Oklahoma City, in 1920, courtesy of the University of Texas
This week in 1963, builders came out in support of Oklahoma City's annexation program -- one that would take the city from about 25 square miles in 1945 to one totalling more than 643 square miles just two decades later. In the end, Oklahoma City would become one of the biggest, if not biggest -- communities in the country, from a land-size perspective.
"Annexation is an imperative move for orderly development," said Sid Davidoff, executive vice president of the Oklahoma City Home Builders Association. "Fortunately for Oklahoma City, we haven't been as hamstrung by the hamlets as have many of the country's other metropolitan areas."
Tom Morris, president of the Developers Council of Oklahoma City, expressed similar thoughts.
"For the Welfare of any community, you need an orderly progression of facilities," he said. "Thus, ultimately, is what makes a community. The haphazard little hamlets with their own codes and laws stand in the way of everyone." (1)
The builders were sounding off on a policy embraced by the city's leadership about a years before.
City leaders, you see, were on something of an ego-trip about their community. They wanted it to be a city of a million people before it turned 100 years old in 1989, and to do that, they felt it needed room for people to not only have places to live, but to have places to work. Supporters compared the effort to landing an air force base on the city's east side during World War II, and said that if building water and sewer lines had been left to smaller communities, the city might have missed out on significant economic development opportunities such as a Western Electric production plant on the city's west side.
Supporters said they wanted that growth to happen in an orderly way -- and that meant it had to happen under the city's control.
"Cities can't plan ahead accept on property inside city limits," said Stanley Draper, manager of Oklahoma City's Chamber of Commerce. (2)
By then, of course, people accustomed to living either outside of Oklahoma City or smaller, nearby communities were quite alarmed by what they were seeing.
Bill Collins, the city's annexation attorney in 1959, acknowledged criticisms of anÂ effort that had ballooned the city to 267 square miles in just two-years' time.
"But, the biggest criticism," he declared, "is that Oklahoma City waited 10 years too long to start expanding."
In 1954, an annexation target was Lake Hefner, and pieces of land a little to the south, along the Northwest Highway.
In 1956, the city began pushing its limits as far east as Tinker field.
In 1958, Shawnee, Norman and El Reno officials expressed concerns that Oklahoma City was seeking to expand its metropolitan area definition with the federal government to a four-county area, including Pottawatomie, Cleveland and Canadian counties.
But Draper defended the proposal, saying it had nothing to do with Oklahoma City's annexation plans. Instead, the Chamber just wanted to be able to say the area's population was at 600,000 by 1960. That same year, Oklahoma City took in the new Wedgewood amusement park, located on Northwest Expressway, west of N Tulsa Avenue, and City Council members had to deal with renaming some streets so they would match with others in communities that quickly were being surrounded by Oklahoma City. (4)
Oklahoma City in 2000, source City of Oklahoma City
Also that same year, Council Members threw a temper tantrum, of sorts, when Nichols Hills approached Oklahoma City to do a water deal.
"I think it is time to take a stand on this," said Charles Burba, a Ward 1 Councilman. "Nichols Hills residents do not pay anything for maintenance of streets ... they have opposed annexation but come to us when they need water."
"If you show this attitude, Nichols Hills will never agree to annexation," Mayor Street replied. "We will never get them by putting salt in an old sore. We should be putting surgar in their coffee." (5)
That same year, Oklahoma City reached a milestone: It's size was 80 square miles. But that was just a beginning.
Bethany residents approved an election that would require Oklahoma City to get their approval before it could be annexed. And the same year, Midwest City's Rotary Club issued passports to its community's residents that would give them a "guarantee" they could visit their larger neighbor.
The gimmick was unveiled as Midwest City residents prepared to vote on the same type of election question their Bethany bretheren had approved.
In accepting the "passport," residents were asked to sign a pledge that read:
"In humble supplication for permission to enter territory of Oklahoma City, I solemnly swear:
"... To have at least seven people in my car to avoid wear and tear on their streets.
"... To pay a minimum 35 cent parking charge for the first hour and cheerfully walk as far as necessary to drop my dirty money in the till.
"... To spend at least two hours going and coming from Oklahoma City in order to shop 30 minutes.
"... To stay out of all city parks and especially the zoo, unless I am in a position to contribute a mate for the hippopotamus.
"...To carry my money in my laft hand out the car window so Oklahoma City immigration authorities can see I am not a causual vagrant likely to become a public charge."
