The vast majority of the relatives we find as we do our genealogy hobby are good, steady folks, who worked hard but didn't leave much of an Midwest Equitable Meter building impression on the larger world. Every now and then, though, we discover someone surprising. In Tulsa, we learned about Bruce Alonzo Goff and, in the process, discovered a famous Tulsa dispute.
Tulsa experienced a growth boom in the 1920s. Art Deco was a popular style at the time; the tourist literature includes driving tours of the remaining buildings in Art Deco style, which is one of our own favorites. We began to read the list, and immediately encountered the name of Bruce Alonzo Goff, a common surname in our family, because great aunt Anna married a Goff. Well, Bruce has turned out to be a nephew of Anna's husband, and thus a first cousin once removed of some of our Goff cousins.
Bruce Goff was a child prodigy, with an immense artistic talent, and no formal education after high school. (Artistic skill must have run in Dace House, Beaver, Oklahoma the family, because another cousin, Howard Benson Goff, worked closely with Walt Disney on the design of Disneyland). In any case, he was apprenticed part-time to the firm of Rush, Endacott and Rush, of Tulsa, at the tender age of 12. He corresponded with Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, who advised him not to attend architecture school because it might spoil his natural talent.. In 1929 he became a partner in his firm, but he did not remain long thereafter in Tulsa. He was in Chicago during the Depression, teaching part time at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, while composing "piano music of a radically different order."
Bruce Goff enlisted in the Navy and designed military buildings for the Navy as well as homes for some of his Navy colleagues. But he left the Navy before the war was out, and by 1943 was Chairman of the School of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma, while continuing his private practice. Bavinger House, Norman, Oklahoma
In 1955, still in his prime at age 51, he moved to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Price Tower in Bartlesville, where he continued to develop his artistic reputation as an unconventional free spirit of considerable architectural fame. The Bavinger House in Norman, Oklahoma, is one of Goff's wildest designs. As he continued to develop, his style embodied Asian influences, and his last project was the Pavilion for Japanese Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. His entire estate, consisting of two hundred boxes of paintings, architectural designs, musical compositions, photographs, and ephemera, is in the possession of the Art Institute of Chicago, which made Goff the subject of a life perspective in 1995.
Tulsa Art Deco listed some dozen buildings designed by Goff in the 1920s, so we decided to visit as many of those buildings as we can. The Guaranty Laundry building exhibits long straight lines of brick that stand out from the facade of the building, highly reminiscent of Wright's Boston Avenue Methodist Church rectilinear designs. A number of Goff's Tulsa designs show a playful use of upward-pointing triangles, looking for all the world like ears sticking up.
But the controversy turned up when we discovered that Goff had apparently designed what we think is the most beautiful building in Tulsa -- the Boston Avenue Methodist Church. The soaring central tower of this building is a Tulsa landmark, about 150 feet high, and with a graceful airiness that might be called modern gothic, yet with a decidedly art deco motif in the decorations. We photographed the church from outside, then found our way in, and toured and photographed the interior. Finding an elevator near the tower we pushed "14" hoping to see the view from the top, Church front but when the elevator stopped the pastor got on (we're pretty sure he was the head man). When we mentioned the name of Bruce Goff, he told us -- in no uncertain terms -- that the Church takes the point of view that the design of the church was basically the work of Dr. Adah Robinson, at that time a high school art teacher, and later an art professor at the university and that Goff was essentially nothing but a young boy, a student, untrained, working as a draftsman for the "engineering" firm of Rush, Endacott and Rush to deal with the structural details of the construction. The pastor went on to explain that Goff became head of the School of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma, where he told all his students that he had designed the church, thereby discrediting Robinson.
We thanked the pastor for putting us straight, and returned to the internet to see if we could unearth any more details. One point was clear: Adah Robinson's residence on South Owasso Avenue was designed by Bruce Goff, and Dr. Robinson herself would probably have objected to Goff's being so strongly put down by the Church elders. The church was designed about 1926, and completed in 1929, the year that Goff was made a partner. Adah Robinson's home by Goff By 1929 Goff had been working for the firm for 13 years, and had dozens of building designs to his credit. Certainly the description of him as a young draftsman is highly uncharitable and does not recognize the professional standing he had already obtained. A number of architectural websites are aware of the controversy. The firm of Rush, Endacott, and Rush is universally recognized as an architectural firm, rather than simply engineering draftsmen.
We enjoyed the delicious venom of the controversy; no fights are as sharply cutting as competitions for status and fame. It would appear that there was plenty of room for both participants to be credited for the design of the church. It seems to us that the church -- where charity should be practiced -- is extremely uncharitable to Goff, whose name is shown nowhere inside the building or out.