Bartlesville, Phillips, and Price


Bartlesville, Oklahoma is a small city of about 60,000 people, 47 miles north of Tulsa.  It was incorporated in January 1897 at the edge of the Osage Reservation in Indian Territory.  Nellie Johnstone No. 1, the first commercial oil well in Indian Territory, was drilled nearby in April of that same year.  The Phillips Petroleum Company (now part of ConocoPhillips) was founded there in 1917, as well as other petroleum industry companies over the decades.

Frank Phillips (1873–1950) was born in Nebraska and spent most of his childhood in Iowa.  As a young man, he sold bonds in New England and the Midwest for a bank operated by his father-in-law John Gibson.  In 1903 he made his first trip to Bartlesville, and started Anchor Oil & Gas with Gibson and his brother Lee Phillips.  They drilled several wells — some dry — but finally a gusher, and eventually Anchor had eighty producing wells.  In 1905, Frank formed the separate Lewcinda Oil Company with brother Waite Phillips, and Citizens Bank and Trust.  After the United States entered the First World War and oil prices rose to $1 per barrel, the various companies were consolidated into Phillips Petroleum.  Frank Phillips remained president until 1939, then served as chairman of the board until 1949.  The company merged with Conoco in 2002.

The Frank Phillips home in Bartlesville was built in 1909, with renovations and additions in 1917 and 1930.

Henry C. Price opened a welding shop in Bartlesville in 1921, soon specializing in oil storage tanks.  In time, the H.C. Price Company became a major international pipeline contractor.

In the early 1950’s, Price commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design new corporate headquarters in Bartlesville.  Price asked for a three- or four-story building, but eventually agreed to a mixed-use tower with retail, offices and apartments.  At nineteen stories, it is one of only two Wright skyscrapers actually constructed (the other is the fourteen-story Johnson Wax Research Tower in Racine, Wisconsin).  The distinctive cantilevered pinwheel design began in the 1920’s as a proposal for four apartment towers in New York City, but the Great Depression stopped the project.  Decades later, Wright dusted off the old plans and illustrations and finally finished this one tower in 1955.

In 1981, the H.C. Price Company relocated to Dallas, and sold the tower to Phillips Petroleum.  The exterior stairs were deemed a safety hazard by company lawyers, so the building sat mostly empty until a renovation in 2000.  It is now the Price Tower Arts Center and once again multi-use with a museum, hotel, restaurant, and other tenants.