Archive for Wednesday, November 5, 2008

At Teepee Junction, landmark and memories refreshed

A historical Lawrence landmark is receiving a makeover this week. The 50-foot-tall teepee at Teepee Junction in North Lawrence is being redecorated.

November 5, 2008


Cliff McDonald tells the story of Teepee Junction

Teepee Junction - known as a place for Kansas University students to party - is being refurbished.

And as that project nears completion, the teepee's 83-year-old owner, Cliff McDonald, recalls the beginnings of the North Lawrence landmark that was built as part of an "Indian Village."

The 50-foot-tall concrete teepee that stands today was built in 1928. A dance hall and beer garden were added seven years later, all the brainchild of Cliff's father, Frank McDonald.

Cliff grew up with young American Indians, many Haskell Indian Nations University student-athletes, who worked at the village at the intersection of U.S. Highways 24-59 and 24-40.

Frank McDonald worked at Haskell for 13 years in the early 1900s, first as a coach and later as athletic director. McDonald was also a prominent community leader who started McDonald Beverage Co., an Anheuser-Busch distributor, at the end of prohibition in 1933. On the Haskell campus, the football stadium is the legacy of Frank McDonald, who died in 1986.

At the time, Haskell was "in its heyday," said Lori Tapahonso, who guides tours of the university. Haskell's football team was undefeated and was attracting national attention. They played on a dirt field, now the university's practice fields.

"Frank McDonald convinced the school and administrative department mainly that the team should have a facility to match its grandeur," Tapahonso said.

McDonald traveled to American Indian communities asking for donations to build the stadium. He told them they would be "investing in American Indian youth," she said.

He raised about $250,000, and the stadium opened in 1926. More than 6,000 American Indians from across the country visited for a four-day powwow and dedication. And in 1929, the stadium became the first in the state to have lights.

"Today we remember that history," she said. "We have that stadium because of Frank McDonald."

The village

Later, that devotion to the American Indian community in Lawrence was put into the "Indian Village," which Frank McDonald saw as a business opportunity and something that would benefit friends in the Haskell community.

"This was kind of in the middle of no place," Cliff said. "Apparently someone knew the highway was coming through; my dad bought the land and said this is what we're going to do."

Because of his father's strong relationship with the Haskell community, he also wanted to promote American Indian traditions, which was a big draw for tourists on both coasts, Cliff said. The staff wore American Indian tribal garb, made by Cliff's mother, Helen McDonald. They pumped gas, served food to people in their cars and every visitor received an American Indian curio. It proved successful. Today people still stop to look or photograph the teepee, Cliff said.

"I have pictures of cars backed up for a mile to get gasoline here, and that's because of the uniqueness," he said.

Nationwide plans a washout

The dancehall and beer garden continue as an attractive spot for private parties, largely for KU student groups and the alumni association.

Cliff said his father envisioned creating an "Indian Villages" chain across the country. He partnered with Continental Oil Co. to fuel the gas station.

"The Depression came and knocked our plans for nationwide," Cliff said.

And then the floods came.

Cliff was 11 when a June 5, 1935, flood wiped out three teepee rentals that were on the property.

"The 1951 flood was really a dandy," he said.

They used chains to hold up the remaining structures then. Water reached halfway up the top windows of the teepee, he said.

Two lines were painted on the teepee to mark the floodwaters. The lines themselves are a major attraction adding to the historical significance of the local landmark. Cliff said they will be painted back on soon.

History is what's important

The North Lawrence Indian Village was among numerous such themed gift shops - and motel areas - that sprang up across the country.

"Curio shops are not places of honor for us, so I can't say that I ever liked that place," Tapahonso said of Teepee Junction. "It put it in a whole different light when I realized that it was Frank McDonald, you know, who, that was his concept."

Tapahonso said Frank McDonald was proud of his continued connection to Haskell by employing students and an all-American Indian staff.

"He did wonderful things for our school, but during that era, during that time that was built, that was before we realized that imagery had a damaging effect in a lot of ways on different cultures of the world."

Cliff said he doesn't have any particular use in mind for the teepee once renovation is complete.

Joanne Renfro, Lawrence artist, is repainting the teepee that originally was painted by Haskell student and Navajo Indian Tom Nokie. On one side is a tribesman on a horse, a buffalo and a white dog.

"I'm just trying to keep it as close to the original as possible," said Renfro, adding she expects to be done this week. "The history of the teepee is what's important."


bluerose 9 years, 6 months ago

thanks for this story! i have lived here for almost 10 years and always wondered about the history and purpose of Teepee Junction. it is wonderful that it is being restored and kept alive!

