Some friends owned a vacant lot near 41st Street and Yale Avenue, where they wanted to open a savings and loan next door to what was then a brand-new shopping center called Southland. But when they told Burt Holmes about their plans, he had a different idea.
“Why don’t you sell me that lot?” Holmes suggested. “Let me build the building and you be the ground-floor tenant.”
He had co-founded QuikTrip about eight years before. But Holmes remained a mostly silent partner in the convenience stores while he concentrated on his insurance business and occasionally dabbled in other ventures.
“Some of my investments were more successful than others,” Holmes says with a wry smile.
QuikTrip, obviously, became the most successful. But the Southland Financial Center left its own mark on the city.
When it opened in 1966, a year after Southland Mall, the 11–story building became Tulsa’s first suburban high-rise office tower.
“It was a pretty big deal,” says Holmes, who no longer owns the building but remains justifiably proud of his role in developing it.
The midcentury-modern design came from Tulsa’s well-known McCune & McCune firm, which also became one of the building’s earliest tenants. Other occupants included IBM, Holmes’ own insurance firm and The Financial Club, a posh restaurant with penthouse views across south Tulsa.
For the rest of the ’60s and the 1970s, Southland was known as one of the city’s most prestigious corporate addresses. But like all Tulsa real estate, it suffered from the Oil Bust of the 1980s.
Tenants left. Ownership changed several times. And deferred maintenance caused the structure to fall into disrepair.
A $6 million renovation brought new tenants to the building in the mid-1990s with all-new interiors, updated mechanical systems and modern fire-protection equipment. But a revamped exterior also wiped out much of the original mid-century character.
Known today simply as Southland Tower, it doesn’t have the glitzy reputation that it enjoyed 50 years ago, but it still stands as an important milestone in the city’s suburban development and remains one of south Tulsa’s most recognizable landmarks.
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