H. E. Ledbetter House

701 West Brooks Street
Norman, Oklahoma

Completed 1948

Designed by Bruce Goff

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Bruce Goff began his career in 1916 with an apprenticeship at the Tulsa firm Rush, Endacott and Rush at the age of twelve. In 1929, the Boston Avenue Methodist Church, his first building was completed in Tulsa. In 1947, he began a nine-year period teaching at the University of Oklahoma at Norman and was appointed Chairman of the School of Architecture at the end of his first semester. Frank Gehry described Goff’s teaching philosophy: “He believed in the young. He wanted to liberate them from the world of rules and the imprisonment of conventional ideas. He wanted them to design and make an open society, and he encouraged them to follow their own intuition—not to be followers of Bruce Goff, but to be free and open to explore their own ways.”[1] It is in this context that the design for the Ledbetter house can best be appreciated.

H. E. Ledbetter commissioned Goff to build a house in the town of Norman, where his son was a student at the University of Oklahoma. To accommodate the small lot, Goff designed the house on split levels. Serpentine stone walls define two edges of the house. Naturally textured walls, flagstone floors, and red cedar ceilings were combined with machine-like aluminum spandrels, steel suspension cables, and two suspended aluminum discs—one over the carport and the other over an outdoor terrace. The completed house created a stir in Oklahoma, and even today visitors are surprised at Goff’s imaginative and forward-thinking midcentury modern architecture. This house, now owned by the University of Oklahoma, is a private residence but can be seen from the street.

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Unfortunately, Goff’s more famous 1955 Bavinger House, also in Norman, was demolished in 2016. Oklahoma Design Destinations hopes to bring attention to the state’s surviving design treasures so that future generations can appreciate their rich cultural heritage.

[1] Frank Gehry, Foreword, in David G. De Long, Bruce Goff: Toward Absolute Architecture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; and New York: Architectural History Foundation, 1988), x.