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Tulsa: An Architecture Fanatic’s Dream?

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The Spotlight Theater, home to "the longest running play in America."

The best thing about Tulsa (my hometown) is the worst thing about Tulsa. It’s not a big place.

But, when your pal sends you a text message saying he’s going to be an hour late to meet you down on Brookside, its smallness comes in handy. Especially if you’re into architecture.

See, what a lot of people don’t know about Oklahoma is that, back in the day, there was some serious, serious oil money kicking around. And the people who had that money built some gorgeous houses.

So here are my personal favorites — the ones Mom and I like to drive by when I’m home visiting. She always says, “I’m not jealous, but I sure do like to look,” — and I agree. Wealth isn’t always a good thing, but every so often, people do good things with it. (And while my humble iPhone shots don’t do these finds justice, this book does.)

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The Skelly Mansion, my home away from home.

This isn’t just one of Tulsa’s most famous homes; it was also my halfway home during my senior year in high school. Although my family was dirt poor growing up, I had some more fortunate friends — my best friend in particular. So when I got kicked out of my house for working as an overnight deejay at a ‘secular’ radio station (Z104.5FM), I moved in with them. Twenty-one rooms, six fireplaces, and a basement that made for one fantastic game room for our entire social circle. This is a must-see on any architectural tour of Tulsa — and the mansion’s red brick and grand entrance make it easy to pick out.

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The Spotlight, home to "the longest running play in America."

When I was growing up, my parents loved going to see shows (my grandparents met while they were working in the circus, so I guess the love of all things theatrical is in our blood). I remember one night, both of them put on their best outfits and headed out to see “The Drunkard and the Olio” (which the theater now touts as the longest-running play in America). When they got home, Mom just went on and on about the history of the theater. See, you never think of Tulsa as “progressive,” but after taking a spin through this circa 1920s gem, you get the sense that long ago, we Okies were on the cutting edge…Though, with mustaches, mullets, and fried food coming back into the mainstream, one has to wonder if we ever left.

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Harwelden Mansion.

This is where all the rich kids in school had their birthday parties. Set back from Tulsa’s famed Riverside Street, high on a hill overlooking the Arkansas River from behind its vast lawn, this faux chateau has been a home for boys and a private residence, and now serves as headquarters for the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa. Seeing the entrance alone is worth the drive.

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Miss Bobbie's House (of scandal).

As if the ’20s weren’t racy enough, imagine a single high school art teacher in her early thirties commissioning her good-looking student to design her a “simple, yet artistically sound home.” Oh, the controversy! Even to this day, anyone who knows even the smallest bit about Tulsa architecture knows the story of this quirky art-deco studio. From the casual acceptance of its hauntings by its current owners and neighbors to its culture-clash contrast with the Craftsman houses around it, the first project of the now-famous (and now-deceased) architect Bruce Goff sums up Tulsa’s love of avant-garde quirk.

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The McGuire House: cured by bananas.

As a layman, I have no idea what this design is called, so let’s just dub it “Tulsan With A Lot of Money.” But that’s not all that went into building this 1918 home in the Maple Ridge area of town. Locals can testify that if there was such a thing as bad luck, this house was built on it. A year after its construction, money troubles forced Byrd McGuire to sell it to Mr. Ben Rice, whose involvement with the married Mrs. Oglesby led to Mr. Oglesby’s death from a broken heart. The next owner was a key player in the Lindbergh kidnapping in 1932. What was it that broke the house’s bad luck streak? Bananas. Yup, bananas. After Bill Hood planted them (creating Tulsa’s only banana farm), it’s been nothing but sunshine for this stunner.

The Cecil B. DeMille House

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The Cecil B. DeMille House: no biggie that he never lived here, right?

If you’re going to make The Ten Commandments, you’d best build a place in the Bible Belt — and that’s exactly what Cecil B. DeMille did. Done up in a Spanish-meets-Mediterranean style (in my opinion, at least), complete with the best pool in Tulsa and a poker room covered in what One Hundred Historic Tulsa Homes One Hundred Historic Tulsa Homes author John Brooks Walton describes as “half-rotten cyprus and rubber snakes,” this small, yet gorgeous home tops my list for “classiest” in the area (save for the rubber snakes). Check it out at 1336 East 26th Place. [Note: Cecil B. DeMille commissioned and purchased this home, but never lived here… but we don’t like mentioning that.]

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Westhope, one of just three FLW designed homes in Oklahoma.

What’s that, you say? Both a Hollywood director and America’s most famous architect having ties to Tulsa? Yup. Told ya we used to be cool. Known to many as Westhope, this home, which was built in 1929 for one of Wright’s cousins, made headlines for years — not for being a visual masterpiece, but for its numerous design flaws — including a paved, but leaky roof and an ill-conceived fireplace. Nonetheless, Wright moved aesthetic mountains with his 90-degree angles. He personally supervised the pouring of the concrete to ensure it matched the dirt road and his tale-tale love of natural light make this a local bragging point Just don’t try to take photos without asking. This one got me into trouble.

… so there you go, a side of Tulsa you probably never knew existed.

Follow the Good Traveler’s adventures on Twitter @GoodTraveler and on Instagram @GoodTraveler

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