The Edmond Sun

Features

June 5, 2009

Tulsa’s McBirney Mansion elegant, luxurious

High on a hill overlooking the Arkansas River sits an impressive Gothic Revival mansion. Unlike a lot of the mansions in Tulsa, this one didn’t belong to an oil man.

James Hugh McBirney was born on March 1, 1870, in Cloghjordan, County Tipperary, Ireland. His family moved to the United States when James was about 5. His father was a Methodist Episcopal minister who settled his family in southern Kansas.

There are conflicting stories about McBirney’s early career — one says that he came to Oklahoma for the Run of ’93, staked out land which he later found had been reserved by the government, and subsequently went back to Kansas to work as a bookkeeper at a bank in Columbus. Other versions omit the land run incident, just saying that he began working at the Columbus bank, then a bank in Coffeyville, before being offered a position with Tulsa Banking Company. McBirney was a good pitcher and apparently the offer was associated with the opportunity to play for Tulsa’s first baseball team.

Seven years later, in 1904, the bank was reorganized and renamed First National Bank. McBirney was named vice-president. When a second reorganization took place, McBirney, along with his brother, decided to start their own bank, which they named the Bank of Commerce. Members of the McBirney family were involved in the bank for half a century. The bank was eventually purchased by First National and is now part of Bank of America.

Long story short — J.H. McBirney was a successful banker who built an elegant home on a beautiful site at 1414 Galveston, just east of the river. McBirney wasn’t an oil man, but he obviously did business with a lot of the Tulsa oil millionaires and they, and many other prominent people, including Amelia Earhart, were guests at the Galveston Street mansion. McBirney died in 1944. His wife lived in the home until it was sold to a group of lawyers in 1976. The 1927 structure was then listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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