This is the story of Wichita Falls world famous attraction, “The Littlest Skyscraper” told by Jan and Mike Saville. Jan and Mike own the consignment boutique, Hello Again, located in the building which is now the only entrance to the skyscraper. They are the keepers of this architectural phenomenon and storytellers of the rich history behind the Worlds Littlest Skyscraper.
The building now holding the entrance to the Littlest Sky scraper was originally built in 1906 by a man named Augustus Newby. Mr. Newby was in the railroad business so he wanted to be located close to the tracks and the depot square which was just down the alley. After a while, he rented out some of the buildings space to oil men. There were seven or eight oil men working in the building each having their own desk representing a different oil firm. One of those men was JD McMahon. Mr. McMahon owned an oil drilling company and had a number of construction men working for him.
By 1912 Burkburnett explodes into Boomtown. That brings and influx of humanity because millionaires are being made over night. People are racing to seek their fortune and many found it. But that puts some real strain on infrastructure. Burkburnett essentially didn’t exist so they were working and living out of tents up there. Wichita Falls is the county seat and becomes the most logical place for commerce to now take place. There is a new need for housing and office space of which we had neither. So there are a lot of small neighborhoods that were built to provide the housing need for the oilmen and their families, but no immediate solution to the lack of office space.
Mr. McMahon had an idea to solve the office space problem. He approached some investors. You can imagine how this conversation might have gone. He might have said something like, “We have all of these people coming in who are in need of hundreds of office spaces. Money is flowing like crazy. I could have my construction crew build a high rise building and we’ll have it leased in no time and we’ll all be getting rich.” Well, the investors liked the idea. The building they were expecting to get is measured at 480 feet tall. Mr. McMahon raised $200,000, which is roughly 3 million dollars in today’s money, and he put his men to work.
Upon completion the investors looked up at the building in bewilderment and Mr. McMahon is nowhere to be found. He’s gone with the money and no one knows where he has disappeared to. There most likely would have been a lynching if they had found him. So, they wanted to sue, but in those days there was no courthouse in town and they had to wait for the roving magistrate to come around. When the roving magistrate gets to town the investors then plead their case before the judge and the judge rules against them because the plans they had been provided by Mr. McMahon and the ones they had approved were not in feet but were in inches. Therefore, the building is in fact 480 inches tall just as the plans described.
Many people were so angry they called for it to be torn down, but because of their desperate need for office space, the building was actually leased out as work space. After the depression came it did go out of service. It then caught fire causing the roof and the floors to cave in. The building encountered even more damage by a tornado causing bricks to fall from it and it stayed boarded up for decades.
It is now owned by a partnership, The Littlest Skyscraper, LLC. They are the ones who put the building back together again; re-roofed, installed new floors, and put in the staircase. The skyscraper did not originally come with a staircase instead, it came with a ladder. The floor dimensions are 10X16.
By definition it is a skyscraper. When a building occupies more vertical space than it does horizontal space it is considered a skyscraper. The name “Worlds Littlest Skyscraper” came to be by a man named Robert Ripley of “Ripley’s Believe it or Not”. At the time he would report about the bazaar and unusual in a syndicated column that ran in newspapers across the country. Mr. Ripley picked up on the story of the skyscraper not long after the building was completed and wrote about it in his column. It was in that column that Mr. Ripley declared it “The World’s Littlest Skyscraper”, and that title has stuck.
The building gets visitors from around the world daily. Floors 2 and 3 can be rented and utilized. The top floor is reserved for visitors complete with a display of charts and pictures of what the building use to look like and how it compares to other skyscrapers around the world.