On Architecture by ROGER COFFEY, AIA
GTR Newspapers photo
When I was a young boy, an exciting event was to go shopping on a Thursday evening with my parents. In the early 1950s in Tulsa, that meant a trip to downtown, for there were few other places to shop.
At 8:00 at night, the sidewalks were thronged with people; cars were bumper to bumper. Parking places were scarce. Above the crowd noise as department store doors opened and shut was the ding, ding of elevators as operators called out the various floors. Among Tulsa’s many retail emporiums, one of the most prominent was Vandevers.
In 1904, W. A. Vandever and B. C. Beane opened a dry goods establishment at 104 S. Main. Vandever bought out Beane in 1912 and was joined by his four brothers. The five men built a retail empire that at its peak included the downtown store and stores at Utica Square, Southroads Mall, Woodland Hills Mall, and in Bartlesville and Joplin.
Vandevers closed in the fall of 1970. The downtown flagship store was the last to close. Left behind was a handsome six-story building at 10 E. 5th St. At one time in Tulsa, if you wanted the latest children’s toys, designer clothing, furs, jewelry, china, and silver along with household sundries, your first stop was Vandevers, Tulsa’s first department store.
In 1926, Vandevers dressed Miss Tulsa Norma Smallwood, who went on to become Miss America. The downtown store expanded into the first two floors of the adjacent Thompson Building on the east and even to the second floor of the Cole Building south of the Thompson Building for the “Green Stamp” department. A second building on the east side of Main Street was added. Vandevers even included a popular luncheon restaurant, The Charlmont, located on the first floor mezzanine of the Thompson Building and Boswells, a long-time Tulsa jeweler.
Today, the main Vandever Building has been repurposed and remodeled by Brickhugger , the John Snyder family, into over 40 loft apartments of varying sizes. The north face has been cleaned and existing window openings restored. Otherwise, the exterior looks much like it did in 1924 when the building was new.
A high granite wainscot begins at the sidewalk and terminates just below the large metal awning marquee that runs the width of the building. Limestone veneer extends vertically from this marquee to a large projecting cornice with dentil molding and floral motif of rosettes and urns just above the second floor. Just below the cornice, centered in the façade in intaglio letters is the word Vandever. Three floors of windows in a pair, triple and pair pattern surrounded by dark red brick rise to the sixth floor. The sixth floor is treated as an arcaded cap to the building with three sets of tall windows with arched stone transom panels. Framing each set of windows is a stone Corinthian column pilaster. Between window sets are field red bricks framed in a stone surround. At the very top of the building is a low stone balustrade. Just below the sixth floor is a pair of stone medallions from which project two angled flagpoles.
If you squint your eyes, it doesn’t take much imagination to visualize the Vandever Building in the 1920s with a steady stream of customers hustling in and out the main doors. The building is an important piece of Tulsa’s past salvaged for future generations.