders to construct a Works Projects Administration (WPA) low income housing project adjacent to and north and west of Rotary Park, near Packingtown.

During the two or so years that it took to complete this 37 acre project in 1937, he was besieged in controversy. He would be assailed and villified by unions and union leaders for having an "open shop" and he was attacked by the City of Oklahoma City for his not allowing city plumbing inspectors into the project -- warrants were even issued for his arrest. This was a federal project and he perceived that the matter was none of the city's business. Aided by his attorney, John Shirk, he succeeded in avoiding the city's claims and charges against him by resorting to and succeeding in federal court litigation and the project which provided housing for 1,420 people did get done.

Mr. Sanders Is At The Right

The property was owned by the federal government until 1965 when the Oklahoma City Housing Authority took over its management and ownership. The all brick apartments still exist today and appear to be clean and well maintained. Here are some pics I took this afternoon ...

He had other Oklahoma City projects, not pictured here, such as the elevation of the Santa Fe railroad parallel to E.K. Gaylord Blvd. and the 1936 Santa Fe terminal on Gaylord. From Dan Mahoney's Skirvin Press Kit, the tunnel under Broadway is shown below ...

Projects Outside Oklahoma City. His work was certainly not limited to Oklahoma City. He constructed the Fort Supply Dam near Woodward, relocated the Frisco Railroad near Vinita, and constructed a sewer line under the Arkansas River in Tulsa, shown below.

Grand River Dam

Epilogue. Virginia Lee Burton's Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (Mary Anne) was published in 1939 ...

Might it just be that Ms. Burton had been noticing Leo Cyclone Sanders when she penned that classic child's tale? Well, maybe Leo's shovels were not "steam," but, yeah, I think that she did!

Mr. Sanders' home was located at 631 NE 17th in Lincoln Terrace Addition and was built in 1931 according to county assessor records ...

His obituary in the December 23, 1980, Oklahoman says

Among his many engineering and building accomplishments, he will be remembered for his work during the early years of downtown Oklahoma City and buildings such as the YWCA, Post Office, Montgomery Wards, Ramsey Tower, Skirvin Tower and tunnel to the Skirvin Hotel.
About 27 years later, I say, "Here's to you, Leo Cyclone Sanders ... an Oklahoma City hero!"


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