The Dresser Mansion Preserves History, Beauty

On Architecture By ROGER COFFEY, AIA

ELEGANT DESIGN: The Dresser Mansion, 235 W. 18th St., was built in 1920 near downtown Tulsa. Much of the home’s original architectural elements remain preserved, including high beamed and gold leafed ceilings, Italian tile, hardwood floors, wrought iron railings, and leaded and stained-glass windows.

Courtesy photo

A dark rumor circulated for many years about the Italian Renaissance house at 235 W. 18th St.

It was built in 1920, designed by New York architect Albert Joseph Bodker for Carl and Pauline Dresser. The rumor was based on the idea that owning the house was like signing a death warrant. The fact that Carl and Pauline’s two subsequent husbands all died rather suddenly seemed to lend truth to this fable. However, the health of subsequent owners has laid this idea to rest.

The house, located on a steeply sloping lot, utilizes its site to the maximum. A port cochere on the west is adjacent to a walkout basement containing a study and a billiards room—the 1920s answer to a man cave. The L-shaped footprint has an attached three-car garage wing on the east with servants’ quarters above connected to the kitchen by a small breezeway. (In the 1920s, an attached garage was a very modern concept.)

Overall, the house has five bedrooms, six bathrooms, six fireplaces and three sun porches. The interior finishes include high beamed ceilings, Italian tile, hardwood floors, wrought iron railings, and leaded and stained-glass windows. The exterior is stucco with a low-pitched terra cotta tile roof.

There are a number of 1920s-era cutting edge devices in the interior. The master bedroom suite includes a shower room with multiple shower heads, a steam room, and a master closet with four walls of closed cabinetry built-ins, leaving a large open center space to accommodate luggage packing and a furniture grouping. Also in the interior is a large safe in the butler’s pantry and a sunroom on the west above the port cochere, with panels that slide up vertically to create an open porch.

The dining room with a gold leaf decorated ceiling has a cast stone fireplace with an intaglio inscription in Latin on the mantel, “Inter secundus res esto moderat.”
(Translation: “In the future, among favorable things be moderate.”) Adjacent to the front door is a small room, no bigger than a closet, which was planned as a telephone room when telephones were still a relatively new device.

In the 1980s, I was hired to design a small remodel for the owners at that time. The husband and wife were attorneys who wanted to convert the servants’ wing to an at-home office facility for the two of them. I reviewed the original architect’s drawings on linen blueprints, which were very detailed. I remember the owners proudly showing me the dining room table that was original to the house (probably because it was so massive it would have been hard to move). There was also a living room rug designed to fit the space, which I was told was original to the house.

Today, the Dresser Mansion, as it continues to be known, has had several owners and is used as a special events facility for parties, weddings and receptions. The house was designed for large gatherings, so it works well in this capacity.

I have attended several receptions there, the last a wedding reception for the son of an old friend. The backyard, due to the driveway and garage configuration, is essentially a courtyard. For this event, small bistro tables and strings of lights provided a romantic and very pleasant setting. Down to the present, the home continues to maintain its strong historical aura.

Updated 12-15-2017

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