If you’re missing White Rock Lake in your efforts to stay indoors and socially distance, check out this list we wrote in 2015 about hidden coves, murals and slices of history to get your fix.

Here’s 11 things you haven’t noticed at White Rock Lake. Search for them when you visit at a safer time.

By Christina Hughes Babb.

Playground on the west side of White Rock Lake: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Playground on the west side of White Rock Lake: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

1. The off-lake parks

Historical photo of Flag Pole Hill, formerly known as Doran's Point

Historical photo of Flag Pole Hill, formerly known as Doran’s Point

Flag Pole Hill is a popular destination for picnics, concerts and fireworks-watching in the spring (and for clumsy rides on makeshift sleds when it snows). It became Flag Pole Hill in 1936. Before that, it was Doran’s Point, named for William Doran (1847-1931), the city commissioner responsible for negotiating to purchase the 2,292 acres of land that would become White Rock Lake Park, according to historian Sally Rodriguez.

A photo of the hilltop pavilions in the Dallas Municipal Archives shows that the waters of White Rock Lake once reached the very base of Flag Pole Hill. Today, Northwest Highway separates the hill from the main lake.

High school cross-country runners from around the region know Norbuck Park, across the road from Flag Pole Hill, for a steep, tree-lined incline and a flat finishing stretch. For the less competitive, the cross-country course suits more pleasurable pursuits such as hiking and nature-watching. Pay homage here to the late Rowland D. Adams (1917-1962), who is remembered on a plaque near the playground as a man “whose love of God and life inspired him to appreciate the beauty of the world and his fellow man. To be a coach and counselor to boys and girls. To be a friend and example to all.” According to his obituary, Adams organized the White Rock Churches Athletic Association in 1956. In 1962 alone there were more than 2,000 youngsters participating in baseball and basketball programs, many of whom Adams himself coached. He died at age 44 following a long illness.


2. Untraveled trails

Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Mayor Joe E. Lawther

Lawther is named for Joe E. Lawther, a Dallas mayor and park board president credited with making White Rock the park it is today.

White Rock Lake increasingly attracts pedestrians and cyclists — slow and fast, competitive and recreational, friendly and aggressive. And, with apologies to The Notorious B.I.G.: mo’ people, mo’ problems. The west side of the lake offers a wide, smooth trail — alongside a road for faster cyclists and motor vehicles. East of the lake, however, nearly all traffic opts for the public street over the narrow, deteriorating pedestrian path above it. This creates a situation in which cars, runners, strollers and cyclists all share space. Since rules for trekking a trail (stay right) differ from road rules (stay left, facing oncoming vehicular traffic), pedestrians are generally confused, occupying both sides of the road. Yelling happens. Fights ensue. People fall down. Children cry. To quell the chaos, a $7.2 million effort to improve the pedestrian trail from the base of the Mockingbird Bridge (Mockingbird Point) to Emerald Isle on the south side of the lake is underway. The Dallas Park Department is rebuilding the existing broken trail as opposed to constructing a new shoreline trail as they did west of the lake. Also included in this three-phase project are parking lot and playground improvements, new picnic areas, and native grassland designation for select areas.


3. The bathroom murals

Bathroom murals: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Bathroom murals: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Along the 9.5-mile or so route around White Rock Lake, there are ostensibly several potential pit stops, mostly in the form of portables. Permanent restroom buildings exist at The Stone Tables, Big Thicket, near the old boathouse and kitty-corner from Celebration Tree Grove. Some of these feature painted murals and artistically detailed windows. The restrooms at Poppy Drive and East Lawther, for example showcase cheerful paintings of fish, turtles and birds collectively called “White Rock Rush Hour” by the late artist Joseph Korngut (an animal lover who died in 2011 after a long illness, according to his obituary). The problem: these structures are locked several months out of the year.

The official reason for locking down the restrooms is “winterizing,” according to Shana Murff with the Dallas Park and Recreation Department. “After the first freeze, we turn off everything with running water, because if one pipe bursts, the whole system goes down.”

