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MIDWEST CITY

Founded as a military support community in 1942 and located in Oklahoma County nine miles east of Oklahoma City, Midwest City retains that primary function in the twenty-first century. Being the metropolis closest to Tinker Air Force Base, the community has residential, commercial, social, spiritual, educational, and recreational resources to serve the needs of one of the largest logistic and support activities in the U.S. Air Force. U.S. Highway 62 cuts through the city from east to west. Interstate Highway 40 passes through the southwest corner of the town, before turning east along the common boundary with Tinker AFB. Midwest City is twenty-four and one-half miles square and contiguous with Oklahoma City, Del City, Spencer, Nicoma Park, and Choctaw.

The impetus for building Midwest City began in 1940 when the U.S. War Department began expanding the U.S. Army Air Corps, constructing air bases throughout the country, where year-round flying weather was good. The announcement that Oklahoma City was a finalist in the competition for a Midwest Air Depot created a rush of real estate speculation. Following the hints published in the Daily Oklahoman, C. B. Warr and W. P. (William Paul) "Bill" Atkinson each purchased large tracts of land in the vicinity where each thought the facility would be created. Atkinson's guess was better, selecting a site directly north of the new facility. He christened his city after the proposed name of the airfield and when it was later renamed Tinker AFB the city's name remained unchanged. After conferring with Pentagon officials to ascertain their desires Atkinson began home construction in April 1942 at the corner of East Trumbull and East Boeing streets. In 1943 he managed to secure all seven hundred building permits allocated to the Oklahoma City region, only to have work stalled by heavy rains and to hear his enterprise derisively referred to as "Mudwest City." In addition to housing, the Air Corps wanted shopping facilities and other amenities. Cement was rationed during the war so the city streets were dirt and only the primary thoroughfare Air Depot Boulevard was graveled. Atkinson persuaded Sylvan Goldman, the owner of Humpty Dumpty grocery stores, to expand his operations to Midwest City, building the store to Goldman's specifications. On March 11, 1943, the city was incorporated.

In 1942 Atkinson acquired the services of Seward Mott, the director of the Federal Housing Administration's Land Planning Division. By 1946 Mott's idea for an attractive city developed in a logical manner and gained the attention of the national print and broadcast media. His use of curvilinear streets, circling roads, and cul-de-sacs in residential neighborhoods, separating them from the straight, broad thoroughfares that efficiently moved traffic from the base to major business locations, became a model for postwar community development. The news coverage and the jobs being created at Tinker encouraged people to move to Midwest City for an opportunity to work and own a home. For example, Jim and Hazel Willis moved from Ohio with no guarantees and a lot of hope. In 1949 Hazel opened the Jack and Jill preschool, a day care facility and precursor of the future. A returning veteran Nicholas "Nick" Harroz opened a grocery store, calling it Nick's Brett Drive Grocery, at the corner of Boeing Street and Brett Drive in 1947. His business prospered and in 1953 he moved to a larger building in Atkinson Plaza. In 1964 he moved again, changing the business name to Crest Discount Foods. In 1948 Midwest City citizens voted to change their form of government to a charter-council-city manager to manage the continuing growth. In 1951 Midwest City was recognized by the National Association of Home Builders as "America's Model City." The town's streets were still dirt and gravel with the exception of one mile of Air Depot Boulevard that had been paved. In 1957 Paul Hudiburg, the Buick and Pontiac dealer in Okemah, Oklahoma, moved to Midwest City and purchased the Chevrolet dealership. He built the Hudiburg Auto Group into one of the largest auto sales organizations in Oklahoma.

City voters followed the recommendation of their council in 1957 and approved a bond issue to pave the city's streets. The project was 95 percent complete in 1967 when the city received an award from the Oklahoma Good Roads and Streets Association. In 1959 the city fathers sought a bond, which was approved, to build a regional hospital. The Midwest City Memorial Hospital was dedicated on October 6, 1962. In 1968 the voters approved the creation of a junior college district, following up in February 1969 with a bond to initiate construction. In September 1970 the first classes were held at Oscar Rose Junior College (now Rose State College), named for the Midwest City-Del City (Mid-Del) superintendent of schools Oscar V. Rose. The General Motors Assembly Plant, located near Tinker AFB, provided employment between 1978 and its closing in early 2006.

As Midwest City grew from a population of 10,166 in 1950 to 36,058 in 1960 and 52,267 in 1990, it also grew in political influence. Before World War II inhabitants of eastern Oklahoma County were usually represented in the state legislature by Pottawatomie County residents. Since 1965 the state Senate seat in District 42 has been occupied by a Midwest Citian: H. B. Atkinson (D), 1965-71; James F. Howell (D), 1971-87; and David Herbert (D), 1987 to the present. In the House of Representatives, Districts 94, 95, and 101 have often been occupied by Midwest City representatives. District 94 is currently represented by Kevin J. Calvey (R), who has held the seat since 1999. District 95 has been represented by David Craighead (D), 1973-89; Jim Isaac (D), 1989-95; and Bill Case (R), 1995 to the present. District 101 has been represented by Jeff Hamilton (D), 1987-95; Forrest Claunch (R), 1995-2005; and Gary Banz (R), from 2005 to the present. During its sixty-year history Midwest City has been served by numerous newspapers. They include the Midwest City News, the Midwest City Leader and the Midwest City News, the Midwest Journal, the Midwest City Sun, and two weeklies, the Eastern Oklahoma County News and the Eastern Oklahoma County Extra. At the turn of the twenty-first century Midwest City had 54,088 residents.

SEE ALSO: MIDWEST CITY DOUGLAS AIRCRAFT COMPANY; SETTLEMENT PATTERNS.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: James L. Crowder, Jr., "'More Valuable Than Oil': The Establishment and Development of Tinker Air Force Base, 1940-1949," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 70 (Fall 1992). Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 21 June 1959, 22 April 1964, and 22 November 2005. Del City (Oklahoma) Journal, 2 November 1979. Journal (Oklahoma City, Okla.) Record, 11 April 1992. Susan M. Lee, "William P. 'Bill' Atkinson: The Father of Midwest City, Oklahoma," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 77 (Fall 1999). "Midwest City," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City. Oklahoma (Oklahoma City) Journal, 27 October 1967 and 13 May 1971. Profiles of America, Vol. 2 (2d ed.; Millerton, N.Y.: Grey House Publishing, 2003). Susan Wallace and Tamara J. Hermen, Oklahoma City: A Better Living, A Better Life (Montgomery, Ala.: Community Communications, 1997).

Thomas L. Hedglen

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