Oklahoma can look a lot like Mars, what with the red dirt blowing everywhere. And in Oklahoma City, there’s a whole conglomeration of UFOs, hovering on Lincoln Boulevard in a low formation. The curious building is actually a bank, and if it’s like no bank you’ve ever seen, the same was true for patrons back in 1964 when it opened, when a sign was planted in its yard that proclaimed: “THIS IS A BANK.” Someone later defaced the sign by adding a question mark after that statement.
The bank at 3900 North Lincoln Boulevard is now an Arvest, but when it started it was the State Capitol Bank. The space age design was by Robert Roloff of Bailey, Bozalis, Dickinson & Roloff, whose other big contribution to the mid-century architecture in Oklahoma City is the Buckminster Fuller-inspired Gold Dome on 23rd Street (once Route 66), which was also originally a bank, the Citizens State Bank. (It’s now a mix of things, including an Asian cultural center, bar, and business offices.)
Roloff was told to “make it so modern, your Gold Dome bank design will look like it was built in 1919,” and the bank president added that he wanted it “more like a cocktail lounge than a bank.” What he created was then the definitive “Bank of the Future,” complete with fancy new things like closed-circuit television and pods for each employee. Postcards were even made after its construction that proclaimed it as the “bank of the future,” likely by the same people who did the “Church of Tomorrow” postcard for the First Christian Church, also in Oklahoma City.
The bank with its 17 flying saucers got national attention, its photograph gracing the New York Times, and traffic by it was a nightmare. The daughter of the bank’s owner and her friend even danced on its roof in space suits, and a radio jingle ended with the words: “Bank for the future at the Bank of the Future!”
Everything at the place is round, from the hedges, to designs on the sidewalks, to the interior. There is even a round elevator, built into a seating area in the lobby, for accessing the deposit boxes in the basement. So you could sit on a round couch, push a button located by a lamp, and just slowly be lowered into the floor.
There have been significant changes to the architecture over the years, with the poles on which the UFOs used to stand being inclosed (just compare to this photograph by influential architectural photographer Julius Shulman). But I think it’s wonderful that it’s still in use and still mostly true to its original vision. I recommend checking out the State Capitol Bank as the sun sets for the green lights that illuminate it, so in the dark it still looks like aliens have landed in the Sooner State.