In Case You Missed the 2015 AIA Chit Chat
by Lynne Rostochil
Again this year, AIAOCO president Melissa Hunt asked if I’d like to be one of the speakers at the annual Chit Chat, where presenters have 20 seconds to speak about each of 20 slides. Not an easy thing to do, but since I love to share my vast and, most would say, meaningless knowledge of architectural trivia, I happily agreed. In case you didn’t make the lunch, here are the fun tidbits I shared with the group:
In 1999, it was announced that the iconic Nuway Cleaners building in Moore along the I-35 service road would be demolished due to highway expansion. While the owners couldn’t save the building, they decided to keep the gold domed roof and had it carefully dismantled and stored until they could construct a new building. Just one week after it was removed, the May 3rd tornado swept through Moore, destroying everything in its path, including the building. So, in an interesting twist of fate, if the building hadn’t been slated for demolition, the roof never would have been saved.
First Christian Church
There were three designs for the First Christian Church at NW 36th and Walker. This is the second one that was submitted and the first to be accepted by the congregation. To celebrate the event, the board created an advertising booklet called “We’ll Build The Church of Tomorrow Today!” I’ve been told that the congregation ultimately opted against this jewel-like design because it was too expensive to build. So, the Educational Building and Jewel Box Theater retained their designs, but the sanctuary and bell tower were completely redesigned, resulting in the dome that you see today.
Mercy Hospital Art
Some of the best art in town can’t be found at a museum or art gallery but at Mercy Hospital of all places. When the new Mercy was nearing completion in 1974, the board thought that a departure from the typical antiseptic hospital environment was in order, so they hired artist Edgar Tafur to spruce up the place with his colorful ceramics and precast concrete artwork, which dominates the lobby and several floors of the building. It’s well worth meandering through Mercy and riding up the elevator to each floor to check out Tafur’s remarkable work.
House of Clay and ORU
What do OKC’s House of Clay and the ORU campus in Tulsa have in common? All of these beloved buildings were designed by Frank Wallace. After 10 years in business on the corner of NW 30th and Western, House of Clay owners, Norman and Levern Meriwether decided it was time to construct the perfect home for their thriving business, so they hired family friend Frank Wallace to design the building, which was completed in 1961. Just a few years later, Wallace was tapped to design the astonishing collection of space age Jetson’s buildings at the ORU campus in Tulsa.
Cole Dental Clinic
A modest dental clinic bordering the OU campus in Norman boasts another piece of incredible art. The Cole Dental Clinic was designed by the head of the OU School of Architecture, John G. York. His wife, Shirley Voekrodt, created the mosaic piece here and others at Baptist Hospital and Norman Municipal Hospital.
One of the very first examples of modern residential architecture in Oklahoma is this lovely home on a tree studded lot in Norman. Designed by OU architecture professor, Henry L. Kamphoefner, the home was built in 1942, a full five years before the Goff’s Ledbetter House a few blocks away. Frank Lloyd Wright stayed here when he visited the campus for the first time in the mid-‘40s and praised Kamphoefner’s modern design. A story that has passed from one owner to the next is that dividers like the one pictured here are Kamphoefner’s trademark and each column symbolizes the number of levels in the home – in this case, the three columns indicate that the home has a basement, a main floor living room, and an upper level bedroom.
During the ’70s and early ’80s, subterranean architecture was all the rage in Oklahoma, with over 300 commercial buildings, schools, and homes spread throughout the state. One town alone, tiny Newcastle, is home to 15 such houses. In fact, Oklahoma and Minnesota led the way in constructing subterranean buildings and for opposite reasons — Oklahoma because of the extreme summer heat and weather and Minnesota because of the brutal winter cold. These “earth” buildings were famed for being extremely energy efficient and, especially in Tornado Alley, for providing excellent protection against the all-too-common storms we see in this neck of the woods.
In the early ‘50s, architect Truett Coston bought a parcel of land in Edmond with a Land Run-era farmhouse on it. Instead of demolishing the small cottage that had called this land home for so long, he decided to incorporate the farmhouse, intact, into his very modern design for the new home. He harmoniously blended both spaces by replicating the farmhouse’s A-line roof into the design for the modern addition.
