About Parks and recreationThe recreation department of Montgomery was created on March 1, 1948, through the efforts of several Montgomery citizens, including Earl James. Mr. James used the recreation plank in his campaign for the City Commission, was elected and immediately followed through with his plans to create the department. T.A. Beiser was named Superintendent of the new department.
The only recreational facilities were two lighted softball fields and a pavilion at Hamner Hall Park, along with a grandstand and a baseball diamond that were located at Bruce Field, which is where O'Connor Tennis Center sits today. The O'Connor Tennis Center is an eleven-court facility, which opened to the public in September of 1971.
During its initial year of operation, square and folk dancing, arts and crafts, talent and puppet shows along with play days and softball dominated the first summer of activities and sports.
In April of 1949, the Parks and Recreation departments were merged into one unit. The board members were: Mrs. James Fitts Hill, Chairman; Junie J. Pierce, Vice-Chairman; Harold McGlynn, Secretary-Treasurer; Charles Covey and Florian Strassburger.
The Golden Age (senior citizens) program was initiated into the department by Miss Bebe Smith. In 1958, five large community centers were opened to the public under supervision from the staff of the department. These centers feature gymnasiums, club rooms, dressing rooms and foyers with football, softball and baseball fields adjoining these buildings. This phase of the department has grown into one of the finest in the South.
Montgomery citizens have benefitted from the facilities of the Parks and Recreation department for years, but the road to a successful program has not always been easy. Among the issues were the court battles concerning segregation ordinances. In the mid-50's several suits were brought up to erase the segregation rule in parks and playgrounds, but of to no avail. On January 1, 1959 the City Commission of Montgomery voted to close all parks and playgrounds to avoid the integration of races. With this order by the commission, 13 parks were closed, including Hamner Hall Community Center, the first of its kind to be built by the department.
On February 5, 1959, Jude Frank Johnson Jr. denied a motion to dismiss a suit brought to end segregation in the city's parks. In September 1959, Judge Johnson ruled the ordinances were unconstitutional and if the parks and playgrounds were reopened they must be integrated.
When the Oak Park Zoo was closed the animals were sold or donated to various organizations. The swimming and wading pool at Oak Park was also disposed of, thus eliminating public pools city-wide. Yancey Park, located in the Capitol Heights area, was sold to the Montgomery Spastic Children's School, which is now the Children's Center. The Perry Street Park property was sold to the local YMCA.
On February 24, 1965 the City Commission voted to reopen the parks and playgrounds throughout the city to all races.
One facility unique to the city of Montgomery along with the Parks and Recreation department is the W.A. Gayle Planetarium. The planetarium is one of only a few of its kind in the United States and was opened to the public on September 25, 1968. This facility is located in historic Oak Park, adjacent to the administrative offices of the department. top