The Newby-McMahon Building, commonly referred to as the world’s smallest skyscraper, is located at 701 La Salle (on the corner of Seventh and La Salle streets) in downtown Wichita Falls, Texas.
Reportedly the result of a fraudulent investment scheme by a confidence man, the Newby-McMahon Building was a source of great embarrassment to the city and its residents after its completion in 1919.
A big con?
A large petroleum reservoir was discovered just west of the city of Burkburnett, a small town in Wichita County, Texas in 1912.
Burkburnett and its surrounding communities became boomtowns, experiencing explosive growth of their populations and economies. By 1918, an estimated 20,000 new settlers had taken up residence around the lucrative oil field, and many Wichita County residents became wealthy virtually overnight.
As people streamed into the local communities in search of high-paying jobs, the nearby city of Wichita Falls began to grow in importance. Though it initially lacked the necessary infrastructure for this sudden increase in economic and industrial activity, Wichita Falls was a natural choice to serve as the local logistical hub, being the seat of Wichita County.
Because office space was lacking, major stock transactions and mineral rights deals were conducted on street corners and in tents that served as makeshift headquarters for the new oil companies.
The Newby-McMahon Building is a four-story brick building located near the railroad depot in downtown Wichita Falls, built in 1906 by Augustus Newby (1855–1909), a director of the Wichita Falls and Oklahoma City Railway Company. The oil-rig construction firm of J.D. McMahon, a petroleum landman and structural engineer from Philadelphia, was one of seven tenants whose offices were based in the original Newby Building.
According to local legend, when McMahon announced in 1919 that he would build a highrise annex to the Newby Building as a solution to the newly wealthy city’s urgent need for office space, investors were eager to invest in the project.
McMahon collected $200,000 (US$ 2,730,000 in 2015) in investment capital from this group of naive investors, promising to construct a highrise office building across the street from the St. James Hotel.
The key to McMahon’s swindle, and his successful defense in the ensuing lawsuit, was that he never verbally stated that the actual height of the building would be 480 feet (150 m).
The proposed skyscraper depicted in the blueprints that he distributed (and which were approved by the investors) was clearly labelled as consisting of four floors and 480 inches (12 m) tall.