Excerpted from the Biography of John G. Clark by Alice McBrien & Mary Ziemer
CITY FORGETS WILL CLARK’S PARK DREAMS
But His Plans Have Become Realities Anyway
A roll of drums, please for Oklahoma City’s forgotten man. His name is Will H. Clark. There is no park, no boulevard, no street, no avenue, no school named in his honor. His name, forgotten by the city when it honored its great, means little. But certainly he is of Oklahoma City’s great.
Pause to think of Will H. Clark for a moment as you drive on Grand boulevard, the highway that encircles the city. Stop to think of him when you swim, picnic, play or attend entertainments at Lincoln, Southwest or Will Rogers park. Revere his memory when you hear of the city’s revenue from oil under Trosper park. Recall his name as you gaze at undeveloped Canyon Topping park and visualize the playground for tomorrow’s children.
Thoburn Recalls Work
Will H. Clark saw ahead of his time. He saw into yesterday’s tomorrow, which have passed, and he saw even into today’s tomorrows, which have not come. Joseph B. Thoburn, historian and writer, called attention to the city’s debt to Clark when he read of nominations for the honor as Oklahoma City’s most useful citizen of 1937. They didn’t give such honor in Clark’s day, and very little honor came his way, except that as a member and secretary of the city park board. He served on that board from 1907 to 1915. It was then he dreamed the dreams which gave Oklahoma City a system of parks which today is recognized as one of the most satisfactory in the nation. As a member of that board, Clark visualized the boulevard connected with large parks at each corner of the city. On June 1, 1909, voters of the city authorized a $400,000 bond issue for that purpose.
Million in Oil is Profit
It cost the city $400,000. In August 1929, the city received its first check for royalties from oil wells on one of the parks created, Southeast or Trosper park. By June 30, 1937, the city had received royalties totaling $1,163,728.85 from the 34 wells on that park. “In his foresighted vision he planned more wisely than the rest of us knew, even though we voted to approve his plan,” Thoburn said. “Aye, and ponder for a moment on the query as to what those four parks would have cost if their purchase had been postponed until now!” It would be a big item, certainly. Lincoln park, northeast of the city, has 620 acres. Trosper park, on the southeast, has 655 acres There are 160 acres in Southwest park and 160 acres in Will Rogers park, northwest of the city.
Other Cities Use Plan
Canyon Topping park, on the north side, is 120 acres of undeveloped land. Some day it, too, will take its place in the city’s park system. “His plan proved to be the best plan in the world,” G. W. Danielson, head of the recreation division of the park department, says. “Other cities have come to the idea of large outlying parks, with small in town parks.” Other members of the park board were Whit M. Grant and Paul M. Pope. The bonds were voted when Henry F. Scales was mayor. “He was of the little prized majority who never succeeded in amassing great material wealth,” Thoburn observed.
Left City Ten Years Ago
Clark was in the landscape architecture business before he left Oklahoma City more than 10 years ago, to make his home in California. He died several years later in Portland, Oregon. He has no immediate relatives here now. He received no pay for his work on the park board. “His resourceful mind and his zeal and devotion, applied in an humble and modest way, conferred a lasting benefit upon Oklahoma City and her people which well might excite the emulation or envy of the community’s most plethoric citizen,” Thoburn said. So a roll of drums, please, for Oklahoma City’s forgotten man. Certainly he is of Oklahoma City’s great.
From a newspaper clipping name & date unknown (may have been 1909). Referring to Will H. Clark, father of Alice Clark McBrien:
A Bouquet for the Living
There is one municipal official in Oklahoma City who is paid the munificent salary of $4 per month.* That individual is Will H. Clark, secretary of the board of park commissioners. Secretary Clark earns the stipend. It was he who conceived the idea of a boulevard encircling the city with parks at certain points along that boulevard, for the consummation of which plan the people of Oklahoma City recently voted $400,000 in bonds, and it was the generalship of this man that caused the bond issue proposition to carry by a neat majority. That work was at least worth the salary paid Mr. Clark for a month or two.
To make sure that he could not be charged with ‘soldiering on the job’ he labored incessantly for months to interest certain prominent property owners in the board’s plans for the city beautiful, with such success that the city has received donations of land for park purposes aggregating in excess of $50,000 in value at the present time securing property that in a few years later could not be purchased at a figure under $1,000,000.
The secretary puts in a little overtime with the board in looking after the city parks and street parkings, in handling a considerable correspondence, and here and there securing the donation of a ravine suitably located for a ‘sunken garden’ projeCT Yet, withal, the modest secretary of the park commission is a bit timorous when calling for his salary warrant at the end of the month, so much so, in fact, that sometimes he doesn’t call upon the city clerk for two or three months.
Sometime, mayhap along about the year 1925, someone will be saying something about ’the father of the park system in the most beautifully parked city west of the Mississippi river,’ the man who accomplished something valued at millions for the splendid salary of $4 per month – one Will H. Clark.
*See prior clipping “City Forgets Will Clark’s Park Dreams” in which it says, “He received no pay for his work on the park board.”