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Ten Fascinating Architectural Oddities in Oklahoma

Eric Standridge is a freelance writer with an interest in history. His main focus is writing about Oklahoma.

1.) The BOK Tower (Williams Center Tower)

In 1973, two of the world’s most iconic buildings were constructed. Located in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan, the World Trade Center Towers represented the financial hub of the country. Once known as the tallest buildings in the world, they dominated the skyline of Manhattan for nearly thirty years. On September 11, 2001, they were brought down in one of the worst atrocities committed on U.S. soil.

While the World Trade Center Towers no longer exist, people can still appreciate the architecture of the towers in Downtown Tulsa.

Opened in 1976, just three years after the World Trade Center towers were opened, the BOK Tower is an almost perfect replica of the towers in New York. John Williams, CEO of the Williams Companies was impressed with the look and design of the World Trade Center Towers and wanted to create four ¼ sized replicas in Tulsa for his company. After learning that more space would be available by using a taller building instead, Williams decided to build just one much taller tower.

The Bank of Oklahoma Tower, as it is now known, was designed by the same architect that designed the Trade Center towers. The BOK resembles them so much that executives joked that the same plans were used, just cut in half. This isn’t far from the truth. Minoru Yamasaki & Associates used the same design principals when designing the BOK tower. Because Williams wanted the same look and feel, the BOK tower is almost a perfect replica.

Today, the BOK tower is one of Oklahoma’s tallest buildings. The 52 story building was the tallest until the Devon tower were built in 2011. It measures a staggering 667 feet high and is the second tallest building in any of the five “plains states”, which include Nebraska, Kansas, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, and New Mexico.

The BOK Tower

The BOK Tower

2.) Frank Lloyd Wright in Oklahoma: The Price Tower

While Frank Lloyd Wright is well known for his architectural prowess designing residential homes, one of his most outstanding achievements is located in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Wright was in his late 80s when he built the Price Tower. Harold Price, Sr. had approached Wright about designing a three story commercial building for the headquarters of his oil and gas pipeline company. Wright, fearing that this may be his last opportunity to build a skyscraper, convinced Price to expand on his headquarters concept. What was originally going to be a three story building was changed to nineteen story building, set up for both office and living space.

Dubbed “The Tree that Escaped the Crowded Forest”, the Price Tower is Wright’s only skyscraper. The tower embodies Wrights principals on materials, space, scale, and movement. Wright is known for his organic designs, and the price tower is no exception. The pinwheel geometry of the building combined with lightweight materials provides an airy, almost grassy feel to the tower.

The Price Tower was opened in 1956 and has since become home to the Price Tower Arts Center. The arts center focuses on Wright’s love of art and design and remains much as Wright left it.

Price Tower

Price Tower

3.) The Port of Catoosa

Located deep in the heart of Oklahoma lies the Port of Catoosa. A dream of Senator Kerr, the Port connects the middle of the United States with the rest of the world through a series of shipping canals leading down to the Gulf of Mexico. Known as the countries furthest inland port, the Port of Catoosa ships an average of thirteen million tons of cargo throughout the year. The port is controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is located on a 2,000-acre industrial complex. Currently, over 2,500 people are employed there.

Construction on the 445-mile waterway began in the 1950s and wasn’t finished until 1963 at a cost of over 1.2 billion dollars. The first shipment came in on January 21, 1971. A barge carrying newsprint from Tennessee landed in Catoosa and began a long shipping tradition for the small town.

The Port of Catoosa

The Port of Catoosa

4.) The Jenson Tunnel

During the late 1800s, the railroad boom was in full swing. With much of the future state of Oklahoma still being Indian Territory, railroad progress came late. One of the earliest lines in Oklahoma was the KCS. Coming from Ft. Smith, Arkansas and down through Eastern Oklahoma was not an easy feat, but one that would finally connect Arkansas and Texas by rail. For most railroads in Indian Territory, the company would be required to get congressional approval to lay the lines. Near the town of Jenson, the KCS was able to get that approval, but in order to lay the line, they would have to go either over or through Backbone Mountain. Owners of the KCS lines decided that going through the mountain would be much more cost effective. Construction began in 1886 and was finished a few years later. At a length of 1,180 feet and an average width of 14 feet, the Jenson Tunnel is still heavily used today. Named for the long abandoned town of Jenson, the Jenson Tunnel is the only railroad tunnel in Oklahoma.

The Jenson Tunnel

The Jenson Tunnel

5.) The Gold Dome in Oklahoma City

Unidentified Flying Objects have landed on old Route 66 in Oklahoma City. At least, that’s the way it appears. Built in 1958, the Gold Dome in Oklahoma City resembles that of a misplaced UFO. Located at the intersection of Northwest 23rd Street and North Classen Boulevard, this building was the fifth geodesic dome ever built. During a time when architects were trying strange and new building techniques, even this building concept was crazy. Still, it has withstood the test of time and remains standing, epitomizing the strange beauty of the space age.

The dome was originally home of the Citizens State Bank. When building the bank, the company utilizing the slogan, “Bank of Tomorrow”. The construction lives up to that name, utilizing 625 gold anodized aluminum panels set in a steel frame, certainly materials that were considered space age at the time. In 2001, the city called for the building to be razed after several years of disuse. To save the building, residents formed the organization “Citizens for the Golden Dome". By raising money and public awareness campaigns, the building now remains a testament to space age architecture.

