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March 28th, 2012 - Christina Nihira

Atkinson’s abode

Open to the public, the home of W.P. ‘Bill’ Atkinson stands as a time capsule to the city he founded, Midwest City


It’s the early 1940s and not much is happening on the outskirts of Oklahoma City. Not among the cedar trees, not along the dusty roads — just some homesteads dotting the lonely plains.

But wait. A few miles east of Downtown, crews are about to begin construction on the Midwest Air Depot. And, sensing the opportunity to play a significant role in the area’s development, W.P. “Bill” Atkinson arrives with a blueprint for the town he would found, Midwest City.

A homebuilder by trade, Atkinson purchased tens of thousands of acres for future commercial and residential development, including nearly 700 acres for his family farm. His own bucolic cabin, built in 1942 as a weekend retreat, today remains situated at the corner of Midwest Boulevard and N.E. 10th Street. Now part of the property known collectively as Atkinson Heritage Center, it includes a great room, kitchen and three bedrooms, each with a bath considered lavish at the time. The master shower even has a tree trunk through it.

During World War II, Atkinson generously allowed the house to serve as Tinker Air Force Base’s informal officers’ club.

“There was no officers’ club during the war because it was too expensive to build,” says Carolyn Cuskey, Atkinson Heritage Center coordinator and Rose State College history professor. “The great room has a big fireplace; they could go ride horses and [relax] in a country retreat.”

Midwest City officially was incorporated as a city the year after Atkinson put down roots. Over the next decade, the land mogul focused on his construction business.

Besides selling plots and houses, he donated land for churches, schools and parks. His vision was to build a city that accommodated all the air base’s needs.

Despite his remarkable business success, Atkinson felt the appeal of state politics. In anticipation of running for governor, he built a mansion adjacent to the cabin in 1954. The 8,500-square- foot home is a traditional, two-story residence estimated to cost $1.5 million. He and his wife, Rubye, feeling that the home belonged to the Oklahoma public, thought it shouldn’t look like a private residence.

“The home is a historic time capsule of Midwest City,” says Cuskey. “The house is staged as it was in 1955. It is virtually original. We’ve replaced a set of drapes and one carpet.” Circulation for the house begins at the front entrance on the main level. An elegant staircase greets visitors upon entry, where an antique crystal and brass chandelier hangs. Passage to the formal living room on the left gives a glimpse of small sofas, Queen Anne and wingback chairs amid stylish silk wallpaper, drapes and upholstery specially selected to match. Off the living area is the solarium.

The room’s theme is sea-foam green, a color trendy in the 1950s. It’s nicely woven into such items as the canasta table with matching leather chairs, the sofa’s cast aluminum frame and the silk grass cloth wallpaper and folding panel doors separating the living room. The working indoor fountain matches accordingly. 

Moving to the dining room, a glistening, 12-seat mahogany and walnut table stands as the centerpiece. Another chandelier illuminates the space, as does a curved bay window overlooking the yard.

For the Atkinsons, the beauty of the outdoors also was captured indoors. As an avid gardener, Rubye had a living garden in the kitchen. A spacious brick planter with a large skylight divide the family and kitchen area.

The kitchen itself is modern; appliances are built-in. Even the dishwasher is automatic, and doubleovens were thought progressive. Today, all remain functional with sleek, contemporary lines.

“They were very forward-thinking,” Cuskey says. “The kitchen wasn’t isolated like many homes [of that time].”

The master bedroom is quaint with a four-poster bed. The closets are enormous with built-in shelving and pull-out drawers. They still contain clothing, many items of which have been painstakingly organized to illustrate the couple’s daily life. Classic items include ladies hats, purses and gloves beside men’s ties, suits and shoes.

In the bathroom, the toilet area contains two phone jacks and a fold-down desk; Cuskey notes Atkinson loved to work all the time.

Walking down the hall, visitors to the Atkinson Heritage Center arrive at a girls’ and boys’ room, decorated in pink and blue, respectively. These were more for show, as the Atkinsons’ children were grown by the time they moved to the home.

Unfortunately, Atkinson’s gubernatorial bids in 1957 and 1962 were unsuccessful. He turned his attention to The Oklahoma Journal, the newspaper he founded in 1959, as well as later helping establish Rose State College and aiding in numerous community and philanthropic pursuits.

Although Atkinson passed away in 1999, he arranged for his property to be maintained following his death. His home and grounds were donated to the Rose State College Foundation so it could be used for historic preservation and as a small conference center available for rent. Free tours are available upon appointment.

His entrepreneurial spirit remains, as well.

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