Lesta 9 years, 6 months ago

The ZOO parties held there in the '80s were epic...Of course, as a former resident of Oliver Hall's fourth floor north, I'm a bit biased...But they were indeedy-doody epic...

flyin_squirrel 9 years, 6 months ago

This is only a small tidbit of what the McDonald family has done for Lawrence. Lawrence and Haskell have been truely blessed by their presence.

avetaysmom 9 years, 6 months ago

This is where my Mom and Dad met, when they were asked to double date with friends. Today is thier 46th anniversary, I wish you where here dad to celebrate, we love and miss you so much!!

kcwarpony 9 years, 6 months ago

MD,Not the "official" grad party...and that is all I'm allow to say...:}

Take_a_letter_Maria 9 years, 6 months ago

"At the time, Haskell was "in its heyday," said Lori Tapahonso, who guides tours of the university. Haskell's football team was undefeated and was attracting national attention. They played on a dirt field"The more things change the more they stay the same.

cthulhu_4_president 9 years, 6 months ago

Fascinating. I drive past it whenver I go to LV. See the flood markers each time, but never knew the history. Great story.

Johnny8Ball 9 years, 6 months ago

Lesta, I don't think I've ever seen so many underage college kids throwing up in one place as the one ZOO Teepee party I attended (Summerfest in Milwaukee the only possible competition). You didn't need to touch them though. Bad touching is wrong.

junebugkurt 9 years, 6 months ago

Lesta, I remember an epic zoo party when I happened to be working the door when the ABC showed up. Trying to stall, I asked them for ID and one fine law enforcement officer simply turned around and pointed to the back of his coat. Good enough for me officer, head right in...

rtwngr 9 years, 6 months ago

I don't understand why the faculty and alumnus of Haskell are not offended by the word "Indian" being used in the name of the school. Shouldn't it be something more like "Haskell Indigenous People's Nations University"? That is much more politically correct than that offensive word "Indian". What about the mascot? An Indian? They even call themselves the "Indians". Don't they realize that they are offending themselves?Tapahonso was obviously put out at the curio connections of "Tee Pee Junction" until she found out it was a white man that had done a LOT for Haskell was the entrepreneur behind it.

Lesta 9 years, 6 months ago

Welcome to the board, Mr. Long (I think I know who you are too!)

Jason Bailey 9 years, 6 months ago

@Lesta: Oliver that brought back some memories. I was on 3rd floor South in the early 90's. Back in the day, we used to climb out the window and sit on the little ledge and watch the baseball games from afar. (For those that don't know, the 3rd floor is really only 1 story off the we weren't that high and the bodily risk was minimal if we fell)Great times!

Steven Berger 9 years, 6 months ago

The ZOO parties which were brought to you by the 4th floor residents of Oliver Hall in the 80's were indeed parties of legend! Ohh the memories...

Miles_Long 9 years, 6 months ago

Lesta - so many ZOO floor parties. As an 80s 4th floor Southie I remember not only the TeePee parties, but also our attempt at backing the keg truck into the Armory when LA's finest came to break up the party. Not something the cops were going to agree to. The solution? Heft all 15 to 20 kegs up the back staircase at Oliver Hall and into one room on the North side of the floor. Good times.

Lesta 9 years, 6 months ago

@ junebugkurt (I think I know who you are!), I happen to have a photo of two of Lawrence's finest smack dab in the middle one ZOO party in '87 or '88 looking like they were real happy to be there...I'll try to track it down to scan and post on my Facebook page...

Lesta 9 years, 6 months ago

Lest we forget (which I did) about the Old Hip-Eye's legendary birth day parties...

terrapin2 9 years, 6 months ago

I recall some really wild times when the Lonesome Houndogs played at a number of parties out there! WOW!!!

number3of5 9 years, 6 months ago

In the early sixties, my father and mother ran the Tepee Service Station. My husband' father and two brothers lived in the apartment above it for a while. I worked many days cleaning inside and outside of the station. I have pictures of family taken there.

Shane Garrett 9 years, 6 months ago

Ahh, I knew Lawrence had its charms. I also am having fond memories of the old Hip eyes birthday parties. The lonesome hound dogs, do you remember the gravel tones? The ZOO parties. The penny parties of the late eighties and early nineties. The McCollum hall 60's party. (They only had one and it was invaded by the new wave elevator group, what a hoot.)

Raider 9 years, 6 months ago

"He did wonderful things for our school, but during that era, during that time that was built, that was before we realized that imagery had a damaging effect in a lot of ways on different cultures of the world."Sounds like she's saying "thanks, but no thanks". Typical ingrate.

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