Architecture can define a place. Sometimes it can even make a place. Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas have all been influenced by some of the greatest architects of all time, including Frank Lloyd Wright, E. Faye Jones and Eero Saarinen.
Here are a few can’t-miss buildings in America’s Crossroads, including Wright’s only office tower in Oklahoma.
Price Tower Arts Center
Frank Lloyd Wright is best known for designing modern homes with lots of angles that fit into a natural landscape. But he also designed the 19-story Price Tower Arts Center in the heart of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. He originally designed the tower in the 1920s for a borough of New York City. The tower was one of three that would have made a vertical street where people could work, live and shop. The idea didn’t take off in New York, but in 1952, H.C. Price, owner of an oil and gas pipeline company called the Price Company, agreed to construct it.
“It was so unique, it took somebody who was a visionary and loved his architecture to build it,” said Louann Buhlinger, director of development at Price Tower. Wright oversaw the construction of the building himself at age 85. It was completed in 1956.
“Frank Lloyd Wright called it the tree that escaped the crowded forest,” said Buhlinger. “Frank Lloyd Wright always had a design aesthetic that would be centered on certain angles or circles or triangles. This building, everything, is built on something triangular.”
Visitors can tour the building, including Price’s apartment and business office, the second-floor gallery space full of Wright furniture and the outside of the building. A two-hour tour delves even more into the architectural wonders of the building, including the low ceilings, the two-story glass atrium and the copper curtains. The tower houses an inn and a restaurant.
St. Louis’ most famous landmark was the result of a design competition in 1947. Finnish American architect Saarinen came up with a design for a stainless-steel arch and an idea for a tram system to take visitors to the top. The arch is made up of 17,000 tons of stainless steel that were put together in 142 sections.
In the past five years, the $380 million City Arts River Project has brought extensive improvements to the arch. These include a new glass entrance to the arch facing west with beautiful views of the Old Courthouse, the addition of 46,000 square feet to the visitor center and a new 100,000-square-foot state-of-the-art museum with major galleries that span 200 years of St. Louis history. The museum features a documentary movie that tells the story of how the Gateway Arch was built.
“The documentary gives you a deeper appreciation of what an engineering marvel it is, and then you get in the tram after that,” said Sarah Clarke, director of operations at the Gateway Arch Museum. “Go to the top and come back down. It is a great way to do the experience.”
The tram system is a marvel. The architect wanted an elevator that could also move horizontally. The result was a hybrid elevator/Ferris wheel mechanism that operates from both legs of the arch. Trams on both sides of the arch bring 40 visitors at a time up to the top. An observation deck at the top of the arch has 16 windows on each side that look out over St. Louis and the Mississippi River.
McPherson Opera House
The McPherson Opera House celebrated its 130th anniversary in January. When it was built in 1888, McPherson was vying to be the capital of Kansas. In the end, it lost out to Topeka, but the building became a cultural center of the town. It hosted live events, traveling shows, community events and political activities up through the 1920s and served as a movie theater from the 1930s until 1965.
“It is sort of eclectic,” said Richard Monson, a docent at the opera house. “I think people that were in America at the time, especially in the Midwest and places like Kansas and the central part of the country, tried to have something both beautiful and graceful and [that] reflected the culture of Europe.”
The Victorian-style building was lovingly restored over 25 years, beginning in 1986. It was brought back to how it looked in 1913. The intricate stenciling on the walls and an original painting on the proscenium were refreshed, and new seats were made by the company that made the original seats for the opera house.
When it first opened, the opera house balcony had bleacher seats so more people could attend shows. As part of the renovation, the balcony was outfitted with the same seats as the rest of the theater. Originally, the theater could hold 900 people. Now it seats about 500. The building reopened for retail and office tenants in 2007, and the opera house reopened in 2010.
Groups can take guided tours of the building.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bachman-Wilson House
The Bachman-Wilson House was originally built along the Millstone River in New Jersey. Because it was constantly threatened by flooding, the owners of the home decided to relocate the house and searched for years to find the right location. Then, in 2013, they sold the house to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.
The organization moved the home piece by piece to its 120-acre property.
“We had the space, and it fit with the setting and aligned with our mission,” said Beth Bobbitt, public relations director for Crystal Bridges. “It fits very well in the setting, perfectly overlooking the stream, similar to how it was situated near the Millstone River.”
The home was built to fit seamlessly into the natural landscape. Wright’s goal was to make these homes seem like they had always been there. It is modest in size. Only 10 visitors can tour the inside at a time.
The only thing that wasn’t moved from New Jersey was the concrete foundation. Because the house was built in the 1950s, the museum had to find someone who knew how to mix the concrete formula from that era “so it is a little bit more true to how it would look and how it was built at the time,” Bobbitt said. “Concrete was much more porous back then.” All of the built-in furniture is original to the house.
Guided and self-guided tours of the house are offered daily. Some 600,000 visitors visit the museum each year.
Anthony Chapel at Garvan Woodland Gardens
Hot Springs, Arkansas
The Anthony Chapel is a glass and yellow pine wood masterpiece that rises 57 feet from its native stone base to the wooden, latticed canopy above. It was built in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on the grounds of the Garvan Woodland Gardens, botanical gardens owned by the University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design.
The chapel, designed by architects Maurice Jennings and David McKee, was built in 2006. It is one of three glass chapels in the woods that were either designed by renowned architect E. Fay Jones or inspired by him. Jones was an apprentice of Wright. Both architects blended their buildings into their natural surroundings. The Anthony Chapel is the largest of the three chapels.
The Anthony Chapel is rented out for weddings, concerts and other events throughout the year. It doesn’t hold church services, but it is open to the public.