The Story Behind the ‘World’s Littlest Skyscraper”

Credits: Flickr/Nicolas Henderson

In the wake of the black gold discovery in Burkburnett, countless residents of Wichita County abruptly found themselves awash in wealth. Amid this sudden prosperity, mineral rights agreements proliferated on every corner and beneath temporary tents, hastily set up as makeshift offices for oil businesses.

Wichita Falls was facing a dire shortage of office spaces. That’s when J.D. McMahon, an oil businessman from Philadelphia, stepped in, seemingly with a solution.

He presented potential investors with blueprints for a towering office building, promising them a structure directly opposite the bustling St. James Hotel. After swiftly garnering $200,000 from those caught in the day’s fervor of quick profits, McMahon began his venture.

However, a crucial detail he overlooked mentioning, as folklore suggests, was the blueprint’s scale – it was drafted in inches, not feet.

Investors, distracted by the rapid boom, soon found themselves in possession of a building resembling an elevator shaft more than a skyscraper. Measuring a mere 11 feet by 19 feet externally, almost a quarter of its inside space was consumed by staircases.

Once the construction culminated, McMahon had vanished. The investors tried to legally contest the deception but learned they had approved the blueprints McMahon had faithfully followed.

Nevertheless, the acute need for offices led oil businesses to adapt to the confined space until the oil boom eventually subsided. The building then endured a period of neglect during the Depression.

In 1986, the city transferred the building’s ownership to the Wichita County Heritage Society, aiming for preservation. However, neglect resumed, leading to murmurs of potential demolition.

That’s when the architectural firm, Bundy, Young, Sims & Potter, was commissioned for its refurbishment. Engrossed by its unique history, Dick Bundy and partners partnered with Marvin Groves Electric in 2000, acquiring and restoring the building with a $180,000 investment.

During a recent stint at a Harvard University conference discussing skyscraper construction, Bundy’s anecdote about the “World’s Smallest Skyscraper” made him the event’s unexpected star.

Now, the building isn’t just a magnet for intrigued tourists. It accommodates a local antique store, “The Antique Wood,” run by Glenda Tate. The upper level serves as an art studio for Merri, Bundy’s wife.

As for Bundy, he’s embarked on a new journey: verifying whether Robert L. Ripley labeled the building and featured it in his “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” sketches.