About White Rock Lake

In 1911, the City of Dallas celebrated the opening of White Rock Lake and the establishment of a new water source for the city. In the years that followed the lake grew from a water source to what became “The People’s Playground”. In the early years fishing was the predominant sport, but Mayor Joe Lawther (1917-1919) set the stage of something much greater when he decided to encircle the lake with a road that now bears his name. This is the same loop that we all enjoy today, and the running and bike path around the lake measures 9.3 miles (15K) a popular race distance that will take you around the scenic and historic beauty of White Rock Lake.

After becoming a city park in 1929, the lake’s architecture grew rapidly with the help of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” and the establishment of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC built barracks that once stood behind the building at Winfrey Point and served as their base camp. During WWII, the camp was turned over to the Army Air Corps and became an induction center and boot camp. In 1944 the site became a prisoner of war camp for Germans captured in the North Africa campaign. Shortly after the war, the barracks were used for the last time to house overflow SMU students including those using President Roosevelt’s new G.I. Bill.

Park History

The Park History section and the Early Sailing Club History section below are used by permission from Corinthian Sailing Club’s website: http://www.cscsailing.org/club_history.html

The land around the reservoir was transferred to the park department and White Rock Lake Park was created in December 1929.

In 1930, the city opened a 500 ft. long, sand, swimming beach (photo) and bathhouse at the site of today’s Bath House Cultural Center. Many of the swimmers rode public transportation to the lake. The trolley line was extended to within 5 blocks of the concrete boathouse that still stands at the southwest corner of the lake. There bathers could transfer to a “fast motorboat” to cross the lake to the beach. The bathhouse was built so that swimmers had a place to change from street clothes into their bathing suits and then shower before returning home. Bathing apparel and beach towels could be rented from a concessionaire. The beach was a success and attracted 100,000 swimmers each summer. Checkout the diving board on the concrete platform, which is still there. Food concessions were located on the bathhouse’s lower level were vendors sold hot dogs, hamburgers and soft drinks.

Despite significant opposition to creating a Coney Island like park, several concessions were approved. A dance pavilion featuring a huge concrete slab that could accommodate large crowds was constructed near the bathing beach. Dances were held every night except Sunday during the summer. Music was provided by an all female orchestra,the Rhythm Sweethearts. The pavilion proved so popular that it nearly paid for itself during the first summer of operation.

There was also a very nice restaurant on the south shore of Sunset Bay complete with quarters for the keeper. It was called the Sunset Inn.

In 1934, a municipal fish hatchery was built on several acres below the dam (photo right) to stock the lake with a variety of edible fish. The yearly production eventually reached 1 million fish.

During the Depression between 1935 and 1942, the Civilian Conservation Corps, as part of the National Park Service, established Camp 2986 (photo) beside the lake where Winfrey Point is now. The 250 young men working there were paid $30 a month. The National Park Service worked with the Dallas Park Board to make many improvements around the lake. One of their projects was to remove the fishing cabins and boathouses.

Winfrey Point was built to provide a place for folks to go after the cabins were torn down. The building could be used by anyone based on a first-come, first-served reservation system. The Big Thicket, Doran’s Point (by Flag Pole Hill), many picnic structures, and the seawall around the lake were also built by the CCC. A map of planned CCC projects, drawn by the National Park Service in 1936, shows the location of the DSC clubhouse, docks and boat houses seen in the photo at the top of the page (map below). Note the motorboat concession dock just south of the bathhouse where the water taxis docked.

In 1937, White Rock Lake park hosted 740,000 visitors. According to the National Park Service, it was the most visited municipal park in the nation. In 1938, the Bonnie Barge (photo) carried 150 passengers who paid 35 cents each for an hour-long excursion. The barge, along with a speed boat concession, was operated by John Williams from a dock located close to where CSC’s south gate is currently located. The barge was 65 feet long, 22 feet wide and was equipped with a jukebox and two dance floors. Dance music was provided each evening. The Bonnie Barge operated through 1956 when it was removed along with the speedboat concession and other businesses around the lake.

