Ninety two years ago the citizens of East Dallas, like us today, were enduring a Texas summer (albeit not quite so brutal as this one), but they were looking forward to an upcoming event that would bring refreshment and joy to the neighborhood and city — the grand opening of the Bath House and Bathing Beach at White Rock Lake.
Under the leadership of 1930s Dallas mayor J. Waddy Tate (who reportedly was quite a character), the Art Deco-style bath house — with lockers and changing rooms and featuring bathing-suit rentals — was underway. So was a sandy beach, an underwater slab, to make walking an playing in the water easier, and concession stand.
The Advocate has reported that the $48,100 project brought electricity and running water to the eastern bank of the lake for the first time. We also have noted that in the early 20s, plans were to build three such beaches around the lake, but only this one came to fruition.
On opening day, August 9, 1930, the level of the lake was about three feet below the top of the spillway, according to Watermelon Kid’s White Rock Lake history site.
Critics frowned on efforts to chlorinize the waters, calling it futile. The City tried nonetheless.
From the Advocate, a few years ago (when we did a comprehensive story about swimming in Dallas):
“We did everything on the lake. We swam there. We took a lot of picnics down to the beach,” says Delores “Dee” Knight, who graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1954. “There was a lot of ‘parking’ that went on there at night,” she adds with a blush.
Historians say that families of varying socioeconomic status found fun and refreshment at the lake, which flourished with swimming, sailing, seaplanes and even a regular Miss Dallas beauty pageant emceed by Johnny Weissmuller, the actor who played Tarzan. However swimming in Dallas was not desegregated until the so called “modern swimming era” beginning in the 1940s. We have the whole story on that as well.
White Rock Beach remained open each summer for 23 years. Historians say that it was not much more than a rec center and a place to play in the sand by the end. In fact, according to 1939-72 Park and Recreation Department director L.B. Houston, White Rock never was an ideal place to swim.