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W.P. "Bill" Atkinson and the Oklahoma Journal PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Lackmeyer   
Sunday, 18 July 2010 22:24

ojteaser

Several months ago we promised to tell the story of W.P. "Bill" Atkinson - the late publisher of the Oklahoma Journal, gubitorial candidate, earlyday homebuilder, and founder of Midwest City. And we're especially excited to have the inaugural edition of the Oklahoma Journal, which challenged Atkinson's rivals, E.K. Gaylord and E.L. Gaylord, and their leading newspaper, The Daily Oklahoman.

We were delayed by problems with the website, the release of a couple of books, and then the launching of the community wide alliance of Oklahoma City history enthusiasts, Retro Metro OKC. But now we are ready to delve into what will be the most substantial addition yet to www.okchistory.com. What follows is the first of a series of installments about the Oklahoma Journal and W.P. "Bill" Atkinson.

 

 

 

 

 

Autographed photo of Bill Atkinson, courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society

Before we get into a history of The Oklahoma Journal, let’s start with a history on its founder, William P. “Bill” Atkinson.

W.P. Atkinson was not known as being a friend of E.K. Gaylord. And their rivalry went far beyond Atkinson’s decision in 1963 to start up the Oklahoma Journal and challenge Gaylord’s Daily Oklahoman.

As Atkinson himself noted in a 1992 interview with the Oklahoma Historical Society, clashes between the two went back to Atkinson’s campaigns for governor in the 1960s.

“In both governors races, Gaylord fought me like a tiger,” Atkinson said. “He fought me by using false accusations. He hardly ever told the truth in any editorial about me.”

One could say that the history of Oklahoma City journalism and politics from the 1950s through the 1980s was defined by this ongoing fight.

The history of the Gaylord family has been detailed in numerous books and told from generation to generation.

But who was Mr. Atkinson? Atkinson hoarded military collectables, loved watching historical documentaries and clipping newspaper articles. Oh, and he had one more hobby: one that involved building empires.

A history compiled on behalf of Atkinson shows he was born on November 6, 1906 in Carthage, Texas and was the oldest of four children growing up in a competitive family. His father was a carpenter, his mother a seamstress.

“My mother passed away (from pneumonia) when I was nine years old and I then lived with first one member of the family and the other back in Carthage, Texas,” Atkinson said. “When I was about 11 years old, I was given a job as a devil in a print shop … it wasn’t long before they, being a good, strong weekly newspaper, they permitted me to do about everything that could be done in that shop.”

Journalism, it appeared, would define Atkinson’s life. He graduated from high school, attended a junior college, and then managed to enroll at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth where he studied journalism, was editor of the college paper and graduated magna cum laude.

Atkinson returned to Carthage and married his high school sweetheart, Rubye Beauchamp, and took a job with the weekly All Church Press. The publisher, Douglas Tomlinson, sent Atkinson to expand the paper’s market and stationed him in Oklahoma City. It was there Atkinson helped establish the Oklahoma City Star, serving 22 churches, and he edited it for two years before deciding to take a job as the chairman of Oklahoma City University’s journalism department.

E.K. Gaylord presides over an editorial meeting. Courtesy of Life Magazine Archives

It was while at OCU that Atkinson was tasked with involving himself at the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. He made a good impression on the city’s movers and shakers as he sought out supporters for university. Powerful newspaper publisher E.K. Gaylord saw Atkinson as an up and comer and took him under his wings. The pair quickly became friends.

“E.K. Gaylord was recognized for many years after I first met him (and I was in my mid-20s) as being without a doubt one of the most visionary, and one of the smartest, and the number one leader, and surely the man that spoke the loudest with the power, because he owned most of the media in most parts,” Atkinson said.

This friendship – some described it as a mentorship – continued as Atkinson expanded his business interests from journalism and education to development.

In 1936 Atkinson began to switch his attention from newspapers to homebuilding as he began the task of building his own family’s home.

The Atkinsons collected architectural designs from magazines and at night he took real estate courses. Prominent homebuilder E.C. Stanfield, hired to build the house, became ill during construction and it was then that Atkinson had to oversee its completion.

Apparently Atkinson made an impression on Stanfield; he hired the young man to sell homes for him for $50 a week.

“He was the first one to sell FHA homes, and the building and loans and the banks frowned upon them because they were government housing,” Atkinson said. “I liked it for three good reasons. One was they had strong specifications. I used to take a sharpshooter shovel with me and I’d dig under the house and show the people how deep the footing was. I showed ‘em what they should look for. I made ‘em tough buyers, that’s for sure. And uh, alotta the builders just dig down through the sand and just pour a little dab of concrete, and it’s amazing how long a home will last on that sometimes. If there’s some sand under it, they will hold up pretty good. But anyway, they’d make you go 18 inches below the frost line on FHA.”

Atkinson sealed the deal by pointing out the FHA program was “guaranteed by the government,” and offered lower interest rates over longer terms than those offered by the traditional building and loan shops

“I just zeroed in on ‘em,” Atkinson said. “I painted me a bit picture of Uncle Sam and had him pointing down to 14 homes I built on.”

Within the next few years Stanfield was ready to retire and he sold the business to Atkinson.

Homes designed and built by Bill Atkinson included this 1940 residence at 2804 NW 25.

atkinsonhomebuilder

 

The job was a natural fit for Atkinson and he quickly established himself as a leading builder and developer. In 1941 Atkinson set a one-man record when he was granted 20 permits for residential construction totaling $100,000. The homes were to be built at a cost of $5,000 each along the 2500 blocks of NW 30 and NW 31 and the 2600 block of Cashion place.

“That is the most residential permits ever issued to one person at one time, including the boom days,” noted city building superintendent Walter E. Nelson.

Atkinson’s stature was rising, and soon he was considered a peer of such prominent developers like G.A. “Doc” Nichols – who developed Nichols Hills. Atkinson was given a seat on several important committees at the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.

With World War II looming, Atkinson was boasting more home sales than any of his competitors.

In his new position of influence, Atkinson didn’t like everything he observed. And from he saw, it seemed as if E.K. Gaylord made the final call on chamber committee decisions. And it was during this time Atkinson became privy to negotiations between the U.S. War Department and the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce about a possible location for an air depot. As far as Atkinson was concerned, Gaylord and his inner circle were deciding all the locations to present for the proposed depot.

Atkinson was frozen out of these discussions. But he had some hunches – and they led to a sleepy area southeast of town. Atkinson would not be content to watch the biggest economic project in city history pass him by.

COMING SOON: CASHING IN ON A NEW AIR FORCE BASE, CREATING A CITY, AND MAKING ENEMIES

Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 March 2011 02:38