13 unsung gems of Tulsa architecture include Pythian, Sinclair buildings
BY Staff Reports
Thursday, January 10, 2013
1/10/13 at 1:28 PM
This story originally contained an error. Richard Lloyd Jones' position with the Tulsa Tribune been corrected.
Seen - Photographing Architecture
Original Print Headline: Art Of Architects
The architecture of Tulsa ranges from the ornate to the sedate, from nationally known Art Deco masterworks like the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church to the futuristic swirl of metal and glass that is the BOK Center.
The look of the city reflects the great wealth that financed the stately homes of Maple Ridge, the enterprising and innovative spirit that led to the mid-century modern homes of Lortondale, even the cutting-edge of technology with the cylindrical University Tower, the first major building in a U.S. city designed with the help of a computer.
Because Tulsa's cityscape has such a richness, it's easy for residents to take for granted some of the buildings around town that have historical or aesthetic significance but aren't quite as showy as the lavish interior of the Philcade Building, or the monolithic BOK Tower, designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the architect of the original World Trade Center.
The Tulsa World asked a number of local architects to name the buildings they considered to be Tulsa's less-heralded architectural gems. From their suggestions, we chose the following 13 - simply because it's 2013.
And we're very much aware that this is far from an exhaustive list. But its purpose is to cause people to take a closer look at the city around them and maybe appreciate Tulsa's past and present - as depicted in the buildings we have - a little bit more.
Gillette Tyrrel Building (also known as the Pythian Building)
423 S. Boulder Ave.
Built in 1930
Architect: Edward W. Saunders
This building was originally designed to be a 13-story building - shops and offices on the first three floors, topped off with a 10-story hotel. However, according to Leisa McNulty of KSQ Architects and a trustee of the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture, the effects of the Great Depression put an end to the additional upper stories. However, the building gives the impression of being much taller than it is, thanks to its cream-colored terra cotta faÃ§ade - a series of narrow vertical piers running without interruption to the top of the building.
6 E. Fifth St.
Built in 1917
Architect: Clarence Birdsall
Herb Fritz of Fritz Bailey P.C. thinks the former home of the Sinclair Oil Company is "easily overlooked" despite being one of the city's "older and more detailed 'pre-deco' downtown buildings." Sinclair Oil moved out in 1952. During the 1980s, the Sinclair was one of the last buildings in Tulsa to have paid elevator operators. Today, most of its floors are vacant.
1381 Riverside Drive
Built in 1929
Architect: Bruce Goff
Several of the architects mentioned the Spotlight Theater, which has been home to the longest continually running play in America, "The Drunkard," since 1953. It was designed as a combination music studio, recital hall and residence.
Said Lanny McIntosh of the The McIntosh Group: "It's a building that was designed to celebrate the art forms it was to be used for. Unfortunately, parts of it are gone - the wonderful murals by Olinka Hrdy and the sculpted fountain right in front of the building by Alfonso Iannelli. It's still there, but it's hidden under a coat of neglect."
Expo Square, 21st Street and Pittsburg Avenue
Built in 1932
Architect: Leland I. Shumway
The 10,000-seat Pavilion has hosted horse shows, concerts, graduations, circuses - just about every kind of performance one might name. Yet the greatest work of art associated with the place is likely the Pavilion itself, with each of its eight entrances decorated with terra cotta ornamentation that depicts various kinds of livestock. McNulty said when it was completed in 1932 at a cost of $275,000, it earned national attention for its "floating roof," supported by a large truss that created a dome with no interior columns.
3701 S. Peoria Ave.
Built in 1956
Architect: Koberling & Brandborg
Known in past decades as the KVOO TV studios and the Brookside Broadcast Center, this was one of the many public buildings Tulsa architect Joseph R. Koberling had a hand in designing. McIntosh said: "It's a mix of late art deco and early mid-century modern, but it's also a great representation of the use of emerging technology. It even incorporated some sustainable elements, with sun panels of the south and west sides of the building."
Bank of Oklahoma Ranch Acres (formerly Home Federal Savings & Loan)
31st Street and Harvard Avenue
Built in 1956
Architect: Koberling & Brandborg
McNulty said this building, constructed the same year as the KJRH Studios, shows Koberling departing from the art deco style, as this building was "designed to complement the other structures in the (Ranch Acres) shopping center, as well as the ranch-style houses in the nearby Ranch Acres neighborhood." She added that with the demolition last year of the Ranch Acres Medical Building that stood across Harvard Avenue from the bank, "the historical significance of this bank has increased dramatically."
