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Greater Tulsa Reporter

Early PSO, ONG Buildings Share Art Deco History

On Architecture by ROGER COFFEY, AIA

UTILITY HEADQUARTERS: Designed in the office of architect Arthur M. Atkinson about a year apart at the height of Tulsa’s art deco era, the buildings at the southwest corner of 6th and Main streets (left) and the northwest corner of 7th Street and Boston Avenue served as the headquarters for Oklahoma Natural Gas and Public Service Company, repectively. Both utility companies have moved to larger facilities and the two buildings are currently in use as general office buildings.

GTR Newspapers photos

What do the Tulsa buildings at the southwest corner of 6th and Main streets and the northwest corner of 7th Street and Boston Avenue have in common?

They obviously look nothing alike. The former is only five stories and is faced with limestone. The latter is a high rise and, except for the first two floors, has a brick exterior.

These buildings were the early headquarters for Tulsa’s utility companies: Public Service Co. of Oklahoma (PSO) and Oklahoma Natural Gas (ONG).

They were both designed in the office of architect Arthur M. Atkinson about a year apart at the height of Tulsa’s art deco era. Today, they are in use as general office buildings. The companies that built and then outgrew them have moved on to larger facilities. PSO now occupies our historic Central High School, which it has been thoroughly remodeled. ONG has built a new high rise structure which was designed to be even taller than what was built.

In 1928, Joe Koberling, the lead design architect for the Arthur M. Atkinson architectural firm, designed a $600,000 building for ONG. The structure was reinforced concrete, 10 stories tall with a full basement. Midway through the design phase, Koberling took a leave of absence to spend a year in Europe, and design architect (second in command) Fredrick V. Kershner finished the project.

The exterior of the first floor has a traditional gothic treatment with a series of tall, semicircular arched openings, nine along the south elevation and three along the east side. The building probably occupies a typical 50 by 150 foot downtown lot. The massing of the building allows for slight vertical projecting elements at each corner, incorporating one first floor arch. These are slightly taller than the remainder of the building. There is no cap or parapet cornice, but rather a subtle pattern of narrow vertical brick recesses. The window pattern is pairs, a set per each arch below. At the second floor these pairs each have a triangular transom at their sills. They also have a projecting false Juliet balcony in limestone. Transoms at windows between floors are brick with a pattern of narrow rectangles. Stone detail occurs around each arch at flush pilasters spaced between second floor windows. Steel canopies mark the entrances at the west end of the south elevation and the center of the east face.

The PSO building is the more interesting of the two structures. It was built in 1929 for $425,000 and was also designed by Joe Koberling (in Atkinson’s office) after he returned from Europe. At five stories, it had a basement and was a reinforced concrete structure. The first floor also has a gothic treatment, but its arches are Tudor shaped with stepped-curved-stepped arch spring lines. Zigzag-designed steel canopies occur at the entrances on the east and north. The massing of the east façade is tripartite with a taller center of five windows wide and lower corners on either side with two windows wide. At the north façade there are two projecting taller masses at two windows wide. Spandrels between floors are stone with a vertical styled arrowhead design. Entry doors are deeply recessed with stone transom panels worked in a design of diamonds and clovers.

The most interesting feature of this building is due to the PSO requirement to feature exterior lighting, a cutting edge idea in 1929. Koberling responded to this requirement by incorporating stone half octagon (projecting up) right shields above the second floor windows and triangular shaped hooded shields for down lights above the fifth floor windows. These shields were spaced at one pair per window and originally utilized colored lenses for dramatic effect. Sadly, the exterior lighting is no longer in use, but the prominent lighting shields are worth a drive by.

Updated 09-13-2018

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