Examples of Art Deco architecture can be found all around the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma. During the 1920s, Tulsans were enjoying the wealth of big oil and a building boom, and they wanted local architecture to reflect the modern, progressive city they called home. Art Deco was the popular style of that time. It began in Europe in 1925 and was soon spreading throughout the world.
Zigzag or 1920s style, Depression Era or PWA style, and Streamline Art Deco structures are all part of Tulsa’s current landscape:
Christ the King Church (1926), located at 16th and Quincy, is one of the best examples of Zigzag Art Deco. Opened in 1927, the church was designed by architect Barry Byrne of Chicago. Byrne was apprenticed to Frank Lloyd Wright from 1902-1907. Beveled piers accent the brick exterior of the church, with terra cotta ornamentation designed by Italian artist Alfonso Ianelli. Lanelli also designed the church’s stained glass windows. Church furniture in the sanctuary was designed by architect Bruce Goff.
Boston Avenue Methodist Church, opened in 1929, is one of the city’s most well known structures. Its stylized lines and curves are classic examples of Zigzag Art Deco. Art teacher Adah Robinson is credited with the initial design and Bruce Goff with the final plan. The church’s totally modern designs and symbols make it one of Tulsa’s most famous Art Deco structures. In January 1999 the Secretary of the Interior named the church a National Landmark.
The Public Service Company building (Arthur M. Atkinson, architect; Joseph R. Koberling, Jr., designer; 1929) at the corner of 6th and Main makes use of many Zigzag Art Deco characteristics. Now used as community office space, the building was a nod toward general acceptance of the Art Deco style in the city. Also, the Oklahoma Natural Gas building (Atkinson, 1928) at the corner of 7th and Boston is a limestone structure with a Zigzag motif. And the Philcade (1930; owned by Amoco) at the corner of 5th and Boston was designed by architect Leon Senter to compliment the nearby gothic design of the Philtower. Senter used terra cotta and wrought iron as expressions of Art Deco design on the building’s exterior. Inside, the structure contains an opulent lobby with custom-made chandeliers and gold leaf ceilings. The Philcade, financed by Waite Phillips, brother of oilman Frank Phillips, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Pythian building (1931) at 5th and Boulder is a three-story structure that Edward W. Saunders intended to be thirteen stories high. The Great Depression intervened, and work stopped at the third floor. The building, now mostly vacant, has terra cotta tiles in the Zigzag style both inside and out.
With the Great Depression came PWA Art Deco. The Public Works Administration, part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, provided construction jobs that included government and public buildings. The Tulsa Union Depot (Frederick Kershner, 1931) was built using Zigzag design features on a large scale to serve the needs of three different railroads in the Tulsa area. The depot was bought by the Williams Companies and restored as office space. The Tulsa State Fairground Pavilion (Leland Shumway, 1932), Daniel Webster High School (Atkinson, John Duncan Forsyth, William Wolaver and Raymond Kerr, 1938), Will Rogers High School (Atkinson, Koberling and Senter, 1939) and the Tulsa Fire Alarm Building (Kershner, 1931) are other examples of PWA Art Deco in Tulsa.
After the Great Depression, Streamline Art Deco became popular. The style emphasized speed and motion. Buildings were simple and paid homage to the automobile and the sea with travel and nautical designs. Many Streamline buildings and homes have been torn down, but several still exist in the Tulsa area. The Brookside neighborhood is largely Streamline Art Deco, notably the City Veterinary Hospital (Koeberling, 1942) and the S & J Oyster House (1945). The Tulsa Monument Company and Will Rogers Theater are other examples of Streamline Art Deco structures.
Art Deco tours of Tulsa can be found at the Tulsa Historical Society's website: http://www.tulsahistory.org/events/deco_tours.htm.