John Turnbull (first photo) and Jack Mills (second photo) met while both were architecture students under Bruce Goff at OU in the late 1940s. After graduation, they briefly worked for separate firms before coming together to form Turnbull & Mills in 1954.
Here’s an interesting Oklahoman interview by Mary Jo Nelson with Turnbull:John Turnbull was well on his was to becoming an aeronautical engineer until the United States Air Force sent him to Europe.”I had two years of college in aeronautical engineering before I got into the service. I was stationed in Italy, and because of the buildings I observed in Europe, I became interested in architecture,” he recalled on his retirement as a founding partner in Turnbull and Mills, a division of George Butler Associates Inc. “It was an awakening.”I came back and started all over in college.”
Influenced by Bruce Goff, then head of the University of Oklahoma College of Architecture, Turnbull never looked back. He graduated in 1950, and went to work for the Oklahoma City firm of Bailey and Bozalis, located on the 12th floor of the Colcord Building downtown.
“I remember there was no air conditioning, and my desk was by a west window. We worked with windows open, kept towels under our arms to keep from perspiring on the working drawings.”I had one drawing blow out a window and land on the roof of Beverly’s restaurant next door.” He remembers crawling onto the roof to retreive it.
With fellow architect Jack Mills, Turnbull started the architecture deptartment at the Benham firm, today The Benham Group.”We called it Turnbull, Mills and Benham.” The partners then formed their own practice, and Turnbull and Mills has been a leading Oklahoma City design firm since 1960.
“In those days, you hadn’t heard much about marketing as we know it today. Jack and I, we followed leads, got commissions, did our own design and all our own drawings, wrote specs (job specifications), and did our own inspections. We personally performed every step, except engineering, which we farmed out to consultants. We encouraged good bids from contractors for our clients,” he said.
“To me style has gone back to 1930s and 40s. Things that are winning awards are what we saw then. What we called “three-bar modern.’ Buildings of the ’30s typically were adorned with courses of triple bars. … You see arches for no particular reason. To me, it’s meaningless decoration.”
Turnbull and Mills sold their practice three years ago to GBA, which has offices in four states. Since Turnbull’s retirement, his longtime partner, Mills, continues to head the Oklahoma City office.
Jack T. Mills died in 2017. Here’s his obituary:
Aug 30, 1925 – Sep 24, 2017 OKLAHOMA CITY Jack Russell Mills, 92, died September 24, 2017 in Oklahoma City. He was born August 30, 1925 in Muskogee, OK to Helen Louise Noyes Mills and Robert Russell Mills. He graduated in 1943 from Norman High School, where he lettered in Baseball, Basketball, and Track. In 1950 he graduated from The University of Oklahoma with a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture. During World War IIand the Korean Conflict, Jack served in the U.S. Army Air Corps and the U.S. Air Force as a Radar Navigator and Bombardier. Jack was a senior and founding partner of Turnbull and Mills Architects. He was the architect on many city, state, and federal projects including Saint Anthony Hospital; McBride Bone and Joint Hospital and Clinic; the OKC VA Medical Center; Civic Center Music Hall; Oklahoma City University library, women’s dormitory, and student faculty center; Heritage Hall original master plan, including its first middle school and athletic facilities. At age 75, following 10 years of retirement, Jack returned to active architectural practice and consulting until age 84.He was a member of May Avenue Methodist Church for more than 60 years; charter member of AIAOK. and a member of American Institute of Architects; lifetime member of The University of Oklahoma Alumni Association. An accomplished and prolific artist, he was a member of The Oklahoma Watercolor Society and the Art Guild. He enjoyed many years volunteering as a docent at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
Turnbull Mills & Benham, 1950s
Turnbull & Mills, 1960-1985
Projects in OK:
Turnbull House, OKC
Frates Building, OKC
Altus Officers’ Club, NCO Club, & Gym, Altus
Penn 44 Lanes, OKC
Will Rogers Exposition Building, OKC
Belle Isle Library, OKC
Several buildings at St. Anthony’s Hospital, OKC
Mod Blog Features:
(photo from the OPUBCO collection at the Oklahoma History Center)