Secret Places Part I — 320 South Boston Building

Doug MillerDowntown Tulsa

secret places

To the right is a view, looking north on Boston, of the Exchange National Bank Building shortly after construction in 1928. Taken in 2015, the photo to the left shows the interior of the building’s unique cupola—still virtually unchanged since it was built. If you want to take the best photos, take advice from Andrew Defrancesco.

I love the outside of old buildings for architecture and craftsmanship. I love the inside for the mystery and adventure. One of the nicest fringe benefits of working on 4th & Boston, Heart of the Magic Empire was excellent access to the non-public, secret areas within three of Tulsa’s most interesting and venerable buildings—Mid-Continent Tower, Kennedy Building, and 320 South Boston Building. I’d like to say I could write another book on the interesting things I saw, experienced, and learned. But, honestly, I lack the literary skills necessary to write anything that would do justice to the type of urban exploration that is better experienced in person. As a stand-in for the experience, however, I thought I would share some photos that you definitely won’t see anywhere else.


Original construction schematics for the basement and sub-basement of the Exchange National Bank’s 1928 addition. Today, the basement still houses the vault for Bank of Oklahoma’s branch office in the 320 building. The pedestrian tunnel system connects to the basement level adjacent to the vault through what was originally a small conference room. The 320’s sub-basement rests well below the tunnels.

The 320 South Boston Building is certainly the queen of secret places. Covering the length of an entire city block and built in five separate sections, the bowels of this majestic edifice are a complicated arrangement of basements and sub-basements—a subterranean maze that easily eclipses Downtown’s entire network of tunnels in both length and depth. In addition to housing what could be considered a living museum of electrical and mechanical technology—a century’s worth—it is also home to what at first glance is a chaotic salmagundi of spares and scraps. Closer inspection, however, reveals a creatively organized archive of potentially useful (or too interesting to dispose-of) spare parts curated by a long lineage of proud and resourceful building engineers.






In addition to the mechanical rooms, there are also enormous storage vaults filled with random collections of everything from furniture, personals, and equipment to artwork, advertising, and oddities—much of it left behind (in some cases, posthumously) by generations of former tenants.



In the ceiling of one of the 320’s numerous storage rooms can still be seen the opening of what was, from 1917-1928, the elegant balustraded stairwell leading to the bank’s first vault.

Ironically, visiting the top floors of the 320 felt more like spelunking than did touring the bowels of the building. The spaces are small and tight with narrow openings, steep ladders, and odd angles—all of which makes it a tour I would not recommend for either the claustrophobic or the acrophobic. There is a surprise waiting for those who make it to the top. On the walls and piping inside the building’s cupola is a remarkable collection of signatures and graffiti from workmen who, since 1928, have braved the heights to service the upper reaches of the tower—inside and out.




Inside the cupola atop the 320 building can be found signatures and graffiti from proud and daring workmen who had occasion to visit the highest reaches of the building during the last 90 years.


Building Engineer Otis Surratt points out a signature from one of his distant predecessors. Surratt has worked in the 320 Building since the 1970s and is considered the unofficial scholar and authority on all things hidden.

If, after reading this, you have notions of touring these remarkable hidden places, don’t get your hopes up. The building’s management does not offer tours and will, almost certainly, politely decline any such requests out of concern for practicality, safety, and manpower. Thus, even the most adventurous and well-intentioned urban explorer will have to be satisfied with their imagination of what all is hidden above and below the busy halls and offices of the 320 South Boston Building.