The Big Surprise in Bartlesville

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When my sister-in-law and I set out to visit the Pioneer Woman Mercantile and the Magnolia Silos, we gave ourselves plenty of time for side trips and surprises. One of our favorite surprises happened right away. On the first night of our trip we stayed at the Homewood Suites in downtown Bartlesville. When the hotel learned that we planned to visit the Merc the next day, they offered us a special room rate and free breakfast. Wow!

But that wasn’t the surprise.

Price Tower, Bartlesville OK
Price Tower

Bartlesville is a small city (pop. 35,000) that owes its growth to the Phillips Petroleum Company. Founded in 1917, the company kept its headquarters in Bartlesville until 2002 and still retains some operations there. The tidy buildings of downtown display prosperity and a rare cohesiveness, with the newer buildings taking design cues from the most famous structure in town: The Price Tower.

And now we’re getting to the good stuff!

In 1952, the H.C. Price Company commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to build its headquarters in Bartlesville. Wright proposed a 19-story ‘skyscraper’ with a parallelogram shape, built of cast concrete with copper trim. Every detail was geometrically calculated….

Price Tower Triangle Light Fixture….from equilateral triangle light fixtures….

Price Tower Lobby Seat….to angular built-in furniture.

The result was a futuristic prototype of modern architecture.

Price Tower Bartlesville OK Upward AngleFrom a distance the Price Tower is a tall spiky building with a greenish cast, slightly offset from its taller downtown neighbors. Up close, the Tower’s molded copper panels draw the eye and invite closer inspection.

SONY DSCDrawn in by the copper, you’ll stay for the minutely planned doors and light fixtures, the Walt Whitman quote on the wall of the lobby, and the cloisonné artwork in the museum lobby. Each new discovery of angle or texture gives insight into Wright’s brilliant mind.

Willows and Reflection, 1979. Price Tower Bartlesville OK
Willows and Reflection, 1979

Wright designed the Price Tower for mixed use, with space for apartments and retail shops as well as corporate offices. Today the Price Tower Arts Center continues that tradition. A nineteen-room boutique hotel and a restaurant occupy the upper floors, with a museum at street level.

Becca and I were so intrigued by the Price Tower that we visited twice. That Sunday evening and Monday morning at the beginning of our trip, we peered in the windows and took pictures of the exterior, but the museum was not open. We had better luck on Thursday, when we stopped there on our way home. The museum tells its story through scale models, furniture and fabric samples, and correspondence between Wright and Price during the construction of the tower. Children are encouraged to explore architecture through hands-on projects such as Legos and these:

Price Tower Arts Center Bartlesville OKUnfortunately, we could not stick around long enough for the 60-minute tour of the Tower. I did get a taste of the (im)practicality of life in a parallelogram by descending the steep and narrow staircase in the museum, and by climbing around the sink to reach the toilet in the triangular guest bathroom.

Tips:

  • Like most small museums, the Price Tower Museum is not open on Sundays or Mondays.
  • Adult admission to the museum is $6. The tour costs $15. For other details about prices, see the Tower Arts Center website.
  • If you’re passing through Bartlesville, budget about an hour to see the Tower and tour the museum.
  • Downtown Bartlesville is a good place for lunch or dinner. We enjoyed the food and service at Hideaway Pizza.
  • Pawhuska, home of the Mercantile, is a twenty-minute drive from Bartlesville.

Price Tower Arts Center Entrance, Bartlesville OK

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