The heart of the Woodlawn Lake (rose) Neighborhood is the lake itself. The land on which this community sits was originally part of the eight leagues of public domain granted San Antonio by the King of Spain and later deeded to the City by the First Texas Congress. In 1887, the West End Company bought 1000 acres of land. It dammed the gully through which the Alazán Creek ran and sank two arterial wells, thus creating an 80-acre lake. (Today the lake covers about 30 acres.) Dirt for the dam was dug from what became the casting pond. The dirt dam would also serve as a roadbed for the trolley that would run from downtown to the new suburb. A road surrounded the lake, later named after the mother of then-mayor John Tobin and marked by the Josephine Tobin archway on Cincinnati Avenue, which was built in 1927. The lake was improved as the area developed into the City’s first suburb, called West End Townsite.
In 1918, the park was given to the City with the proviso that “this property is to be used for park and pleasure purposes for the benefit of the residents of San Antonio, Texas, and the public generally, and for no other purpose.” In 1920, the name was changed to Woodlawn Lake. Improvements to the park and lake continue to this day, all within the aims of that nearly 100-year-old deed. The park became a resort-like area, accessible by trolley from the downtown area for San Antonians who vacationed in hotels and cabins that rimmed the lake. Visitors enjoyed daytime boating and evening dances on the weekends in the electric-lighted pavilion, and even outdoor movies and vaudeville acts! Some of the best fishing in the state occurred in the lake’s stocked waters that were and remain home to ducks, geese and other fowl.
The Woodlawn Lake Community Association (WLCA) was organized in the late 1940s, but area residents have been working together since the 1920s to preserve and improve the community and its park. Today’s goals remain that of maintaining the character and history of the area while enhancing the beauty, security and tranquility of the neighborhood. WLCA has fought to control traffic speed and volume on neighborhood streets and to keep the area from being a drive-through for commuters. It has campaigned to save area historic structures and to keep out development not complimentary of this area. It worked to expand the Monticello Park Historic District, initiated and led the effort to establish the Woodlawn Lake Area Neighborhood Conservation District (NCD), and participated in creating the Jefferson NCD. WLCA members hold elective office, serve on City boards and commissions, and are involved with the schools and charities. WLCA is an active part of the Westside Creeks Restoration Project and helped secure its funding. It is an active voice in City bond and other improvement issues. The Association assists in local efforts and gives financial help to neighbors in need.
Woodlawn Lake, the geographic center of Bexar County, was the site of the City’s annual 4th of July fireworks display for a number of years. In 1992 the celebration was relocated temporarily to allow improvements to be made to the park. These included lighted jogging paths, new bike trails and a basketball court. The lake was dredged and the pool was renovated. More importantly, the park’s 15 period buildings, including the miniature stone lighthouse built by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s and the magnificent terracotta-roofed gym, were carefully stabilized and restored.
In 2000, the City reinstated the July 4th celebration at Woodlawn Lake, which was designated a historic district in that year. The park once again teems with picnickers, pets (on leashes), shore-bound fishermen and sports enthusiasts of all ages. The Woodlawn Sailing Club holds occasional model boat races there. And families return to the same lakeside spot year after year to celebrate holidays and special occasions.
Woodlawn Lake is also graced by several artworks designed in 2000 by Leticia Huerta. Her work includes a number of handrails across some of the small bridges and low points in the park. Huerta, in collaboration with Rialto Studios, a local architectural firm, met with neighborhood representatives to gather information on the area’s history for the project. The undulant design of the rails is based on the movement of water. Small enameled panels inserted in the two larger handrails describe the history of this man-made lake with photos, writing and collage elements.