Buildings in the National Register of Historic Places

Atlas Life Building

415 South Boston Avenue  (map it)

Built: 1922

Atlas Life Building

The Atlas Life Building is a twelve-story, flat-roofed structure of Classical Revival design. The building is seven bays wide at the base, narrowing to three bays at the third floor. The building was designed by Rush Endacott Rush, Architects, a firm well-known for designs of other important Tulsa buildings.

The ground floor occupies the entire property boundary, which is 100’ x 140’. The second story is configured as an upside down "T", with full frontage on Boston Avenue. Floors three through twelve are rectangular, 50’ x 140’, therefore stepped in but centered on the footprint of the building base. The reduced floor space on the upper ten floors allows for exterior windows on the north and south fašades for light and air space between the Philtower and Mid-Continent buildings.

Founded in Tulsa in 1918, Atlas Life Insurance Company was the first life insurance company based in the city and only the third such firm in Oklahoma. The company grew fast, so fast that within three years it had started construction of its own building to add to the Tulsa skyline, and on November 23, 1922, the new building celebrated its grand opening with an elaborate dedication ceremony and crowds flocked to the building to inspect it. Five thousand flowers had been purchased to distribute to women visitors, but those flowers had all been handed out within the first hour of the open house.

This one building provided office space for more than forty oil companies and even more companies providing oil-related services, so that the Atlas Life Building represented a veritable hub and core of the petroleum industry. Indeed, Waite Phillips had his offices in the Atlas Life Building until his own building was completed next door five years later. There were also physicians and dentists, attorneys, accountants, and smaller insurance companies and agents. Plus, about a dozen retail merchants in the first floor arcade also occupied the building.

Ideal for an insurance business, the Classical Revival style of the Atlas Life Building helped convey the company’s strength through an appearance of stability and durability; attributes that could visually assure the company’s longevity to investors and patrons. The integration of the Greek Titan Atlas into the building’s cornice, a common icon in western culture representing strength and endurance, further conveyed a strong message about the company’s stability and permanence. Atlas overlooks and protects pedestrians below as an icon of strength. Atlas, integrated into the company’s name, public space clock, door and key plates and in the building itself, helped unite the purpose of the insurance business with the building architecture.

The four-story vertical neon sign, which was installed on the Boston Avenue exterior in 1946, was built by Claude Neon Federal. It has become an important visual symbol of the building and its purpose. It integrated the building visually into the downtown streetscape, and kept the significance of the building keenly in the eye of Tulsans. In 1991, Atlas Life Insurance Company was purchased by State Mutual and the company’s operations were moved to Georgia. However, the prominent, iconic sign has been rehabilitated by subsequent owners, and based upon a review of historic photographs of the structure, appears to retain its’ original appearance.

The Atlas Life Building was listed in the National Register on May 19, 2009 under National Register Criteria A and C. Its NRIS number is 09000358.

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