Two pretty big things, actually, which is surprising, considering one is the funky heart of our nation’s largest city, while the other is a ‘city’ of 36,000 in pretty sparsely-populated northeastern Oklahoma. And we’re betting that depending upon your areas of interest, while you may know one surprising connection between the two places, you probably don’t know both.
If you’re a Frank Lloyd Wright fan, you probably know that there was once a very serious proposal to build a series of towers designed by the master architect in the East Village. Four tall towers commissioned by St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery Church were to be built on properties bordering the historic church, designed by Wright. According to The New York Times, in a 1929 article entitled, “Odd-Type Buildings to Overlook Church”:
Four large apartments, with abutments giving the buildings the appearance of inverted cones, in direct contrast with the setback idea now usually employed, will be built shortly, overlooking the church grounds, on land now occupied by old dwellings and tenements, Warren Matthews, a representative of the church body explained.”
Ultimately that pesky Depression interfered with the Wrightian plans, and the towers were not to be.
According to a church official in 1929, St. Mark’s was interested in surrounding the church “with as much beauty and charm as possible.” Based upon Wright’s Usonian vision, the design of the apartment towers was an organic “tap-root” structural system with a central load-bearing core rooted to the below grade bedrock. Floor plates with duplex apartments rotated axially and cantilevered from the core, like branches of a tree, and stepped out slightly in increments as they rose up the tower. This structural system allowed for the support of a modulated glass curtain wall and the omission of load-bearing interior partitions. As stated by the Architectural Record at the time, “In this project, Frank Lloyd Wright realizes some of the most advanced aims professed by European architects, without attendant anomalies. The uninterrupted, glass window is achieved without either unprotected steel or rooms cluttered with interior posts.” Of course, as was typical of Wright’s residential designs, it included fixed-in-place prefabricated furniture designed by Wright himself.
So what’s the connection to Bartlesville, OK? Although the St. Mark’s project was never realized, you can more or less see what it would have looked like, or at least what one of the towers would have looked like (albeit in a very different setting), as the design concept was employed thirty years later in Wright’s H.C. Price Company Tower, in Bartlesvile.
So what’s the other connection between these two otherwise very different locales?
If you’re a devotee of Native American history, then you probably know that Manhattan, including what is now the East Village, was once populated by the Lenape Indians. But even more specifically, the area where St. Mark’s Church is, and the Wright towers were to be located, was a particularly significant place for the Lenape. This was the site of what they called Kintecoying, or “Crossroads of Three Nations,” as it was the central meeting ground of the three different Lenape nations of Lower Manhattan, who spoke three different languages; it was where their three trails converged, and where leaders from each group would meet to discuss issues, trade, and play games (read more here).
If you know Native American history, then no doubt you also know that the Lenape were forced to relocate from their land by the United States government, moving first to Ohio, and then further west.
Where did they eventually end up? Believe it or not, they are now largely based in Bartletsville, OK, following their forced relocation to the Oklahoma Territory in 1867. Thus Wright’s vision for his taproot-inspired building followed nearly the same path as the Lenape before him.