A Landmark Loss

A major mid-century modern bank in Oklahoma City gets leveled

Architecture Midwest News Preservation
The Oklahoma City Founders National Bank, designed by Oklahoma City–architect Bob Bowlby in 1964, began demolition on Monday, October 8, 2018, after years of rumors of its impending destruction. (Lynne Rostochil/Via OKC Mod)
The Oklahoma City Founders National Bank, designed by Oklahoma City–architect Bob Bowlby in 1964, began demolition on Monday, October 8, 2018, after years of rumors of its impending destruction. (Lynne Rostochil/Via OKC Mod)

A long-loved landmark in Oklahoma City faced the wrecking ball yesterday after being placed on the state’s Most Endangered Historic Places list in May. The former Founders National Bank, a mid-century modern structure featuring two distinct, 50-foot exterior arches, was listed for sale at $3 million last fall but couldn’t find a tenant leading up to Monday’s last-minute demolition, according to Oklahoma’s News 4.

Situated near the Northwest Expressway on North May Avenue, the iconic building has been an architectural icon of the city since 1964. It was designed by Bob Bowlby, a student of famous Oklahoma architect Bruce Goff, and was originally built for Founders National Bank, eventually becoming the home of Bank of America for over 20 years until last August. It was Bowlby’s first project after finishing his degree at the University of Oklahoma and the only one he’s completed in his hometown. 

Preservationists and advocates for the building are already mourning its loss. The unique arches—the focal point of the design—were easily visible from the city’s arterial roadways and drew people to the modernist building for well over half a century. Bowlby’s spaceship-like structure, sometimes also likened to a large-scale football, allowed the interior to be designed without walls.

Brick walls and floor-to-ceiling glass windows lined the oval perimeter and a white, concrete roof seemingly floated atop its round core. Suspension cables, much like the ones seen on suspension bridges, connected the arches to the roof. A multi-lane drive-through was also designed next to the building.

Founders National Bank Julius Shulman

Founders National Bank photographed by famed architectural photographer Julius Shulman (Courtesy J. Paul Getty Trust)

While several groups had repeatedly pushed to save Founders National Bank since news began circulating about its potential fate in early 2016, crews began tearing down the football-shaped structure this week—the same day a building permit was filed for its demolition. NewsOK noted that since the bank wasn’t protected by historical jurisdiction, its current owner, the Austin-based Schlosser Development Corp., was able to move forward with plans without consent from the city or public.

In January 2016, an online petition to preserve the building was started via the modern architecture blog, Okie Mod Squad, and received 1,072 supporters. In a post dedicated to the event, Bowlby himself commented on the controversy:

My design and the subsequent building of the Founders National Bank building of 1964 is, I think, a one of a kind and interesting example of the contemporary Oklahoma architectural scene in its mid-century period and as such should be kept if at all possible as part of the architectural heritage of Oklahoma City. Surely, an effort could be made made by the new owners to find some new and suitable usage of the building.  

So far, Schlosser Development Corp. hasn’t released plans to redevelop the two-acre site. The building was one of many mid-century modern icons built in the city’s Founders District, as well as several others throughout the state of Oklahoma, including Goff’s Bavinger House, which was destroyed in 2016.

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