The smallest skyscraper in the world is located in Wichita Falls, Texas just up the highway 140 miles northwest from Dallas. Officially listed as the world’s smallest skyscraper for decades, the structure is actually only 410 inches tall although the investors who poured $200,000 into it back in 1919 when that was a lot of money believed it would be 410 feet high.
The rowdy, chaotic world of 1919 was the perfect environment for con men to separate suddenly wealthy oil men from part of their fortunes in the North Texas oil patch surrounding Wichita Falls. The discovery of oil fields around Wichita Falls and surrounding towns such as Burkburnett which was featured in a Clark Gable movie Boomtown literally transformed paupers into millionaires overnight.
A savvy operator took advantage of the sudden need for new office space by these oil entrepreneurs by promising them a skyscraper in return for $200,000. It’s easier to understand how the investors were misled when one realizes deals were made on streetcorners or in tents used as temporary offices for oil companies in the middle of the night as geysers of black gold sprayed into the sky above.
According to Wichita Falls legend, J.D. McMahon was at the center of the story. McMahon’s oil-rig construction firm was one of seven tenants of the original Newby Building in 1919. The Newby building was a one-story building built in 1906 by Augustus Newby, a director of of the Wichita Falls and Oklahoma City Railway Oil Company.
McMahon, a smooth talker from Philadelphia, blew into Wichita Falls and saw his opportunity to make some fast cash. Upon receiving his $200,000 payment from his investors, McMahon used his own construction crews to build the McMahon Building on the small, unused piece of property next to the Newby Building, without obtainig prior consent from the owner of the property, who lived in Oklahoma.
McMahon neglected to mention to his investors that the scale of his drawings were based on only inches rather than the traditional feet. In an era when the Woolworth Building in New York City was still the highest skyscraper in the world, a 410 foot skyscraper in downtown Wichita Falls, Texas was a respectable structure which would allow the new oilmen to view their oil wells all the way into Oklahoma. The Woolworth Building was 792 feet high in the Big Apple.
When the tiny structure was completed in 1919 Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! syndicated column promptly dubbed it “the world’s smallest skyscraper”. The Ripley’s column continued referring to it as the unchallenged smallest skyscraper for decades and the name has stuck.
When angry investors realized they’d been duped they filed a lawsuit for the return of their money based on the alleged misrepresentation. Unfortunately for them, the judge ruled against them. Allegedly the fast-talker from Philadelphia had never explained to the investors his scale was based on inches although his drawing did state the measurements were in inches. Evidently the investors had not looked at the drawings and they were out of luck.
The Newby-McMahon Building is located at 701 LaSalle Street in downtown Wichita Falls. This structure is now a part of the Depot Square Historic District of Wichita Falls, a Texas Historic Landmark.
Wichita Falls businessman Chris Cline said today he thought the judge did the right thing.
“The architects drawing clearly stated it was 410 inches tall and not feet so the investors were stuck with what they had agreed to. They should have at least looked over the architect’s plans before they gave him their money,” Cline said, shrugging his shoulders, as he sipped on a drink in a Wichita Falls restaurant.
Cline is a part-owner of the Fill N Chill fast food restaurant on Southwest Parkway in Wichita Falls, Texas. The co-owners are Danny Foix and Luz Lerma.
Wichitan Glenda Tate owns an antique shop located in the world’s smallest skyscraper. A tour of the skyscraper followed by a visit to her antique shop would make for a nice outing.
Legend has it the smooth McMahon was long gone from this city only 10 miles south of the Red River before the world’s smallest skyscraper was even completed.
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