At twenty-one stories, the Great Plains Life Building still marks the highest peak of Lubbock’s skyline. When completed, it was hailed as the tallest building between Fort Worth and Denver. Daniel Boone, the designer in Abilene-based David Castle’s office, organized the slender tower like that of the International Style PSFS Building in Philadelphia (1932, Howe and Lescaze). Castle and Boone used red brick to differentiate the four-story base and the vertical stair and elevator shaft at the back (north) of the tower from the stacked trays of office space, which are articulated by horizontal window bands sandwiched between buff brick spandrels. The First National Bank occupied the building’s base.
The 1970 tornado struck the Great Plains Building, racking its structural steel frame so violently that large swathes of brick were ripped off and 60 percent of its windows were broken. Yet thanks to Castle’s conservative engineering, the building held, and all those inside were able to escape safely down the fire stairs. In 1975 new owners, Gaut and Gaut Real Estate Investments of Amarillo, restored and reoccupied the building. Although there were calls during the early 1970s to demolish the vacant, windowless building, its survival enabled it to become an architectural symbol of Lubbock’s resilience in the face of catastrophe. NTS Communications acquired the building in 1997 and in 2013 moved in after renovating much of the interior.