The George W. Terry Building in Historic Downtown Poteau
Historic Downtown Poteau can boast of having two Mesker buildings. The Angry Mullet, a newly formed coffee shop and cafe, occupies one of the best preserved Mesker buildings in the area. While the facade is an important part of the building, the history surrounding it speaks volumes about Poteau's early role in the region.
The building was built in 1903 and is officially named the George W. Terry Building. George W. Terry was an early day barber and could be considered one of the founders of Poteau. He is most known for the Woodson Home, which is officially named the "Terry House." Terry Hill, near the base of Cavanal Mountain, is named after him.
On top of the building, on a pediment above the parapet was inscribed "19 Geo. W. Terry 03". This is the only part of the original building, besides the modified entrance, that is no longer there. The building was an exact replica of the one to the right, in which a section of Bridgman's Furniture is now in.
Mr. Terry's barbershop occupied the bottom floor. The left window read, "Geo. W. Terry, Barber Shop and Baths". On the right side the window read, "Shoes Shined, 10c" Directly in front of the door next to the curb was an old barber pole, measuring about 9' in height.
Where the stairs are today, there was a small entry area that took up a small portion of the barber shop. The stairs led up to a restaurant and hotel.
The side where the Angry Mullet is today was the restaurant side. You could have a "regular" meal for 25 cents. Originally, when you went up the stairs, you would find a pretty empty floor-plan. There were four rooms to the left (where the old windows are), then the rest was empty. Three of the rooms were used for the hotel and the fourth was used as an office for J.M. Wear, who was a doctor.
The back 2/3rds of the building was the restaurant. If you look at the back right side, you'll notice holes in the floor and chains hanging from the ceiling. This was to hang meat from, and it would drain out through the floor. Typically, this was beef (to a small degree), venison, and wild game. The meat would be salted and dry aged. When ready, it would be served to the patrons.
To get to the hotel, you had to enter through a door immediately to the right of the current door. Think of the building as having a mirror image of itself. Rooms could be rented for 25 cents to 50 cents per day or night. The 50 cent rates were applied to those who wanted to partake of the "finer" delights, meaning young women. Remember Dr. J.M Wear?
As to the beautiful Mesker Facade, George W. Terry partnered with another prominent businessman to hire the Mesker Brothers out of St. Louis. The story is that Mr. Terry wanted to have the finest building downtown in order to impress the "love of his life" so to speak. The obtained financing for the building (and the Terry House) from W. W. Lowrey.
Bridgman's side was remodeled sometime in the early 1940's when it became the Ritz Theater. The upper Mesker part was still intact at this time, but the twin buildings no longer resembled their original appearance.
The George W. Terry Building remained much the same. The upstairs still consisted of a generally open floor plan, however, more boarding rooms were added. These were no longer used as a brothel, but rather for railroad men who came through town.
Perhaps most interestingly, the bottom floor became one of the first Western Auto Associate Stores in the state. The first Western Auto store in the U.S. was built in 1921, followed by the first Western Auto Associate Store in 1935. The store in Poteau can be dated back to 1939, just a few years following the opening of the associate program. Since the store is still in operation, it is verified as the longest continually running store in Oklahoma.
In an attempt to "modernize" the downtown area, much of the historical integrity of the building was lost in the 1950's. On Bridgman's side, the old Mesker Facade was fully removed. On the Terry side, the bottom portion was covered up by a metal facade and the top pediment was removed. Various shops have ran through this building since then, but none with the longevity of George Terry's barber shop or Western Auto.