A February 2004 trip
to Bartlesville by ssullivan
Quote: Incredible architecture, outstanding restaurants, interesting historical sites, and a great performing arts community all await you in this sleepy Northern Oklahoma prairie town of only 35,000 people.
I spent five days in Bartlesville, an old oil field town an hour's drive north of Tulsa, in February 2004 as part of an early retirement program my company was conducting for one of our corporate clients. While not a big city, Bartlesville has benefited from the headquarters of the Phillips Petroleum Corporation being located here in a downtown corporate campus since the early twentieth century. While Phillips has since merged with Conoco, the company still has a very large presence here, resulting in an extremely attractive and economically healthy downtown area. The blocks around the Phillips offices are filled with a number of very good restaurants and nice locally owned shops. On the edge of downtown is the unique Price Tower, a nineteen story building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the HC Price Company. The tower now houses an art museum, fine restaurant, and boutique hotel and is one of the city's top attractions. Adjacent to the Price Tower is the Bartlesville Community Center, an outstanding performing arts center housing the city's ballet, symphony, and dramatic performance companies. Other attractions include the historic Frank Phillips mansion and Woolaroc, Phillips's ranch located outside of town. Overall, Bartlesville provides an amazing number of opportunities for a city of its size.
Hotel | "Holiday Inn Bartlesville"
I was booked at the Holiday Inn because my company was doing an early retirement workshop for a client in Bartlesville in this hotel's meeting space. However, I quickly found myself wishing I had insisted on staying at one of the nicer, newer properties up the street.
At the time I checked in, I was given a key that did not work. After two trips back to the front desk I finally had a key that worked, only to have it not work on the second day of my visit because the clerk from check-in had activated the key for only one night. This was not the only issue with the hotel. My room had an air conditioner/heater unit with a broken thermostat. During my five day February visit the temperature rarely got above 35 degrees outside. Because the heater would not cycle on and off properly, the room alternated between freezing cold (no heat) and blazing hot (heat that would not shut off) all night. Each time the room got too warm I would have to get up and adjust the thermostat so the heater would shut off. Within an hour or two the temperature would have dropped and I'd be back up turning the heat back on to eliminate the chill. This did not make for a comfortable rest. I requested another room only to find out that there were no other rooms on the first floor available, and the elevator had not worked in weeks. I was not in the mood to haul two suitcases and several smaller bags up the stairs so I just lived with the heat issue. Additionally, the beds were extremely uncomfortable, the restaurant had a very limited menu with almost nonexistant service and barely acceptable food, and the towels were thin and worn.
On the plus side, my room and bathroom were extremely clean.
If I were going back to Bartlesville, and price was not an issue, I would opt for the nicer, boutique-style Inn at Price Tower or Phillips Hotel. If looking for a national chain hotel or something more affordable, the Hampton Inn just up the street appeared to be newer and better maintained. No matter what, I would not stay in this Holiday Inn location because of the poor service and multiple unresolved maintenance issues. It was obvious that the hotel's staff and management were not overly concerned about resolving these problems.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on July 28, 2004
La Quinta Inn Bartlesville
1410 SE WASHINGTON BLVD
Bartlesville, Oklahoma 74006
I stopped in this little European-styled tearoom downtown for lunch one day during my trip. The restaurant is owned by a European immigrant family and features a menu of sandwiches, salads, soups, and European specialties. A selection of pastries and desserts is also available.
My lunch was a chicken salad sandwich and vegetable soup. Both were delicious. The sandwich was very fresh and did not taste like the chicken salad was served out of a carton from a foodservice company. Likewise, the soup had a homemade taste that cannot come from a frozen or canned stock. Despite having a new server who was still a little unfamiliar with the menu and the restaurant's procedures, service was attentive and the owner stopped by my table a couple of times to make sure things were fine. I chose one of the dessert selections of the day and have since forgotten what it was but remember that it was very good. Overall, I would recommend this quaint European-style cafe for its fresh, delicious food, friendly service, and very reasonable prices.
Additional information: Taste of Europe is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. Breakfast is served on Saturdays only. Closed on Sundays.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 28, 2004
Taste of Europe
310 Dewey Avenue
Bartlesville, Oklahoma 74003
Restaurant | "Aromas Italian Restaurant"
Aromas was recommended by a group of women dining at the table next to mine when I visited Copper, the restaurant in the historic Price Tower. On the last night of my trip to Bartlesville, I decided to visit this downtown Italian eatery, and I was not disappointed in my choice.
Aromas is one of several downtown Bartlesville restaurants in old storefronts. On the Friday night I went there, the restaurant was very busy, but I had only a short wait to get a table for one. Several nights a week, the restaurant features live music; I was told that on some evenings a local jazz singer entertains there. On the night of my visit, a pianist provided nice background music of popular standards and Broadway showtunes. The atmosphere of the restaurant is very nice, and even with the large number of patrons and the music, the noise level was not bad. A number of tables are in semi-private booths, providing a nice romantic setting for couples.
