Mid-Century Blue Cross-Blue Shield Building Listed on National Register of Historic Places

GTR Media Group photo
IMPRESSIVE STRUCTURE: The Blue Cross–Blue Shield Building on Boulder Ave. viewing from the southwest. Horizontal bands of windows occur on the west and south elevations.

What does a mid-century modern high-rise office building look like when it is not a curtain wall structure? If you guessed the Blue Cross–Blue Shield Building at 1215 S. Boulder Ave., you are right. The original BC–BS building is strategically located just inside the inner dispersal loop where the Broken Arrow Expressway sinks below street level. Conveniently, it has parking lots to the north and south.
It is hard to imagine the original building at 40,000 square feet was only three stories when built in 1954. Long time Tulsa architect, Joe Koberling, must have had a plan for a high-rise design. In 1967, a nine-story addition was begun to create a full 12 stories again credited to Koberling. Finished in 1969, it was one of his last major projects. The exterior is seamless with no discernable difference between the original and the addition. Few remodeled buildings achieve this.
The building’s expansion coincides with the growth of its insurance company owner. In 1960, federal employees were given an option for an Employee Health Benefits Program. In 1965, Medicare was established which effectively lowered the number of customers 65 years of age and older.
Faced with a very distinctive yellow-tan brick, the Blue Cross–Blue Shield Building is a composite frame structure. Horizontal bands of windows occur on the west and south elevations. The window bands wrap the southwest corner and terminate at a projecting brick wall. Limestone sills complete this fenestration. Projecting concrete sunshades enhance these windows. At the top floor, the sunshade for the floor below is incorporated into a projecting balcony with a light steel railing.
The massing of the main building entrance on Boulder at the northwest corner is emphasized with a modest projection which continues vertically the full building height. This element is framed with limestone pilasters. Between these and below a large projecting canopy (art deco in character) are a pair of double entry doors with a dark red granite surround. Above the doors is a bas-relief PWA type sculpture panel which depicts people engaged in health care related work and includes BC–BS emblems.
Above the canopy, the brick at the entrance element has a corbeled geometric design in transom panels between windows. Within the entrance is a modest sized lobby with a 24-inch square terrazzo checkerboard floor and rose-red marble walls. Three elevators with brass doors and dark wine-colored marble surround fill the east wall.
The Blue Cross–Blue Shield Building was listed on the National Register in 2016. A revolving five story high sign has since been removed from the roof. But at night a band of bright blue neon surrounds and highlights the top of the building.
In 2011 Blue Cross–Blue Shield sold the building to First United Methodist Church and consolidated its offices to the current location at 1400 S. Boston Ave. The University of Tulsa is today an important tenant in the original building.