Not long after World War II began, the CCC program came to an end. The old CCC camp was used by the US Army Air Corps as an induction center where many young Dallasites attended boot camp before shipping overseas. In 1944, the Army converted the boot camp to a prisoner-of-war camp to house 300 German prisoners captured in North Africa, who were members of Gen. Rommel’s Afrika Corps. Since the boot camp was not enclosed, the prisoners were provided barbed wire and asked to build an 8-foot fence around their compound. The POW camp was deactivated in 1945 and deeded to the City of Dallas in 1946 for a nominal sum. SMU used the barracks as housing for approximately 250 veterans who attended school on the GI Bill following the war. The buildings were removed after the students left in 1947.

Lake Dallas was the city’s exclusive water supply in the 1930s. The city had only a four-month supply of water left during a 1952 drought. The city again tapped White Rock Lake for emergency water. The swimming beach was closed in 1952 and never reopened. Dallas continued to draw water from the lake until it closed down the pump station for good in 1964.

A city ordinance was passed in 1958 forbidding boats with engines larger than 10.5 horsepower on the lake. Skis, surfboards and sailboards were also banned. The lake has since been the domain of sailors, kayakers, rowers and fishermen.

Early Sailing Club History

This Early Sailing Club History section and the Park History section above are used by permission from Corinthian Sailing Club’s website: http://www.cscsailing.org/club_history.html

Lightweight boat building materials had not been developed and boat trailers were practically nonexistent, so it was necessary to leave one’s boat at the lake. Boats were either moored or stored in boathouses. The early sailing clubs grew out of these cabins and boathouses.

The first sailing club on the lake was the Dallas Sailing Club (DSC) which was formed in 1928. A decade later, the Corinthian Sailing Club (CSC) and White Rock Sailing Club (WRSC) were both in operation. A fourth club, White Rock Boat Club (WRBC), came along much later – 1961.

The Dallas Sailing Club was formed in 1928 (maybe as late as 1931) and had a pier and anchorage (photos above) on the west shore of the lake. In 1931, the club was given a 50 foot flagpole from Love Field that was placed on the “beach near the club’s pier on the northwest shore” of the lake. The Dallas Sailing Club was formally chartered in 1932 and Dr. Hub Isaacks was elected commodore. He had also been commodore the prior year.

The group moved across the lake in 1932 to the east shore near the site of today’s Corinthian Sailing Club in the Big Thicket area. They negotiated a $130 one year lease with the city for an abandoned restaurant, the White Rock Dining Hall, for use as a clubhouse (photo left). There was a floating pier (photo left) directly in front of the clubhouse. The club published a newsletter called The Spinnaker which provided a good source of information about club activities in the early 1930s.

In December 1933, Isaacks was transferred to New York and a going away party was held in his honor. The clubhouse burned in the early morning hours following the party after sparks from the fireplace ignited the roof. The clubhouse was rebuilt on the same site, complete with a large fireplace. When the Issacks returned from New York in 1935, his friends welcomed him back with another party and the new clubhouse was again destroyed by fire that night.

The club then moved to the north end of the lake, west of where WRBC is located today. The CCC built the pier starting in 1937 that was completed in 38. The pier (1942 aerial photo) was 247 feet long with a T-head and cross piers with 48 slips. There were 32 boats at the club at that time. A CCC planning document stated that DSC had about 50 or 60 boats at this time. This was probably all the sailboats on the lake. A controversy developed over using public labor for construction of a private sailing club. The park board was told to make restitution to the government or open the pier to the public. The board refunded $1800 to the federal government.

A new clubhouse was built, without a fireplace, in 1939. The plans called for a two story building with a lounge, office, and women and men’s lockers downstairs. The upstairs was to have a spacious lounge with a service bar opening onto a screened porch and sun deck. The clubhouse was expanded in 1946 (photo). The final clubhouse can be seen in the photo toward the end of this section. Some of the early members were Howard Chilton, William Clements, E.L. DeGolyer, H.L. Hunt, Hugh Jamieson, Sr, Eugene McDermott and Angus Wynne, Jr. – a pretty heady crowd.

