City Hall

White Rock Lake Museum May Have a New Home One Day. Maybe Soon.

White Rock Lake is more than a good selfie backdrop, but it's that, too.
White Rock Lake is more than a good selfie backdrop, but it's that, too. Taylor Adams
The city’s Office of Arts and Culture has been asking the White Rock Lake Museum to leave the Bath House Cultural Center. It has sat in a converted storage space in the Bath House since 2004. That year, it was dedicated as a permanent display with support from former Park Board reps and City Council members. Now, after months of meetings, there's a new option on the table for the museum's future home.

The latest idea is house the museum in a building at 8007 E. Northwest Highway. The space is now owned by the Dallas Parks and Recreation Department. But, some say, like other proposed locations, it’s not a good place for the museum.

Between 2004 and 2017, the space at the Bath House Cultural Center was rented for just $1 a year. In 2017, the museum was asked to leave, but a new lease agreement was reached with the city, allowing it to stay.

The new lease allowed the museum to stay “while an interpretative place for White Rock Lake is developed,” according to a statement from the museum’s board at the time. Discussions about where to put the museum have continued since.

The Office of Arts and Culture has said it wants to use the space at the Bath House for other community programs, like workshops and art exhibits. The office suggested the museum be divided and relocated to two nearby public libraries.

Krista de la Harpe, the museum’s president and curator, said it should remain intact at the lake.

According to Advocate Magazine, De la Harpe was meeting with Paula Blackmon, District 9 City Council member, and her park board rep Maria Husbany earlier this year about where to put the museum. Blackmon and Husbany suggested the building at Sunset Bay, but De la Harpe said it wouldn’t work either.

“Splitting it up would break up the story." – Becky Rader, White Rock Lake Museum board member

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In March, the museum board said it would start looking for other locations. This was the criteria: It would be located at White Rock Lake; it would be suitable for the displays and have enough space for art exhibits; there would be a plan for providing security and access to the museum; and the relocation would be deferred until they have a plan to ensure the museum could survive long term at the new location.

The city has urged the museum to leave, but, until recently, hadn’t offered any viable alternatives for a new location that could be agreed upon by all parties. The city’s previous ideas — splitting it up at two libraries or throwing it in the hospital at Buckner Road — haven’t come with a solid plan, nor money or contract to back it up.

To Becky Rader, who was involved in the creation of the museum in the early 2000s, splitting it up was out of the question. “Splitting it up would break up the story,” she said.

Rader, now a member of the museum's board, was born and raised in Dallas, spending a lot of time at White Rock Lake. In the early 2000s, she was volunteering with the Park and Recreation Department working on a preservation project around the lake. Rader knew the history and culture of the area, so when people started planning the museum, they wanted to hear from her.

“We all sat down and talked,” Rader recalled. “What we wanted to do was create a place where people could visit and it would be comparable to what you see in state parks and national parks,” she said.

Without the museum, Rader said many wouldn’t know the history of the lake, like the fact that it was one of the city’s original water sources.

The new location doesn’t fit all the criteria laid out by the museum board. For example, it’s not at White Rock Lake. However, the lake used to extend to the area that the museum may be moved to.

“Moving it to a location that isn’t directly on the lake is concerning,” Rader said, but the new space still seems like a good fit.

“Not speaking for the board or anyone else, I am excited about this because I know over at the Bath House attitudes have really changed since we first started it,” Rader explained. “It’s just not accepted by some as an appropriate place.”

But Rader thinks it would be accepted at the building on Northwest Highway. With the museum, Rader said, “the building could have a new life experience.”

To others, like longtime White Rock community advocates Ted and Hal Barker, the Bath House Cultural Center is the only suitable place for the museum. If it does have to move, the building on Northwest Highway is not the solution.

“The building used to be a gateway to the park, especially during the time that the lake was just across the street,” Ted Barker said in an email. “However, there is severe rot in several locations and on the roof.” Hal Barker also said the building needed significant renovations, and it wouldn’t be available until summer 2023, “or probably never.” The Barkers also don’t believe the city would offer any money to help renovate the building.

“This is a dumpster solution,” Hal Barker said. “Cut and dried.”

They'd rather it stay at the Bath House. "You see the museum and then go to the porch or look at the prairie out the opposite window," Hal Barker said about the Bath House location. "The impact makes sense."
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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