Out Of The Ordinary

Linda Burton posting from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – There are two out-of-the-ordinary things about the Oklahoma state capitol. No other state capitol once had a working oil well on its front lawn named Petunia. And no other state capitol sat without a dome for 85 years, and then added one. It was designed to have a dome, but budget overruns forced a change of plans. “How can we save money?” became the pressing question; postponing the dome was the most logical answer. When the capitol was officially opened for business June 30, 1917, ten years into statehood, it had an almost flat roof. Inside an inverted bowl-shaped construction decorated with a painted plaster seal did faux-dome duty. Fast forward to 2001. With private donations in the coffer, the time for the doming of the capitol had arrived; workers removed the two million pounds of brick and concrete that made up the old flat roof. Because the original plans called for a dome, the existing building was ready to carry the new five-million-pound construction; it was completed in 2002. Outside, it looks the way it was always meant to look. Inside, everything above a narrow purple ring is new construction, offering a visually stunning upward-sweeping view to a state seal now surrounded by shimmering glass. Beautiful! Now, about that oil well named Petunia.

It isn’t there anymore. The steel rig remains, marking the spot; and a sign gives some history about the Oklahoma City Oil and Gas Field. Geologists first recognized a structure favorable for the accumulation of oil near Oklahoma City in 1917, but it was more than 10 years later that the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company (later Cities Service) drilled the discovery well. On December 4, 1928, the Itio No 1 Oklahoma City “blew in” approximately six miles southeast of the capitol.

The Oklahoma City Field became one of the world’s major oil producing areas, ranking eighth in the nation during its first forty years, yielding 733,543,000 barrels of oil and more than 2 trillion cubic feet of gas from 26 producing zones through 1969. Discovery of this massive field of oil had a lot to do with the growth of Oklahoma City; photos from the 1930’s and 40’s show a city dotted with oil rigs, block after block. There were 24 wells drilled on the capitol grounds; a photo from that period reveals oil rigs rowed along the street beside, and a prominent rig squarely in front of the capitol steps.

The “front-lawn well” was nicknamed Petunia #1 because it was drilled smack dab in the middle of a flower bed, although its legal name was Capitol Site #1. Drilling began November 10, 1941 and was completed in 171 days; it was slant-drilled under the street. The bottom of the well was approximately a mile-and-a-quarter under the capitol; it was 431 feet from the top of the flat-roofed building to the top of the hole.

Petunia #1 was plugged in 1986 by Phillips Petroleum, well operator and half owner, after an illustrious career – it produced 1.5 million barrels of oil and 1.6 billion cubic feet of gas, providing the state with over a million dollars in royalties and gross production taxes. The plugging procedure was modified slightly so the wellhead was kept in place, giving it the appearance of a working well; ownership was transferred to the Oklahoma Historical Society for preservation as a monument and a tourist draw. Which it is; the Capitol and Miss Petunia are among the most-visited attractions in the state.

Something else is unique at the Oklahoma state capitol – its artwork. In addition to enriching a historic civic space, the collections provide visitors and students a unique way to learn Oklahoma history and to understand the diversity of Oklahoma’s cultural fabric. Two significant collections adorn the rotunda and hallways and grounds; both are managed by the Oklahoma Arts Council.

The Capitol Art Collection has more than 100 permanent sculptures, murals and paintings depicting important events, prominent Oklahomans, and even the state’s natural terrain, flora and fauna, and weather. http://www.arts.ok.gov/Art_at_the_Capitol/Capitol_Collection.html

The State Art Collection is a visual anthology of artistic expression in Oklahoma. It’s a collection of works by notable Oklahoma artists, and has been housed in the Capitol since 2007. The Council continues to acquire donated works. http://www.arts.ok.gov/Art_at_the_Capitol/State_Art_Collection.html

A new dome, a historic oil well, and a continually expanding collection of art make Oklahoma’s state capitol a fascinating place, to be sure; although decision-makers have new issues to tackle now. Outside, the front steps of this magnificent building have begun to crack and crumble; bright yellow barriers block the unsafe walking area. Inside, the commercial look of donor names circling the new dome installation continues to be controversial. Some of the businesses have changed; one of the couples is now divorced! I’m confident however, that out-of-the-ordinary Oklahoma will fix it, in time.

Oklahoma State Capitol, 2300 North Lincoln Boulevard, Oklahoma City, 405.521.2101