One of the more interesting oral history interviews was with Robert J Lafortune. Notre Dame grad, former mayor of Tulsa, family patriarch, and successful businessman in Tulsa. Among the many questions I ask him was, how di Lafortune Park come about? For those who don’t know where or what Lafortune park is; it is in Tulsa bounded on the north by 51st Street and 61st Street on the south. Yale Avenue on the west and Hudson Street on the east. Just guessing it is about two to three hundred acres. Home of Memorial High school, a full 18-hole golf course and a 9-hole and lighted par-three golf course, picknick area, playground area, football stadium, baseball complex, a three and a half mile walking trail, and more. Plus, a fairly new library, community center, and an indoor tennis center. It is one of Tulsa’s brilliant gems.
But back to how this park came about. Robert Lafortune’s father Joseph Lafortune wanted this property after it was shut down and abandoned. Then entered into a bidding war with the Warren family. A family with oil resource and the founders of Saint Francis hospital and the surrounding medical complex. Shortly before the bidding began the area in south Tulsa county was formerly know as a “Poor Farm.” An acreage inhabited by families and individuals with no means and in need of a place to live and sustain themselves. There was a large vegetable garden area on the north end and possibly areas to raise cows, pigs, and chickens. Support of the Poor Farm was sometimes paid for by local taxes. If one or his family had not the ways and means of self-support and facing homelessness he or they would be sent to the Poor Farm. Sent there to grow and raise their own food. Charles Dickens spoke of Poor Farms or Poor Houses in several of his famous books.
During the infamous 1930s depression tint camps known as Hoovervilles were established and sponsored by the Federal government in various parts of the country. There were one or two in Oklahoma City. There was one mentioned in the John Steinbeck’s book Grapes of Wrath” called Weed Patch in California’s great central valley. Which was and still is a real place.
But anyway, the magnificent Tulsa county park known as Lafortune was once a place for the poor and homeless. So, going to the Poor Farm was more than a catch phrase. Welcome to Lafortune Park.