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World's littlest skyscraper

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Newby–McMahon Building
Newby–McMahon Building, c. 1919, also known as the "Worlds Littlest Skyscraper"
General information
TypeMixed-use
LocationWichita Falls, Texas, United States
Coordinates33°54′52″N 98°29′23″W / 33.9144°N 98.4897°W / 33.9144; -98.4897Coordinates: 33°54′52″N 98°29′23″W / 33.9144°N 98.4897°W / 33.9144; -98.4897
Construction started1919
Completed1919
Opening1919
Cost$200,000 ($3,114,836.36 In 2020)
Height
Roof12.2 m (40.0 ft)
Technical details
Floor count4 habitable floors
Floor area40 m2 (430 sq ft)
Design and construction
ArchitectMichael Beards
Structural engineerJ.D. McMahon
Main contractorJ.D. McMahon
Newby–McMahon Building
Part ofDepot Square Historic District (ID03001552[5])
Designated CPFebruary 4, 2004
References
[1][2][3][4]

The Newby–McMahon Building, commonly referred to as the world's littlest skyscraper, is located at 701 La Salle (on the corner of Seventh and La Salle streets) in downtown Wichita Falls, Texas. It is a late Neoclassical style red brick and cast stone structure. It stands 40 ft (12 m) tall,[1] and its exterior dimensions are 18 ft (5.5 m) deep and 10 ft (3.0 m) wide.[2][3] Its interior dimensions are approximately 12 ft (3.7 m) by 9 ft (2.7 m), or approximately 108 sq ft (10.0 m2). Steep, narrow, internal stairways leading to the upper floors occupy roughly 25 percent of the interior area.[1][4]

Reportedly the result of a fraudulent investment scheme by a confidence man, the Newby–McMahon Building was a source of great embarrassment to the city and its residents after its completion in 1919. During the 1920s, the Newby–McMahon Building was featured in Robert Ripley's Ripley's Believe It or Not! syndicated column as "the world's littlest skyscraper," a nickname that has stuck with it ever since. The Newby–McMahon Building is now part of the Depot Square Historic District of Wichita Falls, a Texas Historic Landmark.

Background[edit]

A large petroleum reservoir was discovered just west of the city of Burkburnett, a small town in Wichita County, Texas in 1912.[6][7][8] Burkburnett and its surrounding communities became boomtowns, experiencing explosive growth of their populations and economies. By 1918, an estimated 20,000 new settlers had taken up residence around the lucrative oil field, and many Wichita County residents became wealthy virtually overnight. As people streamed into the local communities in search of high-paying jobs, the nearby city of Wichita Falls began to grow in importance. Though it initially lacked the necessary infrastructure for this sudden increase in economic and industrial activity, Wichita Falls was a natural choice to serve as the local logistical hub, being the seat of Wichita County. Because office space was lacking, major stock transactions and mineral rights deals were conducted on street corners and in tents that served as makeshift headquarters for the new oil companies.[9]

Proposal and blueprints[edit]

The Newby–McMahon Building is a four-story brick building located near the railroad depot in downtown Wichita Falls, built in 1906 by Augustus Newby (1855–1909),[10][11] a director of the Wichita Falls and Oklahoma City Railway Company.[12] The oil-rig construction firm of J.D. McMahon, a petroleum landman and structural engineer from Philadelphia, was one of seven tenants whose offices were based in the original Newby Building.[1][11]

According to local legend,[13] when McMahon announced in 1919 that he would build a high-rise annex to the Newby Building as a solution to the newly wealthy city's urgent need for office space, investors were eager to invest in the project.[9][14] McMahon collected US$200,000 (equivalent to $2,927,876.16 in 2020) in investment capital from this group of naïve investors, promising to construct a high-rise office building across the street from the St. James Hotel.[3][4]

The key to McMahon's swindle, and his successful defense in the ensuing lawsuit was that legal documents listed the height as 480" as opposed to 480'. Investors didn't seem to notice, and McMahon never verbally stated that the actual height of the building would be 480 feet (150 m).[2][15][16] The proposed skyscraper depicted in the blueprints that he distributed (and which were approved by the investors) was clearly labeled as consisting of four floors and 480 inches (12 m).[17]

