Now, after more than 40 years, I can breathe normally, thanks to the vision of another energy executive, Larry Nichols, whose determined efforts have allowed Mr. McGee’s audacious plan to be realized.
Oklahomans are not by nature or history a patient people, and support for the realization of the vast potential of the gardens has been at best inconsistent. “Black hole” and “money pit” were phrases frequently employed by the project’s political enemies, as well as a large segment of the public, in the 1970s and early ’80s. Over the years, there have been numerous proposals to convert its four choice blocks into other uses and the public resources devoted to its care and maintenance have had many suitors.
How then did it survive and actually prosper? What was done that ultimately justified the immense investment that resulted in its metamorphosis?
It grew and evolved because the idea of such a place is very seductive; and because talented, creative and very generous people fell in love with the dream.
In the economically troubled ’80s, Ed Cook and Lee Allan Smith stepped in to help McGee raise $2 million in private funds to finish the Crystal Bridge when there was not public money available.
Mike Bush (the first full-time director) conceived the unique interiors of the Crystal Bridge as three tropical ecosystems and collected the plants to create it. Allan Storjohann (the recently retired second director) assembled and husbanded more than 600 trees, many of which now soften and balance the new construction.
Jo Ann Pierce and Wendell Wisenhunt (successive directors of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department) sheltered its growth by creating a special place and status for the gardens within the structure of the city administration.
Hundreds of individuals, foundations and corporations made donations, led by the prescient Herman Meinders, whose funding of the Meinders Gardens in the northeast quadrant is still the largest donation ever made for beautification of Oklahoma City.
And, perhaps most important, a small army of foundation board members, authority trustees, docents, horticultural volunteers and garden staff committed their time, personal reputations and immense energy to advocacy, fundraising and to plain hard work.
It was these singular individuals who made possible the public support and provided the skeletal structure that encouraged Larry Nichols to make the realization of the dream of the Myriad Gardens the centerpiece of his own vision for downtown Oklahoma City.
The result is a hybrid of an old/new botanical garden interlaced with playgrounds, stages, a seasonal ice rink, meeting spaces and mesmerizing water features.
It is a place for families, dogs, plant lovers, office workers and schoolchildren. It is a place for education, for entertainment, for reflection, for birthday parties and for weddings. It is place for all of us.
Tolbert is chairman emeritus of the Myriad Gardens Foundation.
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