The World’s Littlest Skyscraper: Did This Texas Town Fall for a Big Con?

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Tony Maples Photography


Coming in at a lofty 40 feet in height and measuring 18 feet in depth by 10 feet in width, the Newby-McMahon Building of Wichita Falls, Texas, holds the somewhat dubious honor (to locals at least) of being the world’s ‘littlest skyscraper.’ Its outward appearance is odd, to say the least, considering it’s barely wide enough to hold its windows. It’s four stories tall and may seem more like a practical joke. In actuality, despite its small stature, it’s a result of what some people claim is one of the most embarrassing encounters with as con artist that anyone has ever endured.

The story behind the Newby-McMahon Building has some twists and turns. Constructed by Augustus Newby in 1906, the original structure was a one-story brick office building. As Wichita Falls grew in prosperity in the oil boom of the early 20th century, J.D. McMahon’s oil-rig construction firm, a tenant of the building, proposed to construct a high-rise addition to it. The legend of the littlest skyscraper goes as follows: the building was proposed as an option for alleviating the lack of office space in the city’s downtown core, and so in 1919, $200K was collected from investors by McMahon, a sum which today would equal approximately $3 million. According to legend, he provided a blueprint depicting a building which was 480-inches tall but didn’t specify that its scale wasn’t measured in feet, only in inches. Apparently, none of the investors realized that the marks on the plans indicated inches, rather than feet, and they didn’t ask about it either. Instead, they simply provided the capital for the skyscraper.

The World’s Littlest Skyscraper: Did This Texas Town Fall for a Big Con?

Photo: Facebook/Peter Siekierski

McMahon then proceeded to employ his own crew for the construction of the new Wichita Falls skyscraper. It was near completion by the time his investors had realized their misfortune. They tried to haul McMahon into court, but since it was clear he had noted the building’s actual proposed height on its blueprint, the matter was upheld by the system. To add salt to their wounds, the elevator crew which was contracted for their part of the project had backed out. So, for the first few years the addition was open, the only way to get access to its upper floors was to make use of an external ladder until the internal staircase could be constructed!

The World’s Littlest Skyscraper: Did This Texas Town Fall for a Big Con?

Photo: Facebook/Debbie Freedman

Since it was such a local embarrassment, the world’s littlest skyscraper was practically abandoned and went into disrepair at the close of the oil boom and the start of the Great Depression. Decades would pass before a variety of tenants would occupy the space. Then, in 2000, it was purchased by Marvin Groves Electric for the sum of $3,748. The local company restored the structure at a cost of $250K, making it a permanent component of the city’s Depot Square Historic District. Today, it still stands tall-ish, hosting tenants and remaining a remnant of the rapid growth in Texas.