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Oklahoma Memories

Oklahoma City's Growth


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“We’re a big city now, and we’ve gotta have big city facilities. On Tuesday, May 9th, we will vote on a greater Oklahoma City bond issue which will give us twelve solid measures to match our facilities with our city’s growth.”

That’s from a film shown in theaters around Oklahoma City promoting a bond issue for a variety of infrastructure needs in Oklahoma City.

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

The period from 1950 to the mid-1960s saw incredible growth for Oklahoma City, and along with that growth were ideas and plans for the future development of the capitol city.

After the war was over, Oklahoma City continued to experience the same growth that it had before the war. That incredible growth placed an incredible strain on city services. Because of the war, Oklahoma City lacked adequate water service, sewer service, new city fire stations were needed along with streets and bridges, so the city council put a total of twelve bond issues before the voters. The complete package was for $36 million, a lot of money in 1950. To promote the bond, Sylvan Goldman, the owner of the Standard/Humpty Dumpty supermarkets, financed a short film that was shown in movie theaters around the city. It graphically demonstrated the city’s needs.

“Yes. This is our city. We’ve come along way since 1889. But a city of nearly 300,000 persons can not stand still. We can not go backwards; we must go forward. What shall we do with a city of which we are a part. We must build for the future of our most priceless assets – these, our children. Vote yes on all twelve issues in the greater Oklahoma City bond election, Tuesday, May 9, and assure a great future for our youth in our city.”

That was in 1950. In 1964, just 14 years later, the Urban Action Foundation, a non profit organization formed to launch urban renewal in downtown Oklahoma City, contracted with world renowned architect I. M. Pei to develop a plan for the future of downtown Oklahoma City. He, too, turned to a film to sell his plan.

“Like many cities Oklahoma City is showing the results of the disease called blight, which like a deadly mold is settling over downtown and killing it. The symptoms of the disease are everywhere – in obsolete structures, worn out hotels and apartments, junkyards at the edge of downtown, and low-grade businesses in much of its center. Fewer people come here anymore, and sales are dropping. Business costs are going up, and many merchants have thrown up their hands in disgust and moved out.”

And as the 1950 bond issue did, the Pei film had a call to action, though not a bond issue, the Urban Action Foundation was trying to build support for the plan. Pei called for tearing down hundreds of buildings and creating dozens of high-rise office buildings, an enclosed shopping mall, and apartments around the downtown area.

“And in company with such traditions, surely Oklahoma City’s 75-year old downtown is too young to die. It’s up to you.”

In the end, the 1950 bond passed, and Sylvan Goldman produced another film, this one to show the voters what they were getting for their money.

“You should be proud to be a stock holder in this clean, still-growing, still-improving Oklahoma City. Please remember, you get more in actual services from the five cents you pay out for city government than you get out of the remainder of the tax dollar you spend.”

By the 1980s the Pei plan never generated the interest needed for it to take shape. All that was left was a large model of what Pei thought downtown Oklahoma City would look like by 1989. That model is today considered the forerunner of the MAPS projects that have changed the landscape of downtown Oklahoma City.

You can learn more about the urban histories of Oklahoma City and Tulsa by visiting the Oklahoma History Center, NE 23rd Street just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Memories is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state’s history. I’m Michael Dean.