Early Tulsa Chamber of Commerce Building Profiled

GTR Media Group photo
HISTORIC HEADQUARTERS: The building at 616 S. Boston Ave., built in 1951 and designed by Architect Joe Koberling, was the home of the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce until 2003. The Chamber is now known as the Tulsa Regional Chamber.

In 1972, I was newly licensed by the State of Oklahoma, which meant I could call myself an architect (a legal term). My architectural firm employer assigned me the completion of the Chamber of Commerce Briefing Room in the lower level of the Chamber Building at 616 S. Boston Avenue. This was a 1970s high tech room with full wall concealed rear screen projection, sound proofing, and every AV item current technology could provide. The room was to be used for selling Tulsa to out of state companies interested in locating here.
The Chamber staff was headed by Clyde Cole and included Marvin Winn, manager of economic development, and Larry Silvey, communications manager. Along with these experienced veterans was a young female MBA research manager who happened to by my wife, Cookie, of two years at that time. It was an exciting, hectic time for my wife and for me.
My memories of these chamber offices 48 years later included images of a rather dated space with numerous large photo murals of scenes of Tulsa in heavy stained wood frames. In the main hallway was a large bronze plaque listing all of the founders of the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce. Among them was my grandfather, C.C. Cole.
The Chamber of Commerce Building was designed by architect Joseph Koberling in 1951. The Chamber outgrew its offices in the 1927 Tulsa Club Building. It had taken the end of the great depression of the 1930s, World War II of the 1940s and the economic resurgence of the post war years of the late 1940s to create a demand for a new Chamber facility. The building was originally planned to be two stories but when fund raising reached $1.6 million, the plan was revised to include a six-story building with a full basement. The Chamber occupied the lower floors and basement while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, needing larger quarters, took over the upper floors.
Joe Koberling used buff-colored brick on the exterior with a rich brown granite surround at the main entrance on Boston (well off-center towards the north side of the building). Strong horizontal window fenestration (with aluminum trim) for the top two floors reflect a mid-century modern look. A special feature of the main east façade is a 55-foot long bas-relief limestone frieze designed by local artist Laurence Tenney Stevens. This work is an Art Deco collage of Oklahoma history depicting local wildlife, Native Americans, pioneers, oil field workers, and other laborers.

GTR Media Group photo
ART DECO COLLAGE: This close-up shows part of the 55-foot long Bas-relief, designed by local artist Laurence Tenney Stevens on the front of the building. This work is an Art Deco collage of Oklahoma history depicting local wildlife, Native Americans, pioneers, oil field workers, and other laborers.

The Corps of Engineers moved in 1965 and the building sold to private interests in 1970. In 2003, the Chamber moved to larger offices at Third Street and Boulder Avenue. Readers can track the history of the Chamber by its name changes: Commercial Club, early 1900s; Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, 1915; Metropolitan Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, 1969; Tulsa Metro Chamber, 2000; and finally Tulsa Regional Chamber, 2012. But today the Boston Avenue Chamber of Commerce Building remains as a reminder and a key element in Tulsa’s growth and history and houses various entities, including Equity Insurance Company and the administrative offices of the Rotary Club of Tulsa.