Designed by Wright & Selby
NW 5th and Classen, OKC
Located on the outskirts of downtown Oklahoma City, the Central National Motor Bank is often called “the wavy bank” for its distinctive roof design that mimics a series of cresting ocean waves. Designed by Wright & Selby, here’s the building under construction:
The bank opened in March 1959 with ads claiming it to be “the newest, most unusual motor bank in the world.” Here’s a grand opening postcard inviting possible patrons to tour the bank…
… and enter to win a new 1959 Rambler!
The fluid, organic, even cheerful form of the motor bank’s thin-shell concrete roof perfectly complimented the more severe, box-shaped structure of the one-story bank building next door while also providing protection from the elements for customers driving up to the six teller windows to do business. When architectural photographer, Julius Shulman shot the building shortly after its construction, he made an initial daytime “exploratory visit with a small camera (Hasselbad Superwide) to this drive-in bank (which) revealed the possibility of supplementary night photography … to avoid a disturbing background (consisting of several industrial buildings).” Here are a couple of shots of the building Shulman took that day that show the distracting buildings surrounding the bank (from Shane Hood’s photostream on Flickr):
Shulman returned after dark to capture several dramatic images of the wavy bank in all of its modern glory … and without the distracting buildings:
The motor bank was designed by OSU graduates James K. Wright (1910-1985) and Lennon Selby (1909-1968) of the area firm Wright & Selby. They formed a partnership after WWII and quickly became one of the most prominent and long-lasting architectural partnerships in Oklahoma City, designing such notable buildings as the Quartz Mountain State Lodge, the Allied Building (OKC), U.S. Grant Jr. and Sr. High (OKC), and several student housing buildings on the OSU campus. In addition, Wright served two terms as president of the Oklahoma Chapter of the AIA, and Selby was instrumental in writing the building code for Oklahoma City during the 1950s.
In 1978, the main building expanded, but the adjoining motor bank remained untouched…
… until 2004. The main motor bank, except for the tower, was demolished when the building was converted to office space:
However, the annex motor bank, built in the same style as the original, remained … abandoned … across the street.
In the spring of 2019, the building’s new owners, Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS), announced that the wavy bank would be demolished so they could add a few more spaces to the parking lot across from the former bank, which they were converting into school administration offices. As you would expect, there was a lot of outcry from the public. So, the Oklahoma City Foundation for Architecture (OCFA) stepped in to save the day by contacting Scott Randall at OKCPS to work out a lease agreement. He expressed interest and OCFA sent out a letter of intent on May 3rd and a proposed lease agreement a few days later.
In the proposed agreement, OCFA would take full responsibility for maintaining and caring for the structure for the duration of the lease, and they would also assume all liability. Mr. Randall received the proposed agreement and assured OCFA that they would review it and counter it soon. OCFA waited and waited and reached out numerous times to check the status of the OKCPS review. Each time, they were assured by Mr. Randall’s office that the structure was safe and they would return with a counter offer soon.
Over Mother’s Day weekend, the wavy bank was tagged and members of OCFA and the Okie Mod Squad spent a Sunday afternoon cleaning off the graffiti. A Fire Station #1 crew saw us working and even stopped to help out.
On the morning of June 18th, OCFA received this letter at 6:21 a.m. from Mr. Randall:
Hello Melissa (OCFA’s director),
OKCPS places the highest priority on the safety of our students, families and staff. After a lengthy period of internal discussion and after analyzing the safety risks associated with keeping the wave roof structure located at 5th & Classen in place, the District has determined that the best course of action is to remove it
The District after thorough and thoughtful consideration for safety & security reasons rejects both the “Draft” Letter of Intent and the “Draft” Lease Agreement you have submitted.
Thank you for your interest in the wave roof structure.
Chief Operations Officer I Oklahoma City Public Schools
Within just a few short hours, the wavy bank was gone … and all for a few additional parking spots.
Here are a few photos taken by Squadders who stopped by to see the demolition of this OKC icon:
(photo by Ryan Reaves)
(photo by Terri Sadler)
(photo by Pete Brzycki of OKCTalk)
(The two construction photos from the OPUBCO collection at The History Center.)