Tulsa’s McBirney Mansion Holds Rich History

On Architecture By ROGER COFFEY, AIA

FAMED RESIDENCE: Since its construction in the late 1920s, McBirney Mansion, 1414 S. Galveston Ave., has served as both a private home and, later, a retreat for the rich and famous, operating as a bed and breakfast from 1997 to 2006. In 2015, the mansion once again became a private residence

ROSSY GILLE for GTR Newspapers

When I began writing these architectural-themed articles, I gave myself a rule that I would not include historical Tulsa residences, since John Brooks Walton and others have done a meticulous job of discussing these. However, there are always exceptions to every rule—the house discussed in this article is one of these exceptions. 

On the crest of a small hill, between Houston Avenue and Galveston Avenue at Riverside Drive, sits the 12,000-square-foot McBirney Mansion, 1414 S. Galveston Ave., one of the largest homes in Tulsa. Occupying a site of 2.8 acres, complete with a small pond fed by an underground spring, this residence features a spectacular view of the Arkansas River.

The original owner was early-day Tulsa banker James H. McBirney. The McBirneys were key players in the construction of the Gothic-styled First Methodist Church and the First National Bank buildings. The family is best known for the establishment and long-term management of the National Bank of Commerce.

The McBirney Mansion was designed in 1927 by architects Biollot and Lauch of Kansas City. The general contractor was John Long Company, who also built the Philtower. 
Because of the property’s sloping site, the residence is three stories at Houston Avenue and at its front elevation at Galveston Avenue but four stories at its elevation along Riverside Drive. 

A classic Tudor, the house’s exterior features clinker brick, limestone rubblestone, leaded glass windows and half-timbered stucco. A steeply-pitched slate roof is accented with dormers and brick chimneys capped with clay chimney pots. The garage is detached with four stalls (two stalls accessed on Galveston and two stalls on Houston) in a split-level design.

 The interior of the house reflects its exterior design. A long gallery hallway runs the length of the main floor. It begins with a massive staircase and ends at a stone terrace overlooking the river. Off this corridor is an expansive living room on one side and dining room on the other. All 35 rooms and over 12 bedrooms are on three levels
The mansion’s size alone, plus the fame of such guests as Amelia Earhart, has assured its place in Tulsa history.

The McBirney family occupied the house until 1975 when it was sold to Roger and Donna Hardesty. At that time, the untouched main floor was a 1928 time capsule. The Hardestys sold the house to a law firm that succeeded in obtaining National Registry designation in 1977: the first residence in Tulsa to receive this accreditation.

After further changes in ownership, it was staged as the Designer Showcase in 1997 and subsequently purchased by Jim and Renita Shofner and Ron and Kathy Collins. 

These two couples were previous clients of mine. I had designed additions and extensive remodels for both of their homes. Renita Shofner got the bed-and-breakfast bug while staying in bed and breakfasts in Scotland and talked Kathy Collins into launching McBirney Mansion as a bed and breakfast. They enlisted their husbands and secured a loan. 

The stories that these businesswomen tell could fill a book. 

They handled kitchen exhaust code issues by using a long-hidden masonry flue. They installed special grass matting to add event parking on the lawns since off-site parking was restricted by zoning. They located a retired naval engineer who could keep the original boiler and radiator system functioning. 

From 1997 to 2006, McBirney Mansion was the most successful B&B in Tulsa. Among its many guests were Garth Brooks, Helen Thomas, Tom Coburn and Don Nickles.
However, after nine years, the owners were ready to hang it up and spend more time with their families.

Today, McBirney Mansion is once again a private residence, purchased by Gentner and Wendy Drummond in 2015, that remains a beautiful fixture of Tulsa’s history.

Updated 05-30-2017

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