Michael Overall: When Bruce Goff designed a home for Adah Robinson, they made Tulsa history | Local News

Driving aimlessly to find a new place to live, Thomas Thixton spotted a small Art Deco house overlooking Tracy Park east of downtown Tulsa. He recognized it immediately.

Thixton had studied architecture under Bruce Goff at the University of Oklahoma. And that little house, many years earlier, had been one of the first steps in Goff’s legendary career.

There were no signs for sale that day in 1974. But Thixton sent his secretary to knock on the door anyway and ask the owners if they would accept an offer.

He moved in four days later.

At just 1,400 square feet, it wasn’t Goff’s largest home or his most innovative. It wasn’t even Goff’s first home, though he was barely out of high school when he designed it. But it helped propel him to worldwide fame.

He designed it for Adah Robinson, who had been Goff’s art teacher at Central High School before graduating in 1922. At first Robinson just wanted a sort of “day villa” with a small studio where she could exhibit her art, according to the Tulsa World Archives.

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But as the design took shape and Robinson was more and more impressed with it, she decided to live there, which meant adding a small two-burner kitchen to the back of the house.

She slept upstairs where a balcony overlooks a double-height studio, which has a built-in fireplace surrounded by a built-in bench, forming a semi-circle on one side of the room.

It is said that Robinson hosted intellectual “salons” where local artists gathered around the fire to discuss culture and politics. And gossip. An invitation to “Adah’s house” meant you were “in”.

Goff historians date the design to 1923, although some local sources suggest the house was not completed until 1927, which overlaps with Robinson’s work on the Boston United Methodist Church building committee Ave.

Robinson herself submitted concept plans for the new church before the committee engaged a professional architect in June 1926.

The church, completed in 1929, has become one of Tulsa’s most iconic landmarks, an Art Deco masterpiece with a 250-foot tower and elaborate carvings depicting figures from Methodist history.

Goff, who was only 25 at the time, achieved international fame for his design. Western Architect magazine even described him as “the voice of the 20th century”. And Goff became one of the most famous architects of his generation, mentioned in the same breath as Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Robinson, however, always insisted that she deserved credit for the design of the church. And some people say she temporarily left Tulsa in 1945 because she was frustrated with the lack of recognition.

A similar controversy persists in the house. Did Goff simply turn Robinson’s vision into construction drawings? Or did he take his ideas as a starting point and create his own work?

Joseph Koberling, another well-known Tulsa architect, also helped design the house, according to local sources.

Thixton, having lived there for 48 years, knows the house better than anyone. What does he think?

“It’s 100% Bruce Goff,” he said. “Without a doubt. The guy is brimming with talent, and you can see how well thought out this house is. There’s some Goff on it.

The Adah Robinson home, 1119 S. Owasso Ave., will soon go up for sale while Thixton, now 90, moves into an assisted living facility. And the Tulsa Architectural Foundation will be offering tours Saturday from noon to 4 p.m., offering a very rare chance to see inside this piece of local history.

Tickets will sell for $15 in advance at tulsaarchitecture.org.

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