By Nola McKey
For a city of some 100,000 people, downtown Midland has an unusually large number of tall buildings, a fact that earned this Permian Basin metropolis its nickname, “the Tall City.” Like many things in Midland, these unlikely skyscrapers reflect the boom-and-bust cycle of the city’s oil and gas business. Oil companies built many of them in the 1940s through the late ’60s, and again in the mid-’70s to early ’80s, when Midland was the epicenter of nationwide oil booms.
Local architect Mark Wellen says that more than 20 of these buildings represent examples of Mid-century Modern architecture. “Mid-century Modern basically means modern buildings constructed during the 1940s through the 1960s,” he says, “but it’s typified by modernism infused with regionalism. Which means that even back then, architects were designing with the environment in mind. ‘Green building’ isn’t new.
'There’s a growing appreciation of Mid-century Modern design, but most people in Midland don’t realize that these buildings represent significant architecture. We want to heighten that awareness in the hope that it will lead to revitalization and preservation.'
“Midland’s Mid-century Modern buildings are aging, but many of them have a lot of character and represent significant architecture. Some of them were designed by local architects, some by architects in other states. For example, the Bank of America Building (originally the First National Bank Building), at 303 W. Wall Avenue, is very well preserved in its original state. It was designed by Dallas architect George L. Dahl in 1952. One of its strongest architectural features is the two-story banking lobby, which is clad in white marble and has a fully illuminated ceiling. The lobby also has floor-to-ceiling glass, which enhances the building’s street presence.”
The old Honolulu Oil Company Building, at 204 W. Illinois Avenue and N. Loraine Street, while vacant, is another outstanding example of Mid-century Modern, says Wellen. “John Ekin Dinwittie and Richard Maxwell of San Francisco designed it in 1949 with the West Texas climate in mind,” he adds. “The building is entirely poured-in-place concrete. It has deep-set windows on the south side to shade the building from the sun and a courtyard for ventilation. It’s an excellent example of Mid-century Modern design being responsive to the environment.”
After members of the Texas Historical Commission expressed interest in the city’s Mid-century Modern gems, Wellen organized a free walking tour of 23 downtown buildings on April 30, in conjunction with Preservation Texas’ annual celebration of Texas MODern Month. Response from the public was good, and Wellen expects the tour to take place next April as well. Working with City of Midland planner Brandon Melland, Wellen also created a map of the buildings on the tour, which is available at http://livemidlandtexas.com/2011/04/free-walking-tour-of-downtown-midland.
“There’s a growing appreciation of Mid-century Modern design,” says Wellen, “but most people in Midland don’t realize that these buildings represent significant architecture. We want to heighten that awareness in the hope that it will lead to revitalization and preservation.”
See the full article in the July 2011 issue.