A pleasant city in northern Oklahoma, Bartlesville bills itself as a city of legends, naming oil barons, Frank Lloyd Wright and Native Americans as three good reasons to come for a visit. The town's leading gazillionaire, Frank Phillips (of Phillips 66 fame), was the kind of guy who called his annual gathering of friends a Cow Thieves & Outlaws Reunion, and a few of his guests did fall into one or both of those categories. Wright, still considered America's most famous architect, built one of his rare skyscrapers here, calling it a Tree That Escaped a Crowded Forest, and you can sleep in it now. As for the Native Americans, they are mostly in evidence during the annual Oklahoma Indian Summer, which features art competitions, gallery exhibits, traditional arts and crafts, and inter-tribal pow-wows. See www.oklahomaindiansummer.com for more details.
Dominating two sides of an open square in the middle of town are the Price Tower and the Community Center, the latter a stunning building designed by Wesley Peters, chief architect of Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's headquarters. Inside you can find what is said to be the world's largest cloisonné artwork in a mural over 25 feet long. The center's 1,700-seat Performing Arts Hall (Adams Blvd.& Cherokee Ave.; tel. 800/618-2787 or 918/336-2787; www.bartlesvillecommunitycenter.com) is the venue for local ballet, theater, choral and symphony orchestra offerings. (Peters, incidentally, married Joseph Stalin's daughter, Svetlana, after her defection to the USA during the height of the Cold War.)
The Price Tower (510 Dewey Avenue; tel. 918/336-4949 for Arts Center; www.pricetower.org) was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to be an office building, though his first intention was for it to be an apartment building in Manhattan. Crafted like a tree, with its floors cantilevered out like limbs, the tower is today a hotel, with five-sided bedrooms and six-sided bathrooms, not to mention at least one six-sided shower stall. Celebrating its 50th anniversary in February 2006, Price Tower is partially open to the public, with a museum on the ground floor and a restaurant/bar near the top. An exhibit about Wright and the tower runs through January 15, 2006, after which it will tour the nation. Museum admission is $4 for adults, children 16 and under are admitted for free; the tower tour is $8.
Just outside Bartlesville and beyond Dewey about five miles is the best attraction in the area, Prairie Song (402621 W. 1600 Rd.; tel. 918/534-3435; www.prairiesong.net), a frontier village museum filled with beautiful and authentic 19th-century antiques. You have to call ahead in order to take the escorted tours, but it's worth the planning and the short drive. Kenneth Tate, who built the village with the help of just one other man unaided by blueprints or computers, and his patient wife, Marilyn Moore Tate, will show you around on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays at 10 a.m., weather permitting. Descendants of pioneer Oklahomans, the couple honors their families and the cowboy cultural heritage with this collection of buildings on land homesteaded by Marilyn's grandfather in the early 1890s.
You'll see a log schoolhouse, a charming chapel, a trading post, a school marm's house, the post office, a two-story saloon (complete with brothel upstairs), a rock jailhouse, the depot, a smokehouse, wash shed, dance hall, mule barn, blacksmith shop, covered bridge, water tower and more. You can also bring your picnic lunch here and dine at natural stone tables. You'll wonder how in earth Kenneth and Marilyn found all the stuff that is crammed into the buildings, from many sublime antiques to a couple of ridiculous signs ("Remove spurs before getting in bed" reads one in the brothel). Admission is $6, with a money-back guarantee in the unlikely event you think the price isn't worth the tour.
Cowboys, Oil Men & Their Museums
The Frank Phillips Home (1107 E. Cherokee Ave.; tel. 918/336-2491; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) stands as a dignified memorial to the founder of the Phillips 66 gasoline brand, an early indicator of the wealth the black stuff could bring in. Highlights include the sitting room, an elevator, his and her bedrooms, a personal barber chair (Frank started out in his adult life as an Iowan barber, but married the banker's daughter) and butler's room. There is more stuff in the garage out back, too, but you can't visit the 1950s-era bomb shelter deep below it. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Closed Mondays, Tuesdays and major holidays, admission by donation, $3 requested for adults.
The Bartlesville Area History Museum (401 S. Johnstone Avenue; tel. 918/338-4290; www.bartlesvillehistory.com) is located in City Hall, itself an old hotel (1910) that later became part of the Phillips Petroleum office complexes. There's a good exhibit covering local history from ancient times to the present. Most fun is a replicated 1900s-era one-room schoolhouse. An innovative idea is their planned "Family Histories of Washington County," for which anyone is invited to contribute a story for publication. Closed Sundays, Mondays and holidays.
Twelve miles southwest of Bartlesville on State 123 is Woolaroc (tel. 888/WOOLAROC or 918/336-0307;www.woolaroc.org), the country estate of Frank Phillips, now a museum and wildlife preserve operated by a foundation named for the oilman. At Woolaroc (derived from "woods, lakes and rocks") you can see Phillips' collection of art (including sculptures and paintings by Remington), a fine old 1927 airplane and more. Best of all, majestic elk roam the preserve -- just one of the more than 700 native and exotic animals on the property, where no animal is ever killed, but all die natural deaths, we were told. If your timing is right, you can visit a Mountain Man Camp, which squats here from April through mid-October, re-enacting life in the 1840s. A petting zoo and animal barnyard are also on the grounds. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for those 65 and over, and children under 12 are free.
