A View from the Outside Reveals the Purpose Inside

Author: C.L. Harmon
Category: Celebrity
Date Published: May 21, 2020
Outsiders House porch in the front

The Origin of the Outsiders House Museum

731 N. St. Louis Avenue. It’s just an ordi­nary address of an old house in an old neigh­bor­hood that most peo­ple will nev­er see and would pay no atten­tion to it if they did see it. But to a few, it’s a place of mem­o­ry and reflec­tion, and to one per­son, it became a pil­grim­age. It’s the epi­cen­ter of what was a fic­tion­al tragedy that con­tin­ues to strike some­thing gen­uine in all of us when expe­ri­enc­ing our trans­for­ma­tion from child­hood to adult­hood. It was an ordi­nary address in the begin­ning until it became part of a movie set. Now it’s known as the Out­siders House. Writer S.E. Hin­ton, movie direc­tor Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la and a group of aspir­ing and tal­ent­ed young actors cre­at­ed what would even­tu­al­ly become a time cap­sule of sorts with the 1983 release of the movie “The Out­siders” filmed in Tulsa.

Outsiders movie Poster
Out­siders Movie Poster — Pho­tos used with permission

Hin­ton’s nov­el of the same name, writ­ten while she was a teenag­er in Tul­sa, is a com­ing of age sto­ry between the teen and young adult Greasers and the Socials in the mid-1960s. And though the riffs between social groups are as old as civ­i­liza­tion and often the theme of young adult works, there was mag­i­cal­ly released when these spe­cif­ic cre­ative forces col­lab­o­rat­ed on this sto­ry in Tul­sa all those years ago.

It is that mag­ic that lives on long after the set has been cleared and those involved moved onto oth­er projects. It is that same mag­ic that brought a for­mer Los Ange­les rap artist to a new pur­pose in his life.

There have been sev­er­al sto­ries from news­pa­pers and oth­er media that high­light­ed Dan­ny Boy O’Con­nor’s efforts begin­ning with his pur­chase and then the sub­se­quent restora­tion of the house where C. Thomas How­ell, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Ralph Mac­chio, Tom Cruise, and Patrick Swayze cre­at­ed movie his­to­ry and unknow­ing­ly the Brat Pack genre of the 1980s.

Members of the cast of Outsiders
Pho­tos used with per­mis­sion by The Out­siders House Museum

While tour­ing with his music projects and with the Hip Hop trio House of Pain, O’Con­nor would seek out inter­est­ing pop cul­ture loca­tions and explore them. Each new city was an oppor­tu­ni­ty to locate small trea­sures. He nev­er wast­ed an oppor­tu­ni­ty. After years of liv­ing a wild and drug-fueled exis­tence, O’Con­nor found him­self sober, excit­ed, on the road, and with a new cam­era in which to doc­u­ment Amer­i­ca’s hid­den and almost for­got­ten his­tor­i­cal trea­sures and pop cul­ture loca­tions. Dur­ing this point in his life in 2009, he, like the char­ac­ters in The Out­siders, was find­ing him­self and learn­ing not just about who he was but who he want­ed to become. It would­n’t be long before he dis­cov­ered his first trea­sure which just hap­pened to be in Tul­sa. O’Con­nor felt a con­nec­tion to the sto­ry and had been a fan of the movie since first see­ing it. Obvi­ous­ly, it held some inter­est for him, but he would­n’t have dreamed how it would come to impact his life. There was some­thing deep and mys­te­ri­ous that drew him to the house. Not just once, but year after year. He would often think of it and what might become of it in the years to come.

His first encounter with the house, he found it to be in a dilap­i­dat­ed state. It was under­go­ing a “Fluff & Buff” by its cur­rent own­er for a quick sale. But it was real­ly noth­ing more than a run­down rental prop­er­ty. There were no signs iden­ti­fy­ing this address as part of cin­e­mat­ic his­to­ry, no sign at all in fact that this had ever been any­thing but an obscure address in a North Tul­sa neigh­bor­hood. He asked to gain entry but was denied and informed he could pur­chase the prop­er­ty for $42,000 if he was that inter­est­ed. And though this was a bar­gain com­pared to prop­er­ty val­ues in Los Ange­les, he opt­ed not to buy it. He con­tin­ued on his way, but not before snap­ping a pho­to and post­ing it on his social media. That was his first pho­to of his­tor­i­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant finds and the begin­ning of what would become a quest of find­ing pop cul­ture and his­tor­i­cal gems in America.

