When Jo Johnson and Barbara McVey volunteered to host the February meeting of the Pawhuska Red Hatters (Company of Wayward Saints), they were thinking about a road trip. After all, the mission of Red Hatters is to have fun and adventure. Their visit of the historic Price Tower in Bartlesville certainly fit the bill. This 19-story, 221-foot foot tower is Frank Lloyd Wright’s only skyscraper.
Harold C. Price commissioned the Price Tower to use as corporate headquarters for his oil pipeline and chemical company. Referencing the building’s construction and design origins, Wright nicknamed the Price Tower "the tree that escaped the crowded forest." Four elevators are anchored in the central part of the building, much like the trunk of a tree. From this central core, 19 cantilevered floors appear to be branches of the tree. Copper "leaves" hang from the outer walls.
Wright originally designed the building in the 1920s for an apartment complex in downtown New York City. The project was shelved following the Depression until Wright adapted it for the Price Company in 1952. Construction was completed in 1956. Although the H.C. Price Company was the primary tenant, this multi-use facility was designed to house businesses, offices, shops, and apartments which were intended as income-raising ventures.
Wright used innovative materials for his mid-century skyscraper. These included case concrete walls, pigmented concrete floors, aluminum-trimmed windows and doors, and embossed and distressed copper panels. Wright used the equilateral triangle for the building’s lighting fixtures and ventilation grilles. The angled walls and built-in furniture were based on fractions or multiples of the triangular module.
Phillips Petroleum Company purchased the Price Tower in 1981. After using the facility primarily for storage, Phillips donated the building to the Price Tower Arts Center in 2000. In 2007, the Price Tower was designated a National Historic Landmark by the US Department of Interior, one of only 20 such properties in Oklahoma.
Today, the Price Tower Arts Center is once again a multi-use facility. The building is a tribute to modern art, architecture and design. Docent-led guided tours include H.C. Price’s original office, living quarters, and the Wright Museum and gift shop.
The Pawhuska Red Hatters concluded their memorable event with lunch in the Copper Restaurant. They were also invited to return for a night’s stay at the Inn at Price Tower.