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Mod-ified


Mid-century modern architecture enthusiasts can’t get enough of its sleek design and creativity around the state.

Malena Lott August 3rd, 2011

"Despite what many Americans might perceive as an oxymoron, there actually is a Modern Oklahoma,” wrote Rex and Jackie Brown at oklahomamodern.us, where they bring awareness to midcentury architectural marvels around the Sooner State by documenting their finds.

The couple is part of a growing number of MCM — mid-century modern — enthusiasts who can’t get enough of the sleek design and creativity of modern architecture marked by the time period of the 1940s through the 1960s.

Thanks to “Mad Men,” the hit television drama about advertising executives on Madison Avenue in New York City in the 1960s, all things mid-century modern are in the spotlight, from suits and cars to furniture and, well, bar carts. Cool bar-ware is an essential prop for the cocktail-swilling ’60s.

The Browns’ “must-see” list includes the Price Tower in Bartlesville, designed by the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright; Oral Roberts University in Tulsa; and St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Oklahoma City.

Jackie Brown is most surprised by their MCM discoveries in small towns.

“Just recently we visited Beaver, Okla., out in the Panhandle and found two very well-maintained Bruce Goff houses. We really enjoy seeking out these hidden gems. I’m happy to know that modern architecture in Oklahoma isn’t limited to Tulsa and Oklahoma City,” she said.

Goff is perhaps the most famous modern architect from Oklahoma, and was chairman of the architecture school at the University of Oklahoma from 1947 to 1955, which was also a prolific period for his private practice, including building the iconic Bavinger House in Norman, which is currently closed due to storm damage, according to thebavingerhouse.com.

Photos by Shannon Cornman


Another Goff home in Norman, the H.E. Ledbetter House, completed in 1948, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a private residence at 701 W. Brooks.

No Goff scavenger hunt is complete without a sighting of the mature Goff masterpiece in OKC: The Pollock House, also listed on the National Register, is located at 2400 N.W. 59th. With its pyramidstyled roofline and recent TLC by its current owners, it’s a visual treat. According to the National Register, the house is comprised of nine modules in a three-by-three matrix, which is connected to the adjoining studio.

As one might expect of MCM aficionados, the Browns enjoy their 1964 Jim Nuckolls home in Tulsa’s Patrick Henry neighborhood, and outfit it with modern decor from estate sales; Mod50s Modern, a retro shop in Tulsa; and allmodern.com.

In Oklahoma City, mod finds are readily available at RetrOKC in the Plaza District, where owner Mike Brown does the curating for you. He frequents estate sales, garage sales, Craigslist and the Internet to find mid-century mod items to stock his store. He opened the shop because he no longer had the room for his purchases in his home, and loved the discovery process.

“I didn’t want to become a hoarder,” he said.

His best garage-sale find? An Alfons Bach-designed side table by Lloyd Manufacturing that he bought for $20 and sold online to a customer in Japan for $500.

On my first visit to RetrOKC, I couldn’t resist a vintage brightyellow pitcher with eight attached cups, which is beautiful from every angle, as well as functional. I swear the great design makes lemonade taste better.

While exclusively modern neighborhoods are hard to find, Mike Brown suggests a drive through Lortondale, a neighborhood in Tulsa bounded by S. Yale Street, E. 26th Street, S. Hudson Avenue and E. 31st Street; and local stops at Bank of America (originally Founders National Bank) on May Avenue, just south of N.W. 63rd Steet; Central Motor Bank, downtown; the Gold Dome at 1112 N.W. 23rd; and First Christian Church at N.W. 36th Street and N. Walker Avenue.

R. Duane Conner designed the First Christian Church. His granddaughter, Lynne Rostochil, is a founder of Okie Mod Squad, which hosts meet-ups at modern spaces and shares discoveries, including estate sales and MCM homes on the market, on its Facebook page.

Rostochil said the church was going to look like crystal, but was too expensive.

“He had been part of the concrete association and how you could form it and mold concrete into crazy wild shapes, but still be light,” she said. “He was excited to play with that material. (Mid-century modern) always has been an era that fascinated me. Very simple,  but very dramatic; people going crazy with imagination.”

She highly recommended visiting the ORU campus in Tulsa, which she said is “like walking on another planet,” and a visit to the Paul Harris-designed McMahon Memorial Auditorium in Lawton.

My favorite mod metro spot is the State Capital Bank (now Arvest Bank) at 3900 N. Lincoln Blvd., which looks like several spaceships hovering (alien robbery?). It was designed in 1964 by Robert Roloff, who was the chief designer of the Gold Dome. A few original touches in the refurbished bank give the space an even cooler retro vibe.

To experience such works of art, big and small, is to be a part of the artist’s vision. As Bruce Goff said, “The artist … must live through all his senses really to experience life and art and to live and work as one — one part of something.”

 
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