Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Home of ORU Architect on the Auction Block

Frank Wallace is best known as the man behind the futuristic look of the Oral Roberts University campus. On October 14, 2010 his unique home overlooking ORU will be sold in a public auction conducted by Mister Ed's Auctions. Jackie and I recently had a chance to visit with Mr. Wallace and learn more about the house, his career and his thoughts on architecture.

The Frank Wallace HouseWhen we visited we expected to snap a few photos of an empty house and speak with a rep- resentative from the auction company. To our surprise the door opened and we were greeted by Mr. Wallace himself. After assuring him we were not architects, he let us look around. Unfortunately we were not prepared to interview the man whose buildings incite such extremely diverse reactions- but that didn't stop me from asking him several questions anyway. 

The home, completed in 1980, was designed and built by Wallace who is now 87. The expansive home is so large that Wallace spends most of his time in a room that was his late wife's studio. At more than 5,000 square feet (over 6,000 if you count the indoor pool) the house isn't enormous compared to nearby McMansions, but still mighty large for one person. Out front you're greeted by immense metal gates that were built locally by Ernest Wiemman Metalcraft, a firm better known for more traditional iron work.When Wallace initially approached the firm about fabricating the two gates Wiemann wasn't interested. It took persuasion from the workers who thought the job looked more fun than their usual fare.

The front door is also an extravagant unit that was built on-site, and Wallace claims "cost more than either of my first two houses." It's heft is obvious as you open it, yet it moves freely on the massive hinges that support it. Even the knob is huge!

Once inside, the entryway curves off to your left past the indoor pool. There's a den to your right, and steps lead down to the main living area. The entire floor plan is a semi-circle, and the round theme is carried throughout the house. I found one of the showers especially interesting because it used this theme to maximum effect- by curling the wall around like a conch shell, it negates the need for a shower door.

Dominating the center of the house is the swimming pool. Wallace was an avid swimmer, and used the pool every day for over a year. Another notable feature is the masonry. All of the rock work is geometric cut stone. This gives the house an interesting aesthetic- sculpted yet organic. Natural light pours in all around us through windows and skylights, even on this overcast afternoon.

Outside, the house still has a few surprises to offer. A deck extends across the rear of the house. In addition to the breathtaking view, a walkway connects to a unique gazebo. The angular shape suggests a pine cone floating high above the hill below.

Back inside the house I couldn't help but notice design cues reminiscent of other architects. The organic lines and asymmetric shapes certainly suggest Bruce Goff. The use of structural glass and built-in features might suggest Frank Lloyd Wright. Yet the functionality and structural integrity trump either in my opinion. Despite the unconventional design, no sign of a roof leak or masonry crack were visible anywhere. Despite its location on the side of a hill, and Tulsa's notorious clay soil, the structure appeared as sound as the day it was built.

But ask Wallace about his architectural influences and you'll get a surprising answer. He doesn't see himself as a modernist architect. In fact, he seems to eschew the entire title of architect and likens himself more to a sculptor. His whole career in architecture came in quite a roundabout fashion.

Wallace is from Afton, Oklahoma and, despite never graduating from high school, received his architectural degree from the University of Arkansas in 1952. After serving in the Infantry during World War II, he returned home and took advantage of the G.I. Bill to attend college. His good friend was confined to a wheelchair and was headed to Fayetteville. Since the friend needed someone to help him get around campus, Wallace decided to come along. Then it came time to pick a major. Someone had told him about a man they knew who was an architect and "made lots of money." Wallace wasn't even sure what an architect was. When he asked someone they told him architects drew plans for buildings. That sounded like art, and he had always enjoyed drawing, so architecture is what he studied.

For much of his life Wallace enjoyed wood carving, or whittling as he called it. This "whittling" was far from folksy craft, based on the one example we saw in his living room. It was a pair of figures reminiscent of the finest in Danish design. I thought they looked like giraffes, Jackie thought they were reindeer. The cool thing was the shape of these small wooden figures echoed the sculptural lines of the curvy room we were standing in. For me it was sufficient evidence to substantiate his claim as a sculptor.

The futuristic and angular buildings of ORU are what Frank Wallace will be remembered for, and eventually appreciated for. But the fluid lines of a couple of wooden giraffes are forever etched in my memory.

Here's a video segment from Jack Frank's on the Wallace home...

Frank Wallace Home Auction
October 14, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sandstone and Tears

Cherokee National MuseumOutside of Tahlequah, Oklahoma in a small community called Park Hill you'll find the Cherokee Heritage Center

The centerpiece of this complex is the Cherokee National Museum- a classic example of Seventies "State Lodge" style architecture. Designed by Cherokee architect, Charles Chief Boyd, the building was built in 1972 from native sandstone rock and modular poured-in-place cement panels. The sloped walls and large window areas echo the design of ancient Cherokee structures.

