Museum Marks Wright Skyscraper Anniversary

By CARL HARTMAN
The Associated Press
Friday, June 16, 2006; 4:14 AM

WASHINGTON -- Bartlesville, Okla., used to be a one-skyscraper town. But it was a special skyscraper _ the only one designed down to the secretaries' chairs by Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the pre-eminent American architects of the 20th century.

The National Building Museum is celebrating the Price Tower's 50th anniversary with an exhibit of 108 drawings and objects by Wright _ including the chairs from the skyscraper.

The exhibit, which opens Saturday, emphasizes the tower's revolutionary design: Its 19 floors stretch out from a central core, like the branches of a tree. A lone tree escaped from the forest, Wright called it.

Tadao Ando, the Japanese architect who won the Pritzker prize for architecture in 1995, called it one of the most important buildings of the century.

"He broke the glass box," said Richard P. Townsend, director of what is now the Price Tower Art Center, referring to Wright's description of many 20th century skyscrapers.

Wright's skyscraper, built for the H.C. Price Co., cost $2.4 million _ about $18 million in today's dollars _ and took three years to build.

The Price Co., makers of equipment for oil and gas pipelines, has moved to Dallas, but a member of the family remains on the tower's board of directors.

The tower was built to include offices, apartments and retail shops. It still has offices, now being refurbished, a hotel and restaurant and a museum shop, said Townsend.

Bartlesville today has several tall buildings, two of them as big or bigger than Wright's tower.

In his late 80s, three years before his death in 1959, Wright designed the car stops for the parking spaces in the tower.

More than 20 years before the Bartlesville venture, Wright had sketched a four-tower complex for New York's Church of St. Mark's-in-the-Bowery, the oldest church in the city that is still in use. The four-building design had floors stretching out horizontally, supported only by a vertical core. It was never built.

Wright planned other high-rises throughout the rest of his career, including a hotel in Washington, but the deals all fell through.

Admission to the National Building Museum is free, with a suggested contribution of $5 per person.

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On the Net:

Price Tower Art Center: http://www.pricetower.org/

National Building Museum: http://www.nbm.org/

© 2006 The Associated Press