Triangle Building gives heart to downtown Pawhuska

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital
Triangle Building gives heart to downtown Pawhuska

Early-day development left a triangular-shaped piece of land in the middle of downtown Pawhuska — a natural spot for its heart to be.

A prominent bandstand was erected there in the late 19th century that became the historic site for speeches, rallies and other events connected to the Osage Nation and Oklahoma statehood. As the town ushered in its Golden Age, a five-story building made of brick, concrete and steel rose at the location.

Construction of the ultra-modern “flat iron” structure started in 1913 and it opened for business two years later. The Triangle Building provided an architectural gem in the center of this rapidly-growing metropolis. During Osage County’s “Oil Boom,” it housed a variety of businesses and offices for numerous professional services — including dozens of the estimated 100 lawyers practicing here.

Over the decades that followed, however, time began to take its toll on the wedge-shaped downtown centerpiece and by the end of the 20th century it was listed as one of Oklahoma’s most endangered historic properties. Citizens intervened in 2002 to rescue the structure from demolition.

The new ownership group had planned to undertake floor-by-floor restorations as the funding became available, but the financing efforts lagged — and the once-regal edifice kept on crumbling.

In spite of the building’s deteriorated condition, the area around it remained the primary location for showcase community activities like the Cavalcade street dance and National Indian Taco Championships. Several “pocket” parks were added in open spaces left over when other structures were destroyed by fires.

Local officials sent a letter to the Triangle Building owners last year warning that drastic action might be taken unless measures were taken to eliminate “public safety hazards” related to the structure’s dilapidation. A spokesman for the Tulsa-based investment group assured the city of their intentions to preserve the building, which is located at 114 W. Main.

Architect Brian Bickell with Sustainable Design Solutions said restoration work should get under way by August 2015. He explained that the Triangle Building project had been slow to move forward because it is “tied up by two levels of bureaucracy,” requiring pre-approval by agencies at both the state and federal levels.

Bickell called the Pawhuska structure “very historically significant.” In addition to being one of several local structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places, he said it was the first fireproof building in Oklahoma. The building’s architectural style (Chicago School “Renaissance” with Art Deco elements) is unique for Oklahoma and one of only five examples of it in the U.S., he added.

Bickell said the project would offer adequate space for 20 apartment units, or as many as 30 hotel rooms. The Triangle Building should be a tourist draw by itself, as it has been used in two recent movie productions, including “August: Osage County.”

Additionally, the site is located across the street from another renovated historic structure that already is attracting considerable attention from out-of-town visitors — the Drummond Building, which has been made popular by local blogger/author/cooking show hostess Ree “The Pioneer Woman” Drummond.

Also nearby is the exquisitely-restored, 101-year-old Constantine Theater and the even-older former Osage Council House, which now serves as the Pawhuska City Hall.

Note: The Oklahoma Historical Society will hold its 27th-annual Preservation Conference in Bartlesville from June 3-5.