Will Rogers Motor Court:
Lost but not forgotten

The Will Rogers Motor Court was once located on Route 66 on the “East Edge” of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The motor court location of 5827 East 66 or present day Eleventh Street is nothing but an empty field. What happened to this institution of the Route 66 glory days? More importantly what happened to that neon sign complete with cowboy–let’s assume Will Rogers himself–atop a bucking bronco, tossing his lasso around a sign that once beckoned travelers of Route 66 on Tulsa’s east edge of town?

First, let’s rewind briefly to the backstory of famous actor Will Rogers after whom the Motor Court was named!

Will Rogers was born in November 4th, 1897, into a prominent Cherokee Nation family in Indian Territory now Oologah, Oklahoma. Rogers was a world traveler, writer, cowboy, vaudeville performer and screen actor with staunch Democratic political views. To prove campaigning was, in his words “bunk,” he ran a mock campaign for president in 1928, with the sole platform that, if elected, he would immediately resign. And yet one of his most famous quotes (of which there are numerous) comes right out of his political musing period: “…for I never yet met a man that I dident [sic] like,” a reference to Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky founder and first leader of the Red Army.

One can tell from a very short amount of research that the films throughout Rogers’ acting career (both silent and “talkies”) were laced with a lot of his humorous insight and wit. Of course he has since left a legacy in Oklahoma, not just in the naming of the Will Rogers Motor Court, but much more famously by way of Route 66’s unofficial moniker, “The Will Rogers Highway.”

I have found very little references or history related to the motor court motel, but it appears as though the building was demolished sometime in the early 1990s. One such reference was from noted Route 66 author and historian Michael Wallis (know to many in today’s pop-culture as the voice of the Sheriff in Disney Pixar’s Cars). In the Sept-Oct 1984 issue of the Oklahoma Today he mentioned:

“Over on 11th Street the neon lights of the Will Rogers Motor Court still blink on in the evening, and next door is McCollums Restaurant, where more than one Route 66 traveller stopped for home cooking.”

I recently discovered yet another piece of the puzzle that was the Will Rogers Motor Court lying unassumingly inside my coffee table! A long while ago, my grandfather passed away and left behind a very large collection of matchbooks from his days of traveling on the road. It appeared no one wanted the collection, which sat in his basement untouched for years. I gladly took them! So a few months ago, while planning out one of my pending Route 66 journeys, I gazed into my coffee table—a glass plated structure with separated cubbies that I have filled with my Grandfather’s matchbooks—only to discover a piece of Route 66 history right in front of me!

After coming up pretty empty-handed in my research of this place, practically erased from history, I thought what better way to share the past without parting with the item from my collection than to make prints and a t-shirt!

The t-shirt graphic was created using the very matchbook that was passed on to me many years ago. The design is screen-printed personally by the Fading Nostalgia team on demand. It will contain various imperfections of anything that is not by machine, but by hand. All proceeds keep us on the road and helps us to find places before demolition begins in hopes of raising awareness.

[Ed. Note 2015: Shirt no longer available…unless you REALLLLLY want one!]

If anyone has any stories or experiences with the Will Rogers Motor Court, we would be more than grateful for additional information! Meanwhile, if you yourself are researching Will Rogers, there is much more history to be gleaned from the Will Rogers Museum in Claremore, Oklahoma.

Showing 8 comments
  • Rhys Martin

    I have a .pdf copy of a great article from the family that talks more about the WRMC — email me and I’ll gladly share it!

    • The Flash Nites

      Awesome, we’ll email you right away!

  • Carl Martin

    My wife and I stayed at the will Rogers back in December of 1983. We had just arrived in Tulsa from Alabama for me to start a new job the next day and as I recall the weather was snowy. Accommodations were sparse but tolerable.

    • The Flash Nites

      Oh wow, snow in Tulsa has got to be pretty rare! No wonder you remember it!

  • Norah Johnson

    Dear Flash Nites,

    My family owned WRMC… and we are realllly interested in your t-shirts. Any chance they can still be reproduced? Thank you for the great article!

    • The Flash Nites

      Sorry for the delayed response…I still have the screen to print them on shirts. I can run a test print to see if it’s still a printable screen. If you can email us directly that will work better. Our email is ontheroad@theflashnites.com Thank you.

  • T Waska

    FYI – The City of Tulsa is reproducing the sign for a Rt 66 neon sign park. I’m actually working on the art right now. Found this article as I was researching some images.

    • The Flash Nites

      That’s so great to hear! Can’t wait to see it!

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