Young Physician Established the Wright Building
By Roger Coffey, AIA
More than a few years ago, a good friend, Ainsley Stanford, who also happened to be my insurance agent, mentioned to me that Melinda, his wife, was related to the Tulsa family that originally built the structure we know as the Wright Building. Little did I realize that almost 45 years later I would have a chance to share the history and my thoughts about the Wright Building with you.
In 1906, a year before statehood, a young Kentucky medical school graduate by the name of Walter E Wright arrived in Tulsa. Dr. Wright planned to start a general medical practice in our young boom town but also had an eye for other lucrative opportunities. Within a few years Wright had established such a prominent reputation that he was considered a leading pathologist and a specialist in the newly recognized X-ray technology in Oklahoma and the southwest United States.
Of course, success created a need for specialized medical space. A three-story laboratory building was soon built at the northeast corner of West Third Street and South Cheyenne Avenue. The lab building replaced Wright’s previous one located in the basement of his South Cheyenne Ave. house, at the time the only medical laboratory in Oklahoma.
In 1917, Wright, in partnership with several ambitious developers, broke ground for an eight-story office building directly adjacent to his lab facility at 115 West Third Street. It was one of the first of its size to be developed to office use rather than residential living.
In 1922 the Wright Building was enlarged by extending a wing to the north which added more than 100 rooms. The building was occupied by dentists, lawyers, oilmen, insurance companies, investors, and more. KVOO Radio even broadcasted from the basement for several years.
Wright continued to succeed in the medical profession. Within a few years he was elected president of the Tulsa County Medical Society and became the first Tulsa Superintendent of Public Health. By the time he was 40, Wright was ready to retire from medicine and in 1919, decided to focus instead on investment and property management which included building an addition to his office building. Today the building continues to be used for commercial office space.
The exterior of the Wright Building complex is predominantly red brick with inlays and accents of off-white limestone. The red brick on the lab building is so dark it’s almost black. No attempt was made to tie the two buildings together with a uniform façade. The front and main entrance to both buildings is on Third Street. The three-story building has a rectangular footprint. The eight-story building is L shaped. Its east elevation faces the adjacent alley.
A high parapet caps the lab building which is articulated with rectangular limestone frames balancing a central name block element which today is empty. Below the parapet is a projecting fascia directly above what could be a second signage panel, also blank. The main front features three pairs of windows. A central doorway is framed by limestone pilasters supporting an architrave. The entrance is wide which was probably to allow access for medical carts and gurneys in its laboratory days.
The eight-story building identifies itself as the Wright Building in intaglio letters in a limestone lintel above a central entrance. Limestone covers the entire tall first floor. Large openings for glass at the east and west ends are deeply recessed and highlighted with a projecting keystone element at the top of each. Narrower openings in the same design occur towards the centered entrance which also repeats the same design.
Although the width of the main front contains seven pairs of windows, they have been replaced with a single panel of bronze glass. Columns the width of a single brick separates each window. A projecting stone ogee molding with a small dentil course below it provides a transition from the limestone first floor to the brick at the floors above. The eighth floor is also incased in limestone with a large parapet supporting a row of small crockets and a heavy stone molding below in a repetitive disk pattern which provides a transition to the brick seventh floor below.