Thomas Jefferson “The Mayor of Hamilton Park,” Nichelle Johnson, granddaughter of Willie B. Johnson, and Coach Tevar Watson

Hamilton Park neighbors love a good reason to celebrate their historic community, and Saturday they had just that. Officials from the City of Dallas and pioneer families joined the neighborhood’s newest young families for a groundbreaking ceremony at Willie B. Johnson Recreation Center. Construction is ready to begin on $12 million in improvements to the center, including a new indoor gym, a new senior wing and updated technology for the entire community.

Hamilton Park is one of the most special neighborhoods in Dallas,” said Rep. John Turner, “and special neighborhoods need special gathering places. Those can sometimes be our schools, our churches and our community centers, like the Willie B. Johnson Recreation Center, which is why this addition is going to be so meaningful for the future of Hamilton Park.”

“Winston Churchill said we shape our buildings, and afterward our buildings shape us,” added Turner.

Money was originally proposed in the city’s 2017 $1 billion bond package to improve the rec center, one of the few in town with no indoor gymnasium. When funding was dropped for the rec center and the Forest Green Library nearby, Hamilton Park residents mobilized to advocate.

“Of the 109 people who signed up to speak that day [at city hall], more than 50 were from Hamilton Park and the District 10 community,” praised Deputy Pro Tem Adam McGough.

One of those speakers was Terrel Harris, who grew up in the neighborhood and went on to play for the Miami Heat, earning a championship ring in 2012.

“Playing basketball at the rec was an everyday thing for me growing up. It built toughness in me, and it separated the boys from the men,” Harris told the crowd at the groundbreaking.  “I can remember coming up on Saturday morning, watching the elders play dominoes, with cars lined up down the street. The rec was a place of activity. That gave me the edge I still have today.”

“As a kid growing up in Hamilton Park, this neighborhood set the foundation that will last forever,” continued Harris. “It taught me how to fight through adversity, which helped me make it to Oklahoma State University, travel across the world to play the sport that I love and even win a world championship amongst the best players that ever set foot on this earth. For that I am grateful.”

Coach Tevar Watson, head of the Bobcats youth football and cheerleading program, agreed.

“Being from Hamilton Park is one of the things I’m most proud of,” said Watson. “We’re mentoring a lot of children, and this rec molded us to be the people we are. It’s our job to make these kids better than we are, so they can be the next Mr. [Thomas] Jeffersons and Mr. [Charles] Smiths of the neighborhood.”

Also attending the groundbreaking were Willie B. Johnson’s granddaughter, Nichelle, and her daughter and son. When the center opened in 1984, community support was overwhelming to name the center for the woman who spearheaded efforts to secure the facility.

Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Adam McGough, DPD Maj. Roberto Arredondo, Thomas Jefferson and Park Board VP Robb Stewart

Future generations of Willie B. Johnson Recreation Center users

WBJ rendering

Terrel Harris, Coach Steve Hammonds and Tevar Watson

Hamilton Park Pioneers, living in their homes since the 1950s