Posts about okc history

Rambled thoughts on Architecture, Urbanity, and the 7th Generation

November 1st, 2009

Oklahoma City Pei Plan (source: Doug Loudenback)

This morning, I read this old article at OKC Central about a architecture critic’s visit to Oklahoma City and comments on the City’s efforts back in the 1960s through 1980s with interest.

While some of what the critic Hiroshi Watanabe said sounded well-reasoned and has proven to be largely correct (praising Bricktown, the potential of the Myriad Gardens, etc), one thing that sticks out, both in regards to the efforts of I.M. Pei that preceded the critics visit and to the comments by Watanabe on the quality of the setbacks and plazas surrounding downtown office buildings, is the influence of architectural trends and the general lack of urban understanding.  Simply put: a good architect does not necessarily equate to a good urbanist. In fact, many renowned architects are very poor urbanists with destructive tendencies when given an opportunity to work at too great a scale. Along these lines, an interesting debate has been taking place between proponents of Frank Gehry and members of the more Jane Jacobs minded (actually, more accurately, William Whyte minded) Project for Public Spaces (PPS).  The debate was sparked by a question about the quality of public space provided by Gehry buildings asked by Fred Kent, head of PPS and a recent speaker at the Oklahoma City Mayor’s Development Roundtable, at a symposium in Aspen; to which Gerhy responded, if at all, with a pompous disregard that astounded some in attendance.

In the end, a great city has to be a collective effort.  Architects certainly have a tremendous amount to contribute to the conversation and to the overall aesthetic.  Planners, urban designers, engineers, real estate developers, etc – also all have much to contribute to shaping the ultimate urban environment.  But none of these professions, or any other profession for that matter, should wholly dictate the detailed form of the urban environment at a broad scale.  Ultimately, an eclectic mix of many persons contributions; spread out over decades or centuries of the technologies and styles of generations; creates the type of city that I consider great.  In truth, I am concerned more with creating a framework that will sustain and grow a great city for a long time to come. Key decisions about the overall framework of city development have given us the cities we see today, even if we did not know the importance of those decisions at the time.    The  seventh generation approach is interesting to consider when making major decisions that will impact the historical, current, and future urban environment:

“Oren Lyons observes that the first mandate of traditional Haudenosaunee [Iroquois] chiefs is to ensure that their decision-making is guided by consideration of the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come:

‘What about the seventh generation? Where are you taking them? What will they have? (Lyons 1980, p. 174).’

“The seventh generation principle applies to the ancestors as well. In honoring the ancestors, one expresses gratitude to them as the seventh generation, which they kept foremost in their decision making and for whom they sacrificed.

What types of projects or policies will do the most to serve and respect future generations?  What projects and policies may hinder future generations? I have some ideas of my own, but would rather hear what you think.  Thoughts?

A few interesting finds from the Oklahoman Archives

April 20th, 2009

Thought you all might enjoy a few of the more interesting maps and such found in the course of thesis research over the last 24 hours.  By the way, the filenames begin with the year_mo_day if you would like to track them down yourself.

Oklahoman Park: OKC’S First Great Public Space

February 13th, 2009

In December 1902 Edward King Gaylord, upon the advice of Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison, ventured from St. Louis to Oklahoma City and purchased an interest from Roy Stafford in The Daily Oklahoman. He quickly set to work, applying his talent and expertise to improve and expand the paper.  By 1909 he had established himself as a valued civic leader, working with men like John Shartel and Anton Classen to establish Oklahoma City as the capitol of the new state and participating in other efforts that brought railroads and industry to the burgeoning prairie city.  He had also proved his abilities as a newspaper man, growing the business at a rapid pace.

A New Headquarters Building

The expanding paper outgrew its previous building, and in 1909 began construction of a new 5-story headquarters at the corner of 4th and Broadway. Designed by Layton & Smith, the same firm credited with the design of the Oklahoma State Capitol building,  the Oklahoman Building offers a majestic neo-classical facade that’s beauty endures to the present day. The paper continued to thrive and by 1923 was considering its future facility needs, buying up a series of lots between the Oklahoman Building and the Santa Fe tracks. This is the land that would become Oklahoma City’s first great public space!