Construction and ensuing legal battle[edit]

McMahon used his own construction crews to build the McMahon Building on the small, unused piece of property next to the Newby Building, without obtaining prior consent from the owner of the property, who lived in Oklahoma.[16]

Investors brought a lawsuit against McMahon over the size of the building, but to their dismay, the real estate and construction deal was declared legally binding by a local judge.[4] They did recover a small portion of their investment from the elevator company, which refused to honor the contract after learning how small the building was. No stairway was installed in the building upon its initial completion, as none was included in the original blueprints. Rather, a ladder was employed to gain access to the upper three floors.[2] By the time construction was complete, McMahon had left Wichita Falls and perhaps even Texas, taking with him the balance of the investors' money.[17]

Early occupancy and subsequent abandonment[edit]

Upon its completion and opening in 1919, the Newby–McMahon Building was an immediate source of great embarrassment to the city and its residents.[18][19] The ground floor had six desks representing the six different companies that occupied the building as its original tenants.[16] Throughout most of the 1920s, the building housed only two firms.[16] During the 1920s, the Newby–McMahon Building was featured in Robert Ripley's Ripley's Believe It or Not! syndicated column as "the world's littlest skyscraper", which is a name that has stuck with it ever since.[2][11][20]

The oil industry would ultimately prove to be a resource curse to Wichita Falls, and the Texas Oil Boom ended only a few years later. The building was vacated, boarded up, and virtually forgotten in 1929 as the Great Depression struck North Texas and office space became relatively inexpensive to lease or purchase.[4] A fire gutted the building in 1931, rendering it unusable for a number of years.[16]

After the Great Depression, the building housed a succession of tenants, including barber shops and cafés. The building changed hands many times and was scheduled for demolition on several occasions, but escaped this fate apparently because a sufficient number of local residents came to its defense.[11] It was eventually deeded to the city of Wichita Falls. As the building continued to deteriorate, in 1986 the city gave the building to the Wichita County Heritage Society (WCHS), with the hope that it would eventually be restored, making it a viable part of the Depot Square Historic District.[2][4]

Purchase and renovation[edit]

By 1999, the Newby–McMahon Building had proved to be an excessive burden on the limited capital reserves of the WCHS.[21][22][23][24] The following year, the city council hired the local architectural firm of Bundy, Young, Sims & Potter to stabilize the crumbling structure, amid steadily growing talk of demolishing the building.[4] Dick Bundy and his partners became fascinated with the history and legacy of the building; they arranged a partnership with Marvin Groves Electric, another local business, to purchase the building.[1] In December 2000, the city council voted to allow the WCHS to sell the building to Marvin Groves for $3,748 (equivalent to $5,564 in 2019).[25]

On June 11, 2003, a storm swept through Wichita Falls, bringing gusts of wind as strong as 97 miles per hour (156 km/h). A 15-foot (4.6 m) section of brick wall from the McMahon Building complex was knocked down.[26] The damage from this storm was repaired, but full restoration of the building and the adjacent Newby Building was delayed until late 2005. In June of that year, the City Council granted $25,000 (equivalent to $33,041.59 in 2020) in funds from the city's tax increment financing fund, to be invested in the restoration of the McMahon Building.[27][28] Restoration of the building is estimated to have cost more than $254,000 (equivalent to $336,200.95 in 2020), the remainder of which was paid by the owners (Bundy, Young, Sims & Potter, Inc., and Marvin Groves Electric).[27][28]

Current status[edit]

The Newby–McMahon Building and the Hello Again! storefront in October 2015
Plaque attached to the Newby–McMahon Building, also known as the "world's littlest skyscraper". This plaque refers to the building adjacent to the "skyscraper" which was completed in 1906, the "skyscraper" building was completed in 1919.

