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.
22 thoughts on “The World’s Littlest Skycraper”
Great story Charlie, and indeed a cute building! (K)
Thanks so much, Kerfe! 😃💕
Fascinating story. Gives new meaning to ‘a fool is born everyday’ in this case, several fools. Love the sketch and it’s good prep for your French sketching.
Thanks Teri! 😃💕 Yeah… it’s been so long since I sketched a building I figured I should give it a go and see if I still could! Lol Glad you liked it!
That’s a good story, I about busted a gut I was laughing so hard. Good painting also, keep up the awesome work👍
Thanks so much!! 😃 Glad you liked this one!!
It looks like a miniature you’d find on one of those train sets of a tiny town! Really cool details, Charlie! 😉🎨👍 Love how you painted the bricks and interesting story too! 😍
Thanks, Jill! 😃💕hehe… it does! Lol Such a weird building! Glad you liked the doodlewash of it! hehe… I’ve been wanting to sketch it for quite awhile!
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.
Aww thanks, Laura! 😃💕 Glad you enjoyed the wee skyscraper story. Definitely something to check out if you happen to be passing through, but not quite cool enough to make a special trip for! hehe
so funny! But you really rocked the doodlewash on this one! Every stinking detail – wow! Love it!!!
Thanks so much, Jodi! 😃💕 It was fun to try a building again after all these months! So glad you liked it!
Love the story behind this painting. I wonder if someone could get away with something like that nowadays. It is a lesson learned though. Thanks for sharing this little piece of interesting history😊
Thanks so much! 😃💕 Yeah… I was wondering the same thing… I doubt it could work today. Too many checks and balances. But would be funny if it did! Lol
Good story – love the sketch. Can you go inside it? Get upstairs without stairs? Or is it the equivalent of a folly?
Thanks so much, Terri! 😃💕 They did add stairs so now you can go to the top! hehe… but it’s still a bit of a folly as the stairs are super narrow.
Great story, con men …or women will alway exist, but this one was quite a different PLAN, for a crowd funding scam! He he, thanks for sharing this old local tale 😀…..oh and nearly forgot, fab painting, I want to walk in that door to check it out 😉
Thanks so much! 😃💕 Hehe… it’s such a weird place… looks so silly and it’s so small you almost just ignore it. But a funny story at least!
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.
haha! I didn’t even think of that, but yeah… check your blueprints this minute, everyone! Lol Thanks so much, Sharon! 😃💕
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! 🙂
Hehe… isn’t this a crazy story? Definitely read the fine print! LOL Glad you liked this, Janina! 😃💕 And I think I saw the building you’re talking about… looked really cool in the end!