FRIDAY FUNNY: A Mini Skyscraper Is The Architectural Equivalent Of “Jumbo Shrimp”

Posted by Heidi Schwartz

Is everything bigger in Texas? That’s the case–at least according to the state’s unofficial slogan, but in the Texas town of Wichita Falls, the exact opposite is true. Located near the Texas/Oklahoma border, the city is home of the Newby-McMahon Building, also known as the world’s littlest skyscraper.

The Newby-McMahon Building, also known as the "World's littlest skyscraper." (Photo: Solomon Chaim.)
The Newby-McMahon Building, also known as the “World’s littlest skyscraper.” (Photo: Solomon Chaim.)

Aside from the novelty of its size and irony of its location (it IS in Texas, after all), the building’s colorful history is steeped in the oil boom that started in the area when a large, nearby reserve was discovered in 1912. By 1918, J.D. McMahon, a Philadelphia-based owner of an oil rig construction firm, was a tenant in the single story Newby building in Wichita Falls. As the money flowed into the town overnight, people began conducting business anywhere they could, so McMahon saw the potential for growth and seized it—at the expense of as many gullible investors he could fleece.

This comes from

According to local legend, when McMahon announced in 1919 that he would build a high rise annex to the Newby Building as a solution to the newly wealthy city’s urgent need for office space, investors were eager to seize the opportunity to become even wealthier. McMahon collected $200,000 (US$ 2,690,000 in 2014) in investment capital from this group of naïve investors, promising to construct a high rise office building across the street from the St. James Hotel.

The key to McMahon’s swindle…was that he never verbally stated that the actual height of the building would be 480 feet. The proposed skyscraper depicted in the blueprints that he distributed (and which were approved by the investors) was clearly labelled as consisting of four floors and 480 inches tall.

In the end, the not-so-towering skyscraper became the subject of lawsuits, which were mostly won by McMahon. (Although the elevator company voided the contract once the swindle was discovered and as a result, “there was no stairway 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.”*) McMahon left Wichita Falls, and the building—an embarrassment to the town after being featured in Robert Ripley’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not! in the 1920s—was eventually abandoned.074

But fear not! The Newby-McMahon building has survived. In 2000, the architectural firm of Bundy, Young, Sims & Potter revived the littlest skyscraper, which has since been declared a Texas Historic Landmark. And yes, there is a staircase, but it is extremely narrow and takes up approximately 25% of the floor area…oh, and it’s probably not ADA accessible either.



    • Thanks, Ed! These amusing stories are tough to find. I’d appreciate any anecdotes or funny stories other facility managers would be willing to share.

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