Outsiders House porch
Hin­ton O’Con­nor Con­ver­sa­tion — Pho­tos used with permission

That one pho­to and the sad­ness he felt that some­thing so sig­nif­i­cant was treat­ed as a sec­ond-hand prop sold to the high­est bid­der would become a haunt­ing mem­o­ry of a dying old house in Tul­sa that once was a stage for a time­less clas­sic. That mem­o­ry and the feel­ings it invoked nev­er left him. This was in 2009. He con­tin­ued with his trav­els seek­ing out tid­bits of his­to­ry and pop cul­ture every place he vis­it­ed. With the onset of ear­ly online social inter­ac­tion that we now know as social media, O’Con­nor con­tin­ued post­ing his finds after so many respond­ed pos­i­tive­ly to the Out­sider House post. He soon real­ized there were many oth­ers who shared his pas­sion. As social media evolved, his post­ings found a fol­low­ing. He was soon to real­ize he was being called away from music to explore a new pur­pose. He was to pre­serve his­to­ry and ignite a pas­sion for this coun­try’s pop cul­ture con­tri­bu­tions. He felt cre­at­ing music was los­ing the impor­tance it once held for him, but a new pas­sion was tak­ing its place. He was still tour­ing but with a bud­ding new purpose.

“I was sober and see­ing Amer­i­ca for the first time with sober eyes. I want­ed to redis­cov­er all the sim­ple things we are known for like Route 66 and all these catchy things in the coun­try,” O’Con­nor said. And yet with all his explo­ration and dis­cov­ery, it was that old house with the shab­by fence and junked up yard in North Tul­sa which held a spe­cial place in his heart…the first pho­to he posted.

“I would go on the road, make enough mon­ey to live for six months, and then I would start to do these deep­er dives into explor­ing, which would bring me across the US. And every time I would head out across the coun­try, I would make a bee­line to Tul­sa because this is where it all start­ed for me and I was always won­der­ing what peo­ple were doing with the house. Each year I came back, it looked worse for wear with ten­ants who did­n’t know of or care about its significance,”.

Outsiders House back yard
Back of Out­siders House — Pho­tos used with permission

By the fourth year of com­ing back, it was appar­ent that the house­’s wors­en­ing con­di­tion would even­tu­al­ly land it on some­one’s demo­li­tion list. He was right. By 2016 it was heavy on his mind and on the Habi­tat for Human­i­ty short­list as well. For that orga­ni­za­tion, it was a prime loca­tion to build two hous­es and they were look­ing to acquire it. O’Con­nor felt sad that the house was going to be put down and fever­ish­ly began an unsuc­cess­ful search for the own­er. Out of options, he approached the then-cur­rent ten­ants and lied about want­i­ng to pub­lish pho­tos of the house and need­ing the own­er’s per­mis­sion. It worked. The own­er asked a price in the $40,000 range, but a shrewd nego­tia­tor friend of O’Con­nor’s got it down to $15,000. He thought he stole it! He soon real­ized that was not the case.

Upon his arrival at the house from Los Ange­les a short time lat­er, he was shocked to dis­cov­er how far it had dete­ri­o­rat­ed since his last vis­it. Not to men­tion it would even­tu­al­ly cost him $5000 to get the ten­ants to vacate the prop­er­ty. He feared each day they were there more dam­age would be done to the house and so he paid back rent to get them out. At this point, he was into the prop­er­ty for $20,000 and only had 28,000 to his name. He still thought he was “Gold” though. He lived in Bev­er­ly Hills and now owned a house in Tul­sa where he could stay if he want­ed. It need­ed work sure, he knew that. But it was­n’t until the ten­ants final­ly moved, he real­ized just how much work it need­ed. It was not hab­it­able and the $8000 he had left would­n’t even make a dent to get it that way. He had, how­ev­er, met his prime objec­tive and saved the house from demo­li­tion, but it was­n’t the com­plete out­come which he had hoped. (Habi­tat for Human­i­ty lat­er con­firmed they were going to buy and demolish.)

Outsiders House porch
Hin­ton O’Con­nor Con­ver­sa­tion — Pho­tos used with permission

“If you have ever seen an episode of hoarders…this was worse and they had used the lawn as a junk­yard! When I opened the door, I was like man I just flushed twen­ty grand down the toi­let! This was not the way the house was the last time I had vis­it­ed. I was just going to board it up and go home and cry. At least they won’t be able to tear it down,” he thought to him­self at the time. There were major issues includ­ing a faulty foun­da­tion, no heat and air, roach­es, rats, no mod­ern insu­la­tion, and much, much more.

