When Danny Boy O’Connor from House of Pain bought the house in 2016, his idea was to have the coolest crash pad in town when he passed through Tulsa.
But after seeing an endless stream of people stop by to take pictures, O’Connor abruptly changed plans for the house where Francis Ford Coppola and a troupe of young up-and-coming actors filmed The Outsiders.
“He was like, ‘Yeah, you know I’ll end up shirtless in the front door and be on TMZ the next day.’ And so the idea popped in his head: ‘Hey, look at all these kids. Let’s carry this legacy on,’ said Donnie Rich, The Outsiders House Museum manager and event coordinator.
Two weeks shy of being demolished, O’Connor bought the house sight unseen.
“There were probably ten people living in here at the time he purchased it. He didn’t want to just throw them out on the street, so he actually paid for them to get a new place and paid for them to get all their utilities on,” Rich said.
It took several years of renovations, including taking complete portions down to the studs, but in 2022, the house saw more than 4,000 student visitors. This year it’s on track for more than 10,000 kids to visit the house. And that’s not including the weekend visitors, including adults, who have come from as far as Australia and Europe just to tour 731 N St Louis Ave.
“It is the only book in history to be in constant print for over 55 years now. It’s in 23 different languages, in every country it’s required reading, and the author is still alive. It’s the only book that has ever done that,” Rich said.
On the 40th anniversary of the film’s release, the painstaking attempt to put the house back together as it was then has resulted in a living snapshot of American pop culture. But the work never ends.
“We watched this movie 10,000 times in two-second clips. We were able to bring it back to the way it is now. We have all the exterior the same to blend in with the neighborhood, so all of this is still the original fencing. This is the pole they put in for Patrick [Swayze] to do the flip over the fence and hold his weight. The living room and dining room floors are the original … All the wardrobe you’ll see throughout the house is all the original, but the little items were hard. So the picture of these horses or this bookcase probably have eight seconds to the movie, but the only way to get those items was if you ordered Encyclopedia Britannica back in 1980, it was your free gift. Tracking that stuff down, or the horse clock — we ended up actually getting two — but those were more of a chore. We found the people that lived here and got their Polaroids from back in ‘82 and ‘83. We were able to send those off to get the cabinets and the front door made. Certain items, like 100-year-old wallpaper, we were not getting, so we actually had a lady come in and stencil it to be able to match the wallpaper that was in the film,” Rich said.
The scavenger hunt continues, including not only items that were inside the house but others featured elsewhere in the film, like the fountain in front of Johnny Cade’s house which currently sits in 600-pound slabs on the corner of the lot.
“We found the gentleman that made it for the movie, and we called him up searching just to see if he possibly had copies of the blueprints so we could rebuild it. And better yet, he was like, ‘I have the fountain,’” Rich said.
Even Coppola’s director’s chair — which was stolen by a transient during the filming of the movie — has been recovered and is now in a glass display.
Nearly all of the actors from the film have made a visit to the house (with a report that Tom Cruise also just learned about the museum and will make a stop at some point in the future). A wall between the kitchen and a bedroom is covered with signatures of famous folk who have dropped in for a look.
The author — S.E. Hinton — also frequently visits the house, Rich said.
“This book can relate to everybody. Rich, poor, Black, white. It didn’t matter. Everybody can identify with a character in this book. I never thought in a million years I’d be in here with Green Day. After we did the museum, I’m sitting out there talking to them and they show me a picture of them sneaking on the porch 10 years before this was a museum, just to get a pic because it was The Outsiders,” Rich said.
The museum is open Thursday through Saturday and private, one-hour tours of the house are available for $25 per person.