City Hall

Fight Over White Rock Lake Museum's New Home Continues

This could be the White Rock Lake Museum's new home.
This could be the White Rock Lake Museum's new home. Hal Barker
White Rock Lake Museum might start being removed from the Bath House Cultural Center over the next couple of weeks. The Office of Arts and Culture, which has been trying to get the museum out of the space since 2017, says it can provide staff to remove the displays and offer a place to store them until their new home is ready. Sometime in 2023, the museum could be reinstalled at a building owned by the Park and Recreation Department.

However, some think the museum should be allowed to stay. If it does have to leave, they say the city should at least cough up the money to help rehab its new proposed home, a building in Doran Circle at 8007 E. Northwest Highway. And the place is in need of some rehab, according to brothers Ted and Hal Barker, two longtime advocates for the museum and just about anything having to do with the lake.

“Sagging roof, rotting exterior, no updated bathrooms,” Hal said of the old Park Department building in a social media post. “Basically the equivalent of an old shed.”

The Barkers have suggested the museum’s board hire an attorney to see if the move can be prolonged, go through the details of their contracts or at least get some assurances from the city.

In 2004, the museum was installed in the Bath House, intended to be a permanent display. For the next 13 years, the museum would pay $1 a year to rent the space. In 2017, though, the Office of Arts and Culture said it wanted to use the Bath House space for other things, like community workshops and art exhibits.

There was some pushback, but a new lease was signed that year, allowing the museum to stay until it found a suitable home. There have been a few suggestions thrown out since then, like dividing the museum and storing it at Dallas public libraries or, the most recent idea, placing it in the old Park Department building. Neither option seems all that suitable to the Barkers or people on the museum’s board. 

“There’s no muscle on this." – Ted Barker, White Rock Lake community advocate

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Earlier this month, the Barkers told the Observer the fight for the museum wouldn’t be over until it’s actually removed from the Bath House. This week, Ted isn’t so optimistic. “There’s no muscle on this. The people on the board, the people behind the museum, aren’t pushing,” Ted said. “It’s just sad.”

But the museum’s board says the fight isn’t over. Board president Krista de la Harpe said she joined the board a few years back to save the museum. She doesn’t want the museum to leave, especially if there’s no guarantee it will have a new home.

“I’m holding against a removal because there is no formal agreement or guarantee of this proposal at Doran circle,” she said. Unless there is a formal agreement, she said the Doran Circle option is just “a suggestion.”

She also said there’s no report of how much it will cost or how long it will take for the building to be available. That's why she and others feel like the museum could end up staying in storage forever.

De la Harpe added that they haven’t hired legal representation, explaining that they’re still trying to talk all of this out with the city.

Either way, she doesn’t think the museum should have to leave at all.

She said it was created by the community, City Council members, Office of Cultural Affairs officials, park board officials, Friends of the Bath House, the White Rock Lake Conservancy and the White Rock Lake Foundation and For the Love of the Lake, along with many community volunteers. That’s why it was allowed to operate without a lease for over a decade, she said.

Then, after all those years, in 2017 the city started asking for a lease. “That was used as a weapon against us,” she said.

She’s heard it suggested that since the Bath House was racially segregated at one point, and because the museum doesn’t address that history, it isn’t worth saving. If that’s the case, De la Harpe said the museum is willing to make adjustments. 

"We’re not going for a pie in the sky relocation that may not happen because of the projected costs.” – Krista de la Harpe, White Rock Lake Museum

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They’re now exploring a partnership with the African American History Museum and the White Rock Chapel to curate at least three new exhibits that represent diversity and reconciliation.

At a meeting with the Office of Arts and Culture and Park board reps next week, the board will discuss the new exhibits and the museum’s proposed new home. If it has to move, De la Harpe said the board wants to work with the park department for a smooth transition into a new space “without depriving the public their rightful access to our city’s history.”

Once all of that is final, De La Harpe said, they’ll be willing to move the museum out of the Bath House. “But, we’re not going for a pie in the sky relocation that may not happen because of the projected costs,” she said.

Maria Hasbany, the park board representative for City Council’s District 9, where the lake is located, said the museum was told a long time ago that the Office of Arts and Culture needed the space. They want the space for programming as part of the city’s cultural plan.

“Unfortunately, the museum didn’t have a back up plan or another place they could go,” Hasbany said. Even though they were under no obligation to do so, Hasbany said the park department and Office of Arts and Culture helped look for a new space for the museum. The Doran Circle building was suggested because park staff will be moving out in the near future. “Realistically, the move is still at least a year and or a year and a half away,” she said.

Hasbany said she imagines the Doran Circle building will get some repairs before the museum moves in, but acknowledged there’s nothing in writing yet. Besides an email from the Office of Arts and Culture, there isn’t a formal agreement regarding the de-installation, storage and reinstallation either. “They’re not under any obligation to deliver them and get them set up,” she said. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

She added that the museum has been “a lovely part of the Bath House for a long time, and we hope to find it a new home.”

Becky Rader, one of the museum board members, was involved in the museum’s creation in the early 2000s. She feels it’s being forced out of its home.

“I still use the word force because that’s what this is,” Rader said. She said there were no meetings about the decision to remove the museum. “It was not a decision made by the community that made the museum,” she said. “It was made solely by the Office of Arts and Culture.”

Now, she feels the Doran Circle facility is their only option. If it is, Rader wants the museum to be able to stay at the Bath House until its new home is ready. “It’s not the best, but at least it’s a place for the museum to continue to exist,” she said.
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn