On Architecture By ROGER COFFEY, AIA
ICONIC SIGN: The Atlas Life Building, 415 S. Boston Ave., was built in 1922 for the Atlas Life Insurance Company. At the top of the building, centered on the ten-story tower, is a kneeling statue of Atlas, holding up the world.
ROSSY GILLE for GTR Newspapers
When is an office building not an office building? When it has been converted into a 119- room boutique hotel in 2010. So it is for the Atlas Life Building, now the home of a Courtyard Marriott Hotel at 415 S. Boston Ave.
Built in 1922 for the Atlas Life Insurance Company on land leased from the Tulsa School Board for 99 years, it was designed by one of Tulsa’s leading architectural firms, Rush, Endicott and Rush. With the multi-story Mid Continent Building built on the north in 1918 and an anticipated but not yet built high rise on the south (Philtower), the architects employed the device of an inverted T shape for the building providing natural light and ventilation (before air conditioning) for the 10 floors on the north and south above the second floor. Not coincidently, one of the main investors in the Atlas Life Insurance Company was Waite Phillips who would build the Philtower in 1928.
The exterior is a combination of stone and red brick. The first and second floors are faced with limestone, the full lot width. The second floor is capped by a metope frieze parapet, which includes curved limestone brackets at the 10-story setback. The top two floors terminate with a limestone overhanging cornice above dentil molding with pronounced medallions. At the top, centered on this ten-story tower (three pairs of windows wide), is a kneeling statue of Atlas, holding up the world. An iconic Atlas Life neon sign hangs on the building’s front.
As with many office buildings of its day, the Atlas Life Building has large double hung steel windows and intaglio signage identifying the Boston Avenue entrance.
The main lobby of the building is a mall concept. Tall and wide, it runs the entire length of the building with rows of shops on both sides. At its east end is a large clock dominated by a brass kneeling Atlas holding up the world (which is the clock). The mythological Atlas theme is repeated in the typical room door hardware where a tiny brass Atlas holds up the key hole escutcheon or, in some cases, the door knob itself. Midway through the lobby is a monumental stair on the north and three elevators on the south.
The lobby floor is gray marble with a black marble border. The walls are gray marble tile perforated with brass-framed storefronts for adjacent shops. Originally, each shop had a small rectangular illuminated brass box sign at 90 degrees to the main wall. The ceiling is framed by a three-part stepped molding and a Greek key pattern frieze. The ceiling is coffered plaster in an octagonal pattern with an acanthus leaf in each octagon opening.
Today, the center of the lobby utilizes groupings of occasional furnishings. The original coffee shop is now a restaurant. Other spaces are occupied by the Tulsa Press Club, Atlas Grill, Marriott sales offices and other hotel support facilities; there are also corridors connecting to the Mid-Continent Tower and Philtower Building.
The second floor is the main lobby of the hotel. In addition to the main check-in desk, there is a concierge area, a restaurant, bistro, and bar, lounge space, meeting rooms, an exercise room, and an historical museum room of building artifacts.
Integral to the original building was a single enclosed stair beginning at the second floor adjacent to the elevators. At the stairwell landings were single restrooms with men’s and women’s facilities on alternate floors. This was a common practice in 1920s buildings. A required second means of egress was by a fire escape on the alley (east) side of the building.
The Courtyard Marriott boutique hotel appears to be thriving. Its arrival has been a welcome part of downtown Tulsa’s revival. Another of Tulsa’s numerous classic buildings has been given new life.