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Simon Jankowsky
View the Palace Building through the years. Courtesy /Malcolm Milsten. Reprinted by permission of Tulsa World.

Immigrant builds a Palace for his American dream

Reprinted by permission. Tulsa World, Thursday, July 23, 2015

When Simon Jankowsky decided to build his five-story Palace Clothiers building at Fourth and Main streets in 1913, fellow retailers scoffed that it would be "folly to build so far south from town."

He built it anyway, and the Palace Building became one of Tulsa’s first skyscrapers.

The Tulsa World Media Co., current owner of the Palace Building, received a tax abatement that will provide tax credits toward the renovation of the historic landmark and add 58 apartments.

The man who built it, like many immigrants, rose from humble beginnings.

Born in Russia, Jankowsky came to New York aboard the S.S. Westphalia in 1882 at age 16 and worked as a cigar maker, according to his grandson, Malcolm Milsten, of Tulsa.

"He used to take me to the Pioneers Association picnics," said Milsten, who worked in the shipping and receiving department of the family business during college vacations.

Milsten recalled watching parades from the vantage point of the metal overhang in front of the building.

Jankowsky became an American citizen in 1888.

The young immigrant left New York and set out to make his fortune. In Joplin, Missouri, he married his wife, Hedwig, and the couple headed for Indian Territory, landing in Tulsa by way of McAlester. The couple eventually had four children and were one of the first Jewish families in Tulsa.

Oil had been found in Red Fork, a new toll bridge across the Arkansas River had just replaced the ferry, and Tulsa was ripe for a clothing store.

In 1904, the resolute retailer founded Palace Clothiers in a one-room building at 110 S. Main St. It was anything but palatial.

Nevertheless, Jankowsky stocked it with high-quality men’s apparel and rugged clothing fit for cowboys and oilfield workers. The business was an immediate success, aided by Tulsa's explosive population growth.

Encouraged, Jankowsky disregarded warnings of naysayers and purchased property for his new store in 1908. Five years later, he erected a steel and concrete building, faced with Oklahoma limestone, at 324 S. Main St.

The upper floors of the Palace Clothiers building were soon occupied by the oilmen whose names would become familiar to many:

  • Harry Sinclair, who would later build his own downtown headquarters for Sinclair Oil & Gas Co.
  • Josh Cosden, who earned and lost two fortunes and built a West Tulsa refinery and the Cosden Building, which became the Mid-Continent Tower.
  • C.J. Wrightsman, who was credited with devising the oil depletion allowance.

The Palace was so successful that Jankowsky added four stories in 1917, providing the Texas Co., one of his most important tenants, with additional office space. Early-day oilmen credited him with assuring that Texas Co. (later Texaco) would keep its refining headquarters in Tulsa.

When Jankowsky died in 1943 at age 78, a newspaper obituary said, “His body will be buried Tuesday. His spirit, like those of other pioneers, now belongs to the history of Tulsa.”

He was described as a quiet man, with a shock of snow-white hair and a placid, introspective face. Shrewd and persevering, he had a dry wit, explaining his habit of never wearing a hat this way:

"I sell hats to make money; I save money by not wearing a hat which I might sell."

He made numerous charitable contributions on the condition that they be given no publicity and donated hundreds of maple saplings to beautify city parks.

Jankowsky once told friends that "while it is true that God made the country, men built its cities."


 

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