320 South Boston Building: Classic and Stately

On Architecture By ROGER COFFEY, AIA

HISTORIC BANK: The 320 South Boston Building in downtown Tulsa was designed by architect George Winkler in 1917. It was originally the Exchange National Bank and was 12 stories.

ROSSY GILLE for GTR Newspapers

Bricks and mortar additions cause buildings to grow in size, and as they grow, they establish a special identity and character. So it is for the 320 South Boston Building. This stately building with its classical Beaux Arts façade was designed by architect George Winkler in 1917. The north wing at 12 stories was originally the Exchange National Bank. This name and date are captured in intaglio letters at waist height in the limestone facing of the north (Third Street) elevation. In 1923, the 12-story south wing was added. This wing was almost a match to the north wing except for ground floor window treatment and a narrower dimension in the east-west direction. (The north wing has dramatically-tall arched windows.) The south wing is also significantly horizontally shorter than the north.

In 1929, the central lobby portion of the building was raised upward 10 stories to become a tower. The pinnacle of this tower part of the building was a tall lantern element with a steep mansard roof designed to be a zeppelin mooring dock and to indicate anticipated weather conditions with alternating red or green lighting. The largest bank in Oklahoma occupied Tulsa’s tallest building, surpassing the Philtower by 57 feet. It would remain the tallest for almost 30 years.

As the bank changed to become the National Bank of Tulsa so did the building’s name change, to become the National Bank of Tulsa Building. Eventually, the bank become , and the building became the 320 South Boston Building.

Throughout these transitions, the building has continued to house a significant bank entity. The main banking lobby was moved to the south wing soon after it was finished, and due to the natural downward slope of the site, an additional floor, a mezzanine, was inserted within the ground floor of the north wing.

The exterior of the 320 South Boston Building is a stone carver’s dream. Medallions and heraldic shields, false balcony balustrades, Greek key motifs, cornucopias and dentil molding abound. The building’s skin has a low granite wainscot with buff brick above and a generous use of light gray limestone. Even the openings around the steel windows (frequently in pairs) are cased in limestone. The fascia, both at the 12th floor and the central tower, is an elaborate cornice overhanging dentil molding.

The main entrance from Boston Avenue (of course, centered on the tower) is through a large stone arch elaborately faced with floral plant carvings and, from there, to an embossed metal frame for sidelights and transom with central brass doors.

The main foyer is floored with Italian marble, with a central compass design. The ceiling is segmentally-vaulted with stylized painted mural on canvas in colors of terra cotta, light blue, dark blue, celery green and light tan. Straight ahead is the elevator lobby with two rows of three elevators facing each other. The elevator doors are brass in a geometric rectilinear pattern with a plant motif background. The elevators access office corridors above with walls faced with gray Carthage marble.

To the north of the main foyer, escalators allow easy access to the inserted mezzanine floor. To the south of the main foyer is the long barrel vault ceiling of the lobby. This is a two-story space lined with large marble faced columns on both sides. These open to a lower ceiling teller line (west) and adjunct staff spaces (east). The ceiling is a show stopper: a series of canvas murals separating the colors and designs established on the main foyer ceiling. The ceiling had been covered up probably in a 1950s poorly-conceived remodel but was restored by architectural firm Urban Design Group in 1977. Suspended from the arched ceiling are five massive cast iron chandeliers each with a single circular ring of lamps.

At a lower level below the ground floor is a tunnel under Boston Avenue that connects to the neighboring Kennedy Building and an adjacent parking garage. Watch for more about the Kennedy Building in a future article.

Updated 07-25-2016

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