The Dallas Sailing Club formed a committee in 1931 to select the best possible, one design sailboat for the club. A “bloody battle” ensued and the Snipe came out the winner. The wooden boat was built based on plans by William Crosby published in Rudder Magazine, July 1931. J.M. Martin launched the first Snipe, Silver Spray, on White Rock in early 1932. In April, there were 5 Snipes sailing and 10 more under construction. By May 1932, approximately 150 Snipes were registered nationally and the national association was formed. DSC was given the first fleet charter in 1932 and became the home of the Snipe Fleet 1.

The Snipes held the first regatta (program photo) on the lake in October 1932. The regatta provided a 3 race series for both the men and the “ladies,” as well as, an interclub race. This regatta eventually became the Southwestern Regatta which is still being held by the Snipe fleet today. Texas had the most active Snipe program in the world in the early 1930s with fleets at Denton, Fort Worth, Waco, and Lake Dallas, as well as, at DSC. The clubs traveled to the other lakes for regattas. The truck loaded with Snipes (photo) is headed to Wichita Falls. The DSC club members were a major force in establishing the Snipe class and the Snipe Class International Sailing Association (SCIRA). Hub Isaacks was the first SCIRA Commodore and J.M. Martin won the first SCIRA High Point Championship. DSC hosted the 1935 SCIRA International Championship on White Rock. Discord among some of the Snipe sailors lead to the formation of the White Rock Sailing Club in 1935 as discussed below.

The Dallas Sailing Club built a fleet of club-owned Seagulls (photos below left) in the 1930s. The Seagull was also designed by William Crosby, who had designed the Snipe. In the mid-1940s, DSC replaced its Seagull fleet with seven Lightning one-designs which were also club-owned boats. The club had a caretaker who maintained the boats, and if you called ahead, would have one rigged and ready to sail upon ones arrival. DSC built a permanent judge’s platform south of the club that was used by the starter and committee to run the races (photo below from 1939 Southwestern). The races were run around a set of permanent marks. Overturned boats were generally dragged in to the club by sailboat in a southerly breeze – very interesting. A rescue boat was at the pier only for the Southwestern regatta.

When the lake dried up in the mid-1950s and sailing activities were suspended, the Dallas Sailing Club membership along with some members from the Corinthian Sailing Club formed a new club called the Dallas Corinthian Yacht Club (DCYC). In 1956, a committee was formed to look for a new yacht club location. Lake Lewisville (then called Lake Dallas) was selected as the only available location with a large protected harbor. The last Commodore at DSC, A. Balfour Patterson, became the first Commodore of DCYC. This 1955 photo shows Patterson with his children. The last DSC clubhouse can be seen in the background. DCYC began operations on “Old Lake Dallas” before the lower lake had filled with water. The Corps of Engineers estimated it would require ten years for the lake to fill. The heavy rains in 1957 filled the lake within a ten-day period.

Some of the young Snipe sailors left DSC and formed the White Rock Sailing Club in the 1935s (photos below). The Corinthian Sailing Club started several years later in 1939. All three of the clubs had active Snipe sailors in the late-1930s and 1940s.

 

DSC had several members that were unmarried, sometimes over imbibed, and could get pretty raunchy. It got so that the members with children, wives or girl friends could not bring them out to the pier, especially at night. The expenses of the club were also increasing. Eleven of DSC members decided to form their own club and bought a pier (photo left) across the lake – calling themselves the West Shore Sailing Club. The Park Board moved their anchorage and pier back to the east side of the lake later that year and the club changed its name to the White Rock Sailing Club. A pier (photo above right) was built in the northeast corner of the lake. The club eventually became the home of Snipe Fleet 1 and most of the lake’s Snipes (photo) migrated to the WRSC. The fleet members were a major force in the International Snipe Class providing a number of SCIRA officers and world class Snipe sailors.

The WRSC remained in the same location until the club was torn down in 1998 during the dredging while the water was low (photo). The membership at WRSC was not sufficient to support or finance club activities in the early 1990s. The Snipe sailors moved to CSC in 1993 to “preserve the continuity and social interaction of Snipe Fleet 1 on White Rock Lake” and “gain access to a ‘deep water port.’” A big cocktail party was thrown to welcome the fleet members to CSC.  The fourth and last club to be established on the lake was the White Rock Boat Club which was formed in 1961 (See WRBC History section above for more info.)