Shin’enKan, the Bartlesville home of Joe Price, designed and built by architect Bruce Goff, burned down Dec. 26, 1996. The former curator and caretaker of Shin’enKan, Mary Winn Dills, spoke to a packed audience interested in hearing her talk publicly for the first time about her memories of Shin’enKan at the Bartlesville Area History Museum for the opening of an exhibit about the home. She and her son lived on the property in the gardener’s house at the time.
The evening of the fire, Dills had been away from the property for only about 35 minutes to check on her son, who was ill. When she returned, Shin’enKan was in flames and the fire department was already on-ite. It burned for several days and the perpetrator of the arson was never found.
On a lighter note, she shared that meteorologist Travis Meyer, after touring the home and being fascinated by the loft, asked if he could come back during a storm to visit.
“On occasion he would call and say, ‘I’m in the area. Can I come up tonight? It’s supposed to storm.’ So, yes, we accommodated him,” Dills said.
The original part of the home was originally built by local carpenters in the area, Calvin Mason and Frank Buchanan.
“I did not ever meet Frank Buchanan, but I knew Calvin Mason and he was a wonderful man and I enjoyed talking to him immensely. He owned the foundry at Dewey and they made all of the aluminum trim that went around everything, basically, the furniture, although there wasn’t much furniture,” Dills said.
She also shared that Goff and Price couldn’t settle on a price for Goff’s services.
Finally, Goff said he would accept $77,777.77 and that is what was paid.
After she shared remarks, a video tour of the home was played, which showed Shin’enKan before the arson tragedy took it. RSU TV produced the program March 1993 called “Focus on Art.” The episode was called Shin’enKan still lives.
At the time of the program, the property was owned by the University of Oklahoma and was open for tours.
The house was originally built as a bachelor’s pad for Joe Price. When he married a woman from Japan, he added Japanese décor and a larger kitchen. Shoes had to be removed when entering the house in keeping with Japanese practices.
Dills told the program host that Bruce Goff, born in Kansas, had begun apprenticing in Tulsa at the age of 12 for architects, Rush, Endicott& Rush, and built his first home when he was only 15. He built the Boston Avenue Church before he turned 26, Dills said.
“Bruce Goff said it best. … this house had its own style so it would never be out of style,” Dills said.
H.C. Price Company had the Price Tower built and he had a pipeline company in Bartlesville, Dills explained.
The tour began with the part of the house that was a bachelor’s pad built in 1955.
“Price had three requirements when he built his home. One was that it would be inward looking, another was that it be a place of relaxation for he and his friends and that it was to be a bachelor pad and not a family home,” she said.
Dills pointed out that the window shutters became almost invisible when closed because the backs of them were covered with white carpet that matched the rest of the living room carpet.
There was cobalt glass on the window shutters and on the coffee table in the center of the living room seating area.
“The table and stools and the piano were the only pieces of furniture that were ever in the house,” Dills said.
The rest of the furniture was built into the house, she said. Goff was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright in his designs in that regard.
A wide variety of materials was used in the house. Toward the in the center of the living room around the skylight, a five-pound bag of goose feathers was applied to the ceiling.
“Each feather was hand-glued in place … in the same direction. this was to diffuse the light coming in through the skylight so there would be no harsh shadows,” Dills said.
There were also cellophane strips hanging from the living room ceiling.
“At night when you turn out all the lights, except for the night lights, and the heating or air conditioning is flowing, these move a little bit and this is called cellophane rain. It was a design of Bruce Goff,” she said.
Guests could sit in what was called “the conversation pit,” a hexigon-shaped area with comfortable seating and white carpeting.
“In the middle of the conversation pit, the medallion is actually a table top and it comes up out of the floor to coffee table height and there’s a stereo inside and storage cabinets,” Dills said.
The master bedroom was next on the tour.
The bedroom had its own unique features starting with a pivoting entry door made of layered stained glass.
“It’s one of three pivoting doors here in the bachelor pad that Bruce Goff designed, and he did all the work on each of them. It’s one sheet of glass with a design on each side. You’ll notice all the little sequins and beads. Bruce Goff was well known for shopping at Woolworth’s for his design materials. So, you’ll see these same things all through the house,” Dills said.
The bedroom walls were made of chunks of coal from Kentucky and glass culets from the Liberty Glass Plant near Sapulpa, which produced Coke bottles, she said.
“Glass culets are the scrap pieces of glass left in the bottom of the kiln after they fired the bottles and they just went in and chiseled it out,” Dills said.
During the tour, Dills shared that Goff commented designing Shin’enKan was an architect’s dream because he not only had free reign of the design, but the funds as well.
The master bedroom’s headboard was made of glass with a light in the middle, which was lit at night. The headboard also contained white popbeads from Woolworth’s Department Store.
The master bedroom windows had panels that closed at night for privacy, enhanced with cobalt-blue, glass triangles.
Mary Dills showed program host, Barbara Cohenour, the built-in wooden bedroom furniture, containing drawers that opened at an angle, which she described as “typical of Wright, Goff and other architects of the day.”
Dills said, “there are night lights in all of the coal and glass wall throughout the house.”
Read next week’s column for more on Shin’enKan.