Easter returns to Lee Park for an historic 50th year, and organizers hope the free event reclaims its place as a centerpiece of the Oak Lawn community
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
Will Sale remembers the first time he attended Easter in Lee Park. And it was an accident.
“I was driving [with friends] on Easter Sunday and we happened by the park,” he recalls. “ I thought, ‘What is this?’ … I have a tradition of spending every holiday with my parents… except Easter. Easter was for me.”
So as much as anyone, Sale was upset when last year’s event was cancelled, and for the first Easter Sunday in (as it turns out) 49 years, the Uptown park was silent, without the sound of picnickers and puppies, music and murmurs.
But Sale was also in a position to do something about it this year. As a board member of the Lee Park and Arlington Hall Conservancy — the nonprofit that operates the city-owned public space, and which restored the historic field house called Arlington Hall in the late 1990s, following decades of neglect — he could actually make the event happen this year. And with the conservancy behind him, that’s just what he did.
Sale is the chair of Easter in Lee Park for its historic 50th anniversary — the first time the conservancy has taken charge in all that time.
“For years, it was just individual groups that put it on,” says Gay Waltrip Donnell, president and CEO of the conservancy. “We weren’t even around for much of [the history].” But it was a natural fit for the organization (originally founded by the Dallas Tavern Guild, the Oak Lawn Association and three other civic organizations) to lead the charge to bring it back. And, Sale thinks, improve upon it.
“We visited with a lot of people about what they wanted to change,” Sale says. “It got to the point where there were too many vendors. And the
Cathedral of Hope [felt] that it began too early,” which meant that parishioners had to choose between worship and Sunday Funday… or else dash around to do both.
This year’s event took basically a year to plan. (The conservancy was unable to coordinate the event in time to save it in 2015.) The entirety of Turtle Creek Boulevard between Hall and Lemmon streets will be blocked off, and a raised 24-foot-square stage will be erected in the middle of the road.
That will allow the show’s emcee, Steve Kemble, to speak toward the majority of attendees, rather than with his back to them. It also allows music (from a live band and a DJ) to entertain and for everyone to get the best look at the entrants in the Petropolitan Pooch Parade, which as usual, will be the centerpiece of the event. (Last year, Chris Watts of Petropolitan salvaged the Pooch Parade at a different locale, and it returns this year.)
One of the biggest changes from recent years, however, will be that the event will be virtually free of vendors.
“Entrants in the Pooch Parade will receive what we’re calling a doggie bag, a gift bag with items donated by local businesses,” who helped underwrite the expenses of the event, says Sale.
Uptown businesses including Jack & Jill, Mutts Cantina, Uptown Vision, Parigi and Kroger have donated money and items to help pay for the event. Donnell also says the city of Dallas has been very cooperative; councilmembers Adam Medrano and Philip Kingston will even serve as judges for the parade, which includes categories like “Best Easter-inspired Outfit,” “Most Creative,” “Best Group,” “Best Pet-Owner Looka-alike” and “Best in Show.”
The idea, according to Sale and Donnell, was to return the day to its roots as a community gathering. There’ll even be an appearance by the Easter Bunny and two egg hunts — one for under-4 year-olds, one for 4-to-10. Pet adoptions will be available on-site from the Greyhound Adoption League of Texas, Furry FriendZy and Dallas Animal Services. One of the few vendors will be Oak Farms Dairy, which will serve complimentary cookies and chocolate milk to attendees.
The conservancy also started an online registration for the parade (the only thing that will require a fee, of $10), to make it less of a mad-dash on the day-of. Sale says he’s not sure what to expect in terms of turnout since he sees this as a rebuilding year, but he’s not worried.
“This is not a hard sell,” he says. “Everyone wanted it back.” •
Easter in Lee Park takes place at 3333 Turtle Creek Blvd., March 27, 1–4 p.m. Parade at 2 p.m. Bring your own picnic basket of food and refreshments. To register for the parade, and to get more information, visit LeeParkConservancy.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 25, 2016.