These Walls: Tulsa's Holly Corp. Refinery

Article excerpt

Stepping inside Holly Corp.'s Tulsa refinery presents something of a time glitch.

More than 100 buildings dot the sprawling 800-acre facility, some continuously active, some deathly still. Several metal structures with brick facades date back to the days when Joshua Cosden started his Tulsa refinery, a 1913 operation offering little more than an office sheltering a few pressure stills.

Some of those shops remain in use to this day, joined over time to additions demonstrating more modern industrial styles. Several storage tanks and pipes also date back to those founding years, having seen continuous usage for close to a century.

Other structures look empty and abandoned, relics left to wither and rust. A few date back to the early days, their silent crow's nests reminders of when fire presented a constant hazard, while others reflect operations idled over the last 20 to 40 years because of rising costs or newer technologies.

"We have no real estate limitations here," said M. Neale Hickerson, Holly's vice president of investor relations. "You don't need to tear it down. You just shut it down."

Some elements have disappeared altogether, such as the vast stretch of employee housing that once ran east of the plant, where Interstate 244 now crosses toward downtown. That took with it evidence of Tulsa's first bitter labor struggle, the divisive 1938 refinery strike that lasted well into World War II.

"This was not a labor town," said David Breed, executive secretary of the Southwest Tulsa Chamber and the Southwest Tulsa Historical Society. "To have people walk out on strike was just dumbfounding. The National Guard was brought in to guard the parameters of the refinery. They had family members turned against each other. I've heard people describe it as being as dramatic and difficult for west Tulsa as the race riot was for Greenwood, although there was no destruction, no loss of life."

The vast extent of assets comprising Holly Refining and Marketing - Tulsa LLC confounds even Dirk Morris, the business optimization and strategic planning manager at the refinery. The 30-year facility veteran just smiles when asked how many miles of pipe stretch through the facility, or how many rooftops he's responsible for.

"They're all numbered," chipped in Ed Weikel, a 1965 hire who twice retired from plant operations, only to come back for consulting work. …