The United Founders Tower and the Architecture of Hudgins, Thompson & Ball, part 1

by Lynne Rostochil

If you missed our Mod Squad gathering devoted to all things Founders Tower last Friday, don’t despair.  This week and next, I’m posting the presentation in its entirety and will also add even more photos that weren’t in the slideshow for you to lust over.  This week, let’s take a look at the firm behind the Founders Tower — Hudgins, Thompson & Ball (HTB).

HTB was formed by architects Ed Hudgins and Ralph Ball, along with engineer Verlin G. Thompson in 1942.  Hudgins and Ball were Oklahoma A&M (now OSU) alums and had worked together since they both graduated in 1931.  The duo formed their own firm, Hicks & Moore, in the late ’30s and worked on many WPA projects throughout the Depression years.  At the outbreak of World War II, they were eager to take on military assignments, but the U.S. Government wanted architecture firms to include engineering departments, so the pair teamed up with engineer, Thompson, to create Hudgins, Thompson & Ball — here are the principal players in a photo from the mid-’50s and a business card from the late 1940s, before they moved into their own building at NW 13th and Classen:

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The new firm was immediately hired to provide design, supervision, and construction management at the fledgling Altus Air Force Base, and with all of the work coming in, HTB soon numbered over 150 people.  Success continued in the following decades, so much so that, even today, it’s difficult to drive around the state and not run into one of their modern designs.  The firm won contracts for schools, including the fantastic Roosevelt Junior High School in southwest OKC:

Roosevelt Jr High

And one of the most impressive high schools in the state, NW Classen:

NW Classen High School

 

The firm also designed a variety of commercial structures, including the 1330 Classen building in OKC:

1330 Classen Bldg  1330 N. Classen  OKC

 

… the soon-to-be demolished Salvation Army building:

Salvation Army Offices  SW 5th and Hudson  OKC

 

… and the stunning Glass House restaurant that spans the Turner Turnpike in Vinita:

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(Oklahoma Historical Society)

I found a few great renderings of the Glass House interior — love!

DSC_3099_1_dining room_glass house vinita

DSC_3097_1_broiler room rendering_glass house vinita

DSC_3100_1_glass house vinita rendering

 

HTB also designed several shopping centers around town, including two of my favorites, the Northwest Shopping Center at NW 31st and May:

Northwest Shopping Village

 

… and the Park Estates Shopping Center near the old Springlake Amusement Park:

Park Estates Shopping Center

 

Both of these centers were the brainchild of developer, A.G. Meyers, husband of famed Nichols Hills clothier Ruth Meyers, and both are in surprisingly good, original condition.  HTB also designed the Puddin’ Lane Shopping Center on Britton Road (where Johnnie’s is now) for developer Joe Bob Harrison:

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Here’s the same view today:

 

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If Joe Bob Harrison sounds familiar, it might be because his gorgeous, one-time wife and modeling agency owner, Pattye, made the pages of a 1964 edition of Town & Country magazine that we posted on the Mod Blog awhile back — https://okcmod.com/?p=3535.  Here’s a photo of a very dapper Joe Bob from the mid-’50s:

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The house he’s standing in front of was one of several featured in the 1957 Parade of Homes tour.  Here it is today:

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He developed several neighborhoods in the Village and NW OKC, and we’ll be profiling his work soon.  Back to HTB, which also designed the 24-alley Puddin’ Lanes Bowling Palace across the street from its namesake shopping center:

DSC_3106_1_puddin lanes bowling alley

 

The bowling alley closed a long time ago and the Britton Street Antique Mall occupies the space now.  If you ever visit, be sure to pull up the Welcome mats in the lobby — there’s a great surprise hiding underneath them, original terrazzo bowling pins and the old alley’s name:

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HTB also designed several office buildings, including the Monitor in 1956:

DSC_3043_1_monitor bldg

 

I believe this building was located at 600 N. Harvey (NE corner of NW 5th and Harvey), which is where the National Bombing Memorial and Museum is now.  For years, IBM offices and its showroom called the ground floor of the Monitor Building home, as you can see in this photo from around 1960:

DSC_3044_1_IBM display in Monitor bldg

 

One of my favorite HTB designs was for their own headquarters in the Classen Terrace Building at NW 13th and Classen.  Here’s a rendering of this sleek masterpiece:

DSC_3047_1_classen terrace rendering

 

And here it is under construction, not long before it opened in 1954:

DSC_3045_1_classen terrace under construction

 

Love that dramatic, angled canopy in front:

DSC_3048_1_Classen terrace office bldg

 

Along with other small companies, the firm maintained its offices in the 86,000 sf building for decades, but by the ’90s, the Department of Corrections was using the space.  When the DOC left, it became vacant and remained that way for years.  In early 2012, Sunbeam Family Services bought the once-shining Classen Terrace Office Building at auction for a mere $356,501 and unceremoniously demolished the mid-century beauty to construct their new headquarters.  Here’s a photo of the boarded up Classen Terrace Building just a few short weeks before it met its sad fate:

Classen Terrace Office Building

 

Another of my favorites is the Interstate Oil and Gas Building across from the Oklahoma History Center on NE 23rd:

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Here is this original beauty today:

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The firm was also responsible for several local churches, including the elegant Immanuel Lutheran Church (1953) at NW 36th and Indiana:

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And don’t forget the Will Rogers Airport, which opened in 1966:

Will Rogers World Airport

Will Rogers World Airport - HTB - interior1

 

As you’ve probably guessed by now, I could go on and on with all of the work HTB did in OKC and around the state.  By the late ’50s, the prolific firm was named one of the top 30 in the U.S. and had branch offices in Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.  In addition, HTB had on its payroll Betty Ruth Jackson, one of Oklahoma’s first licensed female architects and engineers:

2012.201.B0302B.0031], Photograph, August 1, 1962 betty jackson htb

She worked for the firm for nearly 40 years and labored on both the FAA and Will Rogers projects.  Love the FAA building:

CAA Aeronautical Center

 

All of these projects led to what is perhaps HTB’s most glamorous design, the lovely United Founders Tower building:

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Next week, we will talk about this distinctive Oklahoma City icon and share all kinds of great photos of the northwest part of town where it sits — go here to read Part 2.  As for HTB, these photos are just the tip of the firm’s architecture iceberg — we’ll definitely be profiling more of the firm’s projects in future Mod Blogs.

 

(All of the yellowed black and white photos are from the HTB collection at the Oklahoma History Center.)