Sure, you know White Rock Lake like you know your own backyard. But in all those days you’ve bird-watched, picnicked, jogged or biked, there must be something you’ve missed.
Maybe it was one of these odds, ends, hidden coves, slices of history or peculiarities.
1. The off-lake parks
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
Lawther is named for Joe E. Lawther, a Dallas mayor and park board president credited with making White Rock the park it is today.
3. The bathroom murals
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.