Friday, April 2, 2010

The Tulsa Garden Center

When I wrote about Woodward Park awhile back I left out the Garden Center on purpose because I wanted to devote an entire entry to it.  
This beautiful, Italian-style villa was designed by architect Nobel Flemming.  Construction began in 1919 and was finished in 1921, costing more than $100,000.  There were 2 greenhouses, a solarium, two 5-room cottages and two barns.  The three-car garage had a two-room apartment on the ground level and two additional apartments above for household staff.  It is now the gift shop. The parking lot by the arboretum is where the swimming pool was.  
The owner of this elegant home was Dave R. Travis.  His brother Sam Travis built the complementary mansion to the south (now home of the Tulsa Historical Society).  The Travis brothers (who changed their last name from Rabinowitz) came to Tulsa in 1913 from Ohio.  They became quite wealthy in the oil field equipment salvage business.  Being orthodox Jews the basement/ballroom was built with a synagogue as well as a mikvah.  The cobblestone drive that runs between the two mansions was built by the brothers themselves because they had run out of money. 

Just 2 years later, the Travis brothers left for California and J. Arthur Hull purchased the home.  Mr. Hull spent the next 10+ years here, during which time he built the conservatory and the sunken garden.

In 1934 Mr. George Snedden purchased the mansion, which had become distressed.  The Snedden's cook was Cleora Butler who, in her book Cleora's Kitchen, recalls the house and the renovation the mansion received when the Sneddens hired Louis Perry, one of Tulsa's most distinguished interior decorators.  The sixteen-by-twenty kitchen was a combined creation of Perry's, Geraldine's and Cleora's ideas and was something to behold when finished. With a restaurant-size range, a walk-in refrigerator and a butcher block worktable in the center, this was an efficient and unusual kitchen in its time. Next to the kitchen was a lounge for the servants and a butler's pantry. Mr. Snedden did not live to see the completion of this dream. Geraldine Snedden lived there until 1949.

Mr. W.G. Skelly bought the property in 1950, though he never resided there.  He sold it to the City of Tulsa in 1954 to provide an educational resource center and a meeting place for horticultural and environmental organizations in Tulsa.  

I decided to stop by recently and have one of the staff show me around.
The rooms upstairs, mostly former bedroom and bath, are used as staff offices as well as conference rooms.  

The master bedroom has an awesome bathroom with it's original steam sauna in it, along with an oversized bathtub, shower with 4 heads. It's not in use anymore but is quite impressive 89 years later.

From here we walked back to the middle area of the mansion where this beautiful painting was pointed out.  The Snedden children gave this to their parents.  It was left here when they moved.  The stained glass ceiling was originally a skylight.  

Next, we went upstairs into the attic.  
A rather creepy looking door, wouldn't you say?
This used to be the female servant's quarters.  These alcoves were where their beds were.  

If these old floors could talk.....

Despite all of the stuff up here, I could see this as it used to be.  We left via the servants stairway which took us to the kitchen.  Very large, interesting bannister on these steps.

The kitchen, of course, has been completely redone to accommodate the many events that happen here.  It is believed that there was once another (kosher) kitchen upstairs.
This was the butler's pantry.  

The cabinets, doors etc are all original as is the granite counter. One of these cabinets used to have a safe inside for the family silver.  This used to look out into the solarium, but was renovated into a room for educational meetings when the city took over.
And the Formal dining room...  
The ceiling and light fixtures are still the same as is the fireplace.  

The entryway area used to look like this and still looks as elegant as ever.  

Next we went into the library, now called The Gold Room.  

The ceiling is gold leaf and breathtaking:

There is a hidden bookshelf here between the built-ins. 

The south room was lovely as well.  The original ceiling, fireplace and sconces add such charm.  Looks like a wedding was taking place here (kneeling bench in front of fireplace) in this old photo:

The Music Room:

This is the room where Mrs. Hull lay in state before her funeral.  Some report it to always be cold in here but it definitely was not cold, rather very warm when I was in there.

The front bathroom is an art-deco lovers delight. The swirled black and green marble along with the fixtures and doors were amazing.  This is a must see for anyone who stops by.  
Next to it is the mens restroom which has been painted to match the marble and still has original fixtures.

Our last stop was downstairs to the ballroom.  

This room off to the side was said to have been a "chaperone room" originally, perhaps it was the room for the women during the prayer recitations?  It is now a lovely library.

The synagogue was here before this wall was erected. 

However, when opened one can see the cabinet in which the Torah scrolls were kept as well as the Eternal Light sconce that was used.  

There are some creepy looking stairs back there that nobody knows much about.

There are closets all over this mansion so it's easy to just pass them by, but this one, coming down the stairs, holds something of importance.  Underneath all of the boxes piled on top, you can see the tiles.  This is the mikveh, a ritual bath, built by the Travis family.  

Back by the front door, I was amazed at this old house, it's structure and glory. Looking up one more time before I left:

Since 1954 well over a million people have visited the Tulsa Garden Center from all 50 states and 71 foreign countries.  

Another wonderful Tulsa Treasure.


Yogi♪♪♪ said...

My wife used to work as a volunteer there. I have always loved this building.

Anonymous said...

What you deescribed as a hidden bookcase may have had a different use during prohibition.

Mike S

Unknown said...

You got the grand tour. Very informative. It is still a beautiful old mansion.

DrillerAA09 said...

This is a spectacular building and it was once a mansion among mansions. Thank you for the tour.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Thanks for the EXCELLENT tour. And I thought I knew a thing or two about the place...

- Lazzaro

Joy Stefan said...

My mother was a niece of Geraldine and George Snedden. She would visit their estate and spend a week or so with her cousins in the summer. My grandfather was a brother to Geraldine. The last time I visited Tulsa with my mother, we toured the estate with another of her cousins, and the docent was fascinated with their stories and memories of their youthful visits. Unfortunately, we weren't able to tour the upstairs rooms, as they were still being renovated at that time.