Harold Charles Price, Sr. (1888-1962); or H.C. Price as he was fondly known, graduated from the Colorado School of Mines, Golden, Colorado, in 1913 and began working for the Bartlesville Zinc Company. Due to changes in the economy he lost his job but enjoyed life in Bartlesville and wished to remain in the community. In 1921, he formed the Electra Welding Company, on Second Street in downtown Bartlesville, where he developed new techniques in electrical welding which were very successful and, in time, he became the largest welding contractor in Mid-America by 1926.
That same year, Price married Mary Lou Patteson (1900-1978), a school teacher, and the couple had two sons, Harold, Jr. (b. 1927) and Joe (b. 1929). In 1937, the newly renamed H.C. Price Company gained in strength and prestige – specializing in pipeline construction and non-corrosive pipe coatings. Their clients included most of the major oil companies. Due in large part to the corporate growth, Mary Lou Price was made partner in the firm, and eventually added to the Board of Directors in 1946.
During World War II, the Price Company played a vital role in the war effort. They constructed pipelines throughout North America and abroad—from the Gulf coast to the East Coast, and from Alaska down along the West Coast. The continental pipelines prevented attacks on United States ships transporting oil across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans making their role in the war effort extremely important.
The H.C. Price Company had by now outgrown their offices on Second Street and Harold Price wished to build a new corporate headquarters in Bartlesville. His sons, Harold Jr. and Joe, both students at the University of Oklahoma, encouraged him to build a structure that would be a real asset to Bartlesville. Bruce Alonzo Goff, then Dean of the University of Oklahoma’s School of Architecture, was first approached by the family. He referred them to Frank Lloyd Wright, arguably the most important architect working in the United States, who accepted the commission in 1952. The Price Tower was completed in 1956, and the company moved into the upper floors of the building, renting out the lower floors to a variety of professionals and businesses. The H.C. Price Company, and the Price family in particular, although highly successful, were known for their care for their employees and the kindnesses they so often displayed.
The Price family was also dedicated to mid- twentieth-century modern architecture. H.C. and Mary Lou commissioned a ranch-style home in 1947 from Los Angeles architect Clifford May for their property, known as Star View Farm, in Bartlesville. Frank Lloyd Wright designed their “Grandma House” (Paradise Valley, Arizona,1954), while also completing a home in 1953, known as “Hillside,” for Harold Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Propps Price (b. 1927), located to the west of Star View Farm. Bruce Goff found a life-long patron in Joe Price, whose 1954 “bachelor pad” scheme for the site bordering Star View Farm on the north grew to become a grand estate and gallery of Japanese paintings known as Shin’en Kan (Chinese for “the house of the far away heart”).
H.C. Price died in 1962, only six years after the opening of the Price Tower, and Harold Jr. took over as President, making Mary Lou the Chairman of the Board, a position she held to her death in 1978. Her situation was unique as few women in America at that time held such a role in a company.
In time, Harold Jr. and Joe Price decided to leave the company and follow their own interests, selling the Price Tower to the Phillips Petroleum Company in 1981. Harold’s son, Charles, is currently President of the H.C. Price Company at its corporate headquarters in Dallas, Texas. Both Price sons continue to take a great interest in the Price Tower Arts Center. They both serve on the Arts Center’s National Advisory Council.