STORIES OF LEGACY: Douglas Miller poses with his two books that highlight Tulsa architecture and history: 4th & Boston: Heart of the Magic Empire and, the newly released, Seat of Power: Tulsa’s Arduous Pursuit of Governance & the House Strong Enough to Hold it.
Just in time for the holiday season, the second of two books exploring the relationship between Tulsa’s architecture and its history was released Dec. 8.
Publisher, lead author and book designer Douglas Miller builds on the success of last year’s popular release, 4th & Boston: Heart of the Magic Empire, with his new book: Seat of Power: Tulsa’s Arduous Pursuit of Governance & the House Strong Enough to Hold it.
Seat of Power tells the story behind Tulsa’s longest-serving City Hall—the Municipal Building which stands on the southwest corner of 4th Street and Cincinnati Avenue in downtown Tulsa. Construction on the building began in 1917, it opened in 1919, and it remained in use until City Hall relocated to the Civic Center in 1969. Fully renovated in 1974, the building has been in use as modern commercial office space since then.
Seat of Power is not a sequel to 4th & Boston, Miller explains, but the two books do share a common ancestry. Both projects, commissioned by property owners, celebrate the centennial of oil-boom-era buildings.
One-hundred years ago, Tulsa was experiencing growth too explosive, in Miller’s view, to be fully appreciated by most Tulsans today: “We’re amazed at how quickly areas like 101st Street and Memorial Drive or 91st Street and Yale Avenue fill up with box stores,” he says. “But, during the oil-boom era, Tulsa was the fastest-growing city in the world. Between 1904 and 1929, Tulsa evolved from a cow town with a train depot and about 1,500 people to a major American metropolis with skyscrapers, industry and 140,000 citizens. And all of that progress occurred without the aid of computers, satellite communications, and modern transportation.”
Miller says that it shouldn’t be surprising that there was a lot of drama tied up in Tulsa’s growth—including the buildings about which he writes.
“Tulsa was built by rough-and-tumble pioneers and wildcatters who started with nothing yet built a financial empire with little more than nerves of steel and raw opportunity. They worked extremely hard and took tremendous risks to get rich quick—not always legally, ethically or successfully. But those who made it wanted the world to know what they had achieved. It’s not an exaggeration to say that behind every one of Tulsa’s oil-boom buildings can be found the story of those bold personalities who wanted to leave their legacy.”
Not only does this power of legacy make for a remarkable story, but in Miller’s view, it also adds to the tragedy of all the architecture that Tulsa lost during the Urban Renewal era of the 1960s and ‘70s.
In Seat of Power, he reveals the pivotal role the Municipal Building had in the birth of Tulsa’s current spirit of historic preservation. “After the city moved out, the Municipal Building was doomed to become a parking lot,” he explains. “But someone was willing to take a risk on saving it just to prove that old buildings didn’t have to be sacrificed in the name of progress.”
More than just a financial gamble that paid off, the renovation of what is known today as the “Old City Hall” building succeeded in changing the way Tulsans look at the city’s architectural heritage. “We owe a lot to that building,” Miller says. “Having the opportunity to tell its story was both an honor and responsibility.”
Honor and responsibility in storytelling are guiding principles at Miller’s Tulsa-based publishing house, Müllerhaus Legacy. In addition to designing books for larger publishers and developing high-level corporate communications materials, Müllerhaus Legacy found a niche creating commissioned history books for clients that, in 2017, ranged from a quaint small-town church with a few hundred members to families and businesses with assets in the billions.
In August, for example, Müllerhaus Legacy released The Robson Ranch: Hard Work & Family Ties. Authored by John Wooley, it tells the story behind the modest Northeastern Oklahoma cattle ranch where Wal-Mart’s Walton family travels annually to spend time together and relive childhood memories.
“Whether we’re telling the story of a business, a family, or a building, we do our best to craft a product that is as credible and honest as it is engaging and personal,” says Miller.
In the world of marketing and branding, “storytelling” is a popular buzzword today. But according to Miller, that’s been his focus since founding Müllerhaus after his departure from advertising giant Ackerman McQueen almost 15 years ago.
“Encouraging a client to consider the legacy they’ll leave behind compels them—and us—to take storytelling considerably more serious than most publishers and branding agencies. History is one of the most valuable—yet least leveraged—assets for compelling and authentic corporate communications. Too many business owners miss the opportunity to connect honestly with customers and employees when they replace their authentic story with a manufactured brand story that plays well to focus groups. Real life isn’t crafted by a focus group. And folks nowadays—especially millennials—are hungry for authenticity, not idealized realities.”
Miller hopes that in Seat of Power, readers will discover the authenticity built into Tulsa during its formative years.
The Old City Hall building certainly has a story worth remembering, he notes. And every old building that gets a new lease on life in downtown Tulsa shares in the legacy of Old City Hall.
Seat of Power: Tulsa’s Arduous Pursuit of Governance & the House Strong Enough to Hold it and 4th & Boston: Heart of the Magic Empire are available at Decopolis, Ida Red, Magic City Books, On A Whim, Tulsa Historical Society and other local bookstores. They can also be ordered on Amazon.com or by calling Müllerhaus Legacy at 918-747-0018.