Category Archives: oklahoma city

State Capitol Bank: The Bank of the Future

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.

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Oklahoma State Firefighters Museum: History of Blaze-Battling in the Sooner State

Fire Engine

If you want to explore Oklahoma’s firefighting history, like its first shack of a fire station or the classy fire engines of the early 20th century, the Oklahoma State Firefighters Museum in Oklahoma City is really worth a visit. Also go if you just have an interest in small museums that are dense with all manner of curious object, or the way technology developed with America’s cities, or even if you just want to see some unexpected horse taxidermy. It’s all there within its two rooms, although it starts outside with some weather-worn old fire engines.

OKC Fire Department

Fire Engine

Shawnee Fire Department

I visited the museum with my mom while I was in Oklahoma City for the Thanksgiving holiday, as I’d seen it many times while on my way to the zoo which is right next door, but I’d never made it inside. The museum was opened in 1969 and is run by the Oklahoma State Firefighters Association, and is the only museum in the country to be owned and run by firefighters about firefighters.

Firefighters Memorial

Firefighters Memorial

Also outside the museum is the Oklahoma Fallen and Living Firefighters Memorial honoring Oklahoma firefighters, and the Wall of Valor, paying tribute to those who gave their lives while battling the flames. The memorial has a really powerful sculpture by Shahla Rahimi Reynolds of one firefighter giving his hand to another who dangles above the ground, both clinging to the remains of a roof on a structure that looks like it’s about to collapse.

Inside the Firefighters Museum

Inside the museum, the floors are packed with vintage firefighting vehicles and apparatus, and patches, photographs, wooden ladders, old alarm systems, resuscitators, fire hoses, and everything else you can think of related to firefighting history crowd the walls, ceilings, and cabinets, the majority donated by fire departments in the states, although some from individuals from around the world. The objects go back to the mid-1700s (obviously including things long before the Oklahoma firefighting tradition).

Don and Sam

You can’t miss Sam and Don, who are front and center and are taxidermy firefighting horses. They are hitched to a 19th century horse-drawn steam engine, which would carry water to the scene of a fire while someone perched on a tiny metal chair on the contraption, which weighed several thousand pounds when it was filled up.

Don

Don and Sam

Apparently Sam and Don were two draft horses who pulled the steam engine in the 19th century, and are now immortalized in the museum. I would love to know where they were before they were donated.

Hunneman Hand Pump

Here is another early firefighting gadget: the Hunneman Hand Pump from 1870. William C. Hunneman learned blacksmithing from none other than Paul Revere, and designed this hand pump to help combat the fires that would often consume early American towns. Water could be pumped from a container through the hose, improving vastly on the bucket brigades.

Fire Dept. 1

This rickety structure is the Fort Supply Fire House from 1864, the first fire station to be built in what would become Oklahoma. Something tells me the “keep out” sign isn’t original, although with the free map you can get at the tourist office on the door.

Antique Fire Helmet

Antique Fire Helmet

Antique Fire Helmet

I had never seen antique fire helmets before, and had no idea they could be so elaborate, or that they were once made of leather and metal. I suppose protecting your head was worth the discomfort from the heat. We also saw early firefighting coats made of rubber.

Vintage Fire Engines

The 13 old fire engines are especially great, including this 1913 White engine used by the Lawton Fire Department. It looked like there had been a lot of serious restoration work on these things and they shined like new.

Antique Fire Engine

Antique Fire Engine

Here is a lovely 1919 Seagrave that was used by the Guthrie Fire Department.

Fire Engines

Antique Fire Extinguishers

You could spend quite a bit of time at the Firefighters Museum, examining the objects and appreciating just how far technology has come in being able to not just transport water and people to the flames, but also in protecting those brave firefighting people and finding new innovations in extinguishing and containing flames. Of course, firefighters don’t just fight fires these days, and the museum also has an exhibit on the Murrah Building bombing. I’m so glad I was finally able to see the museum, and that even in a place like Oklahoma City that I have thoroughly explored, that there will always be something new to discover, even if it’s from the 19th century.

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Oklahoma City’s Fairlawn Cemetery

Oklahoma doesn’t have any cemeteries that are quite as elegant and sprawling as New York’s Green-Wood or Woodlawn, but it does contain some that are  just as historically and visually interesting. Over my winter holiday in Oklahoma City, my friend Sara and I went exploring in Fairlawn Cemetery, which is the oldest cemetery in Oklahoma City. It was established in 1892, about fifteen years before Oklahoma achieved statehood in 1907, in what was formerly a cornfield.

The most striking structure in the cemetery is the huge Fairlawn Mausoleum, built in 1924 to hold 500 crypts. The Classical Revival-style mausoleum cost $70,000 to build, no small price for any time period, and was designed by Chicago architect Cecil E. Bryan. The complex included a $10,000 crematorium, which at the time was the only crematorium between St. Louis and San Francisco. As you might guess, Oklahoma was doing well at the time with the oil boom.

Inside the mausoleum is a stained glass triptych of an Angel, created by the Tiffany Studios of the great stained glass artist Louis Comfort Tiffany, even bearing his signature. I would guess it’s worth more than the cost of the original marble mausoleum.

Another landmark in Fairlawn is this military memorial created in 1919, following the end of World War I. It is still flanked by the two bronze cannons that were installed for its dedication.

Although it doesn’t look big from the road, Fairlawn has around 40,000 graves, many over 100 years old and memorializing the iconic families and people of Oklahoma City. They are in various condition levels, but even a quick exploration will take you on some cemetery symbolism and style time travel.

Okies are apparently secret society people, and once you start to notice the symbols in Fairlawn you see them everyone. Especially prolific are the Masons, many of whom were probably affiliated with the Scottish Rite Temple in Guthrie. The above star with the letters F.A.T.A.L. is not some morbid statement, but a symbol of the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic branch for both men and women.

The Woodmen of the World are also well-represented and easy to spot. Part of being a member of the society was that you got a tree trunk-shaped tombstone. The cut off branches are a symbol of the cutting of the tree of life.

Military graves have simple crosses over titles, and many individual tombstones have some interesting carvings. Above the gates of heaven have worn down, but you can still make out a star in the clouds.

Family mausoleums line the road that winds through the cemetery, and I peaked into one to see this Egyptian-style stained glass.

I feel like this dove might have been carved by the same artist who created the sheep shown at the top of this post. Both have an oddly whimsical style, innocent maybe. Which is fitting for these graves of people who died quite young. The West was not an easy place to live back in those days.

The oldest section of the cemetery is in a grove of trees, which I imagine is beautiful in spring. However, it wasn’t quite peaceful while we were there. A dog was sprinting around the cemetery road and howling its head off, paying us no mind. A little unsettling.

Hell hounds or no, I definitely recommend taking a stroll through Fairlawn on a sunny day and keeping your eye out for the names and images on graves for a glimpse into Oklahoma’s early history to today. I’m sure we will be back. I hear that the mausoleum is actually open on Memorial Day, and I would love to see that Tiffany window up close.