For about as long as Parkies have called Turtle Creek “the creek with all the turtles,” a stately mansion has stood at Turtle Creek Boulevard and Lemmon Avenue — well, sort of.
Arlington Hall at Lee Park, which recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, began as a field house that served many purposes, such as a USO canteen and a Red Cross blood station.
Today, preserving that recognizable estate is the much-loved task of two Park Cities residents, Gay Waltrip Donnell and Steve Sutcliffe.
“Even people who move out of this immediate area still have such a strong affinity for it,” said Donnell, who serves as president and CEO of the Lee Park and Arlington Hall Conservancy. “I’ve heard so many people talk about planning their drives around it.”
The hall was designed by famed architect Mark Lemmon —
namesake of the street — who also crafted many other notable works in the area such as SMU’s Perkins Chapel, Highland Park Presbyterian Church, and Highland Park United Methodist Church.
As a two-thirds replica of Robert E. Lee’s home in Arlington, Virginia, the building also has steep Southern roots.
“For a city the size of Dallas and the way it’s developing, this thing is still a perfect, little green space,” said Sutcliffe, chairman of the conservancy. “It’s unique.”
The hall officially opened on October 24, 1939. As a sign of its importance, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was present for the dedication of the Robert E. Lee statue, held just a few years prior.
Fast forward a few decades, and five major groups from within the city joined to form the conservancy in 1995. Those groups were the Dallas Southern Memorial Association, the Turtle Creek Association, the Oak Lawn Forum, the Oak Lawn Tavern Guild, and the Oak Lawn Committee.
“Some of the most noteworthy people in this town have some memory tied back to Arlington Hall,” Donnell said.
With the conservancy’s help, renovations began in 1999 and were completed in 2003. Today, the hall’s grand ballroom — as well as the Dallas Room and Lee Room — is a hotspot venue for weddings, events, and meetings.
“The idea was for the hall to save itself,” Donnell said.
But the 75-year-old legacy isn’t just about the building. Lee Park includes the parkland surrounding the facility as well as the stretch of green across the street, backing up to the Katy Trail. All of it is protected by the city.
“We have a real sensitivity for preservation,” Sutcliffe said.
With the 75th anniversary, friends of the Hall are hoping to increase traffic and exposure to not only the mansion, but the park area as well. On the anniversary weekend, visitors were welcome to explore the mansion and the park, complete with a new ramp leading up to the trail.
Movies from 1939 were also shown on the lawn throughout the week such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Gone With the Wind. It’s exactly the sort of event planners hope will keep visitors coming for many years to come.
“In 75 years, we hope the people of Dallas look back to the conservancy and say, ‘thank God for those people; they saved this thing and did it well,’” Sutcliffe said.