The World’s Littlest Skyscraper, located in Wichita Falls, Texas, is, as its name would imply, not a colossal structure. Built in 1919, the four-story Littlest Skyscraper—or the Newby-McMahon Building, as its formally known—stands at 40 feet tall. (For reference, it would take over 36 Littlest Skyscrapers to reach the Empire State Building.) The history behind the building, however, is anything but inconspicuous.
The construction of the building was undertaken in response to the discovery of a large petroleum reservoir in Burkburnett, a city located just 14 miles west of Wichita Falls. That fledgling oil business turned Wichita Falls into a boomtown, and created, by extension, a demand for office space in the area.
That’s where J.D. McMahon entered the picture. A crafty construction magnate from Philadelphia, McMahon put forth a blueprint for the Newby-McMahon Building, an idea that garnered immediate interest due to the planned building’s proximity to the hotel and rail station. Sure enough, McMahon quickly collected about $2,000 in investment capital from a group of investors.
Using his own construction crews, McMahon set up constructing the building exactly to the blueprint’s specifications—which, had the investors read the plans more carefully, should have been cause for concern. McMahon shrewdly listed the building at 480 inches on his blueprints, not feet. The investors, in their money-hungry frenzy, never noticed. By the time they did realize they’d been swindled, McMahon had already skipped town. And when they tried bringing their grievance in front of a judge, their case was shot town—they had, after all, signed on to the blueprints.
Time passed, the investors grumbled, and the building eventually did serve its intended use as an office space for a few different oil businesses. A few years later, a sardonic write-up in Robert Ripley’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not! column referred to the building as “the world’s littlest skyscraper,” thus ensuring its (small) place in history.
The downturn of the oil boom, followed by the Great Depression, signaled a period of destitution for the Newby-McMahon Building. Though the building was scheduled for demolition a few times, residents always banded together to save their beloved ugly duckling. Ownership of the World’s Littlest Skyscraper was transferred to the Wichita County Heritage Society in 1986, though talk of demolition persisted.
Finally, in 1999, the building came to a period of stability, thanks to its purchase by a local architectural firm, Bundy, Young, Sims & Potter. The firm had actually been hired by the city to provide some structural updates to the building; Dick Bundy, the firm’s president, became so enamored with the structure he decided to buy it. Partnering with Marvin Groves Electric, also a local business, Bundy bought the building for the grand sum of $3,748.
“Our firm had stabilized the building for the City of Wichita Falls back in the 1980s, it was truly about to fall in and had pigeon droppings up to the bottom of the second-floor windows,” Bundy recalls. “We wanted to preserve it for its historical value to the community knowing we could maintain it better than most people.”
The building still holds a few different offices, and it draws a sizeable number of tourists, according to Bundy. “Folks from all over the world stop in,” he says.
Yet, in the end, it’s the effect the building has on the local community that’s made Bundy proudest. “People in our community do appreciate our efforts,” he says. “They tell us. Our goal was to restore it, we never expected to make any money on the investment—and sure enough that has held true!”