In the ‘50s, several (mostly Scandinavian) artists began designing sculptural and abstracted forms for playgrounds to foster kids’ “creative play.” One such artist was Jim Miller-Melberg, who began designing equipment that quickly became popular on playgrounds all over the world. All these years later, the Lansbrook neighborhood boasts two playgrounds filled with his pieces, which look like they could easily be set pieces from a “Planet of the Apes” movie.
From 1947-1950, 2,500 all-steel Lustron Houses were built throughout the U.S. The modest ranch homes were the brainchild of Carl Strandlunds, who planned to mass produce the kit homes as an answer to the post-war housing shortage. His business went under before it ever really got off the ground, but the homes have certainly stood the test of time, with many of them maintaining their original siding and roofs all these years later. There at least three Lustrons in original condition in Oklahoma – in Cushing, Stillwater, and Bartlesville — and two of them are on the National Register.
Mac’s Sign Shop
Can you believe that all of these great Googie signs were here in Oklahoma City? Well, that’s thanks to the brilliant and modern mind of Mac Teague of Mac’s Sign Shop. For nearly four decades, Mac made his fantastical creations on the theory that a sign must bring in more business than the sign costs the customer. With these wondrous creations, he surely lived proved his theory true.
Clyde’s Grocery Store
Although it seems like it’s been there forever, Brown’s Bakery was once Clyde’s Grocery Store. Designed by Joseph N. Boaz just after WWII, the grocery was one of the first in the U.S. to incorporate modern aesthetics, such as large windows and a revolutionary barrel roof in its design. The store was such a stunner that it was featured in several architectural publications of the day and may have been an inspiration for the Quonset hut style of the future Safeway chain.
Pei Plan Model
In case you haven’t seen the restored Pei Plan model, it’s on display at the Hart Building in Film Row for the next year. At its most recent unveiling a few weeks ago, several people pointed out a rather haunting site on the model … Pei envisioned a park and reflecting pool right where the National Bombing Memorial is now.
Central National Motor Bank
Here’s how the time of day can turn a good photo into a great one. When architectural photographer Julius Shulman shot the Central National Motor Bank in 1961, he made an initial daytime visit and took some test shots. Background industrial buildings so distracted his eye that he decided to return at night to shoot the bank when the other buildings wouldn’t be visible. The result is nothing less than amazing.
When fair organizers and city leaders decided the time was finally right to relocate the fair three miles west of downtown, Phil Wilbur, who was Dean of the School of Architecture at OSU, was asked to draft the master plan of the new complex. Everyone agreed that a different firm should design each building and all would be modern in style. Perhaps not surprisingly considering Wilbur’s influence, all of the firms selected to design the buildings had a connection to OSU.
Also known as the Teepee House, this Bruce Goff designed home in Norman got off to a real rocky start. Construction began in 1950 but was soon halted when the owners filed for divorce, leaving the half finished home to sit and fall victim to the elements for a couple of years. Goff’s original design called for glass siding on the teepee, but naysayers claimed that the Oklahoma sun would bake everything inside, so the second owner completed construction using aluminum siding instead. When the first big rain of the season hit Norman, the subterranean teepee home was completely flooded and the second owner never moved in. The house’s luck finally turned when the third owners bought the home in 1966, and they’ve loved their teepee ever since.
When Fred Jones and his wife offered to donate a chapel to the University of Oklahoma in Norman, they commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design it and this is what he came up with. Wright stated that the sanctuary was to be a sectless space where one could praise Nature and all of its possibilities. The Jones’ weren’t pleased with the design, however, because it was too modern and didn’t provide parking for visitors, and that ended Wright’s involvement with the project. Bummer.
State Capitol Bank
When Leland Gourley wanted a “bank of the future,” he contacted Robert Roloff, who was up for the challenge and designed a building straight out of a Jetson’s cartoon, with 17 hovering saucers supported by rounded, floor-to-ceiling windows. Inside, patrons could take the “floating air lobby,” a round elevator with a booth for comfortable travel (and maybe a martini or two), to the basement’s safe deposit boxes. All these years later, the elevator still works, so grab a martini and hop aboard!
Union Bus Station
When the Union Bus Station opened in 1941, it received a real Hollywood premiere. Live music and radio broadcasts beckoned citizens to make the trek downtown to check out the new streamline moderne station, which was designed by local firm Noftsger & Lawrence. All of the hoopla paid off, with thousands of people walking through the modern building and checking out its various amenities within a few days of its opening.