Dallas residents walking around the pavilion at White Rock Lake on Monday saw two of the historic stone tables in the picnic area reduced to what looked like a pile of rubble, part of a $650,000 makeover for the park.
The stone tables are meant to be restored and renovated, but Becky Rader, a former Dallas Park Board member, said the pile of stone and concrete at the lake didn’t look like a restoration project to her. It looked like destruction, Rader said.
The White Rock Lake Conservancy, a nonprofit conservation organization, and the city of Dallas have been working on the area for some time now.
The city built the tables in 1931 out of scraps from materials used to make headstones, said Jennifer Hoesterey, director of the conservancy. The pavilion and the tables were the first picnic grounds at White Rock Lake. As part of the New Deal program a few years later, a Civilian Conservation Corps camp was formed at the lake that was responsible for the addition of a lily pond and construction of the historic restroom.
The Historic Stone Tables Pavilion and Picnic Area serves tens of thousands of people annually and has sustained some wear and tear from over the years. So the city, the conservancy and other stakeholders developed a plan to restore and renovate the area.
“It’s a project that the parks department deemed vital to the integrity of the park,” Hoesterey said.
In 2012, the White Rock Lake Conservancy agreed to take the lead on the renovation and restoration of the tables and picnic area for the Park and Recreation Department.
The organization raised $113,957 in private donations and paid the city in 2015 to cover the cost of renovating the pavilion and surrounding pathways. Two years later, they gave $15,000 more to the department to restore two of the original stone tables.
The conservancy and their consultant on the project, Mesa Design Group, took about a year to put together a plan for the stone tables and presented it to the White Rock Lake Task Force. The task force was formed to preserve, protect and enhance the White Rock Lake Park.
But Rader said she feels the conservancy and its partners did not receive enough community input and were misleading about their intentions with the tables.
“Citizens pay tax dollars for a reason: to have a voice in this city,” Rader said. “When you shut them out, this is what happens.”
However, Hoesterey said the only way to restore the tables was to tear them down, gather as much of the usable original material as possible and rebuild. “Some of the stuff is just broken,” Hoesterey said. “You can’t restore a concrete top that’s cut in half. You just build a new one.”
Carol Bell Walton, who’s been on the White Rock Lake Task Force since 2011, said the plans presented by the conservancy seemed like a good idea at the time, but she was shocked when she saw what the tables had been reduced to this week. She said the language used during the presentation did not give her the impression that the tables would be torn down.
Walton said that in November 2019 the task force was told the conservancy would be “restoring and improving” the pavilion and stone tables. In January, Walton said they were told the tables would be “refurbished.”
“Now what we’re being told is they’re going to go through the rubble and if they find anything they can use they’ll put it on the new stone tables that are going to look like the old stone tables,” Walton said. “We’ve lost history, basically.”
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The White Rock Conservancy has a decent reputation when it comes to its preservation efforts. In fact, the work they did on the pavilion at the lake received a Preservation Dallas Achievement Award last year, which honors the city’s residential and commercial historic preservation projects.
Additionally, Walton said the conservancy did everything it was supposed to do, but that she wishes the task force was given a more solid definition of what they meant by restoration. “What we need to have is historical preservation,” Walton said.
The White Rock Conservancy is continuing with the stone tables as planned. More work on the park is set to start next month, and the whole project is scheduled for completion in the spring.
As the project continues, Rader said she thinks it’s important to remember that these historic areas don’t have to look perfect. “Whenever you have an old area that’s been patched up over time it’s going to not be perfect and that’s part of the beauty of this area because it has lasted all these years,” she said.