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Oklahoma Memories

Mayor Hefner and Tinker Bonds

2010-03-03

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That was Oklahoma City Mayor Robert Hefner campaigning for a $982,000 bond to pay the land where the Army Air Corps planned to build a maintenance base.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Memories. I’m Michael Dean.

In late 1940, the Army Air corps announced plans to locate air base for bombers at the Oklahoma City airport. Sources told the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce that 200 officers and about 2,000 enlisted men would be assigned to the base and at least a million dollars would be spent on barracks, chow halls, and other buildings. More land would be needed at the municipal airport, located southwest of the city, and a committee within the Chamber of Commerce was promptly organized to raise capital to buy that land.

In an article in the Oklahoman in December 1940 E. K. Gaylord made the first public announcement of the committee and its purpose. At nearly the same time, Oklahoma City car dealer Fred Jones was working as a one dollar a year member of President Roosevelt’s War Production Board. During a discussion with several military officers talking about ways to get the country ready for war, he was startled to hear of a proposal for building a large air depot somewhere between Kansas City and Dallas-Fort Worth. Following that meeting Jones called Stanley Draper, the president of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, and told him to the chamber in gear. Soon the chamber learned that the depot would be a permanent installation employing as many as 2,500 workers located on at least 900 acres of land, most of which should be flat, and that construction would cost the army between 10 and 15 million dollars. They also learned that the army was also looking for a location for an airplane factory, but it was unlikely that the same city would get both the air depot and aircraft plant. So the chamber had to decide which one to go after.

Meanwhile that committee to buy more land at the municipal airport now formed a foundation for the purchase of land. An Army Air Corps colonel looked at two areas near Oklahoma City, one northeast of Norman, the other at Southeast 29th Street just east of Oklahoma City. He liked the Southeast 29th Street location better, and now the foundation very quietly began buying land around that intersection. Once the land was in hand, and the Army agreed to build not just the depot but the aircraft factory on the same site, Mayor Robert Hefner called a bond election to reimburse the foundation for the purchase of the land. He also included the purchase of land northwest of Oklahoma City near Bethany for the construction of an airport there.

Thus in late April 10941, this announcement was seen on movie theaters around Oklahoma City.

“This bond money will be used primarily for the purchase of land on which the army will spend millions of dollars for construction and employment. The great air supply depot alone will mean sixteen million dollars in construction by the government with our city supplying only the land.”

On Tuesday April 29th voters went to the polls and when the ballots were counted the bond passed by an amazing 19 to 1 margin. The city manager of Oklahoma City, H. E. Bailey, announced that construction would begin as soon as possible. The name of the facility posed a problem for the Army.&Because they had already located a bomber detachment at the municipal airport, that was already named the Oklahoma City Air Field. The name for the new facility would refer to its location in the heart of America; it would be known as the Midwest Air Depot, and then later Tinker Field and today, Tinker Air Force Base. Oh, and that air field north of Bethany? Today we know it as Wiley Post Airport.

You can learn more about our military heritage by visiting the Oklahoma History Center, just east of the state capitol on NE 23rd Street in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Memories is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to the collection, preservation, and sharing of our state’s past. I’m Michael Dean.