Frontier City used to have some competition. Once upon a time, the area now known as the MetroTech campus alongside Martin Luther King Blvd. played home to Springlake Amusement Park, which wowed the city’s young and old upon opening in 1924.
Having been there twice in grade school before it closed in 1981, I distinctly remember its fun house, with the potato-sack slides, spinning floor and distorted mirrors. The rest of the grounds is lost to my memory (or lack thereof), but the new book “Images of America: Springlake Amusement Park” may help fill in the blanks. It’s written by Oklahoma City attorney Douglas Loudenback, an “amateur historian” who runs a thorough, well-frequented OKC history blog at http://www.dougdawg.blogspot.com.
As the “Images of America” portion of the title suggests, the 128-page book is rife with black-and-white photographs of the late, great Springlake from throughout its nearly six-decade life. It’s amazing just how many terrific pictures Loudenback was able to locate and use, starting with those depicting the grounds’ construction phase. Vintage advertisements from The Daily Oklahoman demonstrate the park’s yesteryear appeal: a giant swimming pool (whites only), dancing (to the sounds of Bennie Moten and his Victor Recording Orchestra), the Big Dipper roller coaster and even “balloon ascensions.”
In 1944, the pool hosted a “Bathing Beauty” contest for film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and the book features photos of a few of the would-be starlets who entered, posing in their then-skimpy and now-hilarious swimsuits. Other shots commemorate assorted special events, such as a 1960 visit from “Bonanza”‘s Hoss Cartwright, appearances by local kids’ show host Foreman Scotty and WKY-TV’s 1959 “Guess the Price” contest. The outdoor amphitheater saw onstage action from several musical acts of the day, and even The Three Stooges!
But it wasn’t all fun and games. As Loudenback notes, Springlake was among the last venues in the city to “get” federally mandated racial integration, turning that ever-popular segregated pool into an aquarium out of spite. Racial tensions came to a head on Easter Sunday in 1971, when a rumor spread that some white kids had pushed a black youth out of the coaster, and a “melee” broke out. The rumor wasn’t true, but nearly two dozen blacks “ yet no whites “ were arrested. Pictures from earlier that day show kids of all colors enjoying an Easter egg hunt, seemingly oblivious to their immediate differences; never again would Springlake be associated with such innocence.
If there’s a hole to be found in Loudenback’s collection, it is the complete absence of photos showing a Springlake destroyed by arson in 1981, which forever put the park to rest. For a volume that otherwise feels comprehensive, not having images from that end doesn’t grant full closure on the site’s history.
A car from the Big Dipper remains on MetroTech’s campus today; for all other Springlake-related nostalgia, go here.