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A House Comes Home
With its acquisition of the Frank Phillips Home in Bartlesville, the Frank Phillips Foundation continues to tell the story of a legendary oilman and his family.
By Nathan Gunter
Published November/December 2018
Jane Phillips collected peacock feathers, which act as decorative elements throughout the home.
Photo by KATHY PEASTER
What turns a brick-and-mortar building into a home? For most, it’s memory: that which lives in the walls and recalls times fond and fraught. If this is the case, the Frank Phillips Home in Bartlesville deserves its title, as memories are as thick here as the details that evoke them, bringing to life the personalities and histories of the man for whom this home is named.
Take, for example, the Philippine mahogany wood that forms many of the house’s walls and banisters. Or the grandfather clock in the foyer that was a housewarming gift to oilman Frank Phillips and his wife Jane in 1909. There are the more than 2,000 books in the oak-paneled library. The two early-twentieth-century panic rooms are a result of the era’s trend of kidnappers targeting the wealthy. There’s the chair in Frank’s bathroom where a barber would visit every morning to give him a trim, a shave, and if necessary, a manicure. There is the 1879 child’s rocking chair in Jane’s bedroom, a gift from her father when she was two.
On a tour of this twenty-six-room, 12,000-square-foot mansion south of downtown Bartlesville, where 95 percent of the furnishings and personal effects are original, stories like these await visitors at every turn. There is the tale of how the Phillips’ son, John, once lost his own house across the street in a card game—and the story of how his father got it back. And through early 2019, the One Hundred Years in the Home exhibit of historic dresses in the bedroom of the Phillips’ foster daughters Mary Francis and Sara Jane will recall bygone, glamorous eras.
Under the Waterford crystal chandelier in the music room are a replica painting and a plaque that tell the most recent chapter in this house’s story. Once hanging here was Madame Helleu, a circa-1889 oil on canvas by American master John Singer Sargent that was purchased by the Phillips family in 1936. Now, a replica hangs instead. In 2018, the Phillips Foundation acquired the home from the Oklahoma Historical Society via the City of Bartlesville and auctioned off the painting at Christie’s to finance the property’s ongoing maintenance and staffing—a sale that netted $680,000.
“It makes no sense to have a painting you won’t sell while you let the house fall down around it,” says Phillips Home executive director Michelle Swaney.
The transfer of ownership—and the sale of Madame Helleu—saved the historic property from possible demolition and brought the home under the care of the same foundation that has run Woolaroc, Frank Phillips’ ranch only a few miles away, since 1944.
“We’re very happy, and I believe Frank and Jane Phillips would be very happy that the home and ranch are back together again,” Frank Phillips Foundation CEO Bob Fraser told the Tulsa World.
Now, visitors can get to know a little more about the oilman—and his family—who played such an important and elegant role in Oklahoma history.
The Frank Phillips Home, 1107 South Cherokee Avenue in Bartlesville, (918) 336-2491 or frankphillipshome.org.