DOWNTOWN OKC’s DELMAR GARDEN & WHEELER PARK


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In some writings, and especially in the images, Delmar Garden and Wheeler Park were sometimes considered “different” – but, sometimes, Delmar Garden (sometimes “Gardens”) is said to encompass Wheeler Park. I’ve located nothing definitive, so far. Perhaps the definitions were always blurred. But, it does appear that Delmar Garden, at least that part developed by John Sinopoulo, was intended to be a business “for profit”, but that some or all of Wheeler Park was more like if not altogether a city park, including the city’s first zoo. These pages are simply a review of what I’ve read and seen so far, and they certainly contain nothing original or definitive, though I have worked at it a little.


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From The Downtown Guy, www.downtownguy.blogspot.com (link no longer works)

Friday, September 17, 2004

The Oklahoma River – Our Past, Our Future


So why should a downtown guy like myself care about the Oklahoma River? It’s not really downtown, is it?


Define downtown. It’s not what it was a decade ago. And it’s not what it will be in 2014. To understand how downtown Oklahoma City will connect with the Oklahoma River (what we used to call the North Canadian River), it’s important to go back. Way back.


Delmar Gardens opened in 1902, a decade after the emergence of New York’s Coney Island. Waterside amusement parks graced with board walks were all the rage, and Oklahoma City was eager to join the latest entertainment fad.


John Sinopoulo and Joseph Marre, who trained at Delmar Gardens in St. Louis, opened the park on property owned by Charles Colcord. The park boasted of a theater, race track, baseball field, swimming pool, railway, beer hall, hotel and restaurant. The 40-acre park along the North Canadian River drew thousands of visitors and

attracted entertainers like Lon Chaney, and boxers John L. Sullivan and Jack Dempsey.


Delmar Park, however, fronted a prairie river, and not the Atlantic Ocean. Mosquitoes and flooding made the spot less than ideal for the city’s recreational hot spot. Prohibition helped kill the park, which faded by 1910.


Ironically, the State Fair at its current location isn’t any further from the river than it was when it was opened at Northeast 10th and Eastern Avenue. The architecture of the old park, however, sure was more impressive than what we have now.


Once again, flooding motivated         a move to Northwest 10th and May Avenue. The riverside Wheeler Park would remain – but it’s a ghost of what it once was. 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.


The Oklahoma River will be a place to live, work and play.


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From Oklahoma Historical Society http://www.ok-history.mus.ok.us/enc/amuseparks.htm

Amusement Parks.

* * *

Delmar Gardens, one of the earliest Oklahoma examples, enriched life in Oklahoma City from 1902 until 1910. John Sinopoulo and Joseph Marre, who trained at Delmar Gardens in St. Louis, opened the park on land owned by Charles Colcord. The amenities included a theater, race track, baseball field, swimming

pool, railway, beer garden, hotel, restaurant, and swimming pool. Located on 140 acres near the North Canadian River, the Gardens enjoyed a large clientele and attracted entertainers like Lon Chaney, boxers John L. Sullivan and Jack Dempsey, and Dan Patch, a legendary race horse. Unfortunately, swarms of mosquitoes that accompanied the river's annual flooding contributed to Delmar Gardens' demise, and the advent of prohibition was the death blow.


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From the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Library System, http://webinfo2.mls.lib.ok.us/okimages/okimages.asp?WCI=ViewEssay&WCU=000000041 (you may have to click your Refresh button once there)

Delmar Garden

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.


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From Cinema Treasures, http://cinematreasures.org/theater/16488/

By Jeff Chapman


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.


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OTHER TIDBITS

From Classic Images, http://www.classicimages.com/1996/may/tommix2.html, Who the Hell is Tom Mix?, discussing Tom Mix’s activities at Delmar Garden and in Oklahoma City, generally.


From CSU, a 4 ½ minute audio clip:

http://library.ucok.edu/archives /page-files/newcomers-to-a-newland.asp


From A History of the State of Oklahoma 1908, page 38, http://www.usgennet.org/usa/topic/historical/1908ok_2_6.htm, discussing 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.”


From The Religious Affiliation of Lon Chaney, http://www.adherents.com/people/pc/Lon_Chaney.html, discussing Lon Cheney’s activities at Delmar Garden, meeting his to-be wife there, and the subsequent birth of their son, Lon Cheny, Jr. In the latter regard, see http://www.houseofhorrors.com/ chaneyjrbio.htm, for example.


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LOCATION, LOCATION, WHERE’S THE LOCATION?

It’s possible from the above data to know that Delmar Garden included the area (1) where Farmer’s Market is today, (2) may have included Wheeler Park, and (3) was either 160 acres or 40 acres in size. But, I’ve yet found nothing providing authoritative, verifiable, answers to size or exact boundaries.

1907.okcdelmar.jpg1907 Atlas

 

2006.okc.delmar2.jpg2006

 

Above, the green areas represent (1) upper left, Delmar Garden, and (2) lower left, Wheeler Park, both considered in some writings to be “pieces” of a larger area known as “Delmar Garden.” But, those “green” areas scarcely represent 160 acres which would be a much larger area. Click on a map for a larger view.


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THE IMAGES


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 somewhat larger view.


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DELMAR GARDEN

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WHEELER PARK

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