On March 18, 1923, Edward King Gaylord offered company land to serve as Oklahoma City’s first downtown park (click to read)


In the 1920s Oklahoma City’s population doubled from 91,295 to 185,389 – moving up from the 80th to the 43rd largest city in the United States.  Despite the addition of large parks on the edge of town constructed as part of the 1910 Parks and Boulevard Plan and the existence of other quality open spaces, such as Belle Isle Amusement Park north of the city and Wheeler Park on the banks of the North Canadian River, the city still failed to provide the adequate public space for people living and working downtown.  This fact was not lost on E.K. Gaylord.  On March 18, 1923 he made this announcement on the front page of his paper:

“One of Oklahoma City’s greatest needs is a close in park.”

A search of the files of The Daily Oklahoman disclosed the fact that that statement had been published editorially more than a score of times in the last ten years.

And in order to “practice what it preaches,” The Oklahoma Publishing company has decided to help establish teh first down town park immediately

The park was located on the half block behind the Oklahoman building, starting at the alley on the west and extending east 275 feet to the publisher’s warehouse along the Santa Fe tracks. The depth of the park, from 4th street on the south to what used to be an alley running east-west through the center of the block on the north, was 140 feet, resulting in a park just under one acre in size.

This rendering shows the location of Oklahoman Park and the surrounding development (based on 1922 Sanborn Map – PDF).

Over the next six years Oklahoman Park greatly enhanced the quality of life in downtown, serving residents as an everyday park, and also as a central meeting place that hosted numerous downtown events, such as: sports broadcast, concerts, memorial services, and more.  It was so popular in fact that it once attracted more than 15,000 people for a single event, with crowds overflowing into the streets and blocking traffic.

Oklahoman Park Time Line

To give you an idea of how this park space served Oklahoma City over the years, I have put together a time line of some notable events.

OPENING DAY / July 11, 1923

On Wednesday, July 11, 1923 at 4:00pm, Oklahoman Park officially opened and treated those in attendance to a play-by-play presentation of the Oklahoma City Indians game versus Wichita, on a large “magnetic baseball board” that relayed the movement of the game from information provided by direct wire service.  The park was an instant success, as demonstrated by this photo of the crowd that was published in the next days paper.

MEMORIAL SERVICE / August 10, 1923

On this day Oklahoma Citians gathered in Oklahoman Park to pay tribute to President Warren G. Harding following his death.


The introduction of a new Football Gridgraph, a magnetic football board that displayed the game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to the sound of the radio broadcast.  The Football Gridgraph (see below) was  used to display all of the college football games for the fans that couldn’t catch the train to Norman.


Oklahoman Park covered in snow.  This is only the second picture I have found of the park and gives some sense of how it fit behind the OPUBCO headquarters.

WORLD SERIES / October 6, 1926

Each year fans would gather to watch and listen to the broadcast of the World Series.  On this day they got a special treat as Babe Ruth set a World Series record by hitting three home runs in Game 4 of the series.

THE BATTLE OF THE LONG COUNT / September 22, 1927

On this day, crowds of Oklahoma City residents – between fifteen and sixteen thousand – turned out to listen to a broadcast of what would be known as The Battle of the Long Count, a boxing rematch between Heavyweight champion Gene Tunney and former champion Jack Dempsey, that was broadcast live from Soldier Field in Chicago.  The crowd was so large in fact that “long before the gong sounded on the first round, the crowds had overflowed across the streets,” blocking traffic on surround streets.  “It was an outing for Oklahoma City.”


From the start Mr. Gaylord knew that as some point the Oklahoman would need the land for the expansion of their facilities.  In 1929 that day finally came when the paper announced that construction of a new modern publishing plant was set to take place on the site of Oklahoman Park.  Oklahoman Park served the City’s residents for six years thanks to the generosity and vision of a great city leader.