The Newby–McMahon Building has survived tornadoes, a fire, and decades of neglect.[29] The building is currently part of the Depot Square Historic District of Wichita Falls,[11] which has been declared a Texas Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[30][31] The building has never met the criteria for the definition of a skyscraper,[32] nor even that of a "high-rise" building.[33] After its renovation, the building was home to an antiques dealership, the Antique Wood, which opened in 2006 on the ground floor.[34][35] Since 2013, besides being a local tourist attraction, a furniture and home décor consignment boutique, Hello Again has occupied the entire building. At times, floors of the skyscraper have been subleased to various local artisans.[36]

The Newby–McMahon Building is among several historic buildings featured in the documentary film Wichita Falls: The Future of Our Past, a retrospective analysis of the city's architectural past produced in 2006 by Barry Levy, a public information officer with the city of Wichita Falls.[37]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Bundy, Dick (2010). "Littlest Skyscraper: Wichita Falls, Texas" (PDF). Wichita Falls, Texas: Bundy, Young, Sims & Potter, Inc. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Whitaker, Bill (August 20, 1998). "Cowboys Mosey On, But Littlest Skyscraper Remains". Abilene Reporter-News. Abilene, Texas: E. W. Scripps Company. ISSN 0199-3267. Archived from the original on June 14, 2011. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c "Littlest Skyscraper". Wichita Falls Times Record News. Wichita Falls, Texas: E. W. Scripps Company. December 30, 2000. p. 9. ISSN 0895-6138. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Stowers, Carlton (July 2008). "Legend Of The World's Littlest Skyscraper" (PDF). Texas Co-Op Power. Austin, Texas: Texas Electric Cooperatives. 65 (1): 25. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  5. ^ "NPS Focus". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  6. ^ Kelly, Louise, ed. (1982). "Wichita Falls Times, May 12, 1957". Wichita County Beginnings. Burnet, Texas: Published by The Wichita County Historical Commission/Eakin Press. ISBN 978-0-89015-347-5. Retrieved October 10, 2010.
  7. ^ Olien, Diana Davids; Olien, Roger M. (2002). Oil in Texas: the gusher age, 1895–1945 (1 ed.). Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press. p. 78. ISBN 0-292-76056-6.
  8. ^ Hart, Brian (2010). "Burkburnett, Texas". Denton, Texas: Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved October 10, 2010.
  9. ^ a b Chance, Don (July 25, 2001). "The Littlest Skyscraper: with a new owner, Wichita Falls most famous height-impaired highrise holds a promising future". Wichita Falls Times Record News. Wichita Falls, Texas: E. W. Scripps Company. p. 30. ISSN 0895-6138. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  10. ^ "Clay County Texas: Obituaries 1909". Wichita Daily Times. Wichita Falls, Texas. July 5, 1909. Retrieved October 10, 2010.
  11. ^ a b c d e "The Shape of Texas:Littlest Skyscraper (Volume 7, Issue 21)" (Audio article, subscription required). Austin, Texas: Texas Society of Architects. 2010. Retrieved October 21, 2010.
  12. ^ Report of the Governor of Oklahoma to the Secretary of the Interior. Washington: Government Printing Office. 1898. p. 51.
  13. ^ Kelso, J. (2007). "North Texas". Texas Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff (3rd ed.). Kearney, Nebraska: Morris Book Publishing. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-7627-4109-0.
  14. ^ McLeod, Gerald E. (September 15, 2000). "Day Trips: Best Skyscraper". The Austin Chronicle. Austin, Texas: Austin Chronicle Corporation. ISSN 1074-0740. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  15. ^ Edwards, J. (2008). "The Panhandle: Wichita Falls & Environs". In Harmsen D; Nalepa M (eds.). Fodor's Texas (1st ed.). New York: Random House, Inc. p. 517. ISBN 978-1-4000-0719-6.
  16. ^ a b c d e Wichita Falls Times Record News (December 8, 2002). "About Us". Wichita Falls, Texas: E. W. Scripps Company. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  17. ^ a b Jerome Pohlen (2006). Oddball Texas: A Guide To Some Really Strange Places. Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Review Press. p. 67. ISBN 978-1-55652-583-4.
