Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

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Once found in communities all across Oklahoma, the modest pyramidal house is often hidden in the shadows of larger and more elaborate buildings but deserves recognition for the role it has played in the state's social history. It takes its name from a distinctive roof made of four equilateral triangles joined together in hip-roof fashion to form a pyramid. The house is one story and is approximately square, usually with four rooms and no hallway in the interior, and is almost always is made of wood. A cousin to the more imposing American foursquare house with its two stories and more rooms, the pyramidal house was less expensive to build and is therefore sometimes known as the workingman's or working-class foursquare (especially when it had a basement). It provided an alternative to the more costly, one-story, gabled houses that required long ridges and more lumber in the rafters. The concentrated, compact design, moreover, enabled the pyramidal house to make efficient use of interior space and to fit onto small city lots.

With stylistic origins that can generally be traced back to clearly Southern roots, the force that brought the pyramidal house to popularity was the railroad. As the expansion of transportation systems allowed the mass distribution of lumber (and the proliferation of lumberyards in Oklahoma towns), the materials for house construction became more readily available. This transportation development coincided with the growth of cities. Construction of pyramidal houses surged in the years following World War I and flourished in the 1930s, despite the dampening effect of the Great Depression; they could be built when more expensive homes could not. While nationally pyramidal house construction peaked just before World War II, the return of prosperity enabled many people who had never before owned a home to construct this house, and the postwar housing shortage provided further incentive. Although the roof-framing system could be complex, many working-class and rural families had the expertise to construct the house. When combined with the economies, the house design offered people who otherwise would have had to rent or share with a larger family an opportunity to actually own their own home.

The pyramidal houses that remain in the towns, and sometimes in the countryside too, are signs of Oklahoma's urbanization, and while they suggest the modest incomes of their owners, they also, and perhaps more importantly, reflect the pride and skill and dreams which were as lofty as any that went into the most ostentatious mansion across town.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Robert W. Bastian, "Indiana Folk Architecture: Lower Midwestern Index," Pioneer America 9 (December 1, 1977). Peirce F. Lewis, "Common Houses, Cultural Spoor," Landscape 19 (January 1975). Virginia McAlester and A. Lee McAlester, A Field Guide to American Houses (1984; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000).

Michael Cassity

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