The Architecture of Richard L. Dunham
by Lynne Rostochil. Photos from her collection and from Googlemaps.
A few years ago, I stumbled across an estate sale in The Greens on a sweltering summer day. It was in the afternoon and the place had been pretty well picked over … until I got to the garage. There, I found boxes filled with old blueprints belonging to the home’s owner, architect Richard L. Dunham.
Apparently, no one was very interested in blueprints except me and Mike Brown, who showed up at the sale the same time I did. He looked at a few of the prints, wasn’t too impressed with what he saw, and went back inside in search of other treasures while I unrolled every last set in the scorching midday sun to get a peek at the treasures they contained. Most of the blueprints/floorplans were boring affairs of high school gyms in tiny town Oklahoma, but I did find a few sets worth purchasing — I mean, for $1 a set, why not?!
Feeling like I was about to pass out from the heat by this time, I went back into the garage, which was almost empty except for a couple of filing cabinets and a shelving unit with old magazines on the bottom shelf. Most of the magazines were crafty things that must have belonged to Mrs. Dunham, but I did find two issues of Faith & Form magazine, one of which featured an article on Murray Jones Murray’s Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Miami that I featured on a 2018 Mod Blog. I’ll post the other one soon.
With just a couple of magazines and sets of blueprints in hand, I was feeling a bit disappointed with my haul until I decided to open the drawers to the seemingly empty file cabinets. Everything had been cleaned out except a bottom drawer that contained a couple of notebooks. I opened the first one and audibly squealed with delight! Each notebook contained a completed project list from the 1970s, I believe, and examples of some of Dunham’s work. Yep, I hit the motherlode and my disappointment was quickly replaced with ecstatic joy. And, even better, I was able to match up the plans I found with the buildings in the notebooks — how cool is that?!
Before I share these fun finds with you, here’s a little bio about Mr. Dunham.
Richard Laforest Dunham was born in Kansas on October 8, 1919 to Jason and Alice Dunham, and the family soon moved to Oklahoma City. Jason was an OKC fireman and later a contractor in Oklahoma and Texas. Jason travelled quite a bit for work while Alice, Richard, and his four older siblings, Harry, Carroll, M.W., and Annis, remained in Oklahoma City.
After graduating from high school, Dunham headed off to Norman to study architecture at OU. While I believe he was there before Bruce Goff’s time, Dunham would have received excellent training under the tutelage of acting School of Architecture head, Henry Kamphoefner.
Dunham must have been a pretty private guy because I didn’t find much biographical information about him. I know he married twice and may have had a son who died in a plane crash about 15 years ago, but I don’t know when he graduated from OU, what firms he may have been associated with, etc. Based on the notebooks I have, I do know that Dunham was definitely practicing on his own in the 1960s when the project lists in the notebook were compiled. Let’s take a look at the project list in the first notebook, shall we:
The first building mentioned on the list is the controversial Standard Life Insurance building that I believe Dunham designed with Raymond Carter. Originally, the grand and beloved Colcord mansion stood on this site in Heritage Hills:
The Standard Life Insurance Company purchased the home after the last of the Colcord heirs died in 1951 and after trying to make the stately but aging mansion fit their needs for 10 years, the company decided to cut its maintenance losses, knock down the house, and replace it with something modern. Neighbors vehemently protested the proposed demolition, to no avail, and the house was dismantled in 1965:
The loss of the home galvanized the surrounding community into action and, soon, neighborhood preservation groups were formed to combat further deterioration of older areas around town.
With the Colcord mansion gone, Dunham was free to create a design for the new building that would be erected on the site. Here’s a rendering of the new Standard Life building:
… and the floorplan:
Completed in 1966 for $1.3 million, the building was a dramatic departure from the older homes and businesses in the area:
Standard Life was taken over by another insurance company in 1976 and the building eventually became known as the Colcord Center, in homage to the glorious mansion it replaced. Here’s a photo of the structure today:
The next building in the notebook is Siloam Lodge #276:
Here’s another rendering of it in the Oklahoma History Center archives with a second story that was never built:
Dunham designed the lodge, which is located on NW 39th, with Gaylord Noftsger, Robert D. Stone, and John A. Reid, and it was constructed in 1966. Today, it’s not the prettiest building in the world, as you can see in this Googlemaps image:
This is an apartment complex Dunham designed and although it looks like it could be from the 1980s, he actually did it in 1968. I’m not sure where this is — Yukon, maybe:
And here are plans for a gym at the Wetumka High School, which was built, I believe:
This is an underground classroom building in Arnett:
Dunham designed a few underground classroom buildings around the state, all of which are still in use as far as I can tell. The one in Arnett is attached to additional buildings, but you can easily spot that distinctive front entrance:
In Weatherford, Dunham designed an addition to Ratcliffe’s Textbooks, which has been in business since 1925. Here’s a 1965 photo of their fun mod building before the addition:
… and Dunham’s proposed addition along the side of the building:
The addition was complete (as you can partially see to the left of the image below) by 1968, and Ratcliffe’s still serves the students at SWOSU and beyond. I took this photo in 2016:
… and here’s a photo from the Ratcilffe’s Facebook page with the addition of more signage on the front:
Another building Dunham designed in Weatherford is King’s Flower Shop:
The rendering looks fun and sophisticated, but the reality of the building isn’t quite as elegant:
Here’s one that’s a bit of a mystery. It’s a drawing for Midwestern Baptist College in OKC:
I found a charter for the school in a 1964 edition of the Oklahoman but couldn’t find out anything else about it. At first, I thought it could be the campus for the old Oklahoma City Southwestern College that has become the Heartland Baptist Bible College at 4700 NW 10th, but none of the buildings match up. The fact that this doesn’t appear on Dunham’s completed projects list makes me think the college never came to fruition. The next building sure did, though:
A lot of Mod Squadders out there love the India Temple Mosque located at 3601 NW 36th Street, and there have been more than a few “like it or hate it” discussions in our Facebook group about this building. I’m in the “don’t love it” crowd but have been told it’s pretty cool inside, so what do I know? Here’s the building from the front:
Here’s another one that I don’t think was built — Wilshire Plaza in Oklahoma City:
This doesn’t look a bit familiar to me — do any of you recognize it?
This is called the Hatley Offices in Yukon. Anyone recognize it?
How great is this hang out? The rendering was photographed in 1966, and I did find a Burger Train at 4001 Se 15th in Del City in the 1970s. Squadder Bill Moore posted this photo of the Burger Train that he found in the 1974 Del City High School yearbook:
… and our friend, Debra Jane Seltzer, whose website, Roadside Architecture, is a must-view for anyone interested in old buildings and signs, posted that there was also a Burger Train in Plainview, Texas. There was also one in Midland, Texas. Apparently, all locations used trains instead of car hops to deliver food to hungry customers. If you scroll to the bottom of the Roadside Architecture page, you can see what the Plainview building looks like today. It looks like Dunham’s design may have been used for both buildings.
Here’s another photo of the Burger Train posted by Dale Garland in the Okie Mod Squad group:
I don’t know when Burger Train in OKC left, but the building was home to a used car lot for many years and the awning remained standing until around 2005. The building looks empty now:
I believe this one is a rendering and floorplan for a classroom and cafeteria building in Eagletown:
And this is a rendering for a junior and senior high in Talihina:
So now you see why I was so thrilled to find these notebooks at the bottom of the file cabinet … and I’m even happier that I get to share the contents of them with you. I’ll photograph the blueprints I found at the estate sale and will share them with you soon.