Downtown Tulsa’s Modern Architecture Tour

Tulsa’s Holmes Organization/Warren Petroleum building (International Plaza, 1957) | Jennifer Hall

This weekend my friends and I enjoyed a rainy yet amazing tour of downtown Tulsa’s Modern architecture guided by the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture.  I always tell people that two of my favorite things about Tulsa are the friendly people and the architecture, and many of my favorite T-town buildings were covered in the tour.

When downtown Tulsa was forming, many local oil companies were booming from profits from automobile sales as well as profits from World Wars I and II, so they were able to invest in cutting edge architectural designs.  That explains why many of these buildings were designed for the oil industry, and some of them still house oil companies today.

One of the first stops on the tour was the Blue Cross Blue Shield Building (1954).  The building was first designed by the architectural firm Koberling and Brandborg AIA and constructed in 1954. Originally, the building was only three stories high, but the need for more office space, including making room for the first computers, gave a need for more stories.  So in 1969, nine additional stories were designed by architect Joseph R. Koberling and engineer W. C. Roads and added to the structure.

The Blue Cross Building also features an Art Deco frieze above the entrance.  Tulsa is perhaps most famous for its Art Deco architecture, but in many of the city’s buildings, Art Deco and Modern décor and design overlap each other.

Holmes Organisation/Warren Petroleum (International Plaza, 1957)

Warren Petroleum (International Plaza, 1957) was designed by Chicago’s Sears Tower, or Willis Tower, architect Bruce Graham of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM), and was one of the most interesting legs of TFA’s Tulsa Modern architecture tour.  In its heyday it was filled with the best in modern furniture, including Barcelona chairs and Eames office furniture, during an era when many businesses felt that their office building’s architecture and style were a direct reflection of their awareness of the needs of the times.

You can see a bit of one of the environmental functional design features in the photos above, how the Warren Petroleum/International Plaza Building used double-glass-paned windows to absorb the heat of the sun and help to keep the interior cool naturally.  The concept was inspired by the Swiss-French modern architect Le Corbusier’s “neutralizing wall,” which allows air to circulate between panes of glass.

Kewanee Oil (1953)

Originally the Kewanee Oil Building (1953), the office located at 14th and Boulder showcases another Art Deco frieze similar to the one displayed in the Blue Cross building, and is one of Tulsa’s Modern buildings exhibiting Bauhaus influences, designed with clean lines and lots of glass.

Skelly Building/Boulder Towers (1960) | Jennifer Hall

Here we see Tulsa’s well known Skelly Building/Boulder Towers Building (1960).  This structure was originally built for Skelly Oil Company and Cities Service.  With changes of hands over the years, the building has also been known as the Getty Oil Co. Building (1980) and later on, the Texaco Building.

Another view of the Skelly Building/Boulder Towers (1960) | Jennifer Hall

Boulder Towers is located on the northeast corner of 15th Street and Boulder Avenue.

Liberty Towers (1965)

Caddy-corner to Boulder Towers is the Liberty Towers Building (1965), which was designed by the architectural firm Kelley-Marshall Architects, known for their Modern high rises.

University Club Tower (1967)

The University Club Tower (1967), popularly dubbed the “Syringe,” is a well known Tulsa landmark because of its unique shape.

Murphy Oil/Langdon Publishing (1960)

The Murphy Oil/Langdon Publishing Building (1960) also showcases clean lines in its design, as well as a cozy alcove of an entrance.

Various Modern structures are visible from the Gallagher/Bryce Building on Main near 14th, a stop which was in the final part of TFA’s Tulsa Modern architecture tour.

From this site, we could see the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church from afar, one of Tulsa’s most famous buildings which was designed by Adah Robinson and one of my favorite architects, Bruce Goff.  On a side note, Bruce Goff also designed the Bavinger House constructed from spiraling sandstone, an architectural gem which was set in Norman, Oklahoma, but unfortunately the house was destroyed by a storm.  The Bavinger House is one of the most interestingly designed structures I have ever seen.

Here is a close-up of Boston Ave. UMC that I had taken previously.

Boston Avenue Methodist Church | Jennifer Hall

The Boston Ave. UMC tower is a great example of Art Deco design.

That was my rainy day view of downtown Tulsa’s Modern architecture.  As much as I love rainy weather, one day I hope to provide another sunnier perspective of all of these places!

If you’re interested in seeing more of Tulsa’s architectural designs, the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture gives tours every second Saturday; you can find tour information and more on the TFA site.