People say that everything is bigger in Texas, but that’s not true when it comes to buildings in a town just south of the Red River. The Newby-McMahon Building, also called “The World’s Littlest Skyscraper,” is in Downtown Wichita Falls, Texas, at the corner of 7th Street and La Salle. The red brick building is only 40 feet tall, and each of its four floors is only about the size of a normal bedroom, at 9 feet wide and 12 feet long.
Today, more than 100 years after it was built in 1919, it might not seem like much. But to the people who lived in a once-bustling North Texas city a hundred years ago and expected a real building, it was embarrassing. Local lore says that The World’s Littlest Skyscraper was built because of one of the biggest architectural scams in history.
Enter Amarillo Nuilder, J.D. McMahon
In 1918, the story starts. The close town of Burkburnett, where oil was found, was a big reason why Wichita Falls grew quickly. As the area grew quickly, more and more room was needed to keep up with the growth that seemed to happen all at once. Enter Amarillo builder J.D. McMahon. According to government records, McMahon had the idea for a new building project that would bring a modern skyscraper with offices, stores, and apartments to Downtown Wichita Falls.
On paper, the idea was amazing and looked like it could work. The host of the PBS shows Daytripper, Chet Garner, said that the pitch was for a skyscraper that would be 480 feet tall and would be the biggest building in Texas. Investors were quickly interested in the idea and started giving McMahon money right away. Garner said that McMahon was able to get $200,000 for the tall building. Taking inflation into account, that would be the same as well over $3 million today.
It didn’t take too long to finish making the building. McMahon packed his bags and left Wichita Falls when it was over. Official papers say that one of the out-of-town investors kept calling McMahon for months to ask where this grand skyscraper was, but McMahon never told him where it was. Do you know Elon Musk Ambitious Plan To Build His Own Town?
According to the story, the investor finally got in touch with a renter who had worked with McMahon in the past. This person asked the investor to explain what kind of building he was looking for. The investor said he wanted a 40-story skyscraper that was 100 feet wide and 160 feet long. The person who talked to him knew that there were no buildings like this in Wichita Falls.
Official papers said that the investor was adamant that the building was at 701 La Salle Street, right in the middle of Downtown Wichita Falls. The investor said, “I even saw a drawing of the city’s skyline, and this building was right there, right in the middle, and very impressive.”
The man who talked to the angry investor finally found a thin, four-story building on La Salle Street. The man measured the building and then “burst out laughing,” according to records from Wichita Falls.
The man found that McMahon’s state-of-the-art skyscraper was in fact this skinny, four-story building that was built exactly as promised, but not to the square foot but to the square inch. McMahon’s building was only 40 feet tall, not 480 feet like the other one. Or 480 inches.
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According to Garner’s story in Daytripper, investors were very angry and sued McMahon right away. But when a judge looked at the plans that had been cleared, he saw that everything was in order and that McMahon had built his “skyscraper” just the way he told his investors he would. The judge found that the final plans, which had been accepted, were laid out in inches, not feet.
Garner said that McMahon had pulled off the trick of the century by just adding an apostrophe. “It turns out that people tend to miss punctuation when they see dollar signs.”
Garner said that the owners wanted to tear down the building at first, but Ripley’s Believe It or Not picked up the story and called the Newby-McMahon building “the world’s littlest skyscraper,” a name that has stuck ever since. We have recently written a piece of news about Texas Building Its Own Power Plants Could Cost $7 Billion More Than Projected
Before it was bought in the early 2000s, the building was empty for many years. The building got stairs that weren’t there when it was first built, and the rest of the building got a makeover. It is now the home of Hello Again, a local shop that sells clothes, furniture, and other things. The City of Wichita Falls has also named the building a landmark, and the United States Department of the Interior has put it on the National Registry of Historic Places.