In 1964, a liquor store owner in Oklahoma City installed a machine gun turret on the roof of his store to deter bootleggers and price-fixers who threatened his business. The turret was never fired and was removed a year later, but it became a legend in the state’s history.
The owner of the store was Byron Gambulos, a Greek-American entrepreneur who had served in the Philippines during World War II. He opened his liquor store, Byron’s Liquor Warehouse, in 1959, after Oklahoma repealed prohibition and legalized alcohol sales. He was one of the first retailers to sell liquor at low prices, which angered some of his competitors who wanted to keep the market prices high.
Gambulos faced harassment and intimidation from bootleggers and price-fixers who wanted to drive him out of business. He also received death threats and had his store windows smashed several times. He decided to take matters into his own hands and installed a machine gun turret on his roof, which he bought from a surplus store for $250. The turret was a .50-caliber Browning M2 machine gun mounted on a swivel base that could rotate 360 degrees. It was controlled by a joystick inside the store and had a range of about two miles.
Gambulos said he installed the turret as a deterrent and a publicity stunt, not as a weapon. He told The Washington Post in 2021: “I never intended to use it. I just wanted to scare them off.” He also said he wanted to attract customers and media attention to his store, which he did. The turret became a local sensation and drew crowds of curious spectators. It also made national headlines and was featured in Life magazine and The New York Times.
However, not everyone was amused by Gambulos’ stunt. The Oklahoma City police chief ordered him to remove the turret, saying it was illegal and dangerous. Gambulos refused and challenged the order in court. He argued that he had a right to protect his property and that the turret was not loaded. He also said he had obtained a permit from the state to possess the machine gun. The case went all the way to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which ruled against Gambulos in 1965 and ordered him to remove the turret within 10 days or face contempt charges.
Gambulos complied with the court order and had the turret taken down by a crane. He said he sold it to a collector for $1,500. He continued to run his liquor store until he retired in 2016 at the age of 91. He died in 2019 at the age of 94. His store is still operating today under the management of his grandson, Blake Cody, who said his grandfather was “a charmer” and “a legend”.
The machine gun turret that once defended Byron’s Liquor Warehouse is now part of Oklahoma’s folklore. It is remembered as a symbol of Gambulos’ courage and defiance against corruption and violence. It is also a reminder of the turbulent times when alcohol was legalized in Oklahoma and how one man made history with his unconventional business strategy.