This great public space was a major amenity to downtown Oklahoma City.  It was more than just another park.   It helped meet the public space needs for surrounding residents and broader Oklahoma City community.  Just as E.K. Gaylord noted of the city in 1923, today Oklahoma City lacks high quality urban spaces like the Oklahoman Park. While we may no longer gather for radio broadcast or magnetic board displays, a small urban park at the corner of 4th and Broadway would be a welcome amenity to this area of downtown and would be utilized both on a daily basis and for numerous events and festivals.

Thankfully, the construction of the new Chamber Building provides the perfect opportunity to create a great new public space.  We can create a place that helps us meet our planning objectives and captures the essence of OKC’s first urban public space.  This public space will not compete with the planned Core 2 Shore park as it is quite some distance away and much, much smaller in scale.  What this place can do is improve pedestrian connectivity, provide a gathering place for festivals and events and offer a great place to eat lunch for CBD workers. This park would redefine this portion of downtown and enhance the potential for new development in all of the adjoining districts – especially Automobile Alley!

To get a better idea of how public spaces of this size can benefit urban communities today, we will next take a look at one of the United State’s great public spaces.

For more on the planning of the Chamber site:

1. Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal
2. Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal, part II
3. Re-visioning the Chamber: Defining Objectives
4. Oklahoman Park: OKC’s First Great Public Space


1. “Close In Park Offer of Paper to Citizens,” The Oklahoman, Mar 18, 1923, page 35
2. “Chance to See Ball Game Free is Offered in Daily Oklahoman Park,” The Oklahoman, Jul 11, 1923, page 1
3. “Crowd See Action of Game at Oklahoman Park,” The Oklahoman, Jul 12, 1923, page 1
4. “Heads to Bow for Memorial,” The Oklahoman, Aug 9, 1923, page 1
5. “Something New for Football Fans,” The Oklahoman, Oct 23, 1923, page 12
6. “Draped in Winter Raiments,” The Oklahoman, Jan 11, 1925, page 41
7. “Super-Service For Super-Series,” The Oklahoman, Oct 1, 1926, page 1
8. “Crowd in Park Cheers for Fight Winner,” The Oklahoman, Sep 23, 1927, page 1
9. “Modern Newspaper Home Soon to Rise in Oklahoman Park,” The Oklahoman, Jul 7, 1929, page 1

Evolution of Bricktown in Google Earth 5.0

February 4th, 2009

Google Earth 5.0 has been released and it is a very worthy upgrade!  The coolest new feature of the program is that it allows you to search historical aerials.  With Oklahoma City, there are approx. 10 different aerial sets dating back to 1991, though only a few are from before 2002.  Still, it is great to have access to a tool that records urban transformation. For instance, check out the clips I took of Bricktown over the last 15 years:




Google Earth 5.0 is available to download completely free of charge.  Google Earth Pro adds some valuable features, including large format image exports, but costs $400 – making it almost exclusively for commercial users. Regardless, the free version is great and is only getting better. I can’t wait to see how this is used in the future as the time between aerials decreases and the recorded length in the database increases. Imagine a future in 2050 where you could watch – like a movie – the changes that occurred in an area following some type of intervention – like the introduction of a new transit line! Certainly something I look forward to watching happen in OKC!

Doug tells us more about the OKC Civic Center

February 3rd, 2009

A while back I posted a sketch that I discovered on my recent thesis research trip, from an early plan for the Oklahoma City Civic Center.  Well Doug Loudenback’s curiosity was piqued and he has produced a wonderful new post that unravels the planning and development of Oklahoma City’s Civic Center built upon the land (pictured above) left vacant with the removal of the old Rock Island tracks.

It is a great post and I encourage anyone interested in the City’s history to check it out.  Doug is a master at pulling together pictures and resources, and culling articles from the Oklahoman archives – and here he delivers once again!

Click here to see Doug’s post

OK Historic Courthouse’s Last Chance

January 22nd, 2009

Note: My trackpad button is sticking on my MacBook. I hate to write anything negative about this computer because it – along with the Apple company – has treated me splendidly for over two years. Further, I could fill incredible scroll bar’s lengths of blog telling you all of the things I love about this computer. But imagine how difficult it would be to get anything done on your computer if the mouse button was clicking everything it touched. Needless to stay I will be scheduling an appointment with a genius…and keeping the post short today!