The menu at Aromas is typical Italian, with a nice selection of more upscale, innovative dishes in additional to the traditional favorites. There is also a pretty extensive wine list and a full bar. I enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine, fresh Italian salad, and an excellent chicken entrée served with a small side of pasta with marinara sauce. For dessert, I selected the outstanding Italian crème cake, which was moist, full of fresh nuts and topped with a delicious cream cheese frosting.
The service was flawless and very attentive. My water of glass never went completely dry, and refills of wine were provided from the bar very quickly. My waiter was attentive and checked back regularly to make sure everything was up to my satisfaction, but did so in an unobtrusive manner.
Additional information: Aromas is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday and is closed on Sundays.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 28, 2004
322 S Johnstone Avenue
Bartlesville, Oklahoma 74003
Restaurant | "Vardeli's"
Vardelli's is located in a shopping center off of US 75/Washington Blvd., the main "drag" in Bartlesville. The restaurant features good, although not outstanding, Italian fare. I chose the lasagna, which came with a salad. Both were good, although not the best I've ever had. I also ordered a piece of cheesecake to go and took it back to my hotel room to enjoy later in the evening. As with my entree, the dessert was very good, but not quite excellent. The service was fast and friendly. Overall, for the affordable prices and good food and service, Vardelli's is a good choice. While I found the Italian food and atmosphere at Aromas downtown to be more upscale, Vardelli's is a good choice, especially for families, and is very conveniently located to a number of the city's hotels.
528 SE Washington Blvd.
Bartlesville, Oklahoma 74006
Restaurant | "Copper Restaurant+Bar"
Copper Restaurant+Bar opened in 2003 with the Inn at Price Tower (see the journal entries on the Price Tower for more information). The restaurant spans two upper floors of the unique Frank Lloyd Wright skyscraper and is accessible by elevators in the tower's lobby.
Copper aims to bring upscale, somewhat trendy fine dining to Bartlesville, and overall it lives up to its ambition. The restaurant is very small, in part due to the fact that it is forced to fit into Price Tower's unusual floorplan without any major changes to Frank Lloyd Wright's design. However, this has resulted in the dining areas being separated into several small, intimate dining rooms, which add to the place's overall atmosphere.
I visited Copper for dinner and selected the outstanding pesto salmon. Entrees are served with a wedge salad (a wedge of romaine lettuce topped with a tasty bleu cheese dressing) and potato. The salmon was accompanied by very good whipped red skin potatoes and julienne carrots. My only complaint was the service was fairly slow. This is apparently an ongoing issue at Copper, mainly due to the tiny kitchen facilities. However, I was not in a hurry and the food was worth the wait. The extra time was made more enjoyable to the company of a group of women two tables down and two men at the table next to mine. We all arrived at about the same time and before long all of us were involved in conversation together, despite the fact we were seated at different tables. This was by far the best meal I ate during the trip, as well as the most expensive. However, the food was comparable to that served at many big city fine restaurants, and priced at a much lower price than I would have expected to pay for this quality at home in Houston.
The restaurant's website states that the kitchen is able to accomodate special dietary requests, including low fat, restricted, and vegetarian. This is definitely a plus, as I did not see very many vegetarian dining options at other restaurants in town.
Copper Restaurant & Bar
510 S Dewey Avenue
Bartlesville, Oklahoma 74003
Hours: Gallery and gift shop:
Tues-Sat: 10am-5pm; Sun: 12:30pm-5pm; closed on Monday.
Guided tours are at 11am and 2pm (Tues-Sat)and 2pm (Sun.)
Admission: Guided tours:
$8 adults, $5 seniors and children 16 and under.
gallery only, $4 adults, $3 seniors. Children 16 and under: free.
For more on the history of this building, see the free form, "The History of the Price Tower," in this journal.
Arguably one of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright's crowning achievements, the 19-story Price Tower at first glance appears grossly out of place. After all, why would anyone build a skyscraper in a city of less than 40,000 people? Furthermore, the building's highly unusual exterior appearance made it the butt of many jokes during its construction in the mid 1950s. However, for fans of modern architecture and Frank Lloyd Wright, this structure is a true work of art.
After serving as the headquarters of the HC Price Company, then as an office and storage building for the Phillips Petroleum Corporation, today the Price Tower has been given a new lease on life as the Price Tower Arts Center. Now owned and managed by a non-profit foundation, the tower houses an art museum, gift shop, restaurant, and hotel. Additionally, guided tours of the tower are given six days a week. While the public areas and exhibit halls on the lower floors, and the restaurant allow visitors to experience much of Wright's design, the tour is the only way to see the one of the tower's apartments as originally designed, along with the former executive offices of the Price Company. I highly recommend taking a guided tour because otherwise you will miss far too many of the unique details of the building. Be warned that the elevators in the tower are tiny and the tour includes some steep, narrow staircases. If you are claustrophobic this may be a problem. You may also want to call ahead for a tour reservation. On the Saturday in February that I visited, I was able to get into the afternoon tour group only because I was alone, and this was nearly an hour before the tour started. Tour groups are kept small because of the tight spaces on the upper floors of the tower and the elevators.
