Back Story: A Look Back at Kiest Park

The wide expanse of Kiest Park has beckoned us for decades.

Since 1931 this 247 acre park has hosted everything from fireworks on the fourth to cruising after class. 

In memory of his wife, Elizabeth, Edwin J. Kiest, publisher of the Dallas Times Herald, bequeathed 247 acres to the City of Dallas in 1931. It was, and still is, the largest donation ever of property designated for a Dallas City park. It became Oak Cliff’s Kiest Park.

During the Depression, WPA construction projects contributed a mortared, brown field stone pavilion, matching stone entries, and a similarly constructed pergola (now gone) that enhanced the rock fountain and water rill. The field house — the scene for parties, dances and community events, hosted years of Adamson and Sunset high school student dances, some with live music and some using records. Early provisions also included bridle paths and stables for equestrians, and a beautifully landscaped garden.

Both area residents and public schools used the park’s tennis courts while the ball diamonds hosted thousands of baseball and softball games through the decades. Oak Cliff church league teams swelled the ball fields, with stands filled with cheering fans. The playground with its merry-go-round, seesaws, teeter-totters and large swingset area has been a longtime favorite spot for children and their parents, while winter snowfalls provided Cliffites with a huge expanse for cold weather fun.

Beginning in the 1950s, the Oak Cliff Jaycees held the annual Oak Cliff Fourth of July celebration at the park. Living only one street away, I would walk there with my friend (by ourselves and with no parents in tow) to spend the entire day. All we needed were tickets, which were free, and entitled us to complimentary barbecue sandwiches and cold drinks. There were celebrities, politicians, beauty contests, cotton candy, small amusements and clowns. What else could a kid want?

Families and friends ate and visited, soldiering on through the all the activities and the blazing Texas heat to stay for the event’s finale: the fireworks show.

Sitting on blankets and lawn chairs, on-site spectators watched the blasting, popping and soaring pyrotechnic display. Other viewers, parked along the park’s perimeters, sat on car hoods or leaned out windows, while in neighboring subdivisions, residents gathered in their own yards to observe. The most memorable event? The year when all the fireworks went off at the same time. What a show!

One notable 1950s Saturday morning activity at Kiest concerned the flying of gasoline-powered model airplanes. These miniature flying machines floated around in circles, connected to a tether, held on the opposite end by the plane’s owner. Because this was before the days of air-conditioning, the airplanes’ loud buzzing sounds made sleeping in on Saturdays almost impossible for those in the peripheral neighborhoods who left their windows open for the cool night breeze.

In August 1990 the unofficial Stevie Ray Vaughan candlelight memorial was held at the park. (The organizers have asked me to express their belated but sincere apologies to the City of Dallas, for not knowing about that pesky, but required, permit for such activities. Sorry, folks.)

However, the one ritual going on at Kiest for generations?

Cruising.

Cruising Kiest began as soon as Kiest Park was, well … cruisable. In the 1930s high-schoolers and young adults would pop some petrol in their tanks, pick up their best gal, and head for Kiest Park. Their destination: the inner circle road. Their purpose: cruising.

Driving around the now blocked-off circle, waving at friends, and stopping for conversations, well, it was the thing to do. In the ’40s, same thing. In the ’50s, same thing. And so on, and so on.

There were some differences between the decades, however.

The ’30s cruisers didn’t casually throw on a pair of jeans, a T-shirt and a pair of athletic shoes. Definitely not. Instead, everyone dressed up, and we’re not talking about a pair of dressy jeans and a “nice” top. It was a sports coat and tie for the guys and dresses/skirts for the gals. Naturally, the girls stepped out in nylons and heels, while the boys wore lace-up dress shoes. And both genders donned hats.

Yes, you heard right — hats. No cruisin’ in tank tops, flip-flops or Daisy Dukes in those days.

I drove through the park recently, reminiscing and taking in the sights. The place is different in some respects, but all not that different. Just like our grandparents and parents and ourselves, there were cruisers still cruisin’. Some things never change.


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  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Awwww. What a sweet story! Love those. I think all of us have “stories” about Kiest…all types, all ages. And that ring certainly should have shined. If I remember correctly, your engaement ring solitare stone is stunning. You got one of the good guys. And…he got one of the good gals.

