The Dresser Mansion was built
in 1919 for Carl and Pauline Dresser.
Dresser Mansion was built in 1919 for Carl and Pauline Dresser of Bradford, Pennsylvania. At Dresser’s father’s instruction, “Go west young man” Carl, at age 29, brought his family to Tulsa and moved into his new mansion in November of 1920. Dresser Industries produced a pipeline coupling that revolutionized the oil industry. The couplings are still used today.
The style of the mansion is Italian Renaissance. The exterior stucco walls contain ground marble dust, and the stucco was hand applied by Italian artisans. Originally, the property included the three lots to the west of the mansion, and the lawns sloped down to the river.
During construction of the lavish but intimate home, the Dressers traveled Europe with their interior decorators, Lloyd’s of London, to amass a collection of 16th century furniture, tapestries, textiles, silver, and Oriental rugs. Early descriptions of the home provide an insight into Pauline’s educated vision of interior decoration. Many of the ideas were hers, and soon her beautiful home became a center of social activity.
There were provisions for five servants including a gardener, cook, chauffeur, two maids, and a governess for Pauline’s two sons from a previous marriage. The governess was French, and required sons Bradley and Charles to speak to her in French. If they did not, they would not receive their dinner. Behind her back, the boys nicknamed her “Mammal The Camel”. The boys’ bedroom was located above the dining room, and adjacent to “the governess’s suite” above the kitchen.
Mrs. Dresser was very conscious of storage needs, and in her bedroom and dressing room are eleven closets hidden in the paneled walls. Behind each “secret door” are tiers of shelves, some of which are still labeled, “church gloves”, “silver slippers, etc. In order that hangers not stretch Pauline’s gowns out, long trays were provided to lay her garments flat. Her bathroom contained an early steam cabinet and a shower outfitted with ten shower heads. Interestingly, there was a spigot at floor level in the shower, which was a “toe test”. One could turn it on and test the water temperature with the toes before getting into a too cold shower.
Inside the mansion, the walls are heavily textured. They were hand glazed by Italian artisans to resemble unfilled travertine marble. The finish you see today was completely original in 1919. Floors are of Tennessee oak, and much of the woodwork, including the heavily beamed ceilings, is of Circassian Walnut from trees felled, through special permission from King George V’s private forests. The dining room ceiling is done in gold, blue and red tones and was painted by an artist from France. Also of interest in the dining room is the fireplace mantel. The Latin inscription loosely translates to read, “In the midst of plenty, be moderate.” The sun-room, breakfast room, and library floors are paved with colorful majolica tiles imported either from Italy or Portugal. Originally sited to take advantage of the view of the Arkansas River, the sun-room windows all slid up into pockets in the walls, creating the effect of a screened-in terrace.
The mansion contains some 55 rooms and 35 closets. It is designed so that the servants’ wing could be completely closed off on all three floors from the main rooms of the mansion. On the lowest level was located a laundry that contained one of the first clothing dryers. It was basically a large metal cabinet from which racks would roll out. Clothing and linens would be hung on the racks, and forced, heated air would dry them in place. Also on this level were the gardener’s bedroom, a well room, fruit and vegetable storage rooms, and a sub-level boiler room to house the steam heating system. The mansion was built with a central vacuum system that was in existence as early as 1914 and believed to have been designed in Oklahoma City. Throughout the mansion was an elaborate telephone system called an Anunciator, which allowed the family to call nearly any room in the mansion. Additionally, there are hidden in many places small doorbell-like buttons to call for the maid.
On the west and east ends of the bedroom floor are two sleeping porches. Both were outfitted with twin beds and during the hot summers the Dressers would sleep in these nearly open-air rooms. Servants would hang dampened muslin at the many windows to hopefully provide some measure of relief from the heat. Immediately adjacent to Carl and Pauline’s bedroom is a small chamber that was designated as Pauline’s “resting room”. The room contained a chaise lounge and a couple of overstuffed chairs. This provided a comfortable place to relax in the afternoon after a heavy day of shopping.
The Dresser home was designed for intimate entertaining among the old world backdrop. It was the site of many elegant dinner parties. At one such party, soon after the house was completed, Mrs. Dresser was descending down the stairs. As she neared the bottom, she snagged an expensive glove on a splinter in the handrail. To make sure that never happened again, the next week the stair railings were upholstered in dark red velvet.
Today, Dresser Mansion remains mostly in its original state. In 2001 it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and is one of only ten such houses in Tulsa with Historic designation. As downtown has encroached upon what was once an elegant and elite neighborhood it is fortunate for Tulsa that Dresser Mansion remains in such wonderful and original condition.