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Tulsa Historical Background
Downtown Tulsa is home to one of the largest concentrations of Art Deco architecture in the country. Many of these buildings were constructed during a great time of growth and prosperity in Tulsa that followed the discovery of oil in Oklahoma. The Glenn Pool oil discovery in 1906, and subsequent discoveries throughout northeastern Oklahoma, saturated Tulsa in new wealth and earned it the nickname "Oil Capital of the World." During the 1920s, the growth of the oil industry in Tulsa fueled a significant building boom. Because the city had no established infrastructure or architectural past, it was free to experiment with new styles. Art Deco was a popular style at the time, and its modern and sophisticated look fit the cosmopolitan aspirations of a totally new Tulsa.
Art Deco began in Europe circa 1925 and quickly gained popularity throughout the world.  Three types of Art Deco, all found in downtown Tulsa, define the style:  ZigZag, PWA, and Streamline.

ZigZag Art Deco
ZigZag is the earliest Art Deco style and was primarily popular during the 1920s.The ZigZag style uses strong vertical lines and patterned geometric ornamentation. 

The following downtown Tulsa buildings were created in the ZigZag style:

  • Boston Avenue Methodist Church (1928-29), located at 1301 South Boston Avenue, has continued to be one of the most recognizable structures in Tulsa.  Credited to Adah Robinson and Bruce Goff, it was named a National Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior in January 1999. 
  • The Public Service Company Building (1929), located at the corner of 6th and Main, was designed by Arthur M. Atkinson and Joseph R. Koberling, Jr. 
  • The Oklahoma Natural Gas building (1928), located at the corner of 7th and Boston, is made of limestone with a zigzag motif.  It was also designed by Arthur M. Atkinson.
  • The Philcade (1930), located at the corner of 5th and Boston, is on the National Register of Historic Places.  Designed by Leon Senter, it uses terra cotta and wrought iron and compliments the gothic design of the neighboring Philtower. 
  • The Gillette Terrell/Pythian building (1931), located at 5th and Boulder, was designed by Edward W. Saunders to be thirteen stories high, but construction was forced to stop at the third floor due to the Great Depression.  The structure uses many decorative fired terra cotta bricks both inside and out.


PWA Art Deco
The PWA style derives its name from the depression-era Public Works Administration (PWA), which was part of President Roosevelt's New Deal. This building program began in 1933 to provide architects, designers and builders with jobs creating government and civic buildings.

The following downtown Tulsa buildings were created in the PWA style:

  • The Tulsa Union Depot (1931), located 3 South Boston Avenue, has strong design elements typical of the monumental feel of this style.  This impressive example of the PWA style was planned by Frederick Kershner and is now the home of the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.
  • The Tulsa Fire Alarm building (1931), located at 1010 East 8th Street, was also designed by Kershner. A large terra cotta panel depicts several pictures including two helmeted firefighters.

Streamline Art Deco
The Streamline style was popular during the Great Depression, and is known for being simple, sleek and uncomplicated. It is characterized by the use of long curves and horizontal lines, instead of the vertical lines often found in the ZigZag style. It was influenced by the shapes of the modern transportation of the time, especially the automobile.  Because it was easily manipulated and relatively inexpensive, stucco was often used in the construction of these buildings.  Although Tulsa built a large number of buildings in this style, it is the type most often torn down.

The following downtown Tulsa buildings were created in the Streamline style:

  • The Mayo Motor Inn (1950), located at 416 South Cheyene Avenue, was designed by Leon B. Senter.
  • The Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority Terminal (1998), located at 319 S. Denver is a modern example of this style.






Downtown Tulsa Unlimited | 321 South Boston, Suite 101 | Tulsa, OK 74103
Phone: (918) 583-2617 Fax: (918) 587-7721 info@tulsadowntown.org
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