Wallace Wozencraft Still Busy at 87
By ROGER COFFEY, AIA
It would not be unusual to encounter a distinguished silver headed gentleman on a construction site in Tulsa. This man’s discerning eyes miss very little happening in the building process. He’s there observing that the work matches his exacting standards. His name is Wallace O. Wozencraft and at 87, he is one of the oldest practicing architects in eastern Oklahoma. Most who know him call him Wally.
Wally arrived in Tulsa in 1950 soon after completing his double degree from the University of Oklahoma of a Bachelor of Arts in architecture and a Bachelor of Science in architectural engineering. Although originally from Seminole, Okla., he moved to Tulsa because an older sister lived here and a job was offered by an architect named John Cushing who specialized in church projects. Within five years, Wozencraft secured his state license and went to work for Black and West Architects. Black and West, one of Tulsa’s leading firms, designed the Tulsa County Courthouse, the Texaco Building, four high schools for Tulsa’s mushrooming public school system, and chapels for various churches including First Presbyterian, First Christian and St. John’s Episcopal. Wally was named a partner in 1965 and when the senior partners retired, the firm became Wozencraft and Associates.
I first met Wally in 1963. Black and West hired me as a summer gofer. I remember the pungent smell of the senior partners’ cigars and the clickety-clack sound of the ditto machine as architectural specifications were printed. This was before the era of copiers and computers. All drawings were done by hand, stored in flat file drawers and copied on large ammonia-fueled printers. I remember a hub of activity around Wally’s office. Wally, who was always in a white shirt and tie, standard office attire, took a break and handed me a stack of shop drawings to mark up. I was so green; I didn’t know what a shop drawing was. He kindly marked one copy up as a guide and explained the process to me.
Wally has a reputation in architectural circles for several things. He produces a very thorough set of construction documents which he attributes to time spent in the field observing how buildings are put together. He is fair but also strict with contractors. They know what he expects. And when it comes to approving pay applications, his approval is not given lightly. Lastly, he personally climbs and walks the roofs of his projects. Certainly this is one reason they don’t leak.
If Wally has another interest outside his family and architecture, it is Boy Scouts. He was only in his twenties when he became Scoutmaster of Troop 20 at the Boston Avenue Methodist Church. He held that volunteer job for 22 years, a record for a very demanding activity. Most scoutmasters burn out after four or five years. During that period, Troop 20 grew to be one of the largest troops in Tulsa. Wally, an Eagle Scout himself, encouraged and mentored so many young men, including his own sons who later became Eagle Scouts, that today in local scouting circles, they are referred to as Wally’s Boys. Wally subtly taught his scouts a love for nature and the outdoors. Under his leadership, Troop 20 went to national jamborees and on many high adventure trips. One of the best was floating the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. It is no surprise that Wally received the Silver Beaver Award, the highest leadership award given by scouting.
Wally’s profession intersected with Boy Scouts of America at Camp Garland near Locust Grove where he designed the Dining Hall and the Whit Mauzy Chapel. A recent Boy Scout project is the Headquarters Building for the Indian Nations Council, a project for which he is justifiably proud.
Wally’s building projects are too numerous to list. He remembers fondly his work as an associated architect with Yamasaki on the Performing Arts Center and the Tower. He is just as pleased with his South Tulsa Baptist Church, The Claremore Performing Arts Center and various Broken Arrow Public School projects. But his own house at Lake Keystone has a special place in his heart.
In 1972, Wally began building his residence with his own two hands. It took him four years, but when completed, it was an inviting gathering place for his family. After several close family deaths and that of Fran, his wife of many years, the memories were very poignant.
Eighteen months ago, the house and all its contents were destroyed in a forest fire that swept through the surrounding woods while Wally was traveling out of state. He decided to rebuild as close to the original as the insurance company would allow. Only this time, he employed a general contractor.
Today, the house is nearing completion, and Wally is looking forward to moving in. As he looks to the future, he plans on continuing his architectural career as long as there is work to do and his health (which is good) allows him to do it. Let’s hope there are many more buildings in his future.
Roger Cole Coffey, , is a licensed Oklahoma architect with 40 years experience and a 38-year partner in Olsen-Coffey Architects.