The small but unique building with an extraordinarily whimsical façade across from Lake Cliff Park is commonly know as the Polar Bear for its association with its longest tenant the Polar Bear Ice Cream shop, a beloved shop of many. The structure was originally built in the early 1930s and its first two tenants were the U.S. Sandwich Shop and the Schell Grill. In 1946, the Polar Bear Ice Cream shop opened in the building. Most people associate the cool “frosty” design with Polar Bear thinking it was designed to look like a glacier or an igloo, most fitting for an ice cream shop.
The area surrounding the park and the nearby historic Bankhead Highway (which ran down Houston Street to Zang Boulevard) had many such small restaurants including Pig Stand #2, A&W Root Beer Stand, Pig ‘n Whistle Restaurant, and more. All of which were supported by the 1950s teenage car culture. The building has been vacant since 2014 and a wind storm in early 2015 blew down a portion of the unique parapet. The building has been on the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League’s Architecture at Risk list and has been singled out in the newly created PD 830 Gateway ordinance as one of four buildings the city considers a priority for Landmark designation in the ordinance area. The parcel of land the building sits on is zoned for 8-story mixed use and could face pressure from development and increasing land values in Oak Cliff.
UPDATE: The Polar Bear suffered a fire in early 2020 which left a large hole in the roof allowing water to enter the building. In June of 2020 the building partially collapsed and it was deemed a public safety hazard by the City Fire Marshal. Due to that, the City issued a demotion permit for the building and it was demolished in July of 2020.