Never Built Oklahoma
by Lynne Rostochil
As we all know, Oklahoma is home to some pretty impressive mid-century architecture; in fact, you can find examples of just about every style of modernism scattered from the smallest one-streetlight town to the most bustling urban areas. Yes, we are quite lucky to have such an abundance of good buildings in our state, but I often lament the could-have-been, forward-thinking designs that, for one reason or another, were never constructed and live on only in old photos of renderings and models. Maybe you’ll get a little verklempt, too, when you eye some of these inspired designs of unbuilt Oklahoma:
Crystal Chapel Norman, OK Designed by Bruce Goff 1949
A private donor commissioned Bruce Goff to design the non-denominational Crystal Chapel and student religious center on the OU campus as a memorial, and this lighter-than-air marvel was the result. Incorporating Oklahoma pink granite, fiberglass, and clear glass, the structure “would rise to 75 ft at the apex. Seating for three hundred was arranged in a hexagonal pattern around a luminous floor panel flanked by pools,” according to Jeffrey Cook, author of the information packed book, The Architecture of Bruce Goff.
While the OU president and administration whole-heartedly approved the project and plans were being made to begin construction, the plug was pulled on the project when the donor’s family declared him to be mentally incompetent. After that, the project died and the very Wrightian Burton Hall was later built on the site.
When I met Julius Shulman and we looked over some of his photos of the Crystal Chapel model, he very emphatically stated that this is one building that could and should be built today … I completely agree.
Trinity Chapel Norman, OK Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright 1958
Norman could have been home to two great chapels. According to Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer in his book, Treasures of Taliesin, 77 Unbuilt Designs, Oklahoma City car magnate Fred Jones offered to donate a chapel to OU in Norman. After meeting with the client, Wright sent him preliminary drawings, which were not received well. Wright’s reply to their negative feedback indicates that he didn’t get all the facts about the project, including that the chapel was to be built “as an adjunct to the University” and would need parking. He released the client from responsibility and said he hoped to see the design realized “elsewhere. Sometime.”
A Restaurant in Norman Student Drawing/OU School of Architecture 1950s or early 1960s
How amazing would it be to hang out at this super mod eatery in Norman? Or any of these other student-designed buildings of years past that hang on the walls around the OU architecture library today:
Shepherd Memorial Baptist Hospital NW 30th and Villa, Oklahoma City, OK Designed by Coston, Frankfurt & Short 1954
(Mike Brown collection)
For years, the Baptist Convention talked about building a much-needed hospital outside of the downtown core, but not much came of the idea until the Shepherd sisters got the ball rolling by donating a 10-acre tract of their Land Run-era homestead to the cause. After planning began and this rendering was made, however, all kinds of zoning issues sprouted up about building a busy hospital on a mere 10 acres in a heavily residential area, so the site was eventually rejected as a possibility. The Copperfield apartment complex was later built where the hospital would have been, and Baptist Hospital was eventually constructed on NW Expressway and opened in 1959.
First Christian Church Oklahoma City Designed by Conner & Pojezny 1954
Although the dome that’s there now is pretty darned spectacular, could you imagine driving by the First Christian Church campus at NW 36th and Walker and seeing this gem — literally — sparkling toward the heavens on a sunny summer day? Well, it almost happened. When Conner & Pojezny presented their fantastical design to the church board, they approved the plans … until the cost estimates started rolling in. It soon became apparent that this gorgeous design would triple the building budget, so the board and congregation asked Conner to go back to the drawing board and return with a more affordable design. And that’s how we got this stunning piece of Modernism that still delights to this day:
Cowboy Hall of Fame Oklahoma City Designed by Bruce Goff 1956
Goff’s entry for the Cowboy Hall of Fame design competition pays tribute to the American west through the use of six scattered horseshoes gathered around a spike tower that rises high above the buildings. At once dramatic and whimsical, the plan is full of imagination, innovation, and detail that the winning concrete shell design by Begrow & Brown lacks:
Apartment Building Oklahoma City Designed by Robert Roloff of Bailey, Bozalis, Dickinson & Roloff 1967
I absolutely love this design for a 12-floor apartment building that was to be constructed next to the crazy-fun State Capitol Bank on Lincoln Boulevard. The bank’s owner, Leland Gourley, wanted to continue his fruitful association with State Capitol’s architect, Robert Roloff, and the two thought this building was the way to go, but alas, it was never constructed.
Civic Arena Oklahoma City Designed by Robert Roloff of Bailey, Bozalis, Dickinson & Roloff 1959
By the time he completed this design for a 14,000 seat civic arena in Oklahoma City, Robert Roloff had already completed and built two geodesic dome buildings in the Sooner State, the Citizens State Bank (Gold Dome) in OKC and the Civic Arena in Pryor. The heralded design was so impressive that this seven-foot model was included in an exhibit at the Met in New York City called “Form Givers at Mid-Century,” which was sponsored by Time magazine. After that, the show and this model went on a nationwide tour.
With all of that hoopla, it’s a bit surprising that this design was never realized, but it wasn’t, and Oklahoma City didn’t see an arena until the Urban Renewal era with the Myriad Convention Center.
These are just a few of the designs I’ve found that never made it out of the planning stages; I’ve found several more that I’ll be sharing soon.