Rotary Park

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Rotary Park Revival at 100


In 1912, the City of Fort Worth acquired a parcel of land bound by Summit Avenue, Ballinger, Jackson and West Seventh streets that was deemed commercially unsuitable. Purchased from the estate of Sarah Gray Jennings for $10,000, the south half of the block is a bluff and the north half is a gulley dropping several feet below street level. The city named this rather poor piece of land “Grant Park.” Thus, begins the story of how a philanthropic group of businessmen became forever entwined in what was to become one of City’s earliest and finest parks, Rotary Park.

Most of the history of Rotary Park comes from archived articles published by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Reportedly the newly chartered Rotary Club of Fort Worth donated $1,000 to the park department to build a public swimming pool in an otherwise neglected Grant Park.

“Since the park board has found a way to appropriate from its own funds to the Rotary thousand without sacrificing other needs of the department, there can be nothing but praise for the park department in accepting the club’s proposition to establish the swimming pool in Grant Park to be known, henceforth, as Rotary Park,” one article said.

Rotary immediately set out to improve the land by hiring George Vinnedge as consulting engineer to design the park. It would feature a two-story bath house capable of handling up to 40 men and women. The first floor was dedicated to men and boys with a locker room area. The shower baths for women and girls were on the second floor along with 10 dressing areas, toilet facilities and store rooms for tennis and croquet sets.

From another report: “The first floor will be constructed of natural rock, while the second floor will be built of shingles of a special type artistically laid. The second story and roof will be made to harmonize and give a bungalow effect… There will be a balcony on each end of the second story and a porch extending over the northwest entrance. Terraced stairs running along the side of the building will lead to a second floor. The park board and the Rotary club are jointly defraying the expense of improving the RotaryParkand it is planned to spend about $10,000 in the improvement of the property.”

In addition to the bath house, Rotary Park had a bandstand, tennis courts, benches, trees and a small pond.

An April 13, 1917, Star-Telegram report summed up the opening of Rotary Park under the headline “Community Spirit is Strong at the Opening of Rotary Park”:

“Rotary Park was dedicated with the simplest of ceremonies, but permeating the crowd was a genuine community spirit and the opening of the playground was most auspicious. People from every walk of life were present and a score of the city’s foremost citizens frolicked like boys, took part in games and races and had as much fun themselves as they furnished the spectators… Amon Carter, official announcer, who had kidded with the crowd became serious when he introduced Harry J. Adams, who was active in securing the completion of the park project.Adams, in turn, introduced J.F. Henderson as the ‘greatest Rotarian of them all’. Henderson christened the Texas oak tree which was to be planted as the ‘Oak of Rotary’.”

At the ceremony, Mayor-elect W. D. Davis thanked the Rotary Club and announced that “[It is] my ambition to see the greatest park in the state brought to your door in such a way as you can enjoy it. I want to bring that acreage that God has put there and decorated within reach of every man, woman and child to enjoy.”

Athletic events furnished most of the fun, and everyone took part. Races for men and women (fat and lean), and for boys and girls shared interest with basketball and volleyball games. Dr. P.E. Rushing won the “fat man’s race.” Reporter’s note: the irony of a doctor with the name P.E. (physical education) Rushing winning a fat man’s race is too hard to ignore.  Rushing won a moustache cup and saucer as first prize. There was keen interest in the “skinny” man’s race with the first prize being two pounds of butter worth about $20.

“Ever play tennis by electric light?” So began the article about the unveiling of plans to add night tennis to Rotary Park with the addition of powerful arc light for the summer of 1917.

In 1924, park department headquarters moved to Rotary Park and remained there until 1955, when the park was sold to Frank Kent for $176,334. (The park department headquarters transferred to the Botanic Garden.)

One hundred years after the inception of Rotary in Fort Worth and 58 years after the closing of the original park, we broke ground on a new park on the banks of the Trinity River just below the hill where those enterprising and altruistic Rotary pioneers of the early 20th century championed a need for such a public amenity on February 23, 2013. As a gift to the city in the Rotary Club of Fort Worth’s 100th year, we hope this beautiful landmark will endure for the enjoyment of future residents as a symbol of Rotary’s “Service above Self.”

Rush Vann

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Photos from the dedication of Rotary Plaza 

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