Ponca City Savings & Loan Building (now Smith Brothers Abstract & Title)
633 S. Boston Ave.
Built in 1956
Architect: Robert Buchner
Considered by many architects and preservationists as perhaps the city's pre-eminent example of the mid-century modern style, it was also, according to McNulty, the first building in Oklahoma to incorporate Virginia greenstone - a type of stone found near Lynchburg, Va. - into its construction. The building's facade is made of this rock, though it has for years been painted white.
3704 S. Birmingham Ave.
Built in 1929
Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright
Tulsa's older neighborhoods are full of intriguingly designed, unique houses, but none have the cachet as this, one of three buildings in Oklahoma designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
It was built for Wright's cousin, Richard Lloyd Jones, of the Tulsa Tribune, who had requested a more modest dwelling than what Wright ultimately produced.
Also, Wright's choice of materials proved problematic when exposed to Oklahoma weather. One of the better known stories about Westhope, from architect and historian John Brooks Walton, is that during a rainstorm when the house's roof began leaking, Mrs. Lloyd Jones commented, "This is what you get for leaving a work of art out in the rain."
1500 S. Frisco Ave.
Built in 1926
Architect: Shepard & Wiser
The Sophian Plaza is not a unique building - it is a slightly smaller version of the multi-story apartment building with the same name in Kansas City.
Yet since it opened, Tulsa's Sophian Plaza has been one of the city's most prestigious addresses. It was the city's first high-rise apartment building, as well as the only high-rise done in the Italian Renaissance style (the same architectural style as what became Tulsa's Philbrook Museum). The Sophian Plaza was added to the National Register of Historic Places in December 2011.
7777 S. Lewis Ave.
Built in 1967
Architect: Frank Wallace
The architecture of Oral Roberts University has been praised and ridiculed over the years, yet several of the architects singled the Prayer Tower as one of Tulsa's architectural gems. Architect Charles Ward called it "the best piece of design work on the campus - it is well-conceived, it fits well into the atmosphere of the campus, and to some it possesses a distinctly spiritual quality."
Warren Petroleum Corporation Building (now International Plaza)
1350 S. Boulder Ave.
Built in 1957
Architect: Bruce Graham, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Lee Anne Zeigler, former executive director of the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture, once described this as "maybe my all-time favorite" building in Tulsa, "a shining example of the modernist/international style." It was also the first building in this style that architect Bruce Graham designed; he would go on to design such landmark buildings as Chicago's John Hancock Center and Sears Tower (now the Willis Tower).
Tulsa International Airport
7777 E. Apache St.
Built in 1962
Architect: Murray Jones Murray
It's the first building many visitors to Tulsa see. And yet, Fritz said, it is an architectural gem "that is probably taken for granted by most people because it works so well." The airport is an icon of the international style, with its sleek lines and copious use of glass and steel, and earned international attention when it was completed. Perhaps the best gauge of how well Tulsa's airport terminal is designed is that it has not had to undergo the sort of wholesale reconstruction that other facilities of the same vintage, such as Oklahoma City's Will Rogers Airport, have needed to deal with modern air travel.
Fourth National Bank Building (mow Bank of America Center)
15 W. Sixth St.
Built in 1967
Architect: Kelley & Marshall
When this 32-story building opened, it was the tallest building in the Tulsa skyline and was nationally praised as one of the most modern and efficient buildings in the country, McNulty said. It was also one of the first banks in Tulsa to use a pneumatic-tube system as part of its drive-through teller stations.
The Sinclair Building, looking east along Fifth Street, was built in 1917. Find out more about the building on page 16. CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World
The Gillette Tyrrel, or Pythian, Building, is on the northeast corner of Fourth Street and Boulder Avenue. CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World
The Warren Petroleum Building is now International Plaza — an appropriate name given that the building, designed by Skidmore Owings & Merrill of Chicago, is an example of the international modernist style of architecture. See page 19 for more details on this building. CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World
Colorful details adorn the Tulsa Fairgrounds Pavilion. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World
Tulsa International Airport. CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World
Jere Uncapher, office and stage manager for the Spotlight Theater on Riverside, works on a seating chart in the lobby of the building that was designed by Bruce Goff. CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World
KJRH Studios on Peoria CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World
The former Ponca City Savings and Loan building at the corner of Seventh Street and Boston Avenue is considered to be one of the most important mid-century architectural landmarks in Tulsa. CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World
The Prayer Tower reflects the sun on the campus of Oral Roberts University. Tulsa World file
Westhope, at 3704 S. Birmingham Ave., is one of only three buildings in Oklahoma designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World
Bank of America Ranch Acres building. CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World
Fourth National Bank rises above the surrounding buildings downtown Tulsa. The building is now the Bank of America Center. CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World
Sophian Plaza. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World