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Jacoby in Tulsa

January 2, 2012
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This is the second of two posts on our Tulsa trip history tour. The first post covered our finding the Bell building, and this one covers a church that contains windows that were credited to the Jacoby Art Glass Company. When we were scheduling the trip, I first realized the potential opportunity to see another Timlin building, but then I pulled out my stack of stuff from Mr. Oppliger to see if there were any projects they did in Tulsa. Why not see some of their work, too? There were three projects listed, two of which I couldn’t locate but the Boston Avenue Church was easy to find on-line.

Boston Avenue Church

View of the church campus

I’m not very familiar with the architecture of Tulsa, shame on me. But it turned out that this church is not just any old church, but a remarkable, historic Art Deco structure with some design intrigue thrown in. We learned this thanks to the extremely generous church administrator, Brenda Reed. I contacted her through the church’s e-mail directory. She not only agreed to let a couple architects poke around in her facility, but to do so on the busiest day of the church calendar, Christmas Eve. She made time between services to guide us through the entire building, showed us the inner workings, even up in the tower, told us the history and all about the people involved, and gave us literature documenting all of the details. For a history and architecture geek, it was a thrill!

The colors are vivid and dramatic

Detail of the Tritoma motif

The colors spill into the space

Stained glass oculus light

A lot has been written about the architecture of the church, it is a masterpiece of design and craftsmanship. There are beautiful sculptures, terrazzo floors and carved woodwork throughout the building. For this post, though, I’ll focus on the windows, given the connection with Jacoby.

The decorative motifs throughout the building and particularly in the main sanctuary windows are drawn from two prairie flowers, Coreopsis and Tritoma. The flowers are tied together with sweeping lines representing wind. Can the wavin’ Tritoma still smell sweet when the wind comes right behind the rain? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

In addition to the windows in the main sanctuary, there is a small chapel, informally called the Rose Chapel after the rich colors of the windows, this time with a triangle motif. This pattern can be seen in other elements, including the cast iron custom radiator cover below the window.

The colors are much more intense in person with deep pinks and purples

The leading in these windows is very intricate and must have taken hours of hand work

This had to have been an enormous project for the Jacoby studio. The scale of the work appears to have created a scheduling issue for the project. An excerpt from one of publications from the church shows that several trips were made to St. Louis to ensure progress.

An excerpt from a church publication

The end result is nothing short of spectacular.

On to the controversy. It isn’t a religious controversy, unless you are one of those extreme architecture zealots, of course. The church vehemently credits a Tulsa high school art teacher, Adah Robinson, as the true master mind of the project. The architecture world credits Oklahoma’s Frank Lloyd Wright apostle, Bruce Goff. Some sites credit Robinson as the interior designer, but rarely is she given authorship of the overall building design. Even when this project was underway, the architecture firm of record, Rush Endacott and Rush, at times refused to take direction from Robinson and the church had to repeatedly step in to cement her leadership position. It might be hard for architects to think that a ‘mere school teacher’ could pull off such an amazing work of architecture, especially when a genius like Goff was part of the team. According to records in the church archives, it was Robinson that picked Goff, age 22 at the time, to assist with the design. He had been one of her high school students. They continued to work together after this project. She also picked Robert Garrison, another of her students, to assist with the many sculptures. Both men went on to great national acclaim where Robinson remained a respected but local figure. To prove their position, the church archive contains drawings, correspondence and contracts that clearly document Robinson’s position as the head of the project. The church goes to great lengths to preserve her legacy, sharing the story with those that believe to know the truth. I guess this is another aspect of their missionary work.

Window design sketches by Adah Robinson in the church archive room

From our perspective, there appears to be plenty of room for design credit in this building. This is truly an amazing place, and like all great buildings, never the work of a solitary person. All projects require many people, collaborating on a shared vision, bringing their best skills and talents to the finished product. It is wonderful to think that the folks that worked in the BAB had some part of this beautiful creation. In this case, the vision started with the owner’s insistence do something inspired and unique, and taking the risk to trust their unusual design team. It is also to the credit of the church that this building is in amazing condition. It not easy to care for ‘art left out in the rain’. In addition to preserving the original building, they have gone to great lengths to maintain the quality of design with each of their additions. It is nearly impossible to build today to match the level of craft of older buildings, especially on a not-for-profit budget.

It was a real treat to spend time in this building and an honor to be given such access. I’m at a loss to know how to thank Brenda Reed for her time and hospitality. Any suggestions? A thank you note doesn’t seem to be enough of a gesture.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Maurine permalink
    January 4, 2012 11:01 am

    What a beautiful and inspiration church! Worshipping in this sanctuary must really make one feel closer to God. Thank you for sharing the pictures and your commentary is quite inspiring. Love, Mom

    • Sue permalink
      January 4, 2012 12:23 pm

      I love the prairie flower motifs. It makes the design connect with the environment. Very special!

  2. Tom permalink*
    January 2, 2012 2:32 pm

    And in one of those weird “small world” things, my brother John and his wife Lisa were married in Boston Avenue Church almost 20 years ago…

  3. Laura Dierberg Ayers permalink
    January 2, 2012 8:18 am

    Oops – now there are photos when I refreshed my screen. And they are beautiful!

  4. Laura Dierberg Ayers permalink
    January 2, 2012 8:18 am

    Love love LOVE your posts. All of them! Although we haven’t met (yet!) I thoroughly enjoy following your adventures through your wonderful posts. When I read this particular post the photos you refer to aren’t there – perhaps a link isn’t active. In any event, please keep posting! And as to a thank you for Brenda – I suspect she will just enjoy this post, but a framed photo with a note from you would be an added bonus. And an invitation to St. Louis to see Jacoby here.

    Happy New Year!

    • Sue permalink
      January 2, 2012 11:03 am

      Laura-
      Thanks for the suggestion and thanks for reading! I’m glad you are enjoying our adventures. We started this so our far flung friends and families could keep up on the project but is inspiring to hear that people we’ve not yet met enjoy hearing about it. Hopefully we’ll cross paths!
      Regards,
      Sue

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  1. Jacoby in Fulton « B. A. B.

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