All of the turning on and off of water must be done manually, which is why park-goers might find fountains dry, even on a warm and sunny afternoon.

Also of note: Locked restrooms possibly mean less work for police patrolling the lake. At one time, the restroom buildings at White Rock were popular meeting spots for sexual deviants, making them problematic for law enforcement and an unassuming public. According to a Dallas Morning News article, undercover Dallas police officers made 153 arrests for public lewdness in 2002, prompting authorities to warn parents against allowing children in the bathrooms unaccompanied. Today the prettily painted stalls all feature signs warning against “unlawful activity.”


4. That peculiar tree shrine

Photo by Christina Hughes Babb

Photo by Christina Hughes Babb

Built in the 1930s Big Thicket, across from the sailing clubs on East Lawther, once was a concession building serving dinners, drinks and sandwiches. Today it is a venue that can hold 50 people, available for rental. A plaque on the outer wall pays homage to recently deceased Tal Morrison, the founder of the Dallas Running Club (then the Cross Country Club of Dallas) and the Dallas Marathon (then the White Rock Marathon).

An old tree shading the parking lot features a tattered shrine made up of photos, a broken Dallas Running Club Frisbee and other peculiarities — this reportedly is the work of a rather closed-lipped trio of runners who regularly sit and chat under the tree after their Sunday run. They say the impromptu display happened after a friend declared he was through running forever. It’s essentially a memorial recognizing the death of a running career.


5. ‘Whirl’ and the butterfly garden

“Whirl” by artist John Christensen: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

“Whirl” by artist John Christensen: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

In the early days the area near the Bath House was a beach, and people splashed with impunity in the White Rock waters. Today swimming at White Rock Lake is illegal, but the Bath House offers multiple forms of entertainment. The building, an Art Deco-style historical landmark, plays host to theatrical productions and art exhibitions. Outside are a few public art projects worth noting: the Water Theater, a series of poles where birds perch and “perform.” The city’s Public Art Committee recently recommended the removal of the high-maintenance piece and called for the artists to recreate the artwork at a different site. A sculpture called “Whirl” made in 2008 by artist John Christensen became the centerpiece of a butterfly garden donated and maintained by the Dallas County Master Gardener Association. In the 1980s, artist Branford Graves donated a stone sculpture called “Resaca,” which doubles as a seating area with a magnificent view.


6. The goose community at sunset bay

Geese at White Rock Lake

Geese at White Rock Lake

15.02.02-ED-CVR-Proclamation-DFulgencio-0286Dec. 3, 1995 — Mayor Ron Kirk proclaimed the day For the Love of White Rock Lake Day. The formal proclamation sits east of the old boathouse. The text reads more like a poem than a municipal document, featuring lines such as, “WHEREAS, White Rock Lake offers the souls of young and old alike the emotional refreshment of curving shoreline, green spaces, cool thickets, gentle breezes, bridal paths, diamond reflections of sun on water, pastel dawns and blazing sunsets, all against the striking silhouette of our downtown skyline …” and “WHEREAS, White Rock Lake lays claim to the lore of the Lady of the Lake …”
From 1943 to 1945 Mary Jane Hart operated The Sunset Inn, a restaurant where, according to a salvaged menu, she cooked, baked and performed odd jobs. Hart and her two young children lived in a small cottage behind the diner. Hart marketed her patios as the best place to watch the sun set over White Rock Lake, and the spot is still a strong contender today.

Sunsets aside, the most magical things at Sunset Inn’s Sunset Bay are the noisy, friendly, practically domesticated birds who live there.

Neighborhood humans Charles Fussell and Annette Abbott, among others, care for the waterfowl — a mix of Canada, African, Chinese, Toulouse, Pilgrim and Emden geese, an ethereally gorgeous mute swan named Katy and (sometimes) pelicans.

