“Teach the children to love flowers.” -Will H. Clark
Will Rogers was a man of diverse talents – cowboy, humorist, actor, writer, philosopher – but he was always a representative of the common man. Born into a Cherokee family in Indian Territory, he performed rope tricks in Wild West shows before moving to Broadway theaters. As a movie actor, he was the top box office draw of the 1930s and the columns he wrote for the New York Times were read by 40 million people. Above all, throughout the turbulent decades of the 1920s and 1930s, Will Rogers raised Americans’ spirits with his simple homespun philosophy, “Do the best you can, and don't take life too serious.”
This park’s origins go back to the city's first professional urban plan created by noted landscape architect W. H. Dunn. The plan called for a boulevard encircling the edge of the city dotted with parks and lined with trees. Anchoring the boulevard in each quadrant were large city parks for recreation. The city council approved the plan and park commissioner Will H. Clark put it into action.
We still have all four of the original big parks - Northeast Park, Trosper Park (Southeast), Woodson Park (Southwest), and this one, Will Rogers Park. Originally called Northwest Park, it was slow to develop because it was so far from Downtown and, unlike its sisters, it was a barren, treeless landscape. For the first couple decades the park was leased to a farmer for use as a pasture and the city even considered converting it into a cemetery.
The park we know today came into being during the Great Depression. Park superintendent F. Donald Gordon saw the desolate park as an opportunity instead of a problem. Gordon made use of federal relief funds and cheap labor to build a beautifully landscaped park with lakes, horse riding trails, an amphitheater, and an elaborate rose garden and horticulture center. The ornate conservatory built in the fairgrounds area in the 1920s was relocated to the park as well. Over time the park added many recreational facilities like the tennis center and aquatic center, but it has never lost its unique character as Oklahoma City’s Flowerbed. As you explore the park you can still see some of the finest examples of WPA (Works Progress Administration) architecture in the city, most notably the amphitheater and the south picnic pavilion.This park was named in honor of Will Rogers by order of the city council in 1936 following the airplane crash that took the lives of the state’s favorite son and his best friend, Wiley Post in 1935.