The National Preservation Conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has concluded, though staff members from around the National Trust for Historic Preservation are still sending in field reports. Today, Barbara Campagna, Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, shares the story of her roadtrip with a colleague and fellow blogger, Walter Gallas, director of the New Orleans Field Office.
Walter Gallas and I usually only talk to each other through our blog postings on PreservationNation. (Walter writes Notes from New Orleans and I write Beyond Green Building.) But this week, the Preservation Conference in Tulsa brought us together in person and we headed north to Bartlesville with Jim Logan, the Trust’s New Orleans Advisor, in between meetings. Luckily we left for Bartlesville earlier than many of our other colleagues who had the same idea, and we managed to get the last three spots on the 11 a.m. tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s only skyscraper, the Price Tower.
Now, since I spend most of my work time overseeing our historic sites, many of which are house museums, it goes without saying that I usually hate tours. But this one was perfect -– only eight people (because the elevators and spaces are so “Frank Lloyd Wright” -- small -- so that more just wouldn’t fit), 45 minutes long and just enough gossip to keep it amusing. We had the best weather today that we’ve seen all week in Oklahoma -- high 60s with brilliant blue skies. I couldn’t remember much about the history of Price Tower, so it was fun to rediscover it. Built in 1956 as the headquarters for the H.C. Price Company (one of the biggest manufacturers and installers of gas pipelines in the world), at 19 floors, it’s the tallest Frank Lloyd Wright building in the world and is even more distinctive for being located in the wide open spaces of the prairie not in the canyons of a city. The organic copper decoration, inspired by native American details, felt very Mayan to me. The key motif and parti for the building is the triangle, which is found everywhere, even in the parking lot sewer grilles.
The office building, which was vacant and deteriorating for many years, now houses the Price Tower Art Center complete with terrific Wright-focused shop and gallery, offices, and a boutique hotel at the top of the building. The tour takes you to one of the remaining typical two-story apartments which is now a museum –- with floor to ceiling aluminum casement windows, built-in furnishings, tiny bathrooms that compete with airplane bathrooms, a walk-in closet smaller than most of our regular closets and a triangular linen closet that none of us could imagine putting even one towel in. Mr. Price’s private office is on the top floor. I enjoyed the views but really liked the huge globe that Price insisted on installing despite Wright’s objections (it wasn’t triangular). That’s probably why I liked it even more.
Now Bartlesville is in the heart of Bruce Goff country and since I never picked up one book on Tulsa before I came, I didn’t realize till I got to Bartlesville that I should have added an extra day to the trip for the Goff buildings. So, no Goff buildings, but getting to spend two hours at the Price Tower was a true highlight of this week in Oklahoma. And getting to go on a mini-road trip with a fellow blogger, priceless!
-- Barbara Campagna
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