A few items not to miss during your visit:
Price Tower Arts Center
510 Dewey Avenue
Bartlesville, Oklahoma 74003
Opened in 1956, the Price Tower is arguably one of Frank Lloyd Wright's
greatest architectural achievements. The tower is his tallest constructed building and was described by Wright as a "tree that escaped
the crowded forest" because the tower dominates the small town skyline of Bartlesville like a tall tree in the middle of a treeless prairie. This amazing structure was based on an earlier design for a mixed-use office and apartment tower conceived for New York City that was never built. When Harold C. Price, founder of Bartlesville's HC Price Company, was looking to build a new headquarters building for his firm, his son convinced him to commission Wright to design the building. Initially Price envisioned a two- or three-story office building. But Frank Lloyd Wright had a different vision in mind. Instead, Wright recycled and updated his design for the never-built St. Mark's in the Bowery building and then convinced Price to build a tower instead. This was not a unique experience; toward the end of Wright's career a number of earlier designs he considered significant that had not been built were adapted and sold to new commissions. Fortunately, for all of us Wright fans, the famed architect was able to convince Price to expand his vision for a new headquarters building and build the tower. HC Price was so sold on the idea that the budget for the new headquarters building was greatly increased in order to cover the incredible expense of building Wright's design. At the time of its construction, the Price Tower was one of the most expensive buildings ever built on a cost per square foot basis. Like all of Wright's other buildings, all of the interior furnishings were custom-designed and manufactured specifically for the tower. However, because of the building's tiny elevators, much of the furniture had to be either lifted by crane into the the building before the exterior was completed or constructed in place on each floor.
The tower is constructed of reinforced concrete cantilevered from a central
core. All of the tower's support is provided by the four elevator shafts in the center of the building, with the exterior copper and glass elements suspended from the concrete floors. This cantilevered design is evident from the tower's southwest corner. Standing outside of the building, you can see that the soutwest corner of the tower has nothing under it but air! Copper louvers on the exterior of the building shade the gold-tinted windows and provide much of the tower's distinctive facade. Wright's concept for the building always included the copper having been weathered to a deep green
color, so at the time of construction, the exterior copper elements were chemically treated to "age" them. Legend has it that Frank Lloyd Wright knew he would not live long enough to see the copper weather to the green color he envisioned, so he had the construction crews chemically alter the copper before installation so that he would be able to see his masterpiece as he envisioned it.
Besides its unusual design and stunning artistic features, the Price Tower was a landmark concept in the way it combined office and residential space. Each floor of the tower was designed to house offices and one residential apartment. At the time the tower opened, the Price Company occupied much of the office space. The apartments were rented to local residents, although residents often found the design and built-in furniture difficult to live with. On the lower floors, other businesses, including a dress and beauty shop, and a local utility
company, leased space from the Price Company. Over the years the Price Company
grew to need additional space and took over all of the tower. Eventually the Price Company moved its headquarters from Bartlesville, and the tower was sold
to Phillips Petroleum, also based in Bartlesville. Phillips also used the building for office space but found that Wright's design was not suited to the needs of a modern corporation, and eventually the building fell into the unglamorous role
of being used for file storage. However, a concerned group of Bartlesville residents formed a non-profit foundation to preserve Wright's masterpiece and install an art museum in the building's lower floors. Eventually the Phillips Corporation donated the tower to this group and the Price Tower Arts Center was born.
Today the tower is operated as a historical landmark, art museum, restaurant,
and hotel. In 2003 a renovation of some of the upper floors turned a number of
the original apartment and office spaces into the Inn at Price Tower, featuring
21 guest rooms and suites, and Copper Restaurant+Bar (see review in this journal), an upscale restaurant and bar. The renovated areas feature a modern design that is integrated very well with Wright's original designs, and great care was taken not to alter the building's floor plan and layout except when absolutely necessary. Just as the original apartments and offices featured furniture designed specifically for them by Frank Lloyd Wright, furnishings for the
hotel rooms and restaurants were all custom-designed to fit into the original elements of the building and were built on site. The new furnishings are very effective in complimenting, but not detracting from, Wright's original architectural elements. In addition to the hotel and restaurant, guided tours of the tower are given six days a week. There is also a permanent exhibit
featuring original pieces of furniture from the building and the Price family's Bartlesville home (also designed by Wright but not publicly accessible), a gift shop, and an exhibition area with rotating and traveling art exhibitions.
