The Magic City of Tulsa, Oklahoma | 314 | A World Class Architecture and Design City with a Memory and A Heart

This is Convo By Design with a two part special about The Magic City…Tulsa, Oklahoma.

In the 1920’s, Tulsa Oklahoma was called the ‘magic city’ because of the things that were happening as a result of the oil boom. The Cushing Field was discovered at the beginning of the 1900’s which saw the population explode from  just over 7,000 in 1907 to over 72,000 in 1920. Names like Waite Phillips, J. Paul, Getty, Henry Sinclair  and John D. Rockefeller came to Tulsa and built a world-class city around the oil industry, and creating companies like Texaco and Phillips 66. With the influx of money and came high-society, culture and the arts along side extraordinary architecture and design. 

It wasn’t just rich white money. Black Wall Street was within the highly successful, self-contained black community of Greenwood. This is a success story with a horrific ending that resulted in the Greenwood Massacre. To understand how this happened, one needs to fully understand that Black Wall Street, as it was called, wasn’t isolated, it was a community crafted out of necessity and developed into a highly functioning community of black-owned, black-run businesses, by design. O.W. Gurley, a wealthy man of color bought 40 acres of land and called it Greenwood. He and others created a center of commerce built by and for the black community and it is a success story with a tragic ending. After years of success, and years of publicly, well documented jealousy, the result was the Black Wall Street Massacre which saw the entire community destroyed by a white mob. 36 Greenwood residents lost their lives, 800 were injured, 6,000 were held unlawfully and the entire community was burned to the ground.  If interested in the whole story, which is an incredible and tragic story will be linked here. And today, you can find influences of Black Wall Street imbued within the city itself through design and architecture.  

This is not the end of the story and there is so much to explore in how Tulsans have respected the Black Wall Street story and are making sure it is told to future generations much of which can be seen through the design and architecture. Speaking of architecture, this AMAZING art deco and mid-century modern, the gothic cathedrals and a city plan straight out of mid-town Manhattan. This is part of the story of Tulsa, an amazing story and one I wanted to share with you from the architecture, design and city planning perspective. To understand the origin and evolution of Tulsa, I spoke with two community experts, Grant Bumgarner with an organization called Tulsa Remote and architect Ted Reeds, both of whom know this city and her history intimately. 

Grant Bumgarner is Community Manager with Tulsa Remote. If not familiar, Tulsa Remote is a community development program designed to bring talented people to Tulsa, Oklahoma. People who work remotely that can bring a fresh perspective to the city. This two-year old initiative will be further explained by Grant. This is a story about regrowing a (formerly) modern city, city planning with people at the center of moving forward smartly into the future.  I love studying American cities. I am a huge fan of cities like Austin, Texas…Memphis, Tennessee and yes, Tulsa, Oklahoma. You can learn a lot about how cities respect their past and nurture their future. Some of the most successful cities are those that respect their past and keep an eye on ever moving forward and Tulsa is one of those. You have no doubt heard about Tulsa recently, and for all the wrong reasons. The Trail of Tears, the destruction of Black Wall and massacre of its residents. This city has a mixed past and you are going to hear about much of it. You are also going to hear about a city that was built on some of the countries best architecture. 

You heard me correctly, some of America’s best Art Deco architecture is in Tulsa, Oklahoma. One of these structures is the Boston Avenue Methodist Church, designed by master architect and prodigy, Bruce Goff. Goff has significant SoCal ties as well. He designed the Al Strucks House, if not familiar, search it…this house is… extremely interesting. Goff also designed the Japanese Art Pavilion at LACMA, a legendary structure that, for me, is in the collection of significant Los Angeles architecture. But back to Tulsa. I visited the city and Grant gave me a walking tour of the city. We had a chance to reconnect and talk.

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Ted Reeds is an architect and adjunct professor of architecture at the Christopher C. Gibbs School of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma. Ted is president of his eponymous firm and one of those amazing storytellers you are instantly happy with whom you’ve found yourself connected. I have often shared my opinion that architecture is  language while design is storytelling. Ted is the rare architect that has mastered the storytelling within the architecture which is probably why he was so much fun to speak with. Ted and I spoke by phone and discussed some of the amazing structures in and around Tulsa.

In this episode, you are going to hear about…

1. The Vault within the 320 Building (First National Bank of Tulsa)

2. The Vault Restaurant & Bar – One of the first drive—thru banks

3. The Gathering Place – A 70 acre private park gift to the city of Tulsa. Designed by Landscape architect, Michael Van Valkenburg. The banks of the Arkansas River is public land.

4. Cathedral District, one of 5 downtown districts. Multiple churches, Boston Avenue Methodist Church, designed by Bruce Goff. Goff also built the Al Struckus House, one of LA’s most unique homes and Japanese Art Pavilion at LACMA. Bruce Goff controversy.

5. Black Wall Street

6. Guthrie Green

7. Union Depot

8. The Mother Road

9. Tulsa’s 5 Districts

10. Sinclair Building addition

11. Waite Phillips, father of modern Tulsa, Phil Tower and Philcade, Beginning of mixed use. Style of Philcade, vertical lines and dramatic shadows. All that gold! Talk about the cornucopia.

Enjoy this story about Tulsa, Oklahoma…The Magic City.

Thank you, Ted and Grant for both the tour and the chat. I cannot wait to get back to Tulsa. For images from my walking tour with Grant, check out the Convo By Design website and Instagram. You will also find links to the George Kaiser Foundation to see what they do and check out the Gathering Place. Thank you, Walker Zanger for your support of Convo By Design and thank you for listening to the show. Please make sure you subscribe so you get every episode of the podcast the moment it’s published. Until next week, be well and take today first.