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On the surface, Wichita Falls is not an interesting city. It is one of those places you go through on your way to somewhere else. Even the highway was built to accommodate a swift and smooth passage. It is elevated above the city and is a pain to get back on if you dare to exit to eat.
But it wasn’t always that way. In the 1910’s, oil was found close by. Wichita Falls was where IT was AT. Business was booming, and the building wasn’t able to keep up. Tents were erected on the street to use as office space.
Enter opportunist J.D. McMahon. He saw a problem and set out to fix it. He drummed up investors by showing them a blueprint of an annex of his current building. It was to be an impressive 480 feet tall (to compare, this is the same size as the Giza Pyramid in Egypt).
Except in something that seems ripped from the Spinal Tap movie, he wrote” instead of ‘ on the blueprint. He built the building 480 INCHES high, which is 40 feet. There are four floors in this skyscraper, with the inside dimensions of 12 feet x 9 feet. There’s more square footage in my master bath than in a floor of this building.
When it became clear that the building was seriously flawed, investors went looking for Mr. McMahon. He had absconded with $200,000 of funds (which had the buying power of about $2.6 million of today’s dollars)! When the elevator company came to install the elevator for the building, they took one look at the mess and said “nope!” Investors reportedly recouped a small amount of cash from their refund. A ladder had to be installed (and later a stairwell built) because no other way between the floors had been allowed for.
The legends of this little building have survived, and unfortunately seem to be unable to substantiate. Are they true? Maybe…
- Ripley of Ripley’s Believe It or Not fame gave the building the nickname “The Littlest Skyscraper”
- It was once saved from being demolished by a millionaire’s wife who thought it was “so cute” she bought it.
- Investors hired a man to follow Mr. McMahon to all his subsequent endeavors and inform potential investors of the swindle.
We visited the building in November, and there was a small antique store occupying the annex (but not the “tower”). But we stopped by again last month, and they had vacated. The owner had told us that people stopped in almost daily to see Wichita Falls’ folly, and local school children studied the design when learning the mathematics of scale.
I hope that it will soon be occupied again. This building has survived fire, tornado and scorn to become an attraction. Even if it is a small one.
You can find the Littlest Skyscraper (officially known as the Newby – McMahon Building) at the corner of 7th and LaSalle in Wichita Falls, Texas. Since it was unoccupied on our last visit, I have no idea if you can get into the building to see the inside. However, it’s about a 10 minute round trip detour from Highway 287/Interstate 44 and definitely worth that time to see it in person.