The Newby-McMahon Building: The World's Littlest Skyscraper

Yithian

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#1
This sounds like the kind of thing riffed on in This Is Spinal Tap, but as construction took place a century ago no influence could be possible! In short, the diminutive tower pictured below is the product of a confidence trickster's scheme. Investors believed they were buying a stake in a 480 ft skyscraper, but the blueprints they were issued with indicated that it would be a mere 480 inches (about 12m). Nobody read the small print. Legal action against the trickster failed and the only successful outcome was the money recouped by the elevator company, who managed to get out of their contract. The building originally lacked staircases, again because none had been included in the blueprints, so a ladder was installed for access to the upper floors. Full Wiki-treatment below.

1024px-Newby-McMahon_Building,_1919.JPG

World's littlest skyscraper
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia

The Newby-McMahon Building, commonly referred to as the world's littlest skyscraper, is located at 701 La Salle (on the corner of Seventh and La Salle streets) in downtown Wichita Falls, Texas. It is a late Neoclassical style red brick and cast stone structure. It stands 40 ft (12 m) tall, and its exterior dimensions are 18 ft (5.5 m) deep and 10 ft (3.0 m) wide. Its interior dimensions are approximately 12 ft (3.7 m) by 9 ft (2.7 m), or approximately 108 sq ft (10.0 m2). Steep, narrow, internal stairways leading to the upper floors occupy roughly 25 percent of the interior area.

Reportedly the result of a fraudulent investment scheme by a confidence man, the Newby-McMahon Building was a source of great embarrassment to the city and its residents after its completion in 1919. During the 1920s, the Newby-McMahon Building was featured in Robert Ripley's Ripley's Believe It or Not! syndicated column as "the world's littlest skyscraper," a nickname that has stuck with it ever since. The Newby-McMahon Building is now part of the Depot Square Historic District of Wichita Falls, a Texas Historic Landmark.

A large petroleum reservoir was discovered just west of the city of Burkburnett, a small town in Wichita County, Texas in 1912. Burkburnett and its surrounding communities became boomtowns, experiencing explosive growth of their populations and economies. By 1918, an estimated 20,000 new settlers had taken up residence around the lucrative oil field, and many Wichita County residents became wealthy virtually overnight. As people streamed into the local communities in search of high-paying jobs, the nearby city of Wichita Falls began to grow in importance. Though it initially lacked the necessary infrastructure for this sudden increase in economic and industrial activity, Wichita Falls was a natural choice to serve as the local logistical hub, being the seat of Wichita County. Because office space was lacking, major stock transactions and mineral rights deals were conducted on street corners and in tents that served as makeshift headquarters for the new oil companies.

The Newby-McMahon Building is a four-story brick building located near the railroad depot in downtown Wichita Falls, built in 1906 by Augustus Newby (1855–1909), a director of the Wichita Falls and Oklahoma City Railway Company. The oil-rig construction firm of J.D. McMahon, a petroleum landman and structural engineer from Philadelphia, was one of seven tenants whose offices were based in the original Newby Building.

According to local legend, when McMahon announced in 1919 that he would build a highrise annex to the Newby Building as a solution to the newly wealthy city's urgent need for office space, investors were eager to invest in the project. McMahon collected $200,000 (equivalent to $2,900,000 in 2018) in investment capital from this group of naive investors, promising to construct a highrise office building across the street from the St. James Hotel.

The key to McMahon's swindle, and his successful defense in the ensuing lawsuit was that he never verbally stated that the actual height of the building would be 480 feet (150 m). The proposed skyscraper depicted in the blueprints that he distributed (and which were approved by the investors) was clearly labeled as consisting of four floors and 480 inches (12 m).

McMahon used his own construction crews to build the McMahon Building on the small, unused piece of property next to the Newby Building, without obtaining prior consent from the owner of the property, who lived in Oklahoma. As the building began to take shape, the investors realized they had been swindled into purchasing a four-story edifice that was only 40 ft (12 m) tall, rather than the 480 ft (150 m) structure they were expecting.

They brought a lawsuit against McMahon, but to their dismay, the real estate and construction deal was declared legally binding by a local judge – as McMahon had built exactly according to the blueprints they had approved, no legal remedy was available for the deceived investors. They did recover a small portion of their investment from the elevator company, which refused to honor the contract after they learned of the confidence trick. No stairway was installed in the building upon its initial completion, as none was included in the original blueprints. Rather, a ladder was employed to gain access to the upper three floors. By the time construction was complete, McMahon had left Wichita Falls and perhaps even Texas, taking with him the balance of the investors' money.

Upon its completion and opening in 1919, the Newby-McMahon Building was an immediate source of great embarrassment to the city and its residents. The ground floor had six desks representing the six different companies that occupied the building as its original tenants. Throughout most of the 1920s, the building housed only two firms. During the 1920s, the Newby-McMahon Building was featured in Robert Ripley's Ripley's Believe It or Not! syndicated column as "the world's littlest skyscraper", which is a name that has stuck with it ever since.

The oil industry would ultimately prove to be a resource curse to Wichita Falls, and the Texas Oil Boom ended only a few years later. The building was vacated, boarded up, and virtually forgotten in 1929 as the Great Depression struck North Texas and office space became relatively inexpensive to lease or purchase. A fire gutted the building in 1931, rendering it unusable for a number of years.

After the Great Depression, the building housed a succession of tenants, including barber shops and cafés. The building changed hands many times and was scheduled for demolition on several occasions, but escaped this fate apparently because a sufficient number of local residents came to its defense. It was eventually deeded to the city of Wichita Falls. As the building continued to deteriorate, in 1986 the city gave the building to the Wichita County Heritage Society (WCHS), with the hope that it would eventually be restored, making it a viable part of the Depot Square Historic District.

More on the building's vital statistics and recent history:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World's_littlest_skyscraper
 

Austin Popper

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#4
"Its interior dimensions are approximately 12 ft (3.7 m) by 9 ft (2.7 m), or approximately 108 sq ft (10.0 m2). Steep, narrow, internal stairways leading to the upper floors occupy roughly 25 percent of the interior area."

That's not even big enough to be a stairwell in a modern commercial building, at least one that meets building codes. Stairways that take up 25 or 30 square feet would indeed be very narrow and quite steep. Might as well just put in ladders.
 
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