Monday, May 4, 2009

On the Trail of Julius Shulman

Tour buses descend on Nichols HillsOn Saturday we had the good fortune to attend the Oklahoma Modernism Architecture Tour, an event conducted in conjunction with the Julius Shulman exhibit at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art (OKCMOA), now ongoing through June 7 (see Mod Photog). The guided tour featured visits to five homes and commercial buildings that Shulman had photographed during his visits to Oklahoma throughout the Fifties and Sixties. Consider it a Who's Who of modern architecture in OKC.

The museum staff has created a slideshow of photographs from the tour...
View Slideshow
Or would that be a What's What?

Either way, instead of trying to document all of the great buildings we saw in one colossal post, I'm going to spread them out over the next few weeks (so now might be a perfect time to take advantage of our convenient email notification system provided by our friends at Google). Today I just want to share some of the stories from the tour and a few things Jackie and I learned along the way.

Mods sigh a collective gasp at the Bavinger House in Norman.More Than Just a Bus Tour
The schedule included St. Luke's United Methodist Church, Oklahoma Capitol Bank, McConnell Residence deigned by George Seminoff, St. Patrick Catholic Church and Bruce Goff's Bavinger House in Norman. In addition to examining these renowned buildings inside and out, we also enjoyed brief "drive-bys" of the Founders Bank building and Herb Greene's Prairie House.



But even before the tour got started things were getting interesting. While enjoying a hot cup of coffee, we met a couple that had made the trek all the way from Florida to take part in the tour. It turned out Andrea Coston had grown up 25 miles away, and had a strong connection to the church building that was sheltering us from the rain on this dreary morning. In addition to attending church there, her father was one of the principal architects. Truett Coston was also a close associate of Julius Shulman, and the famous photographer would stay with the Coston family when visiting Oklahoma City.

In fact, photographs of the Coston residence are included in the current exhibition (and were mistakenly tagged with "DEMOLISHED" ). The home, which is surrounded by suburbia today, was once an 80-acre farm near Edmond. During one of Shulman's visits a newborn calf was even given the name Julius in honor of the photographer. From all accounts this good-natured earthiness was not lost on Shulman, and he enjoyed his assignments in the wide open plains of the Sooner State. For us, hearing these stories firsthand from the daughter of a well respected modernist architect was a really special treat.

Coston's daughter explains details of the St Lukes sanctuary.When the time came to start the tour sixty some-odd architecture nuts piled aboard two buses as the dreary grey sky pelted us with cold raindrops. But our bus was warm, clean and spacious, with a commanding view over the weekend traffic. The impending weather slowly receded, as only minor cloudbursts punctuated the drizzle. The OKCMOA crew did a dandy job organizing the tour and everything went smoothly. Even the box lunches were better than expected, and the veggie option didn't appear to be an afterthought.

It was a great event! Watch for more info and photos from each of the tour stops over the next few weeks.
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Postscript.