The Price Tower is a nineteen story tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It is the only realized skyscraper by Wright. The Price Tower was commissioned by Harold C. Price of the H. C. Price Company, a local oil pipeline and chemical firm. It opened to the public in February 1956.
The Price Tower was commissioned by Harold C. Price, for use as a corporate headquarters for his Bartlesville company. The Prices were directed to Frank Lloyd Wright by architect Bruce Goff, who was then Dean of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma, where the Price sons had studied. That relationship bonded into a life-long patronage of both architects by the Price Family. Wright designed an Arizona home for the senior Prices and a Bartlesville home for Harold, Jr., his wife Carolyn Propps Price, and their six children. Goff, who was also a tenant at Price Tower, became the favored architect of Joe Price, designing a bachelor studio on his family's property in Bartlesville and two later additions following his marriage to Etsuko Yoshimochi.
Wright nicknamed the Price Tower, which was built on the Oklahoma prairie, "the tree that escaped the crowded forest," referring not only to the building's construction, but also to the origins of its design. The Price Tower is supported by a central "trunk" of four elevator shafts which are anchored in place by a deep central foundation, as a tree is by its taproot. The nineteen floors of the building are cantilevered from this central core, like the branches of a tree. The outer walls hang from the floors and are clad in patinated copper "leaves." Wright had championed these design ideas, which other architects had put to use before the construction of the Price Tower, as early as the 1920s in his design for an apartment complex of four cantilevered towers for St. Marks-in-the-Bowerie in downtown New York City. Following the effects of the Great Depression, the project was shelved and adapted by Wright for the Price Company in 1952. Wright, therefore, plucked his "tree" out of the "crowded forest" of Manhattan skyscrapers and placed it on the Oklahoma prairie where it continues to stand uncrowded by neighboring tall buildings.
The floorplan of the Price Tower centers upon an inlaid cast bronze plaque, bearing the logo of the Price Company and marking the origin of a parallelogram grid upon which all exterior walls, interior partitions and doors, and built-in furniture are placed. The resulting design is a quadrant plan—one quadrant dedicated for double-height apartments, and three for offices. The materials for the Price Tower are equally innovative for a mid-twentieth-century skyscraper: cast concrete walls, pigmented concrete floors, aluminum-trimmed windows and doors, and patinated embossed and disstressed copper panels. The general geometric element is the equilateral triangle, and all lighting fixtures and ventilation grilles are based upon that form while the angled walls and built-in furniture are based on fractions or multiples of the triangular module. The lobby contains two inscriptions by Walt Whitman. One is from the concluding stanza of Salut au Monde, and the other from Song of the Broad-Axe.
Wright designed the St. Mark's project for apartments, but his Price Tower was to be a multi-use building with business offices, shops, and apartments. The H. C. Price Company was the primary tenant, and the remaining office floors and double-height apartments intended as income-raising ventures. Tenants included lawyers, accountants, physicians, dentists, insurance agents, and the architect Bruce Goff, who kept an office in the tower as well as rented one of the apartments. A women's high-end dress shop, beauty salon, and the regional offices of the Public Service Company of Oklahoma occupied a two-story wing of the tower, with a drive-through passageway separating the high and low structures. The Price Company occupied the upper floors, and included a commissary on the sixteenth floor as well as a penthouse office suite for Harold Price, Sr., and later his son, Harold, Jr.
The H.C. Price Company sold Price Tower to Phillips Petroleum in 1981 following a move to Dallas, where their company is presently located. Phillips Petroleum's lawyers deemed the exterior exit staircase a safety risk, and only used the building for storage. They retained ownership until 2000 when the building was donated to Price Tower Arts Center, and it has returned to its multi-use origins. Price Tower Arts Center, a museum of art, architecture, and design; Inn at Price Tower; Copper Restaurant + Bar, and the Wright Place museum store are the current major tenants with smaller firms leasing space. In 2002 Pritzker Prize winning architect, Zaha Hadid, was commissioned to design a museum expansion for Price Tower Arts Center—a project that was included in the 2006 retrospective exhibition of Hadid's work at the Guggenheim Museum, New York City.
On March 29, 2007, Price Tower was designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior, one of only twenty such properties in the state of Oklahoma.