The Prairie Skyscraper

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In the soft and green rolling hills of Osage County, described by TV’s Pioneer Woman as the ‘middle of nowhere’ is Bartlesville, Oklahoma: the oil capitol, headquarters of Phillips 66 and the location of Frank Lloyd Wright’s only skyscraper.

Price Tower, named for pipeline company owner Harold Price, is one of only 2 vertically oriented structures Wright built in a lifetime of low slung, horizontal buildings

A road trip detour, after I’d read about the Prairie project sent me to explore Osage County and check out Price Tower.

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It’s situated a little out of the original downtown. Not too close to other tall buildings and in a funky office neighborhood with company headquarters, old shopfronts and a noisy restaurant or two.

To see these lovely older buildings in Bartlesville, is to understand the power of the oil and gas industry in Northern Oklahoma. In 1904, just 7 years after the first well was dug, there were 150 oil companies with an office in Bartlesville!

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Price originally envisioned a one to four story structure, possibly designed by Cliff May who had already built a home for the family. His sons, however, were influenced by local architect Bruce Goff to get the absolute ‘best architect….Get Frank Lloyd Wright’.

After a phone consultation, and in the thrall of Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” the family traveled to Taliesin West in Phoenix where Harold was impressed to note that the house Wright had built was 35 years older but similarly modern to the family’s May home! FLW convinced them that a tower would cost no more per square foot than a small boxy office building, and pitched a multi use concept with rental office suites and apartments along with the corporate headquarters. Brilliant salesmanship.

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By late August 1952 with the site secured, Wright began work on the plans. It grew to a 19 story tower rising from green parklands and tree lined streets.The metaphor of “a tree that escaped the forest” was consistent with his use of green copper vertical shutters, and a tall slender structure. 

At the International Petroleum exposition in Tulsa, Wright unveiled a model and announced the project. The May 1953 event drew 250,000 visitors, many oil executives, fellow oil producers and Price’s clients. Lots of buzz.

Construction, with the inevitable cost overruns, was completed and the building opened to the public in February 1956.

It was the most famous new building in America, with visitors coming from around the world to see Wright’s Prairie skyscraper. Although tall buildings were nothing new, multi-use high rise offices and apartments, particularly outside  the major cities, were unusual.

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Visiting now, the coolest thing about Price Tower is that it contains a hotel, operated by the non profit that runs the building and adjoining art center (designed by Zaha Hadid). Not luxurious but a singular Oklahomey Frank Lloyd Wright experience with a ‘behind the scenes’ docent tour as part of the deal.

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So you stay in one of the corner suites, travel in one of the 4 minuscule triangular elevators ( 2 people and a small suitcase max!) and then hang out in the Copper Bar and cocktail as the sun sets over the prairie. The crowd is eclectic…lots of young IT professionals who work for Phillips 66, design aficionados who drive to Bartlesville specifically to stay in and photograph the building and itinerant academics and workers who are tired of the hotel chains. 

Over Manhattans we met a Navajo linguist who gave us a list of out of the way sites to explore, visitors from Tulsa celebrating an anniversary and sharing lots of Osage legend: like where George Clooney liked to eat during the filming of “Osage County” ( Frank and Lola’s), what the Pioneer Woman is REALLY like, how the Tom Mix museum is the most fun museum in the county and be sure not to miss the Bison Preserves.

So much good stuff!

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http://www.pricetower.org

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Old friends, Bob and Kanye.

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I moved the “stereo” to a new place.

Tucked under the bar in the entrance to my home.

It works visually, snug on an unused shelf and means the old cabinet in the living room could fill with glasses (I have a thing for glasses).

And in a completely unworthy and serendipitous way I have fallen in love with listening to music again.

Now the sound spreads out the door. Onto the steps where in a similar fit of art direction I placed the most comfortable chair in the house: a leather butterfly chair.

And in a house of chairs, THIS seems the best place to sit, read and listen.

I can hear music in my office, but in a different way then from the computer, and it floods the living room and kitchen and out into the garden. It’s so easy to switch on when I walk past out to grab the papers. Back to the chair on the steps, a nice new routine.

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In the mess that is hundreds of disorganized CDs, cases, blanks and orphans, I find one of the 2 albums I never tire of hearing.

Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline.

Released in 1969, I know I’ve owned a copy forever… vinyl, cd, IPOD. Probably even a cassette.

The songs are simple.

To quote Paul Nelson, Rolling Stone
“Nashville Skyline achieves the artistically impossible: a deep, humane and interesting statement about being happy”

The beauty is the absolute simplicity. After albums of multi layered, complicated moving imagery and manipulation, these songs sing of heartfelt joy, aching love, desire and disappointment.

” Why wait any longer for the world to begin. You can have your cake and eat it too.

Why wait any longer for the the one you love, When he’s standing in front of you.”

Critics nailed Dylan for celebrating the banal and cliched, but the album became his best selling to date and many loved his new voice, a soft country croon, the duet with Johnny Cash and the insidiously lovely melodies.

So back on rotation when I’m home alone and just puttering.

“To be alone with you, just you and me. Why don’t ya tell me its true, aint that the way it oughta be?

To hold each other tight, the whole night thru. Everything is alright when I’m alone with you.”

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The other “never tire” album?

Kanye West’s 808’s and Heartbreak.

Described as “provocatively miserable,” I played it over and over when it was released in 2008. So easy when you own a cafe and no one realizes the same music has been on repeat since 8am (sorry noshies!).

Cool minimal electronics, sad sad devastation and exhausted, heartbroken lyrics.

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“I keep it low, keep a secret code / so everyone else don’t have to know,”

“There is no clothes that I could buy

That could turn back the time

There is no vacation spot I could fly

That could bring back a piece of real life”

And like Dylan 30 years before, a whole new voice, albeit surrounded by AUTOTUNE, the digital pitch device, amplifying rather than anesthetizing emotion.

His minimalism reminds me of favorite painters or sculptors: simplistic externals that suggest a complicated interior.

Kanye took a robotic drum machine and autotune and created a deep and beautiful collection of songs.

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I don’t know why I can listen to some albums over and over or read some books again and again.

It’s like the B grade movie, so often more personally relevant, informative and enjoyable than the classic. And the books I repeatedly indulge in and the albums I never tire of hearing, speak to me in a whole different way.

I heard Daniel Levitan, author of “This is your Brain on Music”, speaking on NPR about the interplay of familiarity and novelty, and how listening to music coordinates more disparate parts of the brain than almost anything else.

Maybe that’s the thing… disparate brain parts, heartache and joy, the new and the old all wrapped in lyricism and melody.

PS.Some books I reread:

Daniel Martin by John Fowles

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Some albums I replay:

Alison Krause’s Now that I found You

Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon 2

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             Happiest concert ever: sounds and smiles as he sang the ‘coldest stories ever told’!