The Architecture of William Henry Ryan

Text and photos by Lynne Rostochil unless otherwise stated.

A few weeks ago, Oklahoma lost one of its most outstanding architects when William Henry Ryan died in Tulsa at the age of 93.  An Oklahoma City native, he attended OU and studied under Bruce Goff during the architecture program’s glory years.  Afterward, he set up practice in Tulsa and continued designing buildings into his late 80s.  It’s always sad when such an amazing talent dies, but luckily for us, he left an incredibly impressive body of work behind in the Sooner State for us to cherish.  Here are a few of his projects:

First Lutheran Church, Ada

This modest but distinctive church sits atop a large hill overlooking park land.  Its defining feature is the exposed trusses supporting a folded plate roof.  Very simple but very elegant at the same time.

Z-Tree Church of Christ Activity Center, Ada

I’m not 100% sure that this is a Bill Ryan design, but when Ada architect, Ray James and I toured Ada and I admired this building, he attributed it to his friend, Ryan.  It certainly looks funky enough to be a Ryan design and since Ray James was spot on with all of the other building identifications he made for me that day, I’m pretty sure this one was designed by the Tulsa architect.  It sits on the East Central University campus overlooking the football field and just up the hill from the Kerr Activity Center that James designed.

Rose Bowl, Tulsa

It’s impossible for me to drive around Tulsa and not stop by and take a few shots of this Googie icon.  The Rose Bowl opened in 1962 and served the community until 2005.  After that, it sat vacant for a few years before becoming an events center and activity area serving underprivileged youth.  Owners are looking for sponsors to help revitalize the building — go here to learn more.

Elks Lodge, Tulsa


This piece of Googie deliciousness opened in 1957 and the dramatic and innovative design was featured in several publications.  Sadly, the round buildings were demolished in the late 1990s and the new lodge is a pretty bland and dismal affair compared to the original structures.  Learn more about the Elks Lodge here.

Immanuel Lutheran Church, Broken Arrow

With its sweeping back and crazily pocked tail, this church looks more like a prowling animal than a building to me.  It’s so incredibly perfect in every detail.  I took the above images in 2014 before the botching began.  As you can see below, some dummy added a very insensitive copper roof to the front of the building, which closed as a church in 2001 and is now open as a wedding chapel.  Check out these photos from the Chapel on the Hill Facebook page:

Ugh!  That is so inappropriate, but it gets worse.  The owners have added a Tuscan gazebo outside to really jumble up the architectural style:

For good measure, here’s another one:

And look at how the interior is furnished:

I really don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  I just tell myself that all of this crap can be undone someday.

East Central High School, Tulsa

The photo above (from the newson6 website) doesn’t really show how incredible this structure is.  Go to Googlemaps and look around and you’ll see that this is truly an impressive structure.  The school opened in 1964 and is still serving the community today.

These are just a few examples of Ryan’s body of work.  If you know of others, please let me know and I will add them here.

We were very lucky, indeed, to have had such an agile mind working here in Oklahoma for so many years.  Now, it’s up to us to take care of the treasures he has left us.