Murray Jones Murray Led International Style

ON ARCHITECTURE By ROGER COFFEY, AIA

MID-CENTURY MODERN: The Murray Jones Murray firm was influential in the mid-20th century with what architects call the International Style. The Tulsa International Airport, above, was awarded to the firm in 1959. Pictured at top is a rendering of TIA as designed by Murray Jones Murray. Other local projects were the Tulsa Assembly Center, Bishop Kelley High School and the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine among many others.

Courtesy ALEXIS HIGGINS, Tulsa International Airport


Architectural firms come and go, sometimes in one generation. Murray Jones Murray () is an architectural firm that flowered in the second half of the 20th century, with a substantial influence on Tulsa’s built environment. Today, it is only a memory in the minds of dozens of architects who worked there and the significant buildings they designed.

began with David G. Murray who took over the firm of A. M. Atkinson when Atkinson retired due to ill health in the late 1940s. By the early 1950s, Lee C. Murray, Dave’s younger brother, had joined the firm which was called David G. Murray & Associates. Both brothers were native Tulsans and graduates of the School of Architecture.

In this same 1950s time frame, the city of Tulsa hired an architect to master plan its new and long-awaited Civic Center. The architect was Robert Lawton Jones. Bob Jones was also a native Oklahoman with degrees from Notre Dame and the Illinois Institute of Technology and previous experience on the design staff of Perkins and Will.

By the time the Civic Center design was ready to be implemented by Tulsa voters, a strong, positive chemistry had been established between Dave, Lee and Bob. Soon afterward the new firm of Murray Jones Murray was born.

Early in its history, the firm produced such blue ribbon projects as Monroe Junior High School and the 21st and Lewis Doctors’ Building. In 1959 was awarded the Tulsa International Airport project. The resulting terminal building, still functioning today, was considered cutting edge in airport design and really put on the map. The design was even used as a model for other contemporary airports such as the Memphis, Tenn., Terminal. One architect, Ivan Griffin, worked on the project as it grew and was updated for almost 30 years.

The airport project was followed by Tulsa’s Assembly Center Building. It was designed by Edward Durrell Stove, but the local architect of record was . In the same time frame, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Oklahoma City was designed by and hand built with love by its parishioners. This project received numerous awards and even today is considered an icon of modern church design in the United States.

In the years that followed were a number of significant projects in the Tulsa area including Bishop Kelley High School, First Place, Tulsa City Hall, Center Plaza Apartments, College of Osteopathic Medicine, Texaco Headquarters Building, Chapman Hall School of Nursing at the University of Tulsa and the Davis Gun Museum in Claremore.

A common theme connects these projects: a high quality of design. This restrained, simple approach to architecture came from Bob Jones who studied under Mies Van der Rohe. The Mies “less is more” look plays out in numerous buildings. The beauty was in the details and the integration of building systems. Today’s young professional generation has dubbed this look Mid-Century Modern. Architects call it the International Style. Regardless of its title, this approach to architecture makes a strong design statement and has a loyal following.

By the late 1980s, , which at its peak was the largest architectural firm in Tulsa with more than 60 employees, was beginning to scale down. After successful careers, the three original partners were ready for other things. First to leave was Lee Murray who spent several years providing value engineering in Saudi Arabia. Next was Bob Jones who left to direct the architecture program at what was called the University Center of Tulsa. Dave Murray, who retired last, was to leave in the early 1990s. was taken over by partners Britt Emory, George Miller and John Sanford and eventually closed. Today Dave is in retirement in Tulsa, Lee is recently deceased, and Bob is in retirement in Santa Fe, N.M.

The firm founders left an architectural legacy to the city of Tulsa in buildings and in the many architects who received excellent training and experience there. Their architectural documents have been preserved by the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture in its archival library of architects’ works in the basement of the Kennedy Building. Many thanks to Dave Murray, Britt Emory, Ivan Griffin and Herb Fritz for providing the background information required to write this article.

Updated 08-07-2014

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