    The photos aren’t labeled, but the group image is the ’69 Carter seniors and the other one is Mom and Dad…at Kiest Park c 1940. Memories…..

  • Vivian Skinner

    I have so many happy memories of Kiest Park — Easter egg hunts, 4th of July picnics and fireworks (including the big one when all went off at once – that was the last one), softball games, and more. But the best of all was 35 years ago (JUne 18, 1977), when Anthony proposed to me in the parking lot next to the picnic pavillion! Boy, did that ring sparkle in the afternoon sunshine.  

  • Windy Pitcock

    Gayla, Thanks for the memories! Keist Park was the place to be! 4th of July & cruising … such fun!

  • Alan “stump” Brown

    I was there when the fireworks all went off. Not something a kid (or old man) forgets. You mentioned that upper Kiest Park was for cruising, but you never mentioned that lower Kiest Park was for parking. A lot of memories were made there also….

  • Ronald (Buddy) Hand

    Gayla:

    Great article and enjoyed everyone’s comments as well. I wish I could count how many times as a kid we walked over to the park and went wading in that fountain, climbed the trees and just enjoyed the outdoors. I remember the Boy Scout camp outs there as well and also playing softball with my church. And as a teenager going to the Dairy Queen there on Hampton and then cruising the park and even sometimes watching the submarine races. Then as an adult, going over there with my mom who was then in her sixties and walking that walking path all around the park.

    Thanks for keeping the history alive.

  • Gayla,
    What a great photo of your parents! And the park photo too!
    Another wonderful article and another “Blast from the past.”

    Such fond memories of growing up going to Kiest park! Our entire family spent many weekends picnicing and playing, having birthday parties at the rock clubhouse, horseback riding, and “yes” later, myself as a teen, cruising around the park and hanging out with all my friends. And Oh, what a great firework display on the July 4th, such good times!
    Thank you for you wonderful article!

  • kay january mccrary

    Thanks for the memories and looking forward to more.

  • Gwyn Stephens Bantz

    Have all those same memories, but were Paul E. and I the only ones that “Snipe Hunted” there, too. Am I dating or embarassing myself?

  • David Glenn

    Kiwanis and Jaycee Little League, YMCA Junior Football, even a Summer Program at the clubhouse. I think we might have even hit golf balls there in high school. We’d climb up on the roof of our house to watch the fireworks. We rode our bikes thru the woods on the tennis court side of Kiest. I remember cruising on Sundays and seeing each Oak Cliff high school all parked together in their own place.
    The park is where I learned what Sunday drivers were. It was another time. A time which seems far far away.
    My mom would talk about the pre-WWII Kiest Park where it wouldn’t be uncommon to see deer grazing.
    The park has always been a landmark. Whenever anyone asks where I lived in Oak Cliff I always say, not far from Kiest Park.
    I left Oak Cliff and Dallas in 69 and really haven’t driven through the park since then. I guess I need to.
    Thanks, Gayla. When people ask where I’m from I always Oak Cliff, Texas. It’s up near Dallas. You are pricking at our hearts with the memories of our glory days.

  • SS

    In the late 1930’s, my Dad would ride the streetcar from downtown to the end of the line, near the present area of Hampton and Wright St. He would then walk to the Kiest Park clubhouse to attend dances.

    In the 1950s, we had several sixth and seventh grade parties at the clubhouse.

    Benny: I remember the couple that always seemed to be there at the clubhouse. They had a candy concession that no one, but our little group seemed to know about.

  • Teresa Daniels

    I also was nearby when the 4th of July fireworks went off on the ground! It was incredible!! And I recently cruised Kiest Park with my 92 year-old dad. We both loved it – lots of memories!

  • Frances George Phillips

    Thanks again, Gayla, for highlighting a place so dear to our hearts. We SOCites had many wonderful parties in the old rock clubhouse. Then as an adult my husband and I played in many tennis leagues at the old tennis courts. Our kids grew up picnicking in the park and enjoying the playground. We were there that 4th of July when all the fireworks accidently went off in one spectacular blast!

    Frances George Phillips

  • Billie Adrian

    Do Ruthie McCaffrey or Joan Stefanki receive your letters? How about Lake Cliff Park pool. It was wonderful!