Fussell, a plumber by day, drives his pickup truck most evenings to Sunset Bay and distributes some 200 pounds of food. He also frequently rescues geese from dealers and relocates them to the bay. Most of them acclimate quickly, he has said.

“They immediately take to the lake and become a part of the community. It’s such a good life for them, plus, the people at the lake enjoy them,” he says. “[The geese] almost have the sensibilities of a dog in the way that they gravitate toward and relate with people.”


7. The CCC Worker

The CCC Worker: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

The CCC Worker: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

In the 1930s, the field near Winfrey Point housed dozens of wooden yellow barracks, a mess hall and the hundreds of young men who served the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Later on, those barracks housed German prisoners of war. Outside Sunset Inn, which is just north of Winfrey Point, a statue honors CCC Company 2896, which built Sunset Inn, Winfrey Point, the pavilions at Flag Pole Hill, and White Rock Lake entrance signs and bridges, to name a few things. “Using shovel, trowel, hammer and spade they moved earth, planted trees, crafted stone and built structures that remain a lasting legacy of service to their community and nation,” reads the plaque.


8. The dirt trails at the Old Fish Hatchery

Old Fish Hatchery trails are a favorite spot of bird-watchers, wanderers and, apparently, architects of amazing teepee huts. Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Old Fish Hatchery trails are a favorite spot of bird-watchers, wanderers and, apparently, architects of amazing teepee huts. Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Those days when the trails are too crowded and you feel like going off the beaten path, look for the entrance to the Old Fish Hatchery, which is less traveled, near the filter building on the southwest side of the lake. This “environmentally sensitive area” (according to a sign out front) offers a quiet network of dirt trails and a protected wildlife habitat. It is a favorite spot of bird-watchers, wanderers and, apparently, architects of amazing teepee huts.


9. Ben’s Bench

The Mayor of White Rock Lake — that was what lake-goers nicknamed Benjamin Arkowitz, according to a Dallas Morning News article from the 1990s. He told the paper he liked to test out all the benches, fill his water bottle at every fountain, and talk to anyone who would listen. More than 120 people showed up at his funeral at Temple Emanu-El in 2000, after he died of cancer. The war veteran and New York City native reportedly lost more than 70 pounds (“and gained a ton of friends”) once he started his daily jaunts around the lake. One of his favorite benches, near Dalgreen and W. Lawther, now is branded “Ben’s Bench” in gold letters. “In Memory of Benjamin Arkowitz Mayor of White Rock Lake.”


10. Plaza Solana

Plaza Solana: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Plaza Solana: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Rendering of the Dallas United Crew boathouse
Landscape of the future: Dallas United Crew plans to build a $4 million, 9,000-square-foot boathouse on the east side of the lake between the White Rock Boat Club and the Corinthian Sailing Club. Based on a 2012 agreement, the City of Dallas would own the building and earn 10 percent of the rowing club’s revenue. Josh Theodore, a principal at the architectural firm Page, designed the future boathouse; his plans have already received critical acclaim. Visit advocatemag.com for more renderings and project updates.
Across a bay from the old boathouse is a partly shaded plaza, fenced in stonework similar to that used by the CCC workers in the ’30s and featuring sunny mosaic signage by artist Sonia King. The overlook includes two free binocular telescopes, one at wheelchair level. The plaza was dedicated in 2004, donated by Hampton Hodges.

He and his first wife, Buffy, moved to the neighborhood after falling in love with White Rock Lake, according to a 2001 Advocate article. Buffy died a few years later of ovarian cancer, and he began exploring ways to contribute something meaningful to White Rock Lake in her honor.

Colorful tiles near the base of the plaza spell out “Hamp and Buffy.”


11. Don Ostroff’s fountain

The family and friends of Don Ostroff dedicated a fountain and seating area on the east White Rock Lake Trail, not far from the old boathouse. Ostroff was a prolific endurance athlete who competed in more than 20 marathons and numerous triathlons. In 2007, he was running at White Rock Lake when he suffered an aortic dissection, which ended his life. He was 58.


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