On to the post:

Oklahoma County’s beautiful old courthouse was a treasure and one worth keeping.  And it would seem that when Hare & Hare where called in to do the Civic Center master plan, they initially had every intention of keeping it.  Eventually – for reasons I don’t yet know – this plan was ditched and the planning process took a different direction, ultimately settling on the layout we still see today, with the new art deco courthouse positioned east of Hudson.  But recently I came across this sketch that shows how it would have looked had we kept the Old Courthouse…

The Achievement of Splendid Ideals

January 13th, 2009

We are standing on the threshold of a new era. Statehood has come and the rapid growth attending the founding of a state government. The Indian Territory, so long held back, brings its share of wealth. Men are plowing in ten thousand fields; the treasures of the earth are being mined, and the wheels of industry have begun to revolve. A hundred cities are rising on our plains, and the highways of commerce are opened wide. Every year will bring greater wealth; and with every year will come added numbers of people, until our cities grow to proportions we scarcely dream of today. But let every year be a year of progress so that our cities may rank among the first, not only in size, but in the achievement of splendid ideals.

From an address given by Philip Kates, former Tulsa City Attorney, on January 5, 1911 at the at the First Annual Conference of the Oklahoma Municipal League held in Oklahoma City.

Have the people of Oklahoma City quit dreaming of making this city great?  Or have we begun to recapture some of the spirit that defined the pioneers who settled this land?  It is clear that early city and state leaders had huge aspirations for the future of their cities, but I fear that even with all of the great things that have happened in the last 15 years we are beginning to rest on our laurels.

But let every year be a year of progress so that our cities may rank among the first, not only in size, but in the achievement of splendid ideals.

This should be a motto we scream today, though I would amend it by excluding the word “only” so that it reads “first, NOT in size, but in the achievement of splendid ideals.”  The focus should not be on growth, but on the continuous improvement of quality of life for ALL current and future residents of our city.

These are my ideals, to create a city that enables all of us to live a fuller, richer life; not based on material economy alone, but on an amalgamation of the quality of life components valued by us all.  This might include any number of things, but it has no single focus.  Ultimately, we have to have a process that allows for and values the input of all individuals and doesn’t allow any single person or organization to control our destiny.  Further, we have to be willing to change and adapt as the social, racial, and economical makeup of our city shifts towards a new future and as the challenges we are faced with demand it.

I don’t see this happening now; I feel as though in recent years we have paused following an almost two decade rise.  So many opportunities presented over the past couple years have ended with settling.  Settling for more of the same.  Settling for good enough.  Settling for something less than what the citizens of other cities consistently demand.

So as we move forward into the future.  I ask that the city leaders and administrators allow for – make that encourage – the meaningful input and involvement of the citizens they claim to serve.  And of equal importance, we require a more active citizenry, with more persons making their voices heard at council and design commission meetings, participating on civic or neighborhood boards, or any number of other possible roles suited to the abilities and interest of the person.  No matter where we get involved, the goal should be to demand excellence from ourselves and our civil servants.

Right now it is not always easy to get involved: adequate information is difficult to find, formal channels of communication are not always effective, and many decisions are made without the benefit of an open-forum or healthy debate.  These are symptons of the same flawed way of doing things that led to some of the greatest tragedies in our City’s history of planning and development.  We need to develop a process that will ensure we avoid another Pei Plan, or the injustices of the clearance of Maywood, or more recently the continued controversy surrounding the new I-40 alignment.  With leadership that listens and a citizenry that pays attentions, we will avoid some of the mistakes that have hindered us in the past and can push forward towards the creation of a truly great city that we can all be proud of.

Best of imagiNATIVEamerica 2008!

December 22nd, 2008

So I will be en route to Oklahoma City tomorrow and wanted to leave you with what I think are some of the best posts from the last six months.  Thanks for reading and have a Merry Christmas!

