There are many stores about the tunnels in the Arnett Building. The most
credible stories are from two people who knew Eugene Arnett. The first story was from an interview that appeared in the Sunday Oklahoma on April 18th 1982. His name was Levi Brookings. The day after graduating from the eighth grade, he went to work for Arnett. The interurban was the stimulus for the idea to start building tunnels. They ran from under the building to the north side of what is now the N.W. 39 th Street expressway. There were rumors that they were part of Putnam’s plans for the Capitol complex, but Brookings said that was not true.
Levi said, “I helped dig them”. They were to be used to transfer coal, cement and other materials to the building with his own cars. They were never finished, for a reason that is known only to Arnett. He further stated that the tunnels are now filled with water. There was still an entrance in the part of the building that remained after the fire.
The second story comes from an interview by Pendleton Woods with former superintendent, Patrick A. Tankersley. For those that are interested, it is included in the Centennial Book published by the Putnam City Schools Museum. Mr Tankersley says that there is no mysterious motive involved in creating the tunnels. They were a practical solution to the problem of moving fuel and materials from the interurban into the building. The idea was to load carts to transport the materials
underground instead of across the roadway.
In the era before natural gas, large structures such as the Arnett Building were heated with hot water/steam and radiators. That was true of this building up until sometime in the eighties, when they installed package units that were both heat and air conditioning. This is the most natural explanation for the tunnels that were in this complex. They were for the network of pipes that carried the heat throughout the complex. It would make sense that when the new Junior High / Central Intermediate was built across the street, its system was abandoned and the network was removed from the tunnels, leaving them empty. Also, they would serve no purpose with the loss of the rest of the complex from the fire in the 1950s. What was left would serve as fodder for speculation as to their purpose.
When I first went to work for the school district, the boiler was across the street at Central Intermediate. On Monday mornings in the cold part of the year we had to wait for the boiler to be brought up before we had heat in the building. The water came piped from across the street in a tunnel into our building. There was an opening, in the floor, in the back of the building directly across from the boiler room at Central Intermediate.
There was an add-on section on the west side of the building that had access to what remained of the tunnels. When I went down into this section, it ran south a short way, but not the full length of the building. About midway, there was a junction that went to the west under the football field. This would have been the connection to the west wing of the building.
As the Arnett building was being razed, I stopped by to visit with one of the workers. He said that there was a north section of the tunnels that appeared to be a basement. Again, I was able to look into the section that ran west under the football field and see that it stopped about where the west section of the original building would have been. There was part of the tunnel that ran toward 39th Street that was filled in. That would have been the part that was supposed to run to the Interurban.
There is also a story that the fire department and police used the tunnels for emergency training exercises. In the 20+ years that I worked in the building, they came once and had training in the tunnels. Bits and pieces of people's recollections will continue to feed the sense of mystery about the tunnels and their purpose. This is what I know from having worked in the building for over 20 years.
(from the Putnam City 75th anniversary book, Page 42)
A.C. Carlson, Putnam City High School Class of 1925, recalls the early days of Putnam City fondly.
Carlson began attending Putnam in 1914 after four one-room schools in the area consolidated to form Putnam City.
Carlson had attended Central School, located at the northwest corner of 23rd and Rockwell. The Ozmun School was located at the northeast corner of 23rd and Portland, the Goff School was on the northeast corner of 63rd and Rockwell, and County Line School was located at the junction of Wilshire Boulevard and Canadian County Line.
Carlson remembers riding the district’s first buses which were actually horse-drawn vans.
“We used to sit on each other’s feet in cold weather to keep warm,” he said.
When the school began using Model T Fords as buses, Carlson drove one for a short period of time.
“Fred Lawson, one of our bus drivers, got married and asked me to drive his route while he was on his honeymoon,” he said.
At that time, the school had no cafeteria. Students brought metal lunch pails and collapsible metal drinking cups.
Carlson can relate some amusing anecdotes about those days.
“I remember one morning I came in the school, and our superintendent, P.A. Tankersley, was trying to talk to George Cook, who owned a fruit farm in the area, into giving one of the addresses at the dedication of the clock the Class of 1929 was giving the school. ‘There’s A.C.,’ Cook said. ‘He’ll do it.’ Well, I was late and didn’t know my lesson, so I volunteered because I got out of class to do it. Mr. Tankersley helped me write and memorize my speech and when I got up to speak, I said, ‘We wish . . . we wish . . .’ and I saw all those eyes staring at me and I couldn’t remember a word of my speech. Mr. Tankersley brought me my speech and I finished it. And that was my introduction to speech making,” he laughed.
Carlson actually quit school in 1924 to help his father on their farm but returned to graduate the following year.