The Tulsa Little Theatre, located in an unassuming brick building at 15th and Delaware Streets in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is not only steeped in history but is also said to be home to several unearthly guests.
Built in 1932 by the Tulsa Little Theatre group, in an extremely plain art nouveau design, the first show produced in their new building was the Cradle Song.
In the beginning, the Little Theatre troupe had no permanent location when it started offering productions in 1922.
However, they were undeterred, maintaining that “the show must go on” in any place they could find – large canvas tents, movie theaters, and even at the American Legion before they finally found built their permanent home at 15th and Delaware.
Workshops were held in the storage room of Palace Clothiers, which later became the location of the Ritz Theater. By 1925, the Little Theatre group numbered over 300 members and performed at the Alhambra Theater at 15th and Peoria. In 1929, the Little Theatre purchased the property at 15th and Delaware, it’s home for the next 60 years. East Lynne, the first production at their new location, was performed in a tent.
Despite the Great Depression, the Tulsa Little Theatre continued its performances and, in 1932, completed its permanent building. During the 1930s and ’40s, the Delaware Playhouse, as it became known, was the epicenter of Tulsa’s arts and entertainment scene. Over the years, the theater hosted hundreds of plays and entertainment events as it went through multiple directors and saw actors come and go.
In 1965, the theatre suffered a fire after its third performance of The Women, destroying stage props, furniture, and costumes. Just a year later, the theatre suffered yet another blaze during the production of South Pacific. Though the fire destroyed much of the upstairs property, the theatre persevered.
In 1974, the troupe changed its name to Theatre Tulsa, Inc. but remained in the art nouveau location. More than a decade later, in 1989, the group had outgrown their building and moved to the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, where it continues to be the resident company of the facility.
The old theatre building sat vacant for the next two years until it finally sold. Over the next decade, the aging building changed hands several times and was utilized for several purposes, including a church, a nightclub, and a recording studio.
By 2004, the 10,000 square-foot building had fallen into serious disrepair and suffered criminal neglect. At this time, attorney; Bryce A. Hill was looking for a midtown location for his law office. Though the site was ideal, Hill and his wife, Sunshine, thought long and hard before purchasing the dilapidated property near the historic Cherry Street district.
When they did, the old building smelled of decay was filled with trash, and water seeped from the walls, floors, and ceilings.
For the next 14 months, the Hills renovated the building, restoring much of it to its original 1932 façade and revamping the front portion of the building to utilize as offices.
In addition to having a renovated new look and a brand new owner, the old theatre still retains a part of its past – most notably a couple of spirits that are said to have been hanging around the building for years.
Near the curtains on the old stage, a strange ball of light has often been seen bobbing around. Others on stage have reported seeing something standing behind them before mysteriously vanishing. Yet even more report having been touched by unseen hands and hearing strange noises coming from backstage when no one is there.
According to the legend, a one-time play director during the theatre’s heydays died during a performance. Are these the signs of a director who has not yet finished his productions? Others allege that the spirit of a little girl is also said to lurk within the confines of the historic theatre. Employees of the law office also tell several odd occurrences within the building, including supplies that go missing and lights that turn on and off of their own accord.
The theatre portion of the building can be rented for events and performances.
Tulsa Little Theatre
Law Offices of Bryce Hill
1511 S. Delaware Ave.
Tulsa, Oklahoma 74104