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Believe it or not – the strange story of The World’s Littlest Skyscraper.

February 02, 2015 | Scott


'...these go to 11...'

‘…these go to 11…’

If you’ve ever played in a band then you’ll know that it’s hard to imagine a World before the classic ‘rockumentary’ film ‘This Is Spinal Tap’. Any group member showing pretension, pomposity or indeed any personality trait beginning with ‘P’ can be put in their place by the words ‘this is all getting a bit Spinal Tap’. Cricket bat-wielding managers, bizarre gardening accidents and astrology-obsessed girlfriends called Jeanine have had hapless rock ‘n’ rollers watching their backs since the film was released in 1984. For many the scene where guitarist Nigel Tufnel suggests a performance of their epic track ‘Stonehenge’ accompanied by dancing dwarfs and a huge model of said ancient monument is one of the film’s most memorable moments. He makes a quick sketch of the prop for the manufacturer but gets the dimensions wrong, and when it is lowered onto the stage it is 18 inches rather than 18 feet tall – the band are humiliated and a comically heated argument follows. (‘I think that the problem may have been that there was a Stonehenge monument that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf!’) It’s a very funny scene – but incredibly a conman once managed to swindle a large amount of money by using a very similar method…

In 1912 oil was discovered in Wichita County Texas. Overnight people began arriving in the area looking for work, with many heading for Wichita Falls. Local businessman J.D. McMahon recognised the need for more office space and announced his intention to construct a suitable high-rise building; in doing so he came to the attention of investors keen to take financial advantage of the situation. He secured a total of $200,000 (the equivalent of nearly $3,000,000 today) and drew up plans for the seemingly impressive Newby-McMahon Building. The aforementioned investors approved the plans, but as the structure began to take shape they realised that it was closer to 40 feet tall rather than the 480 feet that they were expecting. When it became obvious that things were going wrong the investors filed a lawsuit against McMahon after closer examination of the plans revealed the height of the building to be 480 inches rather than 480 feet. Much to the investors’s dismay the deal was declared legally binding by a local judge as the plans had been signed off, and since McMahon had indeed constructed a building of the specified height he had fulfilled his part of the deal. Incredibly the building didn’t even include any staircases as there were none on the original plans – by the time some ladders had been provided (!) McMahon had left town.

The Newby-McMahon Building in all it's glory - not quite what the investors were expecting...

The Newby-McMahon Building in all it’s glory.

The building became a considerable source of local embarrassment when it was dubbed ‘The World’s Littlest Skyscraper’ in the nationally-syndicated newspaper column ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!’ alongside bizarre facts and amusingly-shaped vegetables. Only two companies took up office space there, and following a fire in 1931 it lay unused for many years before becoming among other things a cafe and a hairdressers. After surviving the effects of a tornado it was restored by a local architectural company before being declared a Texas Historic Landmark and being added to The National Register Of Historic Places. It’s now home to an artist’s studio and an antique shop as well as being a tourist attraction as part of the Depot Square Historic District Of Wichita Falls.

They could have benefited from the skills of a master builder then, and we think everyone could benefit from a retro-styled Master Builder t-shirt now – so we’ve made one. It’s a very cool red shirt that goes all the way up to XXL, as opposed to all the way up to 11. And why not?

Master Builder


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