In 2006, we are enjoying a booming Bricktown – a primary destination for people to have fun downtown. What did Okc guys and gals do downtown for fun a century ago? They went to Delmar Garden & Wheeler Park.
SIZE AND LOCATION. Writers sometime state that Delmar Garden occupied 140 acres, but that can’t be literally accurate. Probably, they mean what was said in A History of the State of Oklahoma 1908, page 38, where it speaks of Colcord Park Corporation’s ownership of “a tract of one hundred and sixty acres in the city devoted to public amusement and recreation, including the baseball park, the race track, Delmar Garden, etc.” Delmar Garden was one thing and Wheeler Park was another but both were parts of a sometimes magnificent recreational area just west and south of downtown.
Delmar Garden was west of Western and south of Reno – the 1927 Farmers Market building occupies a small piece of Delmar Garden’s space today. Wheeler Park was roughly bounded by Western on the west, Southwest 7th on the north, Lee and on the east, and the North Canadian River on the south. Click this 1907 city atlas for a closer look.
Compare the above with this 2006 Google map. Notice that the meandering North Canadian has been straightened out considerably and moved south. Click the map for a better look.
I’ve looked pretty hard to find actual boundaries of the entire recreational area to no avail. Probably the most reliable is the 1907 city atlas drawing, above. But, the combined space of Delmar Garden and Wheeler Park shown there doesn’t come close to being the 140 acres which this article claims it to be, a statement repeated in Central State University’s Newcomers to a Newland 4 ½ minute audio piece – it’s the one labeled “Sinopolo Brothers-Greek-DelMar Gardens”.
If the recreational area did occupy 140 acres, this Google satellite photo shows just how big 140 acres would be. I’m blindly guessing about the boundaries – I’d be amazed if they were not quite different. This is a “size” and not a “boundary” demonstration. The pink item shows the new Crosstown.
HISTORY. From this article at the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Library System (you may have to click your Refresh button once there).
By Larry Johnson
Delmar Garden was the premiere playground for Oklahoma City in the first decade of the Twentieth Century. Located on the north side of the North Canadian River at Noble (now SW 3rd) and S Western, Delmar Garden was built by Greek immigrant John Sinopoulo in 1902. Sinopoulo came from St. Louis and fashioned Delmar Garden after a park of the same name there. The recreation spot featured a dance pavilion, outdoor dining, a horse racing track, a beer garden, theatre and amusement rides.
Famous performers include Lon Chaney, Buster Keaton, and boxer John L. Sullivan. While not a true “trolley park” like Belle Isle would be, Delmar Garden had a close relationship with the street car system and thousands of riders visited the park every year. Delmar Garden eventually fell victim to prohibition after statehood in 1907 and the capricious North Canadian River, which flooded the area regularly, and closed in 1910. The Public Market now stands on part of the original Delmar property.
A more colorful article was written by Jeff Chapman at Cinema Treasures:
Athel Boiter, a sweetheart of a man who was a film booker knowledgeable in theater lore, once told me the history of Delmar Garden Theater.
Mr. Boiter said that John Sinopoulo was a Greek immigrant who wanted to build a stylish amusement complex that held a uniting theme throughout a park setting. In 1902 Sinopoulo opened on the banks of the North Canadian River his Delmar Gardens Amusement Park, which was designed in elaborate Art Nouveau styling that blended blissfully with surrounding wooded acreage.
Delmar Gardens Park offered an exotic animal zoo, festive penny arcade, thrill rides, cafes and a fine restaurant, a floating wedding chapel, a swank ballroom, a blue ribbon horse racing track, a tranquil boardwalk beer garden, a high class saloon dance hall, and a top notch 3000 seat theater.
Delmar Garden Theater interior was designed in intricate Victorian gingerbread, with Art Nouveau accents. Orchestra seating held leather upholstered opera chairs, box seats contained comfortable wicker chairs and love-seats, and three horseshoe shaped balconies were equipped with steep pitch bleachers. While the auditorium had soft gas lighting, the heavily draped stage was brilliantly illuminated by electric switchboard lighting. Built to be a vaudeville house, Delmar Garden Theater also installed film equipment in 1903 to feature “The Great Train Robbery”, which ran for eleven weeks. Regardless of the fact that film showings at the Delmar proved to be successful, management preferred to continue mainly as a two-a-day vaudeville venue, with only an occasional movie thrown in at the end of a weak vaudeville program. (One advantage for vaudvillians appearing on the family oriented Delmar stage was that they could also present “adult material” in late night sketches at the Delmar Saloon).
Lon Chaney, Sr. was appearing at Delmar Theater in 1905 when he rescued a beautiful 16 year-old songbird from a flooded basement dressing room. Her name was Cleva Crieghton, and after a whirlwind courtship the couple married there in Oklahoma City, but whether or not they took advantage of the romantic Delmar Garden floating chapel is lost to time.
Back in those early days, every spring the North Canadian River overflowed its banks causing extensive water damage to Delmar Gardens Park. Flooding was the reason for an early demise of this lovely pleasuredome. It closed in 1910, and was razed the following year.
THE PICS. The images below are typically postcards (drawings) found on the Web. Several are from the Oklahoma County Assessor’s Photo Album website, http://www.oklahomacounty.org/assessor/PhotoDowntown.htm, but those are typically available elsewhere on the, as well. Photographs of Delmar Garden are from the Oklahoma Metropolitan Library’s website at http://webinfo2.mls.lib.ok.us/okimages/okimages.asp?WCI=BeginSearch. Click on an image for a larger view. These images are also located at here at my website.
Before Prohibition, Mosquitoes and Floods Did It In
1st Location of the Oklahoma City Zoo
According to The Downtown Guy’s article,
And the zoo that opened at Wheeler Park in 1904 moved to Northeast 50th and Eastern Avenue after most of the animals were killed in a major flood in 1923. The park was literally cut in two when the river, over flood stage, overtook the Lake Overholser dam.
By the way, if you’re curious about what the North Canadian looks like these days where it hasn’t been tamed by the Army Corps of Engineers, you can still see it in the more pristine Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge located north of Lake Overholser where the North Canadian is apparently still pretty much the way that it used to be. For some nice pics and a description of that area’s history, see http://www.okcoutdoornetwork.org/Stinchcomb.htm. A couple of its images appear below:
Be sure to be prepared to rough it. But it’s good to explore, don’t you know?