In nearby Dewey there are a couple of curious museums and a handful of intriguing antique shops. The Tom Mix Museum (721 N. Delaware; tel. 918/534-1555; closed Mondays and all of January) commemorates a real town marshal who became a movie star from 1909 through 1935, riding to fame in such films as The Miracle Rider on Tony, "The Wonder Horse." Always wearing a white Stetson, Tom was (and allegedly remains) the highest paid circus performer in history, at $10,000 a week. His old movies (he's known here as "America's greatest western star") are shown continuously in the museum's small theater.
Now purely a museum, the Dewey Hotel (801 Delaware; tel. 918/534-0215; Open daily April through October) is a fascinating place for travelers, showing what accommodations were like at the turn of the last century. No private baths, but plenty of horsehair sofas, rope beds and hurricane lamps. Check out the third floor poker cupola, where a sheriff is said to have killed a card cheat at the octagonal gaming table.
Where to Stay
The Inn at Price Tower (tel. 877/424-2424 or 918/336-1000; www.innatpricetower.com) is lodged in Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie Skyscraper, featuring 1950s décor. Be prepared for acres of glass windows, odd corners and heavy doors, but an exciting ambience nonetheless. The inn is comprised of 21 spacious rooms, offers minimal service options and is staffed with a friendly crew. Currently the Inn is offering a romantic getaway package, including a night at the Inn, dinner for two and a tour of the tower for $175.
The 156-room Hotel Phillips (821 S. Johnstone Ave.; tel. 800/331-0706 or 918/336-5600; www.hotelphillips66.com) is the best traditional hotel in town. It has a restaurant, lounge and rooms complete with kitchenettes. A Bed & Breakfast package starts from $59 for two persons, but some weekend rooms are as low as $49 without breakfast, and range up to $149. Weekday rates range from $85 to $190.
Bartlesville also has two reliable chain hotels. The Holiday Inn (1410 SE Washington Blvd.; tel. 918/333-8320; www.holiday-inn.com) has a pool and a rock n' country music restaurant. Rooms run $60 to $80. The EconoLodge (3910 SE Nowata Road, tel. 800/4CHOICE or 918/333-0710; www.choicehotels.com) has a pool and free continental breakfast is included with rates coming in under $55.
For an unusual setting, try the Copper Restaurant (tel. 918/336-1000; www.innatpricetower.com) in the Price Tower, the Frank Lloyd Wright ambience as interesting as the very good food. Lunch sandwiches from $7.95, dinner entrees from $12.95 for pasta, $16.95 for chicken breast. Closed Mondays.
Aroma's Italian Restaurant (322 S. Johnstone; tel. 918/336-1877) is a favorite for lunch or dinner, at moderate prices. Closed Sundays.
Dink's Pit (2929 SE Frank Phillips Blvd.; tel. 918/335-0606) is the most popular barbecue place in town. Outstanding onion strings to go with your brisket, followed up with fresh apple or peach cobbler.
If you like candles, you'll enjoy Keepsake Candles in Bartlesville (Route 3; tel. 888/636-0351; www.keepsakecandles.com), one of the few independently owned factories left in the USA, and going strong since 1969. You can watch candles being made, and participate yourself by dipping forms into your favorite colors.
Practically next door to Keepsake is the Red Dirt Soap Company (Highway 60 West; tel. 866/242-8732 or 918/338-2276; www.reddirtsoap.com), which says it is "one of the largest handmade herbal soap manufacturers in the U.S." You can watch the process through a glass window.
In Dewey, a few miles from Bartlesville, you'll find a handful of antique shops well worth visiting. My favorite is the Linger Longer (814 N. Shawnee; tel. 918/534-0610), not just because of its happily diverse collection of things for sale, but for its genuine drug store soda fountain, with real sodas, milkshakes, sundaes and other fetching concoctions. Open daily.
Boasting a fine and eclectic mix of antiques and just plain second hand stuff is Treasures Are We (306 E. Don Tyler; tel. 918/534-3878) with over 40 dealers and a lunchroom. Open daily, lunchroom weekdays only.
The highlight annual event is OKMozart (tel. 918/336-9800; www.okmozart.com), billed as "Oklahoma's premier music festival." Each spring the lineup includes live jazz & bluegrass performances, classical and chamber music, gospel and marching bands and more. In 2005 leading artists included the Solisti New York Orchestra, who performed Mozart piano concertos with pianist Anne-Marie McDermott. The event is slated for June 9-17, 2006.
The Bartlesville Symphony (www.bartlesvillesymphony.org) gives five or six performances a year, with noted soloists in 2005 such as Eugenia Zukerman and Marvin Hamlisch.
More information can be had from the Bartlesville Visitors Bureau (tel. is 800/364-8708; www.visitbartlesville.com).
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