  18. ^ Wilson, Carroll (March 27, 2001). "How Easily We Seem To Forget Our History Lessons". Wichita Falls Times Record News. Wichita Falls, Texas: E. W. Scripps Company. p. B1. ISSN 0895-6138. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  19. ^ "Our Hall Of Shame". Wichita Falls Times Record News. Wichita Falls, Texas: E. W. Scripps Company. May 6, 2004. p. B4. ISSN 0895-6138. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  20. ^ Buss, Ted (September 17, 1999). "Downtown 'Skyscraper' Could Become Big News". Wichita Falls Times Record News. Wichita Falls, Texas: E. W. Scripps Company. p. A1. ISSN 0895-6138. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  21. ^ Pate, Tom (August 10, 1999). "Building Looking For Hero: 'Littlest Skyscraper' Goes Up For Sale". Wichita Falls Times Record News. Wichita Falls, Texas: E. W. Scripps Company. p. A4. ISSN 0895-6138. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  22. ^ Zollo, Cathy (October 18, 1999). "'Littlest Skyscraper' Tops Agenda For City Council". Wichita Falls Times Record News. Wichita Falls, Texas: E. W. Scripps Company. p. A5. ISSN 0895-6138. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  23. ^ Zollo, Cathy (October 20, 1999). "Building's Future Undecided: Council will discuss what to do with Littlest Skyscraper later". Wichita Falls Times Record News. Wichita Falls, Texas: E. W. Scripps Company. p. A2. ISSN 0895-6138. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  24. ^ Wilson, Carroll (August 6, 2000). "This Is A Big Deal: The Littlest Skyscraper Is Up For Sale". Wichita Falls Times Record News. Wichita Falls, Texas: E. W. Scripps Company. p. B6. ISSN 0895-6138. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  25. ^ "Groves Gets 'Littlest Skyscraper' For A Song". Wichita Falls Times Record News. Wichita Falls, Texas: E. W. Scripps Company. December 16, 2000. p. A14. ISSN 0895-6138. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  26. ^ Wistrom, Brent D. (June 14, 2003). "Thunder struck? Storm winds damage historic downtown buildings". Wichita Falls Times Record News. Wichita Falls, Texas: E. W. Scripps Company. p. A1. ISSN 0895-6138. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  27. ^ a b Morgan, Robert (June 19, 2005). "Littlest skyscraper to get big upgrade". Wichita Falls Times Record News. Wichita Falls, Texas: E. W. Scripps Company. p. B1. ISSN 0895-6138. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  28. ^ a b Ford, Nicole (June 22, 2005). "Funds approved to uplift downtown". Wichita Falls Times Record News. Wichita Falls, Texas: E. W. Scripps Company. p. B1. ISSN 0895-6138. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  29. ^ Texas Committee for the Humanities (1986). O'Connor RF (ed.). Texas Myths (1st ed.). College Station, Texas: Texas A & M University Press. p. 215. ISBN 978-0-89096-264-0.
  30. ^ Le Templar (March 19, 1999). "Historic District Could Expand". Wichita Falls Times Record News. Wichita Falls, Texas: E. W. Scripps Company. p. A1. ISSN 0895-6138. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  31. ^ "Depot Square Historic District". Texas Historic Sites Atlas. Texas Historical Commission. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  32. ^ "Data Standards: skyscraper (ESN 24419)". Emporis Standards. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  33. ^ "Data Standards: high-rise building (ESN 18727)". Emporis Standards. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  34. ^ Martinez, Michael (July 28, 2005). "Looking up: New business to move into city's Littlest Skyscraper". Wichita Falls Times Record News. Wichita Falls, Texas: E. W. Scripps Company. p. B1. ISSN 0895-6138. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  35. ^ "2006 Openings: Antique Wood In Littlest Skyscraper". Wichita Falls Times Record News. Wichita Falls, Texas: E. W. Scripps Company. March 26, 2007. p. A1. ISSN 0895-6138. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  36. ^ McGinnis, Judith (February 28, 2016). "Downtown retail future gets boost from the past". Wichita Falls Times Record News.
  37. ^ Morgan, Robert (December 2, 2006). "Downtown To Star In Its Own Biopic". Wichita Falls Times Record News. Wichita Falls, Texas: E. W. Scripps Company. p. B2. ISSN 0895-6138. Retrieved October 9, 2010.

External links[edit]