Skip to main content

Hidden Treasure and the Mystery Orb

Photo by Rex Brown
The hidden Bertoia.
A plaza in downtown Tulsa has gained recent notoriety as the hiding place for modern art. From street level the corner of 4th Street and Main looks like your typical abandoned gathering place. First Place Tower looms over the concrete planters and vacant benches. But it's the lower level that hides the treasure.

Under the plaza stands a bronze-colored fountain. There is no water. Just an abstract sculpture, the work of world renowned modernist, Harry Bertoia. The fountain originally stood in the entrance of the First National Autobank (aka The Vault). Patrons complained about the water spray, and the fountain was eventually moved. Or... more accurately: hidden.

There are rumors the Bertoia may someday be moved from its subterranean hidey-hole. Hopefully it could be relocated to a place where an operational fountain would be appreciated. We'll see.

But this is not the first time modern art has "hidden" here. 

For years I have searched for the story behind another modern sculpture. This one also stood near First Place Tower. Street-level this time. I was reminded of it while perusing a collection of slides from the Murray Jones Murray collection. The firm designed the white tower and adjacent plaza complex in 1973.

Here's a view looking northeast from Main showing the plaza and Tower. On the far left of the photo you can see a black shape behind a light pole. That's the mystery sphere in question. It resided on a grassy spot just north of the First Place Tower, behind the Home Federal Savings & Loan building (map).

Photo from the Murray Jones Murray archive, courtesy Tulsa Foundation for Architecture.
First Place Tower at 15 W 5th Street is Tulsa's third tallest building and is connected to the First National Bank and Home Federal Savings buildings. The plaza area is built over an underground auditorium and tunnels that connect the complex to a parking garage on Boulder. In the Eighties an update left its indelible Chrome-and-Granite mark on the facade.

But let's get back to the mysterious orb! The object was a black sphere segmented into geometric slices. Jackie said it always reminded her of the B-movie classic, Phantasm. Unlike the movie, this orb was black, appeared to be made of fiberglass and stood about 10 to 12 feet tall. There are rumors it may have been created by the Japanese-American sculptor, Isama Noguchi. Here's a closer look.



The black ball just vanished sometime in the Eighties or Nineties. Then a fountain turns up. But no one notices.

There is a certain irony here.

Maybe this area is a Devil's Triangle? But for modern art? Or possibly it's more like an island of lost toys? Maybe it flew away like the chrome ball in Phantasm?

But most importantly, what happened to the mystery orb? Where is it now? Why did it disappear?

If you have any photos or information on the mystery orb post a comment below or share them on our Facebook page.

Comments

Modern Choices

Popular posts from this blog

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.

When we visited we expected to snap a few photos of an empty house and speak with a representative 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 w…

The World Museum

The widening of I-44 through Tulsa will soon claim another mid-century building (see Modern Homes Make Way for I-44).

This unusual landmark near Peoria, once known as the World Museum, is being emptied in preparation for demolition.

The concrete complex was built in 1963 by the Osborn Ministries as a museum and "Interstate Temple." Self-proclaimed minister, T. L. Osborn, and his wife, Daisy, traveled the world as Christian missionaries and collected art and artifacts on their journeys. The unusual La Concha-esque building housed their partial collection and distracted motorists touring along the new Skelly Bypass (aka I-44).

The exterior of the building is adorned with maps of the world's continents. In its heyday there was a good deal more- a giant outline of Jesus was on one wall. The inscription below it, "REX," provided one of my earliest Latin lessons when I asked Dad why that building had my name on it. There was also a large globe that once stood out front …

Futuristic Acorn Hull House

Today the sign out front says "Acorn Hull House."

I've also heard it called the Zebco House (aka Zero Electric Bomb Company, an oilfield business that later became a famous maker of fishing reels). The rumor goes it was built for a Zebco executive and designed in the shape of a fishing reel. From above the home does have the shape of a fishing reel- as in round- but beyond that I don't really see that much resemblance.

I have no idea if the fishing reel story is true, or who designed the circular abode. Here's an aerial view from Google Maps- click to enlarge the image and see if you think it looks more like an acorn or a fishing reel...

It definitely has the look of a Frank Wallace design with that Klingon inspired skylight. But the Tiki-esque look also suggests a Blaine Imel. No matter who is to responsible, they did a great job creating a unique and fascinating exterior. Now if we can just get a tour of the inside!

This unusual house is located off US-412 near …