On Architecture by ROGER COFFEY, AIA
STATELY BUILDING: The First National Bank of Tulsa building was completed in 1950 with a modernistic look at Fifth Street and Boston Avenue. In 1973, First National built the 41-story tower, in the background, directly connecting to the 1950 building.
GTR Newspapers photo
In 1903 my maternal grandfather, C.C. Cole arrived in Tulsa to start a lead, zinc and coal mining company with his older brother. J.R. Cole. As their business prospered, they bought a lot at the northwest corner of Fifth Street and Boston Avenue, where they built a two-story red brick building and called it the Cole Building. The Cole brothers used the second floor for their offices. These same offices were the setting for architect, designer and owner representative meetings when historic Boston Avenue Methodist Church was planned. The street level was let to a retail tenant.
The 1929 Wall Street crash and the depression years that followed financially wiped out the Coles. J.R. declared bankruptcy and moved from Tulsa. C.C. hung on, but eventually lost the building in the 1930’s to the First National Bank and Trust Co. when he was unable to make the mortgage payment. Although C.C. had previously been a director of First, the bank had long coveted the property as a site for its downtown headquarters.
Plans for a new bank building at the site were delayed by the depression years and World War II. It wasn’t until the late 1940’s that the Cole Building was demolished and construction began on a new high rise building and what a building it was.
Originally titled Tulsa Banking Co., First National Bank and Trust Co. was Tulsa’s oldest bank. Its new headquarters opened in 1950. The building was fully leased two months before the bank moved in. At 20 stories, in a design that was cutting edge for the time, it was the first high rise building built in Tulsa since 1928.
Window fenestration was a series of horizontal mirrored glass bands which appeared to float between horizontal spandrels faced with light buff brick. Perimeter rectangular columns at the east and south elevations were faced in cream colored marble which rose two stories to a simple flat matching marble architrave/lintel. The building’s corners and parapet were faced with the same marble forming a frame around each face. The architects were Carson and Lundin who had also worked on the Rockefeller Center in New York City.
At the south elevation, the third and fourth floors stair-stepped back beneath projecting sun shade roofs. These floors filled the space created by the L shaped building shaft. Atop the tower was a 3,300 sq. ft. penthouse apartment first occupied by the bank’s , Otis McClintock and then later by his son Frank.
In 1973, First National built a 41-story tower immediately adjacent to the north and directly connecting to the 1950 building. I worked on this building as a young staff architect for the design firm of Murray, Jones and Murray. The new building was called First Place.
The 1980’s were hard years for the banking industry. In 1984 First National merged and became part of Liberty National Corporation with headquarters in Oklahoma City. Years afterwards, the first and second floor columns and lintel above along with the ground level columns of First Place were refaced with gray granite to tie the two buildings together. A projecting entrance canopy was also added. In 2014 the complex was sold. Today it is owned by the Price Family Properties.
Fortunately, the eye catching mural depicting Oklahoma history in a bright colored abstract Picasso-like manner still exists at the second floor. Over 50 feet in length, it was the main banking lobby focal point, located behind the main teller line. Created by artist Fred Conway in 1951, it is well worth a visit to see it.