The Edmond Sun


April 21, 2014

Sulphur a future major tourist destination?

SULPHUR — Greta Garbo says, “I want to be alone,” in the 1932 film “Grand Hotel.” That MGM film starred Garbo, John and Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery and a young actress from Lawton named Joan Crawford. It told the stories of several different people who were staying at an exclusive hotel of that name in Berlin Germany.

It was critically well received and it inspired more recent films such as “Gosford Park” and television shows such as “Downton Abbey” in that it detailed the relationship between powerful and wealthy people and those who served them. The film opened amidst much fanfare and it received the Oscar for best picture in the year of its release.

A visitor to the recently opened Artesia Hotel in downtown Sulphur, which features chandeliered foyers, an elegant dining room, a bustling lobby and an attentive and efficient staff, is reminded of the fictional Grand Hotel.

According to Bryce Chitwood, the manager of the Artesian, the original hotel on the site was built in the early 1900s and was a gathering place for affluent people who came to Sulphur — which is located at the foot of the Arbuckle Mountains — to  bathe in it’s spring waters.

It was destroyed in a fire in 1960 and the site was vacant until it was acquired by the Chickasaw Nation. The Chickasaw leaders decided to rebuild it several years ago and in its hallways and 81 guests rooms are pictures from the original Artesian. Portraits shown are of the African-American waiters who would sing to the patrons as they dined. The hotel is also home to several retail and dining establishments where food and goods produced in Oklahoma are offered for sale.  

In the hotel’s spa, area patrons in white bathrobes can be seen in the hallway between the pool and hot tub as they talk of impending pedicures and massage appointments.

A casino is also in operation within the Artesian. There is a structure adjacent to the hotel that formerly was a church that has been acquired by the Chickasaw Nation and may soon be serving as venue for concerts and other cultural events according to Chitwood.  

The opening of the Artesian has led to an economic revitalization of Sulphur’s downtown thoroughfare, Muskogee Street, and the buildings there now appear to gleam with a new sense of purpose. The street now hosts several new businesses including a fitness center and a sports bar.   

Phyllis Myers of the Sulphur Main Street Association reports that an art show is planned for downtown Sulphur on Memorial Day weekend that will be in conjunction with an art event that will be hosted by the Chickasaw Nation at that time.

The Rusty Nail is a winery on Muskogee Street that has been in operation for several years and on a recent Saturday it was full of patrons who were sampling a variety of the wines that are offered there. Some of the people who were walking on Muskogee Street may have been planning to visit the Chickasaw Cultural Center that is located near the Chickasaw National Recreational Area that is adjacent to it. The latter facility is operated by the U.S. National Park Service and includes campgrounds and waterways for boating and fishing.   

It is possible that Sulphur will in time will become a major tourist destination.

WILLIAM F. O'BRIEN is an Oklahoma City attorney.

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