Historic photos courtesy of Tulsa Historical Society, Tulsa City-County Library, and Rotary Club of Tulsa
Location: 1301 S. Boston Ave
Architect: Bruce Goff
Designer: Adah Robinson
The church was chartered in 1893 and along with the booming population of Tulsa in the 1910s and in the 1920s, the church was beginning to out-grow its third building. By June of 1924, Boston Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church began the process of finding a new home. A building committee was created in the spring of 1925, and by the end of 1925, five separate architects had submitted proposed plans for the new structure. None of these architectural firms were Rush, Endacott, & Rush; this firm is the one that Bruce Goff was working for at the time. None of the proposals were deemed suitable for the new church home by the committee, and they asked for advice from Adah Robinson.
Adah Robinson was a notable artist in Tulsa during this time. She was the Supervisor of Art at Tulsa Central High School, and she was an art instructor as a part of Boston Avenue Church’s educational programming. She later went on to found Alpha Rho Tau which is a local Tulsa art organization, and she helped shape the Art Department at the University of Tulsa.
Adah Robinson told the committee that she could best produce the designs for the new church home if she could work with an architect of her choosing. The church building committee agreed to her terms and she chose to work with Bruce Goff of Rush, Endacott & Rush. Bruce Goff was also a student of hers at Tulsa Central High School, and Robinson had previously worked with Goff in the design and construction of her home and studio.
According to Goff, he prepared sketches of the initial conceptual design of the church with very little direction from Adah Robinson. This initial design hardly changed throughout the planning and building phases of the new church home. These initial designs by Goff were accepted by the church building committee and a contract was signed with Rush, Endacott & Rush on June 26, 1926. Ground was broken on May 16, 1927, and the Church officially opened on June 9, 1929.
During the construction of the building, Adah Robinson proclaimed that she was the sole designer of the building, and she had also made this claim previously with the church building committee. This action angered Goff and the office in which he worked. The feud between Adah Robinson and Bruce Goff caused Adah Robinson to remove some angular detailing on her fireplace out of anger that Goff had designed. Although Adah Robinson did not solely design the building, she did act as an intermediary between the building committee and architects, and she also contributed to the decorative details within the building.
Motifs such as the coreopsis flower and the tritoma flower can be seen throughout the building and are mostly credited to Adah Robinson. They can be seen in the stained glass, the light fixtures, and other design aspects of the building. The stained glass is largely credited to Adah Robinson who did not believe holy figures should be depicted in art. All of the stained glass has abstracted Art Deco forms that stem from flowers and other inspiration.
The design of the building with its use of the tower and the semi-circular auditorium is partially based off of Louis Sullivan’s Saint Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A rendering of this building hung in the office of Rush, Endacott, & Rush in which Goff derived his inspiration.
The building is constructed out of Bedford Limestone, the same that was used on Goff’s Tulsa Club Building, and buff colored terracotta. The top of the tower is adorned with and openwork of radial copper fins which is a design unique to Bruce Goff. The pleated forms of the windows possibly derive from expressionist architecture during this period.
In the 1960s, a large addition was added to the building, enclosing the Porte Cochere (originally used as an automobile drop-off point) with glass and also providing a new education wing of the church. Other alterations on the original portion of the building have also been made but most of the original detailing of the building still remains.
Although the controversy of the design of the principal designer of the building caused a feud between Adah Robinson and Bruce Goff, it seems that both played an instrumental role in the completion of the building. Adah Robinson contributed to the design work of the stained glass and some of the other interior detailing, which Goff contributed the principal design of the building. Boston Avenue Methodist Church with its many complexities would not have been the Tulsa icon that it is without the contributions of both Bruce Goff and Adah Robinson.
David Gilson DeLong, The Architecture of Bruce Goff: Buildings and Projects 1916-1974 (New York: Garland Publishing, 1977)
Jo Beth Harris, More Than a Building: The First Century of Boston Avenue United Methodist Church (Tulsa: Council Oak Publishing, 1993)