Day 12 #WorldWatercolorGroup The World's Littlest Skyscraper Wichita Falls, Texas

The World’s Littlest Skycraper

As I was thinking about monuments for today’s prompt, many famous monuments spun through my head, and yet, as often happens, I landed on this really obscure one. This is the Newby-McMahon Building, which is located in Wichita Falls, Texas, where my mother and sister currently live. As the story goes, back in 1919, during the Texas Oil Boom, a con man duped the city into believing he’d build a 40 story skyscraper. Eager investors jumped on board, as it seemed the perfect solution to the newly wealthy city’s office space problems.  What they ended up with was this tiny and bizarre 4 story building. The investors immediately brought a lawsuit against the man, but were dismayed when the deal was declared legally binding because they had indeed approved the blueprints. Hiding in the blueprints, however, was a perfect swindle that would become one of the most embarrassing moments in the city’s history.

The con originated from the oil-rig construction firm of J.D. McMahon. He was successful in collecting $200,000 (over 2.7 million in today’s dollars) from naive and enthusiastic investors in order to build a highrise annex to the adjacent Newby building. Never once did he say outloud that the building would actually be 480 feet tall (146m). Instead, he offered up blueprints which were cleverly scaled using inches instead of feet. The result was a comical building that was not only woefully short for a skyscraper, but had floors that were each a fraction of the true size of a story level in a normal building. There wasn’t even a staircase installed as McMahon never included one in the blueprints. Soon after, word got out and the building appeared in Robert Ripley‘s Ripley’s Believe It or Not! syndicated column as “the world’s littlest skyscraper”, and this nickname has stuck with it until this day.

My parents moved to north Texas after I finished high school and wanted me to join them. I never really thought about living there and the city seemed way too small for my tastes. I remember the sales pitch my mother prepared, which began with, “Oh, we have a skycraper!” To which I replied, “Just the one.” And then she said, “Well, it’s not very big actually.” I had no idea what that really meant, until I came down for a visit and saw it for myself. It was ludicrous, yet charming, but not quite enough to lure me to Texas so I ended up staying in Kansas City after all. But if you ever happen to be traveling through Texas, it’s definitely a worthy roadside attraction. A piece of American history that still sits, unassumingly, on the edge of quaint downtown district. A tiny, little monument to gullibility and greed.

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M. Graham Watercolors:  Gamboge, Perylene Maroon, Quinacridone Rust, Burnt Sienna, and Ultramarine Blue. Lamy Safari Al Star pen with Platinum Carbon black ink in a 5″ x 8″ 140 lb. (300 gsm) Pentalic Aqua Journal.
Day 12 #WorldWatercolorGroup The World's Littlest Skyscraper Wichita Falls, Texas

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22 thoughts on “The World’s Littlest Skycraper

  1. Firstly, that’s a great wee architectural study. Secondly, I always love your stories that accompany your art and today I’m pleased to have learned some obscure trivia from you. Texas is one of the 19 states I’ve not visited yet so I must ensure I visit the teeny-weeny skyscraper whenever I do make it there.

  2. This story is hilarious – the skyscraper lives on – the duper gets duped. I bet every one of your readers who is in the process of having something built right now just ran to get out their blueprints and is reading them carefully.
    See all the good you do in the world?

    Terrific painting of the little big one.

  3. That’s a motivator, if ever there was one, for always reading the fine print! LOL. At least the building does still stand and hasn’t fallen over. If you want teeny-tiny higher rise (can’t call it a skyscraper), I watch a TV show called Extreme Homes from all over the world. There is one where they squeezed in a four-storey home in between two buildings; no more than approx. nine to ten feet wide. Great design. Lots of glass and light and steel. I wouldn’t mind living there. Love the doodle, Charlie! 🙂

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