The early morning temperatures made for a pleasurable bicycle ride through southeast Norman this past weekend, so much so that the surrounding geography was as much a discussion point as the weather.
A fellow cyclist asked about the origin of the tiny Town of Hall Park, once an incorporated city totally surrounded by Norman.
For me, it was a childhood haven for firework stands competing for customers in the days leading up to Independence Day each summer. It taught me, as a young consumer, to shop around for the best deals on things as simple as bottle rockets.
For motorists, Hall Park was known as something of a local speed trap on Robinson Street, Rock Creek Road and 24th Avenue NE. Those fines were a major revenue producer for the town, since there were no businesses to collect a municipal sales tax.
But the town’s history is much richer, as related to me in 2016 by the late Dr. George Ingels, Hall Park’s last mayor and an early resident there.
During World War II, Hall Park was the Norman Golf and Country Club. With most golfers fighting on the warfront, the property was repossessed by Security National Bank.
Enter businessman Ike Hall. He bought the land and added it to his ranching operation. He modified it into a hunting club and riding stable, managed by Oklahoma film star Tim Holt. It had lakes and a rolling terrain, and was on the cross timbers region with many native trees.
At the time, the land was unincorporated and outside Norman’s city limits. Norman was annexing land at a rapid pace to protect the watershed for a future reservoir. City commissioners set their sights on the tract.
Hall fought them and won, incorporating its own town. State law required at least 10 residents, so Hall recruited Jerry and Penny Thompson and their nine children to move there. It was formally dedicated on March 2, 1962, and the town’s first board of trustees meeting was held May 29, 1962, according to a history shared by Ingels.
The town had its own water wells and sewer lagoons, and became Oklahoma’s first all-electric community. General Electric was so excited, it sent then-film star Ronald Reagan to the town’s opening.
In 1972, Hall sold the undeveloped land to a subsidiary of Sooner Federal Savings and Loan. Western Home Service Corporation also acquired the utilities, which had been sold separately. This concerned some townsfolk, who formed a sort of homeowners association to represent the residents.
The town, like many areas of the county, grew rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s. Repairs to the utilities and streets were mostly funded by grants, since local revenues were limited. Ingels said that when workers drained the town’s only water tower for repairs, they found a tire swing inside tied to a pipe.
“Apparently Hall Park had a swimming pool, but only a few knew about it,” he joked. “The identities of the culprits have never been discovered.”
The turbulent financial times of the late 1980s and early 1990s forced Sooner Federal into bankruptcy, and Western Home Service Corporation did not want to maintain the utilities.
Thus, the town bought the utilities, greenbelts, lakes, lakeshore and several other pieces of property for $25,000. The remaining land was sold off. Much of it has now been developed on the original town’s north side along Rock Creek Road.
By 2000, the town’s population neared 1,000, and its sewer and water system became problematic. New EPA rules were forcing the town to revamp the system at a cost that exceeded its ability to pay.
Enter the City of Norman. In 2001, the Hall Park Board of Trustees voted to begin an annexation conversation with Norman officials, which ironically included Mayor Bob Thompson, one of Hall Park’s first residents.
At midnight on Sept. 30, 2003, the Town of Hall Park was dissolved and formally annexed into the City of Norman.
Ingels said the annexation was believed to be the first instance of one municipality annexing another municipality. With the change, Norman’s population exceeded 100,000 for the first time ever.