Gold Dome

Gold Dome

6.) The Church of Tomorrow

Another iconic building constructed during the Space Age was The Church of Tomorrow. Located at Northwest 36th and Walker, the building was constructed in 1956 for the Disciples of Christ. Stretching to a height of 150 feet, the interior sanctuary is covered by a massive concrete dome. There are no interior supports to obstruct the view of the pulpit. Even the pulpit was a work of wonder, as it could be raised and lowered from the floor like an elevator. As with other space age buildings, the emphasis was on smooth, flowing lines. The Church of Tomorrow made strong use of this, with every building being built on a circular pattern, running from the overall site plan down to the circular motifs found embedded within each building. The church is still in use today, although with a much smaller congregation.

Construction of the Church of Tomorrow

Construction of the Church of Tomorrow

7.) The Sooner Park Playtower

The Sooner Park Playtower is one of the most fascinating playground features found in Oklahoma. Another Space Age creation, the tower was built in 1963 and designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s contemporary, Bruce Goff. Goff was one of the few architects that were respected and admired by Wright. The centerpiece on the Sooner Park Playtower is a large Mobius strip. Built out of steel fencing and rods, the twisting strip uses the famous mathematical principle that makes a straight strip of material three dimensional. Around the Mobius strip is a large staircase that leads to the top of an observation platform. Being inside feels almost like being in a faraday cage. Rising up over the surrounding terrain by 50 feet, this play structure can be seen from miles around.

The Sooner Park Play Tower

The Sooner Park Play Tower

8.) The Bank of the Future

Robert Roloff, architect of the Bank of Tomorrow, was given the tasks of creating a new bank that far surpassed his earlier Gold Dome building. The new bank owner told Robert to “make it so modern, your Gold Dome bank design will look like it was built in 1919.” Just five years after he designed the Bank of Tomorrow, Roloff took up the challenge and created something that looks like it came straight out of a Jetson’s cartoon.

Consisting of seventeen “flying saucer” shaped domes, the bank featured new space-age inventions such as “TV tellers”, floor to ceiling glass support columns, employee “work pods”, and smooth, curved lines. At first, customers didn’t quite know how to bank there, but after it gained national recognition, it drew in customers in droves. On certain days, the bank owner’s daughter and friends could be spotted on the roof dressed up in space suits. While the original State Capitol Bank no longer exists, the building is still used as a bank with their new owners, Arvest Bank.

ten-fascinating-architectural-oddities-in-oklahoma

9.) Pops on Route 66: The World’s Largest Soda Bottle

Many strange and bizarre sights can still be seen along the famed historic Route 66. One of the strangest, and most impressive, is Pops on Route 66. Just outside of Arcadia, Oklahoma, there is a sixty-six-foot-tall illuminated soda bottle sculpture. Although it is a modern sculpture, a lot of work went into its design. Aubrey McClendon began by consulting historian Michael Wallis. Together they worked on creating this iconic sculpture. McClendon wanted something amazing to help advertise the restaurant, and wanted to make sure that it lived up to the Route 66 tradition. After Wallis helped McClendon come up with the concept, McClendon then hired architect Rand Elliott to design the sculpture.

The sculpture is most impressive at night when all of the steel rings are lit up in varying displays of color. It was built using red rock and steel trusses, and features thousands of LED lights that can be seen from miles away. Hundreds of people showed up in Spring of 2007 for the grand opening. Since then, Pops has been known as being the largest soda bottle in the world, as well as having some of the best food to be found in the state.

Pops on 66

Pops on 66

10.) Catoosa's Blue Whale

Just outside of Catoosa is the home of a giant blue whale, and has been since the 1960s. This architectural oddity is not only out of place, but is a long way from home. Located in the heart of Oklahoma, away from any large body of water, this while has drawn in hundreds of visitors during its lifetime.

Constructed out of concrete, the while is part of a larger love story. Hugh Davis, a retired Tulsa zookeeper, knew that his wife was fond of collectable whale figurines. It is said that there wasn’t a room in their house that didn’t contain at least a handful of them. After retiring, Davis decided to show his love in a most unusual way. For the next year Hugh worked tirelessly on creating an eighty-foot-long blue whale on their land.

While this was made for his wife, it soon became a popular gathering spot for friends and family. As more people arrived, Davis decided to open it up to the public. He spent the next several years adding different attractions to it.

Today, after years of disuse, the whale is back to its former glory and can be found swimming along on old Route 66.

The Blue Whale

The Blue Whale

Sources

Eric Standridge has traveled all across Oklahoma researching strange and unusual places. Most of the information contained in this article comes from his visits with the property owners or managers.

Additional information has been obtained through these sources:

Oklahoma Historical Society, archives division

Google Books

And from the individual official business sites

Comments

Eric Standridge (author) from Oklahoma on June 07, 2021:

Deepest apologies, I thought all of the images had be put in but some were missed. That has been fixed now.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 07, 2021:

Thanks for showcasing these architectural oddities in Oklahoma. I wish we could have seen photos of all of them, but the descriptions of the ones without accompanying photos do sound interesting. There are many things of interest along the old Route 66.

Rawan Osama from Egypt on June 06, 2021:

Great writing and useful article

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on June 06, 2021:

This is an interesting article. I doubt whether I’ll ever be able to visit Oklahoma, so I appreciate learning about it by reading articles such as yours.

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