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Will Rogers Park Gardens and Arboretum
Oklahoma City, OK

  • Largely designed by Henry Walter
  • Built by the CCC & WPA
  • 118 acre park
[Photo]
View of Lake
Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society, photograph by JoAnne Vervinck

The Will Rogers Park Gardens and Arboretum is noted for its landscape design as well as being part of the City of Oklahoma’s park system plan. Oklahoma City was founded April 22, 1889, as the result of a land run. It grew from a work crew at the Santa Fe Railroad station to a city of 10,000 people in one day. By 1910, it had grown to a population of 64,000. W.H. Dunn, a landscape architect and Superintendent of Parks in Kansas City (admired for its floral beauty) was hired to develop the first park plan for Oklahoma City. His 1909 plan called for a “Grand Boulevard” to encircle the city several miles distant from the downtown, with a major park set at each of the “corners.” In its historic setting, Will Rogers Park first appeared on the city maps in 1909. Development was put off until the 1930s, when consultants Hare & Hare revived the Grand Boulevard Plan.

The Will Rogers Park Gardens and Arboretum is noted for its landscape design as well as being part of the City of Oklahoma’s park system plan. Guided by the dreams and physical efforts of City Horticulturist Henry Walter, employed at the park from 1932-1971, plans were drawn up by the Oklahoma City Park Department and National Park Service and executed by a work force supplied by the Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration. Together, they damned two creeks and created a naturalistic landscape of small lakes, rolling hills, curving roadways, amphitheater, retaining walls, picnic shelters, rose and iris gardens, an arboretum, and many structures built from native red sandstone. In 1936, the Ed Lycan Conservatory was moved to the park. Its adjacent greenhouse complex was once the center for annual plant propagation for citywide beautification of public areas. Will Rogers Park continued the historic legacy of Wheeler Park and the original State Fairgrounds in carrying out a nearly one-hundred year tradition of growing herbaceous plants to beautify the city’s parks and other public spaces. Well-preserved examples of work done by the CCC and WPA during the 1930s and early 1940s add to the significance of this park.

[Photo] Arboretum
Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society, photograph by JoAnne Vervinck

Clear examples of Early Twentieth Century Gardens, the gardens at Will Rogers Park display a distinct stylistic departure from the French and Victorian gardens preceding them. Trees in the arboretum are not in rows or randomly scattered; they are planted in the picturesque clusters so popular in earlier English landscapes. Common to the period, the gardens are divided into many different compartments or “outdoor rooms”, surrounded and separated by walls of shrubs or masonry, and each is planted differently from the next. The Will Rogers Park Gardens and Auditorium remains an excellent representation of community park designed by the National Park Service and created by the CCC, yet expresses its own individuality with its historic devotion to horticultural displays and areas of formal design.

[Photo]
Rose Garden
Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society, photograph by JoAnne Vervinck

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places on September 7, 2005, the Will Rogers Park Gardens and Arboretum is a section of the much larger Will Rogers Park. Located in near northwest Oklahoma City, Will Rogers Park consists of approximately 118 rolling acres built around the near-headwaters of the Deep Fork River.

 

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