An up-and-down history of OKC’s amusement parks of yesteryear.
Oklahoma City must have seemed like a wonderland to many amusement park fans in the 1950s and ’60s. The city boasted three theme parks — Springlake Amusement Park, Wedgewood Village Amusement Park and Frontier City — each offering its own spin on entertainment and fun for all ages, from slower-paced carousels to staged Wild West gunfights to rip-roaring roller coasters.
Springlake opened in the early 1920s after owner Roy Staton invited the public to swim and play in his spring-fed pond near NE 40th Street and what is now Martin Luther King Avenue. He added picnic areas, a dance pavilion and a pool, followed by some attractions from the closed Belle Isle Lake amusement park.
By 1929, Springlake boasted a carousel, swimming pools, a racetrack and the Big Dipper roller coaster, one of the park’s most popular rides. New attractions were added regularly, and an amphitheater became a big draw for entertainers, including Johnny Cash, the Beach Boys, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Righteous Brothers and Conway Twitty.
Until the 1960s, however, Springlake was not open to everyone. The park was segregated and only opened its gates to everyone after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited racial discrimination. Black visitors now could enter the park except for the renowned pool, which was limited to members only as an attempt to pacify angry white customers. That soon changed, but the pool closed after the 1967 season.
Years of racial tension led to April 11, 1971, when, according to The Oklahoman, word spread that a Black teen had possibly been pushed off the Big Dipper. Several argumentative youths were escorted out, but the parking area soon erupted with a crowd estimated between 300 and 1,000 throwing rocks and bottles. Thirty people were arrested. None were white
The park soon slipped into a downward spiral. Customers questioned the park’s safety, attendance numbers fell and maintenance suffered. It was sold in 1977, but the new owner couldn’t recover from a fire, and the park closed in 1981. The Springlake campus of Metro Technology Centers now occupies the land.
Across town, Maurice Woods opened a golf driving range with a few children’s rides on North May Avenue in 1955, and three years later relocated and opened Wedgewood Village Amusement Park at NW 63th Street and Northwest Expressway. Lines were long for the Tornado and Wild Mouse roller coasters, the Calypso and the Roto Jet. Concerts included Herman’s Hermits in the mid-1960s and The Who in ’68. Though always crowded, the park continued to lose money and closed in 1969.
Frontier City on I-35 between Hefner Road and NW 122th Street is the city’s only remaining amusement park. Oklahoma City businessmen James Burge — a former Hollywood publicist who became interested in the theme park business after a visit to Disneyland in 1955 — and Jack Williams envisioned the 1880s Western town theme.
Frontier City opened in 1958 with a marshal’s office, saloon and bank, along with a train, stagecoach, donkey rides and an indoor dark ride. Admission was free, but it cost a quarter to watch the popular gunfight shows.
The park offers dozens of rides, stunt gunfights, magic shows, a zip line, games and children’s amusements. The popular Silver Bullet, installed at the park in 1986, cranks up to a height of eight stories before speeding down at almost 50 mph and then shooting into a huge loop. Frontier City is now owned by EPR and operated by Six Flags. Hurricane Harbor on West Reno Avenue is also part of the theme park chain.
The amusement park landscape might have changed in Oklahoma City, but at least one theme park is still bringing smiles, and sometimes screams, to all ages.