A new 27-acre riverfront park has been established by the Oklahoma City Council. A Hispanic WWII hero’s name will be transferred to it from a little used park nearby.
The park was created by a Nov. 11 council vote transferring the name of a little-used small park to a section of Wiley Post Park running along the south bank of the Oklahoma River.
The section of Wiley Post Park east of Robinson will now become the new park and the rest of Wiley Post Park to the west will keep the name it how now.
The new park is named in honor of Manuel Perez, a Hispanic WWII Medal of Honor recipient who was born in Oklahoma City.
City Councilman Pete White called the move “a rare win-win for the city and everyone involved.”
And Ray Madrid, a community leader who has been in a group of community leaders pushing to move the park designation elsewhere, told Free Press the passage of the resolution was “one of the greatest things to happen to the park.”
Previous remote location
For years few people knew where to find the old Manuel Perez Park. It sat in the neighborhood east of Little Flower Catholic Church between Walker and Robinson on SW 14th Street. When a marker and plaque was placed there, the neighborhood was still a center of Hispanic culture dating back nearly to statehood.
But the neighborhood changed as housing aged, was torn down and the center of Hispanic life moved further south in the city. The park being little used, the marker was vandalized and the original plaque stolen. Money was raised to replace the plaque in 2012.
But Madrid talked about how hard it was to use the park once the neighborhood emptied out.
“Where it was at, it was isolated,” he said. “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.”
Thus, Hispanic community leaders have worked to get the park name designation moved along with the memorial marker and plaque.
White said that even if the future would bring new development to the south end of the new Central Park, he still wasn’t satisfied with leaving the park where it was. “I didn’t want it to be an afterthought,” White said. “I wanted it to be a standalone park.”
The city Parks Department is in current discussions with community leaders about where to place the marker and plaque in the newly-designated park.
Council members Pete White and Meg Salyer have both made positive comments about a small circle on the east end of the 27 acres. They have floated the idea of the circle being used as a memorial for other Medal of Honor recipients from Oklahoma with the Perez plaque being the focus.
But some believe that the location would be too remote considering the meaning of Perez’s name among Oklahoma City Hispanics.
“I can tell you that the community that’s been pushing for this prefers the idea of it’s being closer to Robinson because it’s visible,” Donna Cervantes told Free Press. She is the Director of Historic Capitol Hill/Calle dos Cinco, an organization that promotes cultural and business development along the old south side business district along SW 25th Street between Shields and Walker.
“We want to remember all of our veterans, but [Perez] is someone from this local community,” Cervantes said.
Doug Kupper told Free Press that the Parks and Recreation staff will now begin the process of evaluating not only the possible locations for the plaque, but other amenities that would make the park more usable than it is now.
However, he said there is no money available right now, but will be when a new general obligation bond goes through early next year. Until then, the department plans on developing a process that involves the community.
“The next steps are going to be sitting down with the friends of Manual Perez Park and working through what their dreams are for the park,” said Kupper.
“We have only just begun the process of making the new Manual Perez Park go from a dream to a reality.”