He ini­tial­ly pan­icked, but after regroup­ing his thoughts, he remem­bered hear­ing about the “Christ­mas Sto­ry” muse­um in Cleve­land, Ohio, and how that own­er had found him­self in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion when he pur­chased that house. So, he thought, okay an Out­siders movie muse­um might be a good idea. Per­haps there would be oth­ers out there like him who saw the need to save places like the house where a movie was filmed. He let his inten­tions known and when the press got wind, help came immediately.

“As soon as I put it on Face­book, my phone start­ed ring­ing off the wall with the press. Peo­ple start­ed stop­ping by includ­ing the may­or and city officials,”.

Sign in front of Outsiders House
Wel­come Sign — Pho­tos used with permission

The house was a long way from a muse­um and in des­per­ate need of just about every­thing. The mag­ic I wrote about ear­li­er began to man­i­fest again as though it had awak­ened from its over 30-year slum­ber. The pas­sion and art which had been cre­at­ed in that house dur­ing film­ing were roused by O’Con­nor’s and the pub­lic’s desire to see it saved and live on for future gen­er­a­tions. Dona­tions in the form of mon­ey, labor, and sup­plies began pour­ing in allow­ing O’Con­nor’s vision to take shape.

As remod­el­ing was under­way, he was in con­stant search of props and mem­o­ra­bil­ia to fill the muse­um. His search­es paid off and today the house­holds the most impres­sive col­lec­tion of The Out­siders mem­o­ra­bil­ia on the plan­et. The muse­um has been com­plet­ed since last year and now it’s as though being on set when walk­ing through the house. Scenes from the movie flash through one’s mind while view­ing all that has been col­lect­ed and dis­played. Scenes such as Pony­boy at his writ­ing desk, Sodapop com­ing out of the bath­room in a tow­el and the Greasers prepar­ing for the rum­ble are all still alive.

bathroom at Outsiders House
Out­siders House Bath­room — Pho­tos used with permission

There is so much to write per­tain­ing to what O’Con­nor and those who have con­tributed to this project have recre­at­ed in this small North Tul­sa neigh­bor­hood. But I think what is most inter­est­ing is how O’Con­nor is mys­te­ri­ous­ly and inex­tri­ca­bly linked to this house and how it beck­oned him to its door year after year with a plea to revive it. He did save it from cer­tain death just as Pony­boy, John­ny, and Dal­las did for those chil­dren in the aban­doned, burn­ing church. Is it coin­ci­dence or fate that Out­siders is a sto­ry about find­ing who we are and essen­tial­ly sav­ing that and those which we care whether that be fam­i­ly, friends, or the way we believe? O’Con­nor’s efforts have done just that in his own life. In doing so he has found a home and friends in Tul­sa the same way sev­er­al fic­tion­al young peo­ple did all those years ago when S.E. Hin­ton wrote a time­less sto­ry about friends, fam­i­ly, and grow­ing up in a world where we must all fig­ure out who we want to be. O’Con­nor moved to Tul­sa in 2017 to watch over the house that beck­oned him in 2009. The Out­siders House and its preser­va­tion is his pas­sion now. And though he was not able to move into the house he bought; in many ways it is home…the place where the heart is. It’s as though the mag­ic knew it had found its sal­va­tion when a pop-cul­ture enthu­si­ast snapped a pho­to. From that moment, it invit­ed him home.

The Out­siders House Muse­um is ded­i­cat­ed to the preser­va­tion of the home and mem­o­ra­bil­ia used in The Out­siders, filmed by Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la in Tul­sa, Okla­homa in 1982. In addi­tion, it is a non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion work­ing to pro­vide Okla­homa’s youth knowl­edge about the works of S.E. Hin­ton and the impact those works have had on pop culture.

It should be not­ed that even the Habi­tat for Human­i­ty kicked in and built the gift shop and restrooms at the back of the prop­er­ty. Drop by if you’re ever in the neigh­bor­hood. You might just find a bit of gold spun from the mag­ic that lives on in a North Tul­sa neighborhood.

To learn more about The Out­siders House, vis­it theoutsidershouse.com.

C.L. Harmon

C.L. Harmon

C.L. is an award-winning journalist who spent many years in the newspaper and freelance fields. In addition to holding reporting and editing positions throughout his career, he also owned and operated a newspaper for several years. He was born, raised, and continues to reside in Oklahoma.

1 Comment

  1. C.L. Harmon

    Many peo­ple have com­ment­ed how this movie and/or book impact­ed them to me. We would to love hear your thoughts and mem­o­ries about The Out­siders and how it affect­ed you. Please share with our readers.


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