Sometimes buildings reflect growth and change in technology. So it is with the Southwestern Bell Main Dial Building at 424 S. Detroit Ave., the southeast corner of 5th Street and Detroit Avenue.
The original building was a modest two stories and was built in 1924 in the conservative mainstream Gothic style of the time. The growth in telephone communication was rapid. Tulsa was a small cattle town in 1898 when telephone service there first began. By 1930, Tulsa’s population was 141,000 and dial telephones were becoming common. Telephone company officials decided to add four additional floors that year and the currently popular zig zag Art Deco style was utilized.
Although the first two floors held telephone equipment, the upper floors accommodated division offices and toll terminal equipment for the Oklahoma City – Tulsa underground cable. The building was heavily used until the South Cincinnati facility was built in the early 1950’s and expanded in the 1970’s. Eventually the Southwestern Bell Main Dial building became almost a warehouse for telephone equipment. In 1984 the SW Bell Dial Building was listed on the National Register. Recently the building was purchased by First Baptist Church which owns buildings directly adjacent to the north.
It is interesting that the two architectural styles used on the façade do not appear to clash. Perhaps this is because the same materials were used on all six floors (North West Terra Cotta Tile Co of Chicago provided all the Terra Cotta) or maybe time has tempered our perception of the exterior.
The exterior skin of this building is a medium brown brick with cream-colored terra cotta embellishments. The first floor is treated as a piano noble (principal floor) with Tudor arches framed in terra cotta seated on a light gray granite base. Narrow terra cotta quoins match the trim around the arches. The second-floor windows occur in pairs, one pair for each arch separated by brick panels. The panels are decorated with terra cotta torches below a terra cotta shield. The rectangular footprint accommodates four arches (one is an entrance) on Detroit and 8 arches on 5th street. Steel window frames for these two floors are painted a soft green.
Above the second floor the façade is articulated with stair-stepped brick pilasters which create a strong sense of verticality. Spandrel panels between floors are terra cotta in an art deco design. Windows are narrower and spaced separately. Steel window frames are painted in a pale gray green color.
Above the sixth-floor windows, high terra cotta panels are heavily ornamental in an art deco design. The brick pilasters rise above this parapet and are capped with additional terra cotta trim.
A lacy white equipment towner originally rose three or four stories above this building from its center and has been removed.
The future use of the SW Bell Dial Building is in the hands of its new owner, First Baptist Church. The logical assumption is that the building will provide the church with needed classroom and meeting space.