While the Price Tower is seemingly out of place in a relatively small city like Bartlesville, its location may have been its saving grace. Had the tower been constructed in New York as originally envisioned, it very likely might have fallen victim to the wrecking ball at some point due to the structure's odd and inflexible design. However, by being built in Bartlesville, where land is not at a premium, when the tower began to exceed its useful life, it was left virtually deserted rather than being torn down. And for people like me who greatly admire Frank Lloyd Wright's work, it is a unique treasure definitely worth making a trip to visit.
Monday, February 2, 2004
Flew to Tulsa on Continental Airlines. This was the day after the Super Bowl in Houston, so security lines at the airport were ridiculously long. I was glad I arrived at the airport nearly three hours before my flight departed, because by the time I parked the car, took a shuttle to the terminal, checked in, and waited in line, I entered Terminal E only 50 minutes before my departure. I had just enough time to grab a quick bite to eat in the food court before boarding. The flight was very full but Continental's service was up the usual high standards. After arriving in Tulsa I picked up the rental car from Avis and headed for Bartlesville, about an hour away. After arriving I met up with my employers who were finishing up a workshop at the Holiday Inn. I checked into the hotel and after several problems with my key was finally able to get into my room. Ate an average Chinese dinner at Ocean China. Went to bed early because I had a long day of work ahead of me the next day.
Tuesday, February 3, 2004
Spent the day counseling employees of our client at their location. Had a nice lunch at Taste of Europe. After work dinner was at Vardelli's, an Italian restaurant located near my hotel on the "main drag."
Wednesday, February 4, 2004
Another day at work. Heavy snow was predicted to start by noon, which it did. The snow fell nonstop for about eight hours, blanketing the city in a beautiful layer of white. Enjoyed a fabulous dinner at Copper in the Price Tower and enjoyed my first glimpse at the building's interior.
Thursday, February 5, 2004
Worked all day and decided to get a fast dinner at my hotel's restaurant so I could get back to my room early and watch a movie on HBO. I should have opted for takeout from a local restaurant or had a pizza delivered; the hamburger from the Holiday Inn was not very good, and sadly, looked like the best option on the very limited menu.
Friday, February 6, 2004
The last full day of work on the trip. Had a very good dinner at Aromas Italian Cafe downtown. It had been recommended by the group of women I met at Copper two nights before.
Saturday, February 7, 2004
Finally the last two client appointments of the trip! After working Saturday morning I decided to spend the afternoon seeing some of the local sights before heading back to Tulsa. My flight home wasn't scheduled until Sunday morning because my original schedule had me finishing work a little too late to get on the last Continental flight back to Houston on Saturday. Fortunately the schedule had changed and I no longer had to work Saturday afternoon. After my last meeting I rushed back to the hotel to change clothes and check out, then drove out to Woolaroc, the former country home and ranch of Frank Phillips, founder of the Phillips Petroleum Corporation. The site is now a wildlife refuge, cultural center, and museum with a restaurant serving lunch on the weekends. I had planned to see the museum and have lunch at Woolaroc, but after getting out to the site I realized I did not have any cash to pay the car entry fee and they did not accept credit cards. So I drove back into town to an ATM and decided to catch Woolaroc on a later trip. Had a decent barbecue lunch at Dink's, then headed for the Price Tower Arts Center in time for the 2:00 tour. The tour was almost fully booked when I arrived about 1:00 but they were able to get me in since I was by myself. I spent the next hour browsing their gift shop and exhibit halls. When 2:00 came around I spent the next hour or so on a great tour of this amazing building. After the tour I purchased a few items in the gift shop and walked around the exterior taking photos. Afterwards I considered visiting the historic Phillips mansion a few blocks away, but decided to head on back toward Tulsa instead. On the way out of town I noticed a park with a frozen lake where a flock of migrating Canadian geese had stopped. I pulled into the park and took several pictures of the geese, then got on the road to Tulsa, calling my mother to tell her about the geese and the Price Tower. She has a fascination with Canadian geese and was quite excited to hear of my experience of seeing several hundred of them in the snow and on the frozen lake in the park. After arriving in Tulsa I checked into my usual hotel for business travel there, the Hilton Garden Inn at the airport. I then set out to find a house listed in my Frank Lloyd Wright building catalog I had purchased at the Price Tower. After finding the house, I went to the mall to shop a little and then had a Mexican dinner at El Chico before heading back to the hotel for the night.
Sunday, February 8, 2004
Got up early, had a fast breakfast at the hotel, checked out, and drove the half mile to the airport terminal to return the car and check in for my flight home. Again the flight was totally full, which I found surprising for a Sunday morning. An hour and a half after takeoff I was back home in Houston, with a couple of days to get ready for my next trip.
District of Columbia County, District of Columbia