A groundbreaking ceremony Monday will mark a new phase of a years-long process of establishing the new Manuel Perez Park on the south bank of the Oklahoma River east of Robinson.
The ceremony will take place at 10:00 a.m., Monday, Dec. 2 at 21 S.E. 17th Street, a circle drive that will become a memorial to Oklahoma service members who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest honor a service member can receive.
See the map of the park below.
U.S. Army Private First Class Manuel Perez was born and grew up in Oklahoma City. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for heroic fighting during a battle in the Philippines during WWII.
“I’m very excited to help break this ground and get this exciting project moving,” Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt told us in a text message Friday. “This is a wonderful project and it is a positive on so many levels.”
“It’s a new amenity in the heart of our growing Latino community; it honors a Mexican-American hero born right here in OKC; and it also honors all Oklahomans awarded the Medal of Honor…,” Holt wrote.
Moving the name
The 27-acre park at 1700 S. Robinson was renamed after Perez by the City of Oklahoma City Council in October 2016.
That same year Free Press reported the change and what community leaders dreamed of doing with the park.
The move came after Oklahoma City Hispanic community leaders worked with the Oklahoma City Parks Department to move the park name to a more prominent location for several months before the decision.
Previously, the parkland with that name designation was a small neighborhood parcel at 301 S.W. 14th Street in what once was a populated, vibrant section of Oklahoma City’s Hispanic community.
But, over the years, the Hispanic population grew larger and expanded south of the Oklahoma River. Around the little park, the neighborhood started to empty out as housing aged and was town down. It was used less and less over time.
“Where it was at, it was isolated,” Community leader Rey Madrid told us in 2016. “Every time we tried to use it, we’d have to go in there and clean it up. We found a lot of syringes, a lot of things that had to do with drugs.”
The feature photo is of the plaque honoring Perez as it sat in the old park in 2016. The plaque is in storage waiting for the current park to be completed.
Since 2016 Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Director Doug Kupper has worked with community leaders to discern what would be the best use of the park.
The addition of the memorial in the circle drive and improvements to the Mat Hoffman Action Sports Park within it plus other improvements will solidify Manuel Perez Park as a source of pride for southside Hispanic culture and others in the area.
“There’s been a number of community members who have been advocating to see this happen for a number of years,” Gloria Torres told us Friday. “It’s exciting to finally see them getting to realize it.”
Torres grew up in that community, is an educator and is currently the director of Historic Capitol Hill an organization that promotes business on the near south side around S.W. 25th Street.
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