The Beginings

The Philcade is located at the corner of 5th & Boston in the heart of downtown Tulsa which was the original site of Boston Avenue United Methodist Church.  The church had grown so large that they moved to their new location at 13th & Boston on the outer edge of downtown.  Waite Phillips purchased the property from Boston Avenue United Methodist Church with the intent of building a six story building on the property. The original purpose of the building was to compliment Phillips' newly completed Philtower and not overshadow the building.

The building was designed by Architect Leon Senter who was at one time a neighbor to Waite Phillips in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Leon Senter came to Tulsa specifically to design the Philcade and he stayed becoming one of Tulsa’s most notable architects. The original design included a six story building with a two story shopping arcade on the first two floors and four floors of offices. However, before the footings were poured, the design was changed to nine floors and the foundation was changed accordingly.

In the fall of 1930 as the building was nearing completion, an additional four floors were added bringing the floor count to a total of 13 floors. These four floors were leased by the Standard Oil Company of Indiana who later purchased the building in 1942. The Philcade was finally completed in 1931. In 1937, the south side of the building was enclosed to house the air-conditioning equipment, thus making this building the first fully air-conditioned office building in Tulsa.  After the enclosure of the south side of the building, a penthouse was completed on the 14th floor.

The Façade

At the two main entrances, the terracotta detailing becomes very formal. Each entrance has fluted, Egyptian-style columns, which terminate at a papyrus reed inspired terra-cotta beam. The formal treatment of the entryway continues upward through the second floor façade and terminates in the elevated base relief details of papyrus reeds at the courtyard level.  The chevron columns link the base terra-cotta all the way to the top floor, giving a strong sense of verticality.  The exterior of the Philcade is rather plain so as not to compete with the Gothic ornamentation of the Philtower.

Glazed terra-cotta during this period became a very popular alternative to marble and granite. The first two floors are covered with glazed terra-cotta ornamentation. This glazing resembles marble and was a cheaper alternative to hand-carved marble or granite. The glaze does not wear or fade, making it a very durable building material. Manufacturers were able to form a mold and pour the same design into the mold multiple times. On the Philcade, above each corner window, birds, reptiles, and animals are all hidden in stylized Art-Deco foliage.

The Lobby

The lobby of the Philcade is in a shape of a “T” for Tulsa.  The lobby and the 2nd floor mezzanine level was a shopping arcade, and Philcade derives its name from “Phillips” and “arcade”.  The Philcade Lobby was Tulsa’s first indoor shopping mall.  Shops on the ground floor were located behind the windows that are now part of the Tulsa Art Deco Museum. Each shop entrance has a doorknob with the initials WP for Waite Phillips.  Original shops on the first floor included a cigar store, a newsstand, a barber, a drug store, interior decorating shop, India import shop, and several ladies clothing stores. 

The Art-Deco ceiling design is complimented by the mahogany, glass, bronze, marbled walls, and the black and tan terrazzo floor used throughout the space. When the ceiling was first completed it featured hand-painted, floral, Art Nouveau designs, and when Waite Phillips walked in upon its completion, he ordered it covered over in gold leaf. The Art Deco design that can be seen today is the same gold leaf design that Phillips ordered. The marble walls and pilasters are all rendered in St. Genevieve marble as a way for Waite Phillips to honor his wife, Genevieve.

Today, the lobby is completely open to the public, housing the Tulsa Art Deco Museum within the window displays. Also just off the lobby is the Museum Store, Mod’s Coffee & Crepes, and the Deco District Shops.

The Penthouse

The Philcade Penthouse included 4,255 square feet of space. Upon arriving on the 14th floor through the elevator you are greeted by two wrought iron gates which lead to a staircase. Up the staircase is the penthouse. It included three bedrooms, five baths, a solarium, a formal dining room, a kitchen, a large and small conference room, and a library. Waite Phillips and his wife, Genevieve, moved into the penthouse in 1939 after donating Villa Philbrook as an art museum for the city of Tulsa. Select furnishings were taken from Villa Philbrook and moved to the Penthouse and when Waite and Genevieve Phillips moved to California in 1942 those items again moved with them.

The Philcade Penthouse is not accessible to the public, but can be rented for special events through Skyloft Events.

The Tunnel

There is a tunnel between the Philcade and Philtower buildings that was built for Waite Phillips. Miners were imported to dig the 80 foot tunnel under 5th Street. The tunnel is arched shaped in order to better handle the weight of the street level above.  Waite Phillips had this tunnel built for security so he could get from his penthouse on the top floor of the Philcade to his office on the top floor of the Philtower. When this tunnel was built, it was all too common for wealthy individuals to be kidnapped off the street and held for ransom in the US, so this tunnel was to help alleviate Waite Phillips’ fears.

Today, the tunnel is not accessible to the public, and the tunnel is also blocked by a door since the two buildings are owned by two different people.

Historic photos courtesy of Tulsa Historical Society, Tulsa City-County Library, and Rotary Club of Tulsa