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Large displays make window-shopping at Langston’s a pleasure. An inventory of 40,000 boots is among the thousands of western and cowboy items available at the Stockyards City store.
Photo by BLAIR WALTMAN
Stockyards City has it all: livestock, custom saddles, western wear, art, and an opry house, all part of a thriving urban district.
By KARLIE TIPTON
Tucked between the Oklahoma River and Southwest Fifteenth Street, two roads intersect. Physically, they are Agnew and Exchange avenues, but the heart of this Urban Main Street Community is also where Oklahoma’s past meets its future. This is Stockyards City, the place that proudly puts the cattle—by the truckloads, in fact—in Oklahoma’s version of Cowtown.
“In 1910, the fledgling Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce had a grand idea,” wrote Bonnie Speer in her 1997 book, Historic Stockyards City and Oklahoma National Stockyards. “What if they could entice the meat-packing industry to settle here?”
The plan worked. With a central location, rail lines, and a growing work force, Oklahoma proved ideal. Within the year, Morris & Company and Sulzberger & Sons Company had opened in what came to be known as Packingtown.
“When the Stockyards first opened, it was the first major commercial business in the state of Oklahoma,” says Erin Karl, executive director of Stockyards City’s Main Street organization. “For at least a generation, if not multiple generations, it was the largest employer in the state.”
Although the next fifty years would produce both riches and legends, such as Percy Wade’s Christmas Eve 1945 acquisition of Cattlemen’s Café in a poker game, the area faced hard times in the latter part of the century.
“Back in the ’60s and ’70s, all the slaughterhouses started leaving,” says Karl. “State and federal regulations started changing, and you couldn’t have slaughterhouses in a larger metropolitan area. When they left, a lot of jobs left with them.”
Key businesses like Langston’s, the National Saddlery, and the Oklahoma National Stockyards Company, however, never left.
“Hundreds of ranchers and business owners attend our market on Mondays and Tuesdays, buy ten thousand cattle or more, and ship them to places like Iowa, Colorado, Nebraska, and pretty much all over the United States,” says Rob Fisher, president of the Oklahoma National Stockyards Company.
With the district’s brick streets and façades, old-fashioned signs that read “Little Joe’s Boots,” “Stockyards Mercantile,” and the like, and frequent tips of the hat from passersby, it can be a little hard to believe it isn’t still 1910. As Karl explains, Stockyards City, with seventy-five merchants—and, since 1992 a district within the Oklahoma Main Street program—is as much a part of Oklahoma City’s future as its past.
Providing the Wear (and the When and the How)
Langston’s has a long tradition of providing working Oklahomans with the things they need to stay working, although what that entails has changed over the years.
The Freeman-Langston store originally opened in Harrah in 1916 but soon moved to 1720 West Reno in Oklahoma City, occupying a full city block and selling everything from gear to groceries.
By 1949, Freeman had sold his shares in the store, and Lee Langston’s two nephews, who inherited it upon his death in 1935, decided to concentrate on selling western wear. Naturally, they moved Langston’s to Stockyards City.
Since then, business has been good, including at three other Langston’s locations in the greater metropolitan area.
“We are the second-largest western wear store, area wise,” says Dave Miller, Stockyards City store manager. “But we’re first when it comes to business.”
Get There: Langston’s Stockyards City store is located at 2224 Exchange Avenue. (405) 235-9536 or Langston's.
The Art of Being a Cowboy
A cowboy is nothing without his horse and saddle, making the National Saddlery and Crossbar Gallery every cowboy and cowgirl’s best friend.
A Stockyards mainstay since 1926, the original National Saddlery still is located north of Cattlemen’s Steakhouse and now sells assorted gifts—things like blankets, key chains, and spurs—for those with or without ranches.
The Saddlery’s new location, where it was combined with the Crossbar Gallery in 2008, is a short walk south and sells everything from western art and luxurious leather furniture to all the tack a rider could dream of.
As he has for the past three decades, John David Rule still creates and sells some of the most beautiful custom saddles a horse will ever wear. But there is one drawback.
“You’re looking at about a four-year wait,” says store manager Barbie Morton.
Get There: The National Saddlery and Crossbar Gallery is located at 1400 South Agnew Avenue. (405) 239-2104 or Crossbar Gallery.
Rodeo in Stereo
When the old Rodeo Opry Theatre fills up on Saturday nights, it gets hot, thanks to sizzling performances from rising stars in country music like Kata Hay, Maddox Ross, and Tammy Lee.
What is now the Centennial Rodeo Opry began as a small show thirty-four years ago in founder Grant Leftwich’s Oklahoma City backyard. It soon was called the Oklahoma Opry, moved around more than once, and finally took over the old Rodeo Antique Store at the Stockyards in 2004, says Cindy Scarberry, executive director of the Opry Heritage Foundation of Oklahoma.
The foundation continues to help young, talented Oklahomans find their way to the spotlight through various outlets on and off the stage, such as the Granville Community Music School a block west of the opry, a program that allows underprivileged students to take singing or instrument lessons for only fifty cents.
Between the philanthropic programs and the elite alumni who have graced the stage on Saturday nights—among them Bryan White, Katrina Elam, and Wanda Jackson—it’s no wonder the last two governors have declared the Oklahoma Centennial Opry “the State’s Official Country Music Show.”
Get There: The Oklahoma Centennial Rodeo Opry hosts concerts every Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, $6 to $12. 2221 Exchange Avenue, (405) 297-9773 or ohfo.org.