Springlake Amusement Park Collection
Springlake Amusement Park was a popular Oklahoma City attraction from the 1920s through the 1970s. Admission to the park was free and rides and the pool were on a pay-as-you-go basis. If you just wanted to picnic by the lake there was no charge. Although the amusement-park no longer exists, its memory is honored by the presence of the Metrotech educational facility in its stead at Martin Luther King Boulevard and NE 38.
Oklahoma City boasted three amusement parks in the mid-twentieth century: Wedgewood, Springlake, and Frontier City. In 1924, after his spring-fed pond in northeast Oklahoma City had been open to swimming and picnicking for six years, Roy Staton built a swimming pool there. Later expanding his park, he bought many of the rides from the defunct Belle Isle Park, built a ballroom, and in 1929 added the Big Dipper roller coaster, a fixture in the park for almost fifty years.
The height of Springlake’s popularity extended from the 1950s into the 1960s, and the park attracted top entertainers of the era including Johnny Cash, the Righteous Brothers, Roy Acuff, and Conway Twitty.
Springlake’s glory days, however, are remembered by the city’s black community as a time when the park restricted its attractions to whites only. By the 1960s, laws, attitudes and the changing demographics of the neighborhood made such discrimination increasingly unacceptable.
Once located in an all-white section of the city, the park figuratively became a white island in a black sea. Prior to the 1950s, Oklahoma City’s black residents lived mainly on the city’s near northeast side, south of NE 23. By the mid-1950s black families had moved northward into the immediate vicinity of Springlake park. Residents like Ruthie Forshee, a black woman residing on Springlake Drive in the mid-1950s, remembered watching the park’s Independence Day fireworks display from her yard. She was not welcome to participate in a celebration to commemorate her nation’s freedom.
With the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, black residents were no longer reluctant to enter the park. However, there remained an area of the park where blacks still were not welcome. Although many whites were willing to share the park’s midway with blacks, sharing the swimming pool was quite another matter. Staton could not lawfully deny blacks access to the pool, but if he let blacks in, he risked losing many white patrons. Faced with a dilemma, his choice of action did not come easy.
To avoid a clash between whites and blacks over the pool issue, Staton closed the pool to everyone except the members of an exclusive Aquatic Club, an evasive policy he soon abandoned. When Wedgewood Park opened its pool to everyone, Staton had little choice but to lift the membership requirement. Finally integrated, Springlake’s pool, open since 1924, closed forever after the 1967 season. It became a Sea-Aquarium, where dolphins frolicked in water once reserved for humans. The lost revenue from the swimming pool would be sorely missed in the years to come.
Racial tension remained an issue for the park. News of a large riot that erupted in 1971 in the park between whites and blacks frightened away potential customers and hastened Springlake’s demise. A change of ownership, poor maintenance, and fire led to the park’s 1981 sale to the Oklahoma City Vo-Tech Board, which closed Springlake for good.
— Doug Loudenback, author of “Springlake” (Arcadia Press)
Scanning by the RetroMetro OKC Resources Committee
The bulk of these photos were kept by Marvin Staton, son of Roy Staton, and then left with Norman Thompson, a founding member of Retro Metro OKC.
The original collection was not organized as far as we are aware. In the interest of easier access and smoother browsing, the Springlake Collection photos have been sorted into five categories. These categories were created according to the type of photo or the perceived intent of the photographer and specific topics may appear in many categories (e.g. a search for ‘rollercoaster’ may return results from several categories rather than just the ‘Rides’ category).