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Who Built the BOK Tower In Tulsa – The Answer Will Surprise You!

Learn More About Tulsa’s BOK Tower

While Tulsa is home to many historical landmarks, there is one that stands out as both interesting and harrowing: the BOK Tower in Tulsa. For more than 30 years, it was the tallest building in Oklahoma. Known to locals as the Bank of Oklahoma Tower, it was built in 1978. The tower is 634 feet high and it has 35 stories. However, what most people don’t know is the history behind this building.

Who built the BOK tower in Tulsa? In the 1960s and early 1970s, Williams Brothers Pipeline, which grew into the Williams Companies, was one of the leading oil industry companies in Tulsa. In 1973 on a trip to New York City, CEO John Williams toured the towers of the newly-completed World Trade Center, where an allied company had offices. He loved the design of the building and wanted one just like it was built in Tulsa.

After much debate and controversy, Williams Brothers Pipeline decided to build it themselves. This was unusual because most major companies contracted out for such projects. The tower itself was designed by the same famed architect who designed the Twin Towers in New York, Minoru Yamasaki

Taking on the building of such a tower, of course, came with plenty of challenges. In this article, I will share the details of how and why the BOK tower was built so read on!

Building It Themselves

The reasons behind the Williams Brothers Pipeline building the tower themselves is complicated. The answers vary from a lack of available funds to the company wanting to lessen its carbon footprint.

In the end, it came down to one thing: as a major business in Tulsa at that time, they wanted and needed an impressive building. One that would be the talk of Tulsa for years to come.

Construction of the tower began in 1976. It was done by Williams’ construction division, which was named Will-Burt (later renamed Williams Industrial Construction Company).

It was overseen by two men: Gordon M. Watts and R.A. Swanson. Other companies that worked on the project were American Airlines, Tulsa-based general contractor, Brasfield & Gorrie, and OVE Industrial Constructors.

There was no feasible way to build one so tall up until that point. But, the company took on this challenge and managed to construct a tower well ahead of its time – it was considered the first modern-day skyscraper of Oklahoma. It was originally named the One Williams Center.

Made By Design

Again, the inspiration for the BOK tower came from the newly constructed World Trade Center towers in New York City. The designer, Minoru Yamasaki was hired by the Williams to design a half-size replica of the twin towers in Tulsa.

At the time, he was already well-known for such projects as designing the Federal Science Pavilion at the Seattle World’s Fair and an earlier tower in Oklahoma City.

His designs for the twin towers in New York were finalized by April 1964. He used this work as the basis for designing the building in Tulsa. Yamasaki also worked closely with Gordon Watts of Will-Burt on the design of both towers, eventually getting approval for his plans.

The most unique aspect of his designs was the supporting steel beams. Rather than have them exposed on the exterior, Yamasaki had them encased in concrete to blend in with the rest of the building. He also came up with an idea that he implemented very well: a floor system that would allow for flexible office space.

In addition to being innovative, his designs have been called “pioneering”. Yamasaki’s work in New York was considered to be an exceptional example, with John Skilling of the structural engineering firm W.H. Graham Co. describing it as having “defied the city’s functional zoning envelope.”

Construction Begins

According to records, the ground was broken on the construction of the BOK tower on September 29th, 1976. On that day, Tulsa mayor Buck Watson turned over a spade full of dirt which marked the official beginning of construction for this impressive building.

At the time, it was estimated that construction would be completed within two years. However, as with any project, this one ran into some bumps along the way.

In 1978, a slowdown in construction occurred for unknown reasons. In addition to this major delay, cracks were discovered during the cooling process of the concrete beams and columns.

Problems arose concerning both design and construction so engineers had to go back to the drawing board. This meant that plans had to be redesigned and construction crews were reinstated to get this problem fixed.

After overcoming these issues, the BOK tower was completed on February 8th, 1980 with a total cost of $32 million. In today’s money, that would be $114.4 million!

It was officially opened by the mayor of Tulsa, Rodger Randle on March 23rd, 1980.

BOK tower being built

A Name Change

Not long after the tower’s construction, it was given a new name. Will-Burt Company changed its name to Williams and in 1984 it adopted the BOK Financial Corporation (BOKF) as its new moniker.

In 1997, Williams announced that they would be selling their interest in the building and moving on to working on other projects. It was at this time that the BOK tower was renamed to its current name, “Bank of Oklahoma Tower”. It was then used as the office space for BOK Financial Corporation’s employees.

Many locals still refer to the building as the Williams Tower. Many even remember its original name, One Williams Center. Yet the name, BOK tower has remained in place since 1997. It remains to be seen if it will once again switch owners and get another new name!

Banking on the Future

Since the tower’s opening, it has been a fixture of Tulsa and its architecture is easily identifiable. It was once described as being “as central to Tulsa as the Tulsa International Airport“. With its distinctive design and interesting history, this building is an important part of not only Oklahoma but also American architectural history.

Over the decades it has been a site for thousands of employees to come and work, as well as welcomed visitors who have traveled from all over to get a look at this amazing building. It is truly something that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime.

Without question, this building is one of Tulsa’s most well-known structures – and for good reason. It is a masterpiece of modern architecture and you will not find many other buildings like it in Oklahoma.

Is The BOK Tower An Exact Replica Of The WTC?

At 52 stories and 667 feet tall, the BOK Tower is almost exactly a half-size replica of the Twin Towers, both of which had 110 stories and measured 1,362 and 1,368 feet tall.

The construction of the BOK also mirrored that of the Twin Towers, with steel perimeter columns and straight vertical lines. The interior reveals further parallels, from the bi-level lobby to the marble walls and even the wall hangings.

So while it is not a replica of the World Trade Center, the similarities are striking and of course, now- harrowing.

How is the BOK Tower Connected To 9/11?

On September 11th, 2001, employees of the BOK tower watched in horror as the Twin Towers fell to the ground. In the deadliest terrorist attack in US history, 2,996 people were killed.

The BOK Tower was only seven years old at the time of this attack and employees who watched in fear on that fateful day will never forget it.

With the BOK tower being an almost replica of the now fallen towers, the event was extra frightening for those who work inside. For some, the Tulsa tower offers a beautiful tribute to those who died that day. For others, it is a painful reminder of the buildings that fell and killed thousands.

How Has The BOK Tower Changed Through Time?

Since its opening, the BOK Tower has undergone many changes and updates. The first was a downtown renovation project, which wrapped up in 2008. This included the installation of fiber optics and Ethernet connections, as well as electrical service for future tenants.

The second major update to the tower was an expansion made in 2010, which added 50,000 square feet of office space to the top four floors. This brought it a total of 667,000 square feet.

The most recent update to the tower was in 2015 when it became BOK’s official headquarters. With over 500 employees, this move allowed the building to continue its life as a center for finance and business in Oklahoma.

How Many People Work in The BOK Tower Today?

The tower currently houses over 500 employees, including those from BOK Financial Corporation and Bank of Oklahoma. Other notable tenants include the US District Court for Northern Oklahoma, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, and a regional office for JP Morgan Chase.

In summary, the BOK tower has made its mark on Tulsa’s skyline and it will be around for many years to come. It is an iconic structure that reflects both the unique character of Tulsa and its place in history. If you are ever in the area, it is worth a stop.

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