History Of Oklahoma's Space Tower

Thursday, November 29th 2018, 10:26 pm
By: News 9

The Oklahoma State Fair draws nearly a million people to the fairgrounds each year. But in 2019, the landscape won't look the same, as one of the last iconic structures is gone.

"A lot of people think it's an end of an era, I think it's the evolution of the property," said fair spokesperson Scott Munz.

The State Fair Park in Oklahoma City covers 435 acres and since the early 1950s, buildings and structures have popped up across the fairgrounds.

"We had a track there initially and then we built the Grandstand, that was one of the earlier buildings," Munz said.

The Grandstand gave racing fans a home for more than 50 years. Attached to the Grandstand was the boarding platform for the Monorail. Constructed in 1964 it was considered the transportation of the future. In the 14 Flags Plaza, fairgoers were greeted by the State Fair Arch and the Arrows to Atoms tower, which stood 190 feet. After wind damaged that tower, it was replaced by an even bigger endeavor in 1967, the Space Tower.

"It was his most iconic piece of work," said Sondra Dean of her father, Delmar C. Dean.

Delmar Dean was the structural engineer on the project. Sondra was just 9 years old at the time.

"Dad would bring us out on the project and we would see it from different phases," she remembers.

Her father captured home video of the construction in 1967. Sondra is seen with her siblings playing near the site.

"It was fun to be able to come down and watch the construction of it with my father," she said.

Delmar Dean documented each phase in the never-before seen footage, as workers dug 50 feet underground for the 700 cubic yards of concrete that made up the base. Once that was complete, it took three to four months to assemble the 120-ton tower. Designed after Seattle's Space Needle, the $450,000 Oklahoma Space Tower opened in 1968.

It was exciting, and it was really high," said Melody Snodgrass.

Snodgrass was just a teenager and by sheer chance was among the first ones to take a ride. She was at the State Fair Park with her brother who had hockey practice at the arena.

"We went over there and saw a lot of media, dignitaries and we got out and asked what's the deal, they said ‘the governor is going on the first official ride of the space needle,’" she remembers. "Then they go 'you wanna go' and we're like 'yeah, of course.'"

The two-story donut cylinder carried passengers 330 feet to the top for a panoramic view of the State Fair Park and Oklahoma City skyline for more than 40 years. The ride was grounded in June of 2010, when a flood damaged the control room, the same year Sondra's father died.

"It is kind of an ironic kind of thing you know that he passed away and then the floods basically ended the ride at the fair," she said.

Too expensive to bring back to life, the Space Tower served as an iconic monument for years. In the spring of 2017, though, a wind storm took out the State Fair Arch and further compromised the stability of the tower.

"We had no intentions of taking it down," said Munz. "It was a decision we made in the guise of public safety. We wanted to take it down on our time not its time."

That time came. Fifty years after it was erected by Allied Steel, the company took it down. Using a crane, workers dismantled the historic ride in three weeks, as onlookers came out to take pictures and watch, with nostalgia, another State Fair landmark disappear.

"My father was very proud of that work," said Dean. "It's bittersweet but I think he would just be proud to know that it stood for all these years."

The tower was purchased by Manhattan Road and Bridge to be used during bridge construction.