"It is not our intention to pick a fight," explained Howard Thornton, president-elect of the Midwest City Chamber of Commerce. "It is the desire of all of us to be a good neighbor to Oklahoma City. The election ... is only for the purpose of changing our charter in order that Midwest City will have a voice in its future."(6)
Oklahoma City kept going, gouth, gobbling up additional land near Tinker field, the site of today'sÂ National Cowboy & Western Heritage Center, an area in north Oklahoma City up as far as NE 100. (7)
After that, the city kept adding land in all directions, despite disagreements with its neighbors it had along the way.
It began annexing county in Cleveland and Canadian Counties in 1959. It also moved to annex areas to keep surrounding communities from getting them first.
Also in 1959, Mayor James Norick proposed merging City Hall and Oklahoma County's government.
"I feel Oklahoma City, being as large as it is and with the population of most of the county, we should be thinking seriously of combining city and county government," he said. The city, he added, needed more tax dollars to take care of residents.
"Something is going to have to give," Norick said. (8)
By the same year, Oklahoma City had achieved an area of 116 square miles in size. But it kept going. Later that same month, in May, its size ballooned to 160 square miles. As it kept growing, surrounding communities began taking legal action against Oklahoma City to try to slow its onslaught. But none of those cases utlimately achieved success.
Before the summer of 1959 ended, the city was more than 200 square miles in size. Angry new residents of Oklahoma City decended on City Hall to aire their concerns.
When one started to compare the city's annexations to the operations of a communist state, though, Ward 3 Councilman Lonnie Sage stopped the man.
"Now, I'll sit here and listen to you until your teeth fall out, but I'm not going to let you call us communists," he said. (9)
And there was another problem -- Oklahoma City's map had outgrown City Hall, said Bill Burkes, the city's planning statistician. The problem, Burkes said, is that City Hall's low ceilings weren't tall enough for the map to fit on a wall. (10)
With all this growth came real problems, however. Publics Works officials found themselves asking Oklahoma County for help to fix newly-annexed roads after a particularly bad winter. (11)
In 1960, the city was 392 square miles in size, but it grew again late that year, taking in even more land to include the Turner Turnpike gate at the southwest end of that road
Police Chief Roy J. Bergman asked for 200 additional officers to patrol all the new area. City officials also expressed concerns about 1,00 wooden bridges that had been taken into the city and needed to be replaced.
But the city kept going.
By the end of 1962, the city consisted of 620 square miles, larger than Los Angeles. (12)
And finally, in 1963, it annexed an area of the North Canadian River as far northeast as Luther, putting the potential Port of Oklahoma City's location within the city's limits.
"Oklahoma City ... stands first in realizing the unique destiny of modern cities," said The Oklahoman's editorial page, when talking about the city's rapid growth. "The annexation program is not a freakish phenomenon. It has roots in another solid movement which goes back at least 50 years to the principle of uniting city and county governments, in the interest of efficiency, for one thing."
But the editorial also talked about Oklahoma City becoming part of a "universal city" envisioned by Constantinos A. Doxiadis, a Greek architect, and seemed to suggest that residents should be proud of their community, regardless if it was Oklahoma City, part of a smaller community or just part of the county.
"After all, what's in a name? If a given community preserves its identity and local pride of achievement, gets its job done and manages to keep government intact and different, it doesn't make any difference whether a give spot is called 'city' or 'country.'"
1.) "Builders Endorse Annexing Policies," The Oklahoman, Oct. 2, 1963
2.) "Future Rosy for Oklahoma City," The Oklahoman, June 14, 1959
3.) "Objectors Told Metro Growth Not City Grab," The Oklahoman, June 4, 1958
4.) "Number's Up: Streets Now Have Names," The Oklahoman, June 4, 1958
5.) "Nichols Hills Asks Water; Council Boils," The Oklahoman, July 9, 1958
6.) "Midwest City Jest a Needle For Neighbor," The Oklahoman, Dec. 16, 1958
7.) "Council Takes in 5,100 Acres," The Oklahoman, Jan. 28, 1959
8.) "Mayor Norick Urges Merger," The Oklahoman, May 6, 1959
9.) "200 Annexed Citizens March on Councilmen," The Oklahoman, Aug. 12, 1959
10.) "Map Too Big For City Hall," The Oklahoman, Aug. 20, 1959
11.) "City Requests Help on Roads," The Oklahoman, March 15, 1960
12.) "City First, Los Angeles Second It Makes a Significant Pattern," The Oklahoman, Dec. 23, 1962