Fort Worth

Between rail and retail, what is now La Gran Plaza used to be Katy Lake

Take a look back at the beginning of Fort Worth murals

A WFAA news broadcast from June 1975 shows how three Fort Worth murals were first made.
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A WFAA news broadcast from June 1975 shows how three Fort Worth murals were first made.

Before that mall at Seminary Drive and Interstate 35 was La Gran Plaza it was Town Center. Before it was Town Center it was Seminary South. And before it was Seminary South it was Katy Lake.

In 1908 the Katy (Missouri-Kansas-Texas) railroad built a 35-acre lake south of town to supply water for its steam engines. The Katy track passed just west of the lake.

The railroad may have impounded Katy Lake for purely practical reasons, but the little lake soon became popular as a recreation area: People fished there, hunted ducks there. Churches held hayrides and baptisms there. During World War I, aviation cadets of Barron Field in Everman, one of the three airfields of the Army’s Camp Taliaferro, swam there.

In 1926, H. A. McCommas of Dallas bought the property and built Fort Worth’s fifth golf course around Katy Lake. The course’s nine holes had “sand greens.” The lake provided a water hazard for five of the nine holes. For one hole, golfers had to drive their tee shot over the lake to the green.

The Katy course would have its place in golf history: As youngsters Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson learned the game at Katy.

Writer Dan Jenkins also played Katy as a boy. In 2001 he told Golf Digest: “It was a public course only six blocks away. The greens weren’t really sand, I found out. They were dark brown cottonseed hull. Oiled so they wouldn’t blow away. There was an iron rake on every green — you raked your line from the ball to the cup before you putted.”

In 1959, Katy Lake’s last fish was fried, its last putt was sunk. Katy Lake was drained, to be replaced by Fort Worth’s first shopping mall. When you think about it, there must have been something special about the Katy Lake property (location? price?) to cause mall developers to look at it and think, “You know, if we just drained those 50 million gallons of water and then dug out 11 million cubic feet of dirt we’d have a dandy hole in which to build an 85-acre shopping mall.”

And so they did.

As the lake was drained of its 50 million gallons, catfish weighing 30 to 40 pounds were revealed. Some were resettled at the James R. Record Aquarium at the zoo. Then enough dirt was removed to fill TCU’s Amon Carter Stadium four and one-half times.

Construction of the mall began in 1960. Major stores in the mall would include Sears, Buddie’s and Stripling’s.

Seminary South mall opened on March 14, 1962.

Contained therein: 900,000 square feet of floor space walled in by 2 million bricks, 45 acres of paved parking, 160 million pounds of concrete, 300 trees planted and watered by 12 miles of sprinkler system, 148,000 feet of plumbing pipe, 10,000 electrical outlets and 9,500 electrical fixtures connected by 56 miles of conduit and 210 miles of wiring.

Today, Katy Lake is gone, but if you hanker to see a railroad lake from the age of steam, Fort Worth still has one. One mile northeast of La Gran Plaza is Echo Lake, impounded in 1903 as the International & Great Northern railroad began serving Fort Worth.

Mike Nichols blogs about Fort Worth history at www.hometownbyhandlebar.com.

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