On Architecture By ROGER COFFEY, AIA
PRESERVING HISTORY: Few exterior changes were made to Tulsa’s Central High School when the building was repurposed into the headquarters of Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) in the 1970s. The building was built in 1916, with a wing being added in 1922.
ROSSY GILLE for GTR Newspapers
One of the best examples of repurposing a Tulsa building is the corporate office building of Public Service Company of Oklahoma (), originally Tulsa’s Central High School. The building occupies a full city block between 6th and 7th streets and Detroit and Cincinnati avenues.
The north half of the school was designed by Tulsa architect George Winkler and built at a cost of $390,855 in 1916 to alleviate the overcrowded existing high school at 4th Street and Boston Avenue, which was bursting at its seams with more than 1,500 students. Shortly afterwards, Winkler designed the south wing which was built in 1922, doubling the size of the school building, a visual demonstration of the surge in population in Tulsa.
At its peak, Tulsa’s Central High School housed more than 5,000 students, making it the second largest high school in the U.S. at the time. When it closed in 1976, over 44,000 students had graduated from there. It was Tulsa’s only high school until Will Rogers was built in 1938.
In the 1970s, needed to centralize its headquarters staff, which was spread around Tulsa in seven different buildings. The company had long outgrown its original office building at 7th and Main streets, built in 1922. It was determined that the Central High School building could provide almost 290,000 square feet of office space at 30 percent less than the cost of a comparable new building. The architectural firm of Coleman, Erwin & Associates was retained, and two years later, the completed project was ready for occupancy.
On the exterior, the changes has made are relatively subtle. The biggest was removing the north steps and lowering the main entrance at 6th Street to ground level. Ground floor window frames were replaced with concrete surrounds. The second, third and fourth floor windows were replaced with solar bronze-insulated glazing in anodized aluminum frames. The exterior brick and limestone trim was cleaned, surrounding sidewalks and landscaping were added, making it more pedestrian-friendly while respecting the character of the original building. Solar panels were also added on the replaced roof.
The intaglio class years that are recorded in the limestone facing around the north entrance still remain. The English Renaissance look of the exterior, English Tudor in character, also remains along with crenulations at the parapet, the foliage motifs and the coats of arms medallions carved in stone (depicting oil lamps resting on three books, symbolizing knowledge) facing the north entrance. A strong, enduring, almost fortress appearance, as was originally intended, still persists.
But inside, the alterations are substantial. Almost all interior walls were removed, exposing the concrete frame and structural columns. Where exposed, these columns were faced with brick and the interior treated to an open office manner. Four elevators were added to both the north and south wings to accommodate a staff of over 700 people. The stairs were retained, and more were added. The original open light wells were enclosed with large skylights to create four atrium areas. Computer controlled lighting and heat reclaim units were incorporated for energy efficiency along with increased insulation to the original building shell.
In 2007, the General Office Building received a Landmark Award by the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture. Today, the interior is in pristine condition as if it were installed yesterday. obviously appreciates its excellent facility.
Many thanks to Stan Whiteford, manager of region communications, for his help with this article.