A classic downtown example of Tulsan art deco architecture could soon become available to the highest bidder at a sheriff's auction, though the new owner would need to undertake plenty of repairs before opening it for any type of public use.
The City of Tulsa filed a foreclosure action in late December against Carl J. Morony of California, owner of the Tulsa Club building at 115 E. Fifth St., near the intersection with S. Boston Avenue. The building has been cited for violation of fire, electrical and plumbing codes as well as collapsed ceilings and evidence of trespassing and other possible criminal activity. The city had assessed a $1,000 fine each day since August 2007 until a Tulsa County judge awarded the city a $331,815 civil judgment in October for the unpaid charges.
"The present owner got it for $125k at a sheriff's sale, which unfortunately makes the vacant land worth as much as the building itself, so he has allowed the building to demolish itself through a lack of maintenance," said Rex Ball, president of the Tulsa Art Deco Society.
The roof, in particular, is a significant problem, Ball said; but allowing the building to disappear would be a shame for many reasons. He pointed out that the Tulsa Club building is the only surviving multi-story building designed by renowned architect Bruce Goff, and it contains many "striking" art deco features, including ornamentation on the interior and exterior walls, elevator shaft and doors, columns, light fixtures, mouldings and fireplace tiles.
The building was completed in 1927 as a joint project of the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce and the Tulsa Club, an exclusive organization started by Tulsa oilmen. The first five floors of the structure, which was then known simply as the Tulsa Building, were occupied by the chamber, while the Tulsa Club filled the top six floors and the roof garden.
"A surprising feature a lot of people don't know about is the roof garden, which was sensational, and the parties up there were always great," Ball said. "It looked out over the Philcade [Towers] and the skyline to the east of downtown. It was really pretty glamorous, actually."
The club also had a slumber room, gymnasium, squash courts, steam room, barber shop, lounge and two-story ballroom with art deco detailing, though many of the art deco features were lost during an earlier renovation. Ball also said the "skirt" of glass block and stone on the exterior of the ground floor was added during a renovation.
What to Do?
Extensive renovations would be required to bring the building up to code today, but Tulsa's chief economic development officer, G.M. "Mike" Bunney, said the new owner would not need to worry about being fined by the city for code violations.
"We would work with the new owner however necessary to help them get some time and work on the building. They're not going to get it into code overnight," he said. "Any kind of reasonable extensions are granted as a matter of course."
In 2005, a group called the Tulsa Club Development Company applied to the City of Tulsa for a $2.5 million no-interest loan to aid development of the structure as a mixed-use building. The city was distributing $10 million to promote downtown living through its Vision 2025 initiative, but the Tulsa Club Development Company was turned down in favor of the TransOK Loft Apartments, The Mayo Lofts, The Mayo Building and The First Street Lofts. Kanbar Properties, owner of the TransOK building, ultimately turned down the $1.5 million it was offered because the firm was not ready to move forward with the development.
The proposal from the Tulsa Club Development Company called for placing retail shops and office space on the first two floors, with the remaining floors residential. It would have contained 47 condominiums ranging from 746 square feet to 1,000 square feet, which were projected to sell for between $111,000 and $150,000 each. In addition, 13 penthouses of 1,300 square feet were projected to sell for $260,000. Completing the project was estimated to cost $6 million.
Separately, the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture has held regular meetings to discuss other options regarding the future of the Tulsa Club building.
The Tulsa Club Building was one of 60 vacant downtown structures that the city identified in 2007 to be targeted for revitalization. An inspection executed with a court-ordered search warrant turned up the violations.
It is unclear how long the court process regarding the foreclosure action will take or how soon the property could go to auction. If the property sells for more than $331,815, the excess money would be used to pay any other creditors, with the remainder sent to Morony. The building has been vacant since the Tulsa Club closed in 1994.
Though there are myriad problems with the interior of the structure, Ball stressed that it is a "stout" building that can be saved.
"It would be a challenge [to renovate the building], but the exterior of the building is limestone, and the structure is exceedingly sound," Ball said. "It might be difficult to get it back into operation, but I can assure you it would be a challenge to get it down."
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