Boston Avenue Methodist: Spectacular Art Deco



EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers

Editor’s note: On Architecture, written by Roger Cole Coffey, is
a new column in all six Newspapers and Online. The author is a licensed Oklahoma architect with 40 years experience. He is a fourth-generation Tulsan, a graduate of Oklahoma State University, a past president of the Eastern Oklahoma Chapter of , a former board member of the Tulsa Historical Society, a former member of the Board of Governors of Licensed Oklahoma Architects and a founding board member of the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture.  He was a partner in Olsen-Coffey Architects for 38 years.  

My editor told me any subject for this column would be fine as long as it was about architecture. I hope this premier edition, along with any others that may follow, grabs your interest as well as mine. Like most authors, my subjects will be those that are familiar to me.

An unusual tower has long been identified with the skyline of Tulsa. It’s frequently pictured on backdrops behind television newscasters. Belonging to the Boston Avenue Church, the tower symbolizes the exuberance and positive attitude of the “roaring twenties” and perhaps the soaring redemption promise of Christianity. The Methodist church, of which it is a part, the last of Tulsa’s eight downtown houses of worship to be built, has both National Register and National Landmark accreditation (one of only a handful in Oklahoma so designated). Although its design authorship is argued by some (which makes good media fodder), few deny it is one of America’s outstanding examples of vertical Art-Deco architecture.

The building was a product of the meeting of the minds of a forward thinking pastor who wanted an edifice which would compel passers-by to enter and worship, a building committee headed by a strong chairman and his wife who wanted a one-of-a-kind worship space, and a talented Quaker high school art teacher who listened to her clients. The result was a spectacular facility, one of the first American churches to have a circular worship space.

Spaced around the parapet at the building’s perimeter are 62 stone finials which resemble abstract pairs of praying hands and so many pointed openings that the church has often been described as a 20th-century gothic building. Throughout the interior are themes of native Oklahoma flowers repeated in terrazzo, stone and wood carvings while Methodist history is addressed with stylized terracotta figures above the north and south entrances. These were designed by Robert Garrison, examples of whose work appear in Rockefeller’s New York Riverside Presbyterian Church. Of special note are the sanctuary and chapel stained glass windows executed by the St. Louis Jacoby Studios and large, powerful mosaics in the sanctuary and spacious social lobby.

The Boston Avenue Church celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1993 and has built four buildings during its history. This building, the last of the four, still serves a very active membership. Twice since, the original building was completed in 1929 on an approximately 35 year cycle; it has been expanded with major additions to meet growth demands.

If one looks south down the street of Boston from Third Street, the Boston Avenue Church tower dramatically provides a visual closure to the street. Of course the street doesn’t terminate. It jogs around the church, but the effect is powerful. The positioning of the tower was the brainstorm of the building committee chairman whose favorite part of the design was the tower. His committee once laughingly suggested that only the tower be built during a slow period of fund-raising. The 258-foot tower was unoccupied until the 1960s. Today it is filled with staff offices. A small chapel is housed at the very top and the senior pastor’s office is one level immediately below.

At night, the tower is awash with light to dramatic effect. During the day, when the sunlight strikes its four-glass feather-like fins, they glisten while they align with points of the compass. It is a striking work of architecture. For Tulsa residents, arriving by plane or car, when you see the Boston Avenue Church tower on our skyline, you know you are home.

The church sponsors regular visitor tours on Sundays at noon and during the week by appointment thru the business office. Photography is permitted.

Updated 02-25-2014

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