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The Wright Way

The Price Tower in Bartlesville serves to remind visitors of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s style and the 1950s period in which the tower was built, but the amenities are rooted firmly in the present.

Article
Michele Chiappetta
Photos
Sarah Eliza Roberts
Posted
February 28, 2020

Green Country may be located smack dab in the middle of the nation, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its share of treasures. Less than an hour’s drive north from downtown Tulsa, you’ll find something that no place else in the United States can brag about having — an actual skyscraper designed by one of America’s most famous architects, Frank Lloyd Wright.

Yes, we’re talking about Bartlesville’s Price Tower. As Wright’s only realized skyscraper, the tower is on the National Register of Historic Places, and when you visit, it’s clear why.

“It is important for people to know and recognize this is a jewel we have in our area,” says Rick Loyd, executive director. A striking piece of architecture, the tower rises above the pavement — 19 stories, 221 feet high.

The Price Tower opened to the public in 1956, and like many Wright projects, this architectural wonder was ahead of its time. (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)
The Price Tower opened to the public in 1956, and like many Wright projects, this architectural wonder was ahead of its time. (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)

“It’s known as the tree that escaped the crowded forest — escaped New York City and ended up on the prairie here in Oklahoma,” says Loyd. That tree description is apt. The elevator shafts at the center of the building are the core — the trunk — of the tower. Out from that trunk extend the building’s “branches,” the rooms on each floor which extend over open air in an impressive, cantilevered style. “It’s a pretty innovative and mind-bending design.”

Wright was an American architect, interior designer, writer, and educator, who designed more than 1,000 structures, 532 of which were completed. Wright believed in designing structures that were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called organic architecture. His creative period spanned more than 70 years.

So how did something this cool end up in Bartlesville? The story goes back nearly a century to the late 1920s, when the Price Tower was originally designed (in 1928) as one of three towers Wright expected to see built in New York City. But then the Stock Market Crash of 1929 happened, and the Great Depression, and Wright couldn’t get anyone to build what he’d created.

“Wright sat on that design for 20 years, until a client here in Bartlesville was interested,” explains Loyd. The client, oilman Harold C. Price, commissioned the building to house his company. The Price Tower opened to the public in 1956, and like many Wright projects, this architectural wonder was ahead of its time.

As Frank Lloyd Wright’s only realized skyscraper, the Price Tower is on the National Register of Historic Places, and when you visit, it’s clear why. (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)
As Frank Lloyd Wright’s only realized skyscraper, the Price Tower is on the National Register of Historic Places, and when you visit, it’s clear why. (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)

“The concept of the tower was to create a place where people could live, shop and work, and be all-inclusive,” says Loyd. While multiuse properties are all the rage today, this wasn’t the case in 1956, and certainly not in 1928 when Wright first designed his concept. The tower includes an art gallery, office space, a restaurant, and hotel rooms.

“Wright wanted the outside to be brought in, which is why windows are wrapped around the building,” says Loyd. Glass was an important element in Wright’s designs. So, too, were the decorative elements in Cherokee red and turquoise, and the 30- and 60-degree angles and equilateral triangles evident everywhere in the tower’s interior design.

The floorplan of the Price Tower centers upon an inlaid cast bronze plaque, bearing the logo of the Price Company and marking the origin of a parallelogram grid upon which all exterior walls, interior partitions and doors, and built-in furniture are placed. The resulting design is a quadrant plan — one quadrant dedicated to double-height apartments, and three for offices. The materials for the Price Tower are equally innovative for a mid-20th century skyscraper: cast concrete walls, pigmented concrete floors, aluminum-trimmed windows and doors, and patinated embossed and distressed copper panels.

As a historic site, the Price Tower serves to remind visitors of Wright’s style and the 1950s period in which the tower was built. “What we’re about is respecting the building and architectural design,” says Loyd. “We’re not into changing any of the elements.”

Of course, the Price Tower isn’t stuck in the past. The style may hearken back to 1956, but the amenities are rooted firmly in the present, such as the beautiful Copper Restaurant and Bar located on the 15th floor. With two dining areas and a bar, this small, intimate environment draws people from far and near.

The Price Tower holds a competition every year to offer an up-and-coming chef an opportunity to work at Copper and live at the Price Tower during their year’s tenure. After narrowing down the field of 730 applicants and hosting a three-day cookoff, the current winner was selected. “Chef Nook is from New Orleans, and he’s brought a real Southern flavor to his menu. He’s popular with hotel guests and locals who dine here,” says Loyd.

The menu items change seasonally, and there’s always something delicious to be had. Diners can dress up or down as they please. And the tower has two 16th-floor outdoor terraces — one facing the sunrise, one the sunset, both offering spectacular views — with access to restaurant and bar service.

The hotel portion of the tower hosts 19 rooms — a few two-story suites with an upstairs loft; the others are standard double- or king-sized rooms. “We get a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiasts coming through and staying,” says Loyd. But locals also use the hotel as a place to host out-of-town guests or come for a special stay.

There’s also an art gallery, featuring touring exhibits four times a year, plus a permanent exhibit that displays items related to either Wright or Bruce Goff, a protégé of Wright who lived at the Price Tower for six years. The gallery will host a special Goff exhibit in connection with OU’s Architectural Department through March 22.

The Gala, which is the Price Tower’s main fundraiser, is being held March 6. The black-tie event will feature a VIP reception at the tower, then move over to the performing arts center where a four-course dinner will be served, with musical entertainment by Zodiac. Oklahoma artist Tim Kenney, who started painting at the age of 52, will also be present to complete a set of 19 paintings of the Price Tower he is working on. A portion of each painting’s profits will be donated to the Price Tower.

In 2020, The Tower Center at Unity Square will be opening up just south of the tower. This outdoor green space will feature a performing pavilion with live events and concerts. In conjunction with this outdoor space, the Price Tower will also be opening up outdoor seating on the ground floor, where breakfast, lunch, and coffee will be available.

LOCATOR
Price Tower
510 S. Dewey Ave. | Bartlesville
918-336-4949
pricetower.org