Drive west past Tulsa’s downtown, and just as you reach 3rd Street and it becomes Charles Page Boulevard, there it is. The Cave House. If you’re from Tulsa, or the surrounding area, you probably have heard one or more stories and theories about this odd, unique structure. For anyone not from Tulsa, you most likely have slowed down and did a double-take, maybe even turned around and took another drive-by look.
The Curiosity, The Questions
What is that structure, anyway? Is it occupied today, and is it by humans or spirits? Who built it and why the odd look? Is it as unique on the inside as it is on the exterior? The questions are many; the answers are varied.
What is known for sure about The Cave House is that it was built by James Purzer and Joseph Koberling, Sr. during the 1920s, as a chicken restaurant – or was it? What went on inside the structure that looks somewhat like where you may find Fred and Wilma Flintstone, is where the mystery is unresolved. The walls are curving and round, an early version of open concept housing. There are stalactites throughout and a small cliff behind it.
Facts or Legends – Which Do You Believe?
Piece together what you may from the many legends about the Cave House, most of them seem to have the same basis: Secret panels leading to secret rooms and pathways. Not all those legends have proven to be true, though, so the mystery continues.
It has been said by many that “knew somebody that knew somebody” the garden area of The Cave House had people swarming all over it at one while the inside would be filled with more people, mostly well dressed men in fedoras, and cigar smoke during the 1920s.
These men would come in and order “coffin varnish” or “horse liniment,” the code names for whiskey. This was during the prohibition, so secrecy was a must to get their alcohol fix. It was a well-known fact that the Tulsa police may show up at any time and bust the place, arresting anyone that had the least bit of alcohol on them or near them.
However, as it was popular to do during the prohibition, the raids wouldn’t find any alcohol because of the hidden rooms. Entering The Cave, you would find a large room with patrons enjoying the chicken that was served. For those who could afford it and knew about it, a hefty payment would get them entrance behind the stucco façade that created the main dining hall. It was there they would find tunnels leading to gambling and whiskey, a Speakeasy as it were known then.
The Infamous Visitors
In the 1920s, if there were tunnels leading to hidden rooms with illegal alcohol, you can be certain that outlaws would find it. The Cave is said to have been frequented by Pretty Boy Floyd and other outlaws that had Oklahoma connections or roots. They would sit around and talk about their conquests and successes of out running the law. The Arkansas River provided a picturesque view from what was referred to as Lookout Mountain.
The patrons kept the coats on, as the cave was always chilly and damp with a musty odor about it. But being one of the few places with alcohol during this time, people were willing to look past that.
After Prohibition …
What was known as Cave Garden would come to be The Cave House. There have been several other residents in this odd and unique structure. Including the Rag Lady, Ella, a dumpster diver. She was known to wear rags, wash them, then hang them out the windows to dry. It is said that rags will randomly appear in windows still today, even though Ella is long gone.
There was the Key Lady who collected keys from any visitor. Today, those who tour and visit The Cave House are said to be missing a key when they leave. An upstairs bedroom is filled with branches decorating a bathroom. And there are two seats out of a minivan in the living room from two mechanics that once lived there. Regardless which is myth and which is truth, a visit to this odd, unique structure is a must while in Tulsa!
The Cave House
1623 Charles Page Blvd, Tulsa, OK 74127