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Bringing the Past to the Present: Breathing New Life into Historic Buildings

Remembering the past can help us to better understand the present and prepare for the future. Buildings are a snapshot of the time in which they were constructed, and some buildings hold significant historical value either because of the architectural style, the time period of its construction, or the events that took place there.


Historical renovation projects walk the line between progress and preservation. At Ross Group, we believe that every building has a story to tell, and it is the responsibility of the project team to understand and honor that narrative. While it is important to look to the future use of the building and ensure it complies with modern codes, this must be done while maintaining historical integrity.


This balance is reached through careful planning and coordination between the developer, design team, construction company, and a preservation consultant. Together this team will navigate the requirements of the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), and National Parks Service (NPS) to ensure the building achieves the vision of the entire team. A three-part approach is used to plan a historic renovation.


  1. Identify the time period of significance.

  2. Identify the historical fabric of the building from the identified period of significance, then submit initial design and construction plans to SHPO and NPS.

  3. Finalize plans using SHPO’s and NPS’s conditions for how the work must be completed to ensure historic elements are preserved.


Once the design is finalized, the construction team can proceed with the renovation.


Each project and building require a different level of restoration or replication depending on existing conditions and the intended use of the building. The renovation of the Tulsa Club illustrates the specific challenges and nuances of breathing new life into a historic building while protecting and even highlighting its historical identity.


 

The Tulsa Club, originally constructed in 1927 to serve as the social epicenter for Tulsa’s elite, is an architectural gem. It was designed by Bruce Goff and is one of Tulsa’s best examples of Art Deco architecture. The opulent facility featured an ornate mosaic fireplace, indoor recreation areas, and the crown jewel of the facility — a grand ballroom with a two-story ceiling.


Over time, the extravagant architectural design went out of fashion, and the facility deteriorated severely. The Club was officially dissolved in 1994 and the building changed ownership a number of times before being repossessed by the City of Tulsa in 2010. During the years of vacancy, the grand ballroom suffered fires on two separate occasions, resulting in significant damage.


In 2015, Ross Group teamed with public stakeholders and private developers to renovate the building, restoring it while maintaining as much of the original architectural integrity as possible. Encompassing the entirety of the 11-story, 92,000 sq. ft. building, the design-build renovation repurposed the high rise to serve as a boutique hotel. The first and second floors accommodate the hotel lobby, restaurant, and bar. Floors three through eight consist of 96 unique, modern hotel guest rooms with 30 different room configurations. The ninth and tenth floors feature the restored grand ballroom and mezzanine, while the top floor serves as event space with a large outdoor terrace.


The finishes provide a sense of modern luxury, while highlighting many historical architectural details of the original building. The existing terrazzo flooring and marble-clad elevator lobbies were restored.


To restore this historic building, Ross Group and Rosin Preservation, the historical consultant, coordinated with the NPS and SHPO. Through research and multiple building surveys, the team identified unique historic elements of the building that needed to be replicated, restored, or refurbished. Based on those findings, Ross Group and Lilly Architects began the design process that not only preserved those historic architectural elements, but also called new attention to them.


In the ballroom, the fires had damaged the plaster walls, ceilings, and decorative motifs at the ends of the room. Ross Group worked with Green Country Interiors to recreate the historic “waterfall” detail with plaster that went up the outer walls and traversed the ceiling. This detail was a major focus for the SHPO, as it was critical to Goff’s theme throughout the building. Additionally, the motifs located on either end were molded, recreated, and new panels were cast to restore the original look of the grand ballroom.


 

A specific challenge in this project, and many historic renovations for that matter, was incorporating new utilities into an existing space without reconfiguring the layout of the building. In the Tulsa Club building, each floor had a different layout, increasing the challenge of stacking utilities from the first to the 11th floor. There was very little space in the walls and between floors to run the new infrastructure. This specifically impacted the new HVAC system, which consisted of heat pumps to serve the guest rooms, packaged roof top air handling units for the upper floors, and a variable refrigerant flow system for the hotel corridors and public spaces.


If you visit the Tulsa Club hotel, dine at the Chamber restaurant, or grab a drink from the bar, you can see the pictures of its original grandeur. Visit and witness the full effect of how this building, after falling into disrepair, was brought back to life to once again be a place of gathering and celebration.


Historical preservation and restoration in commercial construction is about more than just preserving old buildings; it’s about preserving memories and heritage for future generations. By renovating and restoring these historical facilities, Ross Group ensures that they once again become vibrant parts of our communities that continue to inspire and delight for generations to come.

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