Monday, June 22, 2009

A Hot Time in Downtown Tulsa, Saturday Afternoon

In northeastern Illinois, late May and early June were strangely, unsettlingly cool this year, enough to require light jackets during the daytime. The temps only became more summer-like the day before I left, June 4. By the time I got to Tulsa around mid-day on the 6th, I started experiencing temperatures in the 90s F. Every single day for the rest of the trip, up to and including the day before yesterday in southern Illinois, afternoons highs were in the 90s or in some cases over 100°.

I saw no rain the entire trip. Not even at a distance from the long perspective of an Interstate through flat territory. Late in the day I left Dallas, June 10, a major wind and rain storm whipped through that metro area, but I was in sunny Austin by that time. Last Friday, a major storm dumped a lot of rain on the Chicago area, but I was still hundreds of miles to the south in sunny Mississippi.

Heat in June in the South should be no surprise, but toward the end I marveled at the tropical relentlessness of it. I acclimated myself as much as I could by leaving the car air conditioner off much of the time, something I never could have done if I hadn't been alone, but even so I had to blast myself with cool air sometimes. At the beginning of the trip, I loaded 36 half-liter bottles of water in the car. They were gone by the time I got to northern Mississippi, where I bought 18 more, about half of which I drank.

It was hot in Tulsa, but that didn't stop me. I wanted to walk around downtown and take in the art deco buildings I'd read about, a legacy of 1910s and '20s oil wealth married to '20s design. Such as the Philtower, whose glory my photography doesn't really capture.

"In 1927, The Philtower’s iron skeleton began to rise from the flurry of activity that was downtown Tulsa, a mere two decades after Oklahoma statehood..." notes the building's web site. "Construction of the building was financed by renowned oilman and dedicated philanthropist Waite Phillips (1883-1964), whose Waite Phillips Petroleum Co. played a crucial role in the local economic boom of the 1910s and ‘20s. After selling the company in 1925, he and his wife, Genevieve Elliott, traveled the world gathering ideas for the homes they would build on their return to Tulsa..." And the office buildings, as it turned out.

Downtown Tulsa sports other interesting, long-gone styles as well. The 1922-vintage Atlas Life Building, for instance, is a fine piece of work. I understand that the neon sign in front is quite the thing at night, but even better for me was the statue of Atlas holding up the world near the top of the building.

That's what major buildings need, more Classical allusions. A better image of the Atlas Life Atlas is here. Remarkably, the building was put on the National Register of Historic Places only last month. It's being renovated into a Courtyard by Marriott, which seems like a reasonable use for an office building whose office space probably bordered on obsolescence.

For something more horizontal, and more like the late 19th century than the early 20th (though the building was built in 1918), these are the top four stories of Tulsa's McFarlin Building, a legacy of another oilman, not coincidentally named McFarlin.

"Ornamentation includes three stone balconies, stylized lions, and urns," notes the Tulsa Preservation Commission. "The building is topped by a large cornice supported by Victorian brackets. The building's interior has been substantially altered and has not retained its integrity."

I didn't see the inside, but the outside is nifty. Is that a legitimate term to describe architecture? Probably not, but I stand by it.

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