Price Tower: Wright and Wrong
Spending the night with Frank Lloyd Wright
Photos by M.J. Alexander
The Bartlesville landmark named Price Tower, commissioned from legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, served as offices for the H.C. Price International Pipeline Company for a quarter-century, from 1956 to 1981.
When the Price businesses relocated to Dallas in 1981, Phillips Petroleum purchased the 19-story tower. After falling into disrepair, it was refurbished in 2000 and donated the following year to the nonprofit Price Tower Arts Center, formerly known as the Bartlesville Museum.
The transformation of the Price Tower into a gallery and hotel was led by New York-based architect Wendy Evans Joseph, who strove to avoid a sense of “Fake Lloyd Wright” while updating offices into guest lodgings.
The beautifully renovated 21-room boutique hotel, named the Inn at Price Tower, opened in 2003. And it’s unique in one sense, but possibly not the one you’re thinking of.
THE CLAIM: Bartlesville’s Price Tower is “the only one of Wright’s structures where you can book a hotel stay.”
THE SOURCE: “First, Best & Only,” published by the State of Oklahoma Tourism Department, travelok.com
FACT CHECK: False
It’s his only skyscraper, but the Bartlesville building is not the only Wright creation welcoming overnight guests: 515 miles northeast of Price Tower is the Iowa town of Mason City, home to The Park Inn.
Planned by Wright in his early 30s, the landmark hotel opened its doors in 1910. Of the six hotels for which Wright was the architect of record, it is the only one left standing.
A 33-year-old Wright envisioned The Park Inn as home to a bank, law offices and a hotel with 41 rooms, each measuring 10 feet by 10 feet. Scholars consider its design as inspiration for later work at Chicago’s Midway Gardens and Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel. After a gala opening and several years of brisk business, The Park Inn was converted into rental apartments before falling onto even harder times and closing in 1972.
Following decades of neglect – and attempts to find a buyer that included a 2004 listing of the property on eBay, with a minimum bid of $10 million – Mason City residents took charge and formed the nonprofit Wright on the Park to spearhead the restoration. Bolstered by state grants and tax credits, original architectural elements and stained glass windows were tracked down, and the hotel rooms were combined and refashioned into 27 modern suites.
The Park Inn reopened in 2011, after an $18.1 million restoration and under the approval of the Wright Foundation. The building is credited with sparking an economic renaissance in Mason City, which bills itself as home of “the last Frank Lloyd Wright designed and built hotel in the world.”
Around the nation, several Frank Lloyd Wright structures also are available to rent for the night. Among them: Palmer House in Ann Arbor, the Emil Bach House in Chicago, the Writer’s Cabin at Montana’s Alpine Meadows Ranch and the Duncan House in Western Pennsylvania’s Polymath Park, not far from Fallingwater.
So even if you find yourself far from the Sooner State, you can still get the Wright kind of sleep at night.
The Price Is Right
The Price Tower wasn’t meant to be a hotel. It wasn’t even meant to be a skyscraper.
Bartlesville businessman Harold Price’s vision for his pipeline company’s new corporate headquarters was a straightforward low-rise: maybe three stories tall, maybe four, with 8,000 or so square feet per floor. Budget: $750,000.
Bruce Goff, the dean of Oklahoma architects, was approached by the family to take on the project. But he suggested they might want to discuss their plans with America’s best-known architect: Frank Lloyd Wright, then in his 80s. And they did.
The result made history.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of Wright’s birth and the 61st anniversary of the unveiling of the Price Tower, at Sixth Street and Dewey Avenue in Bartlesville.
The building’s design was based on a concept Wright had devised in 1929, just before the stock market crash, for an unbuilt New York skyscraper. The octogenarian was thrilled to resurrect his quarter-century-old design on the Oklahoma prairie. Final total cost: $2.1 million. Manhattan’s Guggenheim Museum and the Price Tower would be Wright’s last major projects before his death three years later at the age of 91.
It was dedicated on Feb. 10, 1956, and would be his only realized skyscraper. He liked to call it “the tree that escaped the forest.”
The Earthquake-Proof Imperial Hotel
The most famous of Frank Lloyd Wright’s six hotels was the 280-room Imperial Hotel, completed in 1923 across 40 acres of central Tokyo. Soon after its opening, the hotel became one of a handful of major buildings to survive the city’s 7.9-magnitude Great Kantō Earthquake. Damage was repaired after incendiary bombs hit the hotel’s south wing in 1945, during World War II. Over the years, however, the building’s foundation had sunk more than 40 inches (that’s not ideal). The hotel was demolished in 1968 to make way for a new high-rise. Its front lobby and reflecting pool were saved by Dr. Yoshiro Taniguchi and Motou Tsuchikawa, and remain on display at the Museum Meiji-Mura near Nagoya.