It is hard to define the collection of firms accompanying the ones we have already covered e.g., people, transportation, government, and businesses. In this category are hospitals, schools, recreation, and a variety of other organizations that arose early in OKC’s development.
St. Anthony’s Hospital
The two largest denominations in OKC are Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist, and both have led in providing hospital services. The oldest hospital in Oklahoma County is St. Anthony’s, opened November 24, 1899. [Card No.1] They have been there through scarlet fever epidemics and several depressions during which they served meals to the poor. They along with University Hospital are the only hospitals who have served the inner-city poor when other hospitals have located in wealthier suburbs. In 1960, Oklahoma Baptists built their hospital in a pasture six miles northwest of downtown.[Card No.2]
Kelham Ave Baptist Church
Although it was a quarter century younger than the First Baptist Church in downtown OKC, Kelham Avenue Baptist Church is pictured here because it was the church down the street from my birthplace to which my Mother took us kids. The Pastor’s daughter-in-law, Millie [Mrs. R.C. Howard, Jr.] was my Mom’s best friend in Cushing High School. Years later another pastor led them to relocate twice as white flight transformed that area. [Card No. 3]
In 1904 the Methodist Episcopal Church established Epworth University at 18th and Classen. [Card No. 4] Three years later they founded the state’s first medical school. Drastic improvements in medical education nationwide in 1911 led to the University’s bankruptcy in 1911. OU assumed ownership of the medical school and relocated it to northeast 13th street. After reorganizing, Epworth reemerged in 1922 as OCU at NW 23rd and McKinley. [Recently their School of Law purchased the former Central High School building downtown.]
From the beginning, OKC had primitive movies and live Vaudeville theatres on West Grand [renamed Sheridan in 1964]. In Card No. 5 are pictured [L to R] the [Grand Palace, Orpheum Vaudeville, and the Folly’s Vaudeville. Another card includes the Bijou and Fox theatres across Grand back East a block. Eventually these early theatres were replaced by genuine grand palaces such as the Criterion and Midwest theatres scattered around downtown.
Pressures to prevent prurient content soon led to firms arising in the 600-700 blocks of West Grand to screen movies prior to distribution e.g., “Film Row.” Changes in the industry led to its demise. It is now undergoing restoration. *
Lincoln Park Zoo
In 1936, President Roosevelt had the WPA build the Lincoln Park Zoo just to honor my birth. As the Great Depression phased out, we kids didn’t expect much by way of toys and entertainment, so the OKC Zoo was truly monstrous to us. Our big things on weekends were either a movie downtown or a trip to the zoo.
Page 2 of 2 - At the Zoo’s entrance, “Uncle Leo” greeted every kid. Next up on our left was a fake moat surrounding a half-submerged ship with masts and yard arms protruding high in the air for monkeys to cavort on.[Card No.6] It was a mandatory thirty-minute stop for every visitor. In 1949 citizens raised $8,000 to purchase a baby elephant which the City’s children named “Judy.” Our favorite was “Carmichael” the polar bear.
Oklahoma State Fair
To us, fun on warm fall evenings was twirling around then falling on our backs and looking up to watch the stars seemingly whirling in the heavens. Lying there in the grass giving chiggers the opportunity to climb on, we could hear noises of the Oklahoma State Fair a mile southeast of us at 10th and Eastern. [Card No.7.] The State Fair was only a ten-cent streetcar ride from downtown. OKC’s quality of life was cheaply available for ordinary [white] folks.
Canadian River/Wheeler Park
Few know that when OKC began “a river ran through it” e.g., the North Canadian River. [Card No. 8.] The original zoo, Wheeler Park [Card No. 9.] snuggled up to the south side of the river at Western. The park was destroyed in the “Great Flood” of 1923. **
Spring Lake Amusement Park
In 1922 Roy Staton built an amusement park at 40th and North Eastern having a roller coaster dubbed the “Big Dipper.”[Card No. 10.] By 1954 when I was a student at OU, my Dad sold concession supplies to Marvin Staton, then managing the park. One spring morning my Dad took me with him to unload some supplies there. Seeing me admiring his beauty, Marvin asked me if I would like to ride it. So it was that I got a ride all to myself. Big mistake. I was scared to death and had no others on board to assure me I wouldn’t die. I’ve never been on one since! Multitudes enjoyed its rides, dances, pools, and such famous entertainers as Johnny Cash and Conway Twitty. After black folks wanted in on some of the City’s quality of life in 1981, the park closed.
Next week: the fall.
• Bradley Wynn, ‘OKC Film Row,’ Chicago: Arcadia Pub. The author visited me, used some of my cards in this book.
• ** Jim Edwards, Hal Ottaway, “The Vanished Splendor II,”, OKC, Abalache Book Shop, 1983, Postcard No. 411.