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)
A CLOSE IN PARK
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.
BEDLAM FOOTBALL BROADCAST / October 27, 1923
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.
DRAPED IN WINTER REMNANTS / January 11, 1925
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.”
THE END OF OKLAHOMAN PARK / July 7, 1929
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.
A GREAT NEW PUBLIC SPACE
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