The Architecture of Fritzler-Knoblock
by Robyn Arn, vintage photos from Kynda’s Fritzler-Knoblock brochure (taken by Bob Bowlby), current-day photos by Lynne Rostochil
Last year I had the good fortune to find Kynda Knoblock Houara through social networking. She’s the daughter of Robert C. Knoblock who, with Donald Lee Fritzler, opened the fabulously creative firm Fritzler-Knoblock and Associates in OKC in 1963. She was kind enough to share some history and lovely photos of the firm’s work, as well as some of the home her father built them.
Both Fritzler and Knoblock studied architecture at OU in the ’50s — the golden years with Bruce Goff — and set up shop in the United Founders Tower when it opened in 1963. They remained tenants there until the late ’70s. This area of town was very fertile for them and many of their unique buildings rose within blocks of their office. One of their first commissions was the elegant Otologic Medical Building, which was built in 1963 and is located at 3400 NW 56th just south of Baptist Hospital:
This Oklahoman ad from July 21, 1963, boasts in rather flowery language that the building’s “snow white quartz aggregate glistens in a white cement matrix to form the face of the Harter created MoSai precast exposed aggregate concrete panels.”
Here’s what the building looks like today. Although it’s not quite as “snow white” as it was when built over 50 years ago, the Otologic Medical Building still holds up nicely:
The building received an add on at some point. The side view now is completely different. But the original front section is very well preserved, as you can see when it’s not obscured by blossoming trees that hide some of the clinic’s more impressive details.
The firm also designed the building directly west of this one. It was once known as the Jack Young Dermatology Building but the Hough Ear Institute now has both this and the Otologic building. Here’s what the Dermatology Building looked like soon after it was constructed in 1965 (front and back images):
And here is this little-changed building now (front, side, and back images):
The firm designed one more structure on this block, the once-stunning and stilted Cardiovascular building at the corner of NW 56th and Independence. Here’s this gorgeous eye popper soon after it was completed in 1967:
Oh … my … gosh!! What a beauty. To make your heart skip another beat, here’s a night shot of the building taken around the same time:
Wow! And now to completely burst the bubble, this is what this once-lovely building looks like now:
Can you believe a building could be butchered so badly? Well, sadly, that’s not the only Fritzler-Knoblock design to be so callously tampered with. There are two buildings across NW Expressway from Baptist Hospital that have met similar fates. First, the Dunn-Reynolds Urology building. Remember when it looked like this?
Now, it’s almost completely unrecognizable as the same structure:
The cool original address numbers are still there, though:
But that insensitive renovation is nothing compared to what certainly qualifies as the worst building remodel in the history of the world — or Oklahoma City, anyway — the Medical Building located at 3121 NW Expressway. Here are a couple of shots of the model that architect and photographer Bob Bowlby took:
The 10-story, charcoal brick building highlighted with white MoSai trim was the brainchild of Drs. Meredith Appleton, J. Hartwell Dunn, and Charles Reynolds, Jr. (yes, the same Dunn and Reynolds who had earlier developed the self-named Urology building above). The $1.3 million, top-hatted building provided room for 30-40 doctors and was completed in 1966. Here’s another Bowlby photo that shows the building under construction:
Here’s what it looked like when it was pretty:
And here it is with the Dunn-Reynolds Urology Clinic in the foreground, as well as the Continental Theater and Founders Tower:
Now for the sad part. Here’s what the Medical Building has morphed into, an insipid, vomit yellow piece of blech that is now a minimally-windowed Country Inn and Suites Hotel:
Developer Bob Patel bought then redeveloped the Medical Tower with a $4.2 million renovation in 2002; the architect responsible for this mess was Socrates Lazaridis of Renaissance Architects. According to Patel, “my desire to restore this stately building to a more appealing and productive state has been realized.” Huh? This monstrosity is better than what was there originally, he thinks? I guess everyone has different ideas of what is tasteful and “appealing,” but I doubt that many people would pick this version over the original. Eesh! From the number of cars in the parking lot when I took this photo — all three of them — I would say that this horror doesn’t attract a lot of guests. I mean, who wants to stay in the ugliest building in all of OKC? (this paragraph was contributed by Lynne so if you disagree, please pick on her and not Robyn.)
Enough of the rant and back to the real topic of this post, Fritzler and Knoblock. During these heady years of constant and very high profile work, the partnership invited Loyal Furry to join in on the fun, and the firm became Fritzler, Knoblock and Furry. Kynda still has a firm brochure from this period, which is where we got most of these vintage photos.
In addition to medical buildings, Knoblock designed his family home in 1966. Here’s a view of the front of the house, along with the sexy family car:
According to Kynda, the home has been “mucked with beyond belief,” much like some of the firm’s commercial spaces. Today, the front of the house looks more like a used car lot, but you can tell that it has some stellar bones:
In these photos provided by Kynda, you can see a family really enjoying their surroundings (Robert Knoblock is sitting at the far right, Kynda is holding the OU sweatshirt, and her little sister is in the kitchen drawer). You can also tell what great taste they had by the furnishings we all covet today:
As for Fritzler, the 1970 AIA registry lists his address as 3700 Edgewater Drive. The county assessor shows this house as built in 1964 and I’m gonna bet he was the designer as it exhibits the clean lines they preferred. Fritzler lived here until the mid-70s when he moved to this house on Dover Circle.
The firm also designed the LDS Church on NW 63rd near Rockwell…
… the First Baptist Church of Norman, Oklahoma Bible College (Moore), Central Presbyterian Church (5101 N May), Parmelee Elementary School, and Doctors General Hospital at 1407 N. Robinson (built in 1970):
Here’s the building today.
Over the years, designing churches would become a specialty for Fritzler-Knoblock and Kynda estimates her father designed over 200 during his career, including one of his favorites, Chapel Hill United Methodist (2717 W Hefner), and the First Baptist Church of Moore which served as command post and makeshift morgue after the 1999 tornado:
Furry left the firm around 1968 and opened Furry and Associates in Norman soon after. In the late ’70s, Dean Wadley joined the firm and it evolved into FKW, Inc. Knoblock moved to Texas in 1983 and continued to practice there until a fairly recent retirement. Tragically, Fritzler and his wife Mary Anne were killed in the Murrah building bombing. Wadley is also deceased.
Many thanks again to Kynda for sharing these wonderful memories and helping us fill in more of OKCs mid-mod built history.