  • Billie Adrian

    Do Ruthie McCaffrey or Joan Stefanki receive your letters? How about Lake Cliff Park pool. It was wonderful!

  • John Hall

    Oh, what memories you have stirred. Much of my early life, until my late teens revolved around Keist park. From playing in the playgrounds as a child, fireworks with the family, little league with my brothers, church softball league games with our church members, to cruising with my older brother when he was going thru a hard time in his life. Thanks again, Gayla (another Carter Graduate (’73)

  • Mary Newton Maxwell

    Oh, the memories. And my favorite ones were watching the softball tournaments, although I think at that time, Sharon Burden and I were watching Gary Tatum and Danny Pitcock. I don’t think they even had a clue who we were. If I recall, the cruising route we took was around Dairy Queen, and then around Kiest Park. Oh, the days ! Gayla, my friend, you ROCK !

  • Cookie Rowe

    Gayla-

    More wonderful memories…. I remember picnics both with family and brownies, girl scouts, etc.
    Biggest memory is learning to drive out there in the big empty parking lots with my Dad.

    Oh yes, cruising was a big part of my life in the 60’s as well as smores.

    As always, I so enjoy your articles and all the trips down memory lane.

    Keep up the great work!!

    Cookie Rowe

  • Suanne Carr Blalock

    Great column Gayla! Lots of fun memories in Kiest Park. I attended many a baseballl game and picnic! And YES! You are correct! The 4th of July was the best!

  • John Byers

    Kiest park… ah, fond memories of Little League baseball games in the summer, and cross country training and racing events in the spring — and discovering poison ivy in “lower Kiest”.

  • Peggy Finney “Brown”

    Hey Patsy – were you with the Tyler Street UMC women’s team the year that we played a 4th of July softball tournament at Kiest Park? WOW – what a weekend. We lost the first game of a double-elimination tournament; ended up playing 7 games that Saturday and WON that tournament. It was not so much a survival of the fitest as it was who as left “standing” at the end of a 113 degree temp day, playing the team that put us in the loser’s bracket two more times to win. Lost 5 lbs that day (fluids). Kiest Park was always my favorite venue for our games. Even though I don’t live in the area anymore, I may have to make the 50-mile trip to Kiest Park soon just to cruise and remember. Thanks for the Memories, Gayla.

  • Charles “Benny” Kirtley

    Gayla, thanks for highlighting Kiest Park. I would have to assert that anyone who grew up in Oak Cliff during the late ’30s through the ’60s had a little of Kiest Park in their lives. Not to say that later years didn’t play a role and have memories for many people.

    My great aunt and uncle R.G. Goodnight managed and lived in the old clubhouse at Kiest for a while. What the years were I don’t have knowledge of. As mentioned, Kiest Park served as my playground in baseball, BBI, Junior & Senior leagues as many of the Dallas parks did. The most memorable times were the cruising times in my life. I couldn’t wait to cruise Kiest Park on Sundays just to see who was there. Great times were had by many. Oh, don’t forget about the moonlit nights that you and your date might go steal a kiss at Kiest Park!!!

  • Patsy Summey

    I played “rover” on Tyler Street UMC’s women’s 1971 softball team and the cruising was still going on then, for sure. Of course, many of our cruises continued right on out of the park and up the street to Austin’s where we could pull in for a cool refreshing Coke, the “real thing!”

  • Larry Click

    Gayla!
    Another great cruise, (sorry, couldn’t resist), down memory lane. I played Cub Scout League softball and ten years of Oak Cliff Christian Athletic Association softball at Kiest Park. We even had a couple of Circle 10 Council of the Boy Scouts week-end camp-outs there with tents and cooking over our campfires and Saturday Scout skill competitions, (e.g. water boiling contests with a 2×4, knife, a match (one only)and a can of water – fastest time won.) My growing-up years would have not been the same without Kiest Park.

    Please keep up the great work,

    Larry

  • Rachel Stone

    Gayla, the picture of your folks is adorbs!

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    The opening photo is of the David W. Carter ’69 Senior Class, from the 1969 ROUND-UP. The other photo is Glenn M. “Snooky” Brooks and girlfriend (Daisy) Louise Mims c 1938-39 at Kiest Park, who became my parents: Glenn & Louise Brooks aka Snooky & Daisy)