Area history doesn’t get any more local than that which is depicted on the new mural at the Greater Southwest Historical Museum. Completed just over a week ago by artist Bob Palmer, the large painting depicts the story of the museum building itself, along with that of the nearby grounds.
Museum Director Wesley Hull said the inspiration for the piece came from questions museum visitors asked about the building’s history.
“A lot of people ask about the history of this building, so we looked at all of the various things the building has been used for, Hull said. “We thought nothing would be more fitting than to paint a mural all about this building.”
Hull said the building’s history begins in 1936 when both the building itself and the nearby site that was once Walker Stadium were built as a WPA project. The land for both was donated by Mr. and Mrs. E.A. Walker.
The stadium was home to the Ardmore Tigers from 1936 to 1996 as well as the Douglass Dragons before Douglass High School was integrated with Ardmore High School. The building was the Oklahoma National Guard Armory from 1936 to 1988 and the home to the 45th Infantry Division.
“We’ve listed out all the units that served in this armory,” Hull said. “During World War II, the National Guard was mobilized, and they were known as one of the best fighting groups of all of the units. As best I can recall they served 511 days in World War II, and they were known as the Fighting 45th.”
The center of the mural depicts the Oklahoma National Guard thunderbird logo flanked by the United States and Oklahoma flags. Each of the units that served out of the armory are listed beneath the thunderbird.
While the building was serving as the armory, certain parts of the structure were opened up to private businesses when the armory was not in use. These businesses include Godwin’s Roller Rink, Ray’s Roller Rink and Kipper’s Gymnastics.
“A lot of people come in here with memories of going to the roller rink,” Hull said. “Godwin’s put in the wooden floor and they ran the roller rink from 1953 to 1960. After they sold it, Ray’s was one of the last owners of the roller rink here. Also, Kipper’s Gymnastics operated here from 1979 to 1988. People would come in and skate and do gymnastics here when the National Guard Armory wasn’t using this part of the building.”
The mural also shows the logo of the Greater Southwest Historical Museum as well as a depiction of the way the building looks today. Hull said the building was donated to the Historical and Genealogical Society in 1988. The society then opened up the museum, which is operating to this day.
Hull said everyone at the museum is proud of the work done on the mural.
“This brings everything home and documents what we’re all about — historical significance,” Hull said. “I think a lot of the former National Guard are going to be coming in to view this because it’s a kind of dedication to them for the service they provided all of those years.”
The Greater Southwest Historical Museum is open from Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.