Outside the entrance is punctuated by three columns- all that survives of the Cherokee Female Seminary School that burned in 1852. A small pond surrounds the columns and extends into the building, a cool feature that unites the interior with the out of doors.

Inside the museum offers a dramatic exhibit detailing the forced removal of the Five Civilized Tribes- a plight known as the Trail of Tears. There is also a recreation of a pre-statehood village and an ancient Cherokee village featuring a living history tour.

The center is open Monday through Saturday 10 am to 5 pm and Sundays 1 pm to 5 pm.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Distinctive Tulsa Hilltop Home

This afternoon we dropped by an open house at one of Tulsa's most distinctive modern houses. Perched atop Reservoir Hill just north of downtown, this glass and steel abode is easily visible from the Tisdale Parkway. And the dramatic lighting of the roof makes the view at night nothing short of inspirational.

Designed by Tulsa architect Patrick Fox this home was built in 1987. A steel framework supports the two-story home and an aerial crossing that connects to the parking area. Redwood siding softens the hard edge for a ski resort feel that blends nicely with the steep topography. Large windows accentuate an open floorplan that spills out on to large wide decks along the back of the home. This is where you'll find that dramatic view of Tulsa's skyline.

Below the elevated walkway is a secluded courtyard. The main bedrooms open on to this private deck area. Follow the perimeter around and you'll be in the stepped backyard.

The house is just over 3200 square feet with 3 bedrooms and two baths. The home is listed with McGraw Realtors for $575,000. MLS# 1027245

Thursday, September 9, 2010

OK Mod in Oklahoma Magazine

The September issue of Oklahoma Magazine features a section on Mid-Century Modern. They asked me to comment on why Oklahoma seems to have more than its fair share of Midmod. The layout featured an excellent photo of a vintage Eames shell chair.

From the September 2010 issue of Oklahoma Magazine.

Mid-century Modern homes are easy to find in the
large, urban areas of Oklahoma, as well as smaller
cities and towns like Muskogee, Vinita and Enid.
“I think part of the reason (Oklahoma has)
more than our fair share of Mid-century Modern
(art and architecture) might be the same
reason we have an abundance of Art Deco,”
offers Rex Brown, author of Oklahoma
Modern blog.

“The oil business brought with it
wealth and a cosmopolitan attitude. The
oil barons of the 1920s built impressive
offi ce buildings and palatial
homes in the cutting-edge style of
the time – Art Deco. The ensuing
years of post-war prosperity
spurred another era of building –
only the style that was considered cutting
edge had evolved,” Brown continues.
“The increasing role of the aviation industry in
Oklahoma during the 1950s is another important infl uence.
It was the Space Age, after all, so modern design
and architecture would only seem fi tting. Aviation
employed many Oklahomans.

“It’s also been suggested that (Oklahoma’s)
skylines benefi ted from an inferiority complex
– sort of a brick-and-mortar response to the
misperception of Oklahoma as a dustbowl
dotted with teepees,” he adds.
For purists, the infl uence of Mid-century
Modern design carries through the structure
of the home and into furniture and other

Two of the most notable designers of
Mid-century Modern furniture were the
husband and wife team of Charles and
Ray Eames, whose chairs have become an
icon of the movement. – Jami Mattox

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Light Bugs: Fascination with Neon

Tulsa has some great neon signs. Unfortunately we had a whole heck of a lot more. That was before many of these metal, glass and argon works of art were scrapped, bulldozed or "updated" out of existence. But a new publication celebrates the survivors, and strikes a blow for preservation in this never-ending war against the supposedly outdated.

A soon-to-be-released booklet from the Tulsa Foundation on Architecture (TFA) is called Tulsa Vintage Neon. It features photography by Ralph Cole and is printed on durable, high gloss stock. The booklet is the result of a citywide inventory of Tulsa's glowing billboards. Copies are available for only $7.95 from TFA.

Efforts like this not only raise awareness within our community- they sometimes attract nationwide attention. Such was the case when the magazine Signs of the Times printed an article about Tulsa's inventory of classic neon, and TFA's efforts to preserve it. Tulsa neon was even featured on the cover!

One of Tulsa's most notable survivors is the Sheridan Lanes sign. It's a great postwar example of animated neon signage. If you'd like to have a look for yourself go to 31st Street just east of Sheridan in Tulsa. But wait until dark!

You can purchase the new Tulsa Vintage Neon booklet and other cool stuff from the TFA online store!