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waite_phillipsIn 1927, The Philtower’s iron skeleton began to rise from the flurry of activity that was downtown Tulsa, a mere two decades after Oklahoma statehood. It was thus immediately associated with Tulsa’s robust and rapidly growing local economy, and was the site of many crucial decisions affecting the oil and gas industry. Construction of the building was financed by renowned oilman and dedicated philanthropist Waite Phillips (1883 – 1964), whose Waite Phillips Petroleum Company played a crucial role in the local economic boom of the 1910s and ‘20s. After selling the company in 1925, he and his wife, Genevieve Elliott, traveled the world gathering ideas for the homes they would build on their return to Tulsa.

Philbrook and The Philtower

Inspired by the classical beauty of Renaissance Italian villas and the innovative modernism of the French Art Deco design movement, the Phillipses returned to Tulsa with big plans. On the recommendation of Kansas City developer J.C. Nichols, they granted three commissions to the prize-winning architect Edward Buehler Delk (1885 – 1956). The following years saw the design and construction of Villa Philbrook, Villa Philmonte, and The Philtower. Villa Philbrook emerged as one of Tulsa’s most unique and luxurious residences, combining Italian, French and Southwestern-inspired interiors with 23 acres of striking gardens. The Phillipses resided in the new Villa from its completion in 1927 until they donated the house and grounds for use as Tulsa’s first art museum, the Philbrook Museum of Art. The Philtower office building, completed in 1928, also drew its design inspirations from continental sources. Late Gothic Revival styles were embellished with Art Deco details, creating an eye-catching urban counterpoint to Villa Philbrook’s suburban, domestic concept. Waite Phillips spent his days making vital decisions in his spacious Philtower office, complete with its twenty-foot beamed ceilings and richly paneled walls. In the evenings Villa Philbrook was a relaxing retreat where he would dine, stroll, and host the occasional high-society ball. Long after the Phillipses moved on, Delk’s complimentary creations lived on, appreciated by many subsequent generations of Tulsans.

Singular Design, Practical Appeal

The Philtower was positioned strategically, with an eye to its proximity to other downtown Tulsa landmarks. Located on Boston Avenue, Tulsa’s premiere architectural corridor, it was conceived of as the link between the then-proposed Union Train Station to the north and the soaring Boston Avenue Methodist Church to the south. The 24-story building is crowned by a strikingly colorful, sloping, shingle-tiled roof. In 2003, neon lights that had originally graced the tower’s apex were restored to their former brilliance, adding a further distinctive design feature to the roof. Two gargoyles preside above the Boston Avenue entrance to the lobby, which complements the tower’s exterior in its visual richness. Unique chandeliers hang from English fan-vaulted ceilings. Travertine marble and mahogany accents cover the walls. Handsome brass elevator doors and glass accents add to the lobby’s aesthetic appeal. A nearby marble stairway leads to the large lobby area on the second floor. Three elevators offer access to floors 12-22 only; these are embossed with the distinctive W.P. seal and are accessible from both lobbies. A nearby covered walkway connects the second floor lobby to The Philtower parking garage. Beauty and functionality coexist in this structure, which has remained remarkably faithful to its architect’s original concept.

1950s: An Oil Industry Power Center

The building’s economic success continued to build into the 1950s, when many of the oil and gas industry’s most influential leaders were either tenants of or visitors to The Philtower. At this time the building was also home to many of Tulsa’s most enduring commercial enterprises. In its early days, KVOO radio broadcast its AM signal from high atop The Philtower Building while Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys played their characteristically Tulsan western swing in the basement. Miss Jackson’s Shop, now simply Miss Jackson’s, and still Tulsa’s preferred source for elegant fashion, was a hallmark shop in The Philtower before moving to its current location in Utica Square. Other tenants have occupied The Philtower’s commercial spaces over the years, and continue to do so at the present time. In 1941, both The Philtower and Villa Philmonte, the Phillipses’ 135,000 acre New Mexico ranch, were deeded to the Boy Scouts of America. A group of Tulsa investors purchased The Philtower from the Boy Scouts in 1977, and a Partnership known as Philtower, LLC. became the owner of record. In recognition both of its architectural singularity and its vital role in national business and local commerce, The Philtower was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

New Directions, New Developments

Downtown Tulsa seems poised to undergo a renaissance of sorts, a return of the relevance that characterized it in the heady days of the Oil Boom and the decades that followed. Recently downtown has seen a revitalization of the Brady Arts District and the passage of a proposal to build a world-class arena, among other exciting developments. In 2004, The Philtower, LLC made the landmark decision to convert floors 12-20 of The Philtower to private luxury residences, creating Tulsa’s first ever mixed-use high rise. The Philtower occupies a pivotal position with regard to Tulsa’s historical legacy, and this innovative concept assures that its place at the cutting edge of local development cannot be consigned to the past. The building that has been an iconic part of Tulsa’s architectural landscape since its construction in 1928 continues to adapt and evolve to meet the needs of the community and its tenants in the 21st century.