  1. Mapping Pedestrian Friendliness in OKC
  2. This was one of my earliest posts and still my favorite. I really like Gehl’s work and it is interesting to apply it to Oklahoma City. Check it out and try to contribute to the map of pedestrian friendly places. Though I heard from someone the other day that there is not really a reason to map pedestrian-friendliness in OKC, you can just count of the places on your fingers…:)

  3. Ten Must-Haves for OKC’s Downtown Park
  4. It is fun to dream about the future of the “central park” that is being planned as part of Core 2 Shore. OKC has needed a downtown park or other place to serve as the “heart” of the city for years and it seems it is finally coming. Check out the list and add your own lists!

  5. Oklahoma City’s 1910 Plan for Grand Boulevard by W.H. Dunn
  6. OKC has a fascinating planning history that is largely unexplored. I am in the middle of researching a thesis about this history and found this great plan for OKC’s parks and boulevards.

  7. The NEW I-40 Pedestrian Bridge
  8. The bridge is beautiful! What more is there to say?

  9. Bricktown Parking: Killing Two Birds with One Streetcar
  10. Parking in Bricktown was a hot topic last summer!  I say, if we really want to solve the parking problem then we have to think outside the box and take our first steps toward a downtown transit system. In this post I layout a plan to make it happen.

  11. I Love Oklahoma!
  12. First big post and it took me forever to produce; so there is some sentimental value there.

  13. What Is the Future of Suburbia?
  14. Ideas that I enjoy discussing (keeping comment vague and general because I can’t remember exactly what I talked about).

  15. Oklahoma City Gas Counter
  16. Tells an amazing story! The steep “double black diamond” slope on the right shows both my stock portfolio, as well as my dreams for cities that encourage biking, walking, and smart urban form, come crashing down.

  17. Walkability Rankings: Oklahoma City #35
  18. I love cities that allow for walking and think Oklahoma City has plenty of room for improvement – as this walkability ranking attests. This post overviews the rankings, some of the flaws with their analysis, and discusses other issues related to walkability in Oklahoma City.

  19. Axel Peemoeller’s Funky Parking Garage
  20. This is just sweet!

BONUS: Sunrise in Boston!

I am digging this new mobile upload feature and can’t believe I scored this amazing sunrise the day after I set it up! Looking forward to many more posts on the go in 2009!

Oklahoma City’s 1910 Plan for Grand Boulevard by W.H. Dunn

November 6th, 2008

In the course of my thesis research I have tracked down a copy of the 1910 plan prepared for the Oklahoma City Parks Commission by W.H. Dunn, a landscape architect from Kansas City.  The book entitled: Oklahoma City: A report on its plan for an Outer Parkway and a plan for an Interior System of parks and boulevards (the complete report is available in .pdf – see below).  This may very well be the first formal plan prepared for Oklahoma City, though there were previous planning efforts for individual developments like Classen’s streetcar neighborhoods or some of I.M. Putnam’s developments.  I don’t have time to get into all of the details of the this plan and my thoughts right now, but I figured I could make a bunch of information I have discovered available and allow you to read and discuss.  Please let me know if you have any insights or see any connections that you think are worth pursuing.  Looking through this plan that contains some of the earliest ideas that helped shape Oklahoma City has certainly been a pleasure for me and I hope you enjoy them as well.


This actually represents one of the earliest and most complete maps of Oklahoma City.  I have tracked down a couple maps that predate this one, but this is definitely the most complete and absolutely beautifully done.  Keep in mind that this map is a combination of what existed and what was proposed – not all of the ideas came to fruition.

For a higher-resolution image of the map, download the .pdf at the bottom of the page.




Northeast Park – what became Lincoln Park

Southeast Park – what became Trosper Park

Southwest Park – what became Woodson Park


These resources are all made available in .pdf.  These files are quite large (please use right-click Save as…).

  • Complete 1910 Dunn Report and Plan in b/w .pdf, 7.5mb – (click here)
  • Large general plan color map, 8.9mb – (click here)

Also, I have full-size 300dpi scans of all images available and will consider sharing them – please email me if you are interested.


These articles are from journals available for free through google books that reference this planning effort around the time it was carried out.  They are helpful in completing the picture, though you have to take it with a grain of salt as early Oklahoma Citians were always hard at work selling their beloved city. I downloaded each journals complete .pdf and saved only the portion that contains the relevant article.