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Charcoal Oven closed Sunday, sign comes down Monday, but story's not over

Photo by Doug Hoke / NewsOK
Photo by Doug Hoke / NewsOK

Charcoal Oven served its last Chick-a-Doodle-Doo sandwich, Theta burger, Suzy-Q-Fries and onion rings Sunday night, and its iconic sign came down Monday, but the burger stand that opened in 1958 isn’t quite ready to retire.

“This is not the end of the Charcoal Oven,” said Anne Wilson, daughter of founder and owner David Wilson. “We haven’t decided exactly what that means yet, we’re considering all of our options. All we know for sure is this property (as home to Charcoal Oven) is over, and something new is coming.”

The Oven opened in 1958 at the height of the drive-in explosion, which appealed to mobile, restless and hungry youth. David Wilson also owned Quick’s Hamburgers, which is now home to Neptune’s Submarine Sandwiches at 33rd and Classen.

Despite a revival of the long lines Charcoal Oven routinely drew back in the 1960s, Anne Wilson said her father, who is 84, had no interest in prolonging residence at the property.

“I asked him if he wanted to hang on until Christmas, and he said, ‘Nope,’”she joked.

Wilson said Sunday night was a little emotional for the family, but Monday’s deconstruction was more about moving forward.

“This is just a step that had to happen,” she said. “It’s kind of a relief.”

Selling the last charcoal-fired Theta burger on Sunday was routine compared to the all-day affair of dismantling and carefully removing the signage. Charcoal Oven’s renowned sign depicting a cartoon chef serving a burger under a covered dish went up to two years after the restaurant opened when the original sign proved not to be sturdy enough for Oklahoma’s notorious prairie-busting winds.

The “new” sign was made of porcelain. The only repair it ever needed was the occasional change of neon.

Jim Gleason, owner of G&S Signs, oversaw the removal of the Charcoal Oven sign. His crew inspected the sign last week to identify obstacles. On Monday morning, crews began about 8:30 a.m., installing supports to the sign to ensure it would hold up to a short trip on a crane.

“If you laid that sign down on the lawn, the top side would shatter under its own weight,” Gleason explained

After a practice lift, Gleason’s crew will carefully removed it from its home of 56 years and haul to its new home, which Gleason is also providing.

“We have a collection of signs that we’d like to use as the basis for a museum,” he explained. “We just finished the Taft Stadium sign, and we also have Ralph’s Drug sign. We’d like to have an indoor streetscape of Route 66 where we display these signs.”

Gleason’s Billboard Museum Association is a nonprofit seeking to preserve historic signage like the old Ralph's Drug sign, which was at SW 29 and Blackwelder, the Rio Siesta Motel sign in Clinton as well as other signs from along Route 66 before they are claimed by time.

Gleason said signs like the one at Charcoal Oven become a part of the neighborhood.

As for the sign he took down on Monday, he marveled at its integrity.

“That sign hasn’t been repainted since it went up in 1960,” Gleason said. “When they installed those porcelain signs it was because they could last a lifetime.”

The one David Wilson installed in 1960 certainly did that.

We will discuss the sign, the menu and what’s in store for Charcoal Oven with David Wilson in the weeks to come. If you have any memories to share with him, email them (dcathey@oklahoman.com) or leave them in comments.

I’ve received dozens so far, and look forward to sharing them with Mr. Wilson and all of you down the road.

Related Photos
 Crews remove the main section of the Charcoal Oven sign Monday, September 12, 2016. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman

Crews remove the main section of the Charcoal Oven sign Monday, September 12, 2016. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman

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Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman" title="Anne Wilson, daughter of founder and owner David Wilson, watches in the shade of the carport, as crews work to remove the main section of the Charcoal Oven sign Monday, September 12, 2016. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Anne Wilson, daughter of founder and owner David Wilson, watches in the shade of the carport, as crews work to remove the main section of the Charcoal Oven sign Monday, September 12, 2016. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-32972b3cc4348a8d7e1f14e7ee596d65.jpg" alt="Photo - Jim Gleason, owner of G&amp;S Signs gets a close up look after crews removed the main section of the Charcoal Oven sign Monday, September 12, 2016. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman" title="Jim Gleason, owner of G&amp;S Signs gets a close up look after crews removed the main section of the Charcoal Oven sign Monday, September 12, 2016. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Jim Gleason, owner of G&amp;S Signs gets a close up look after crews removed the main section of the Charcoal Oven sign Monday, September 12, 2016. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-9309e76a2e15fa32df06648954f62d89.jpg" alt="Photo - Crews remove the main section of the Charcoal Oven sign Monday, September 12, 2016. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman" title=" Crews remove the main section of the Charcoal Oven sign Monday, September 12, 2016. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman"><figcaption> Crews remove the main section of the Charcoal Oven sign Monday, September 12, 2016. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-8638342807cd49f7c03f53aae263be20.jpg" alt="Photo - Crews remove the main section of the Charcoal Oven sign Monday, September 12, 2016. 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Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman" title=" Crews remove the main section of the Charcoal Oven sign Monday, September 12, 2016. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman"><figcaption> Crews remove the main section of the Charcoal Oven sign Monday, September 12, 2016. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure>
Dave Cathey

The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene. Read more ›

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