Land of Fun and Recreation
By Susan Thompson
A glimpse of Lake Panorama’s beginnings can be found inside a small storage building at the St. Thomas More Center. On the back wall is a painted mural of Lake Panorama. Large block letters across the top read “Land of Fun and Recreation.”
The property that now houses the St. Thomas More Center played a key role in the early days of Lake Panorama.
Lot sales for the new lake development began in the fall of 1967. At about the same time, the West Lodge was built. It offered a restaurant, meeting rooms, and swimming pool. A two-story building near the lodge was the sales office for Lake Panorama lots.
Potential buyers would arrive at the west entrance to Lake Panorama, where remnants of the old guardhouse still stand. Radio contact was made with people in the sales office, who would pick up visitors near the entrance to show them some available lots. The next stop was the West Lodge and the nearby sales office.
The mural inside that small storage building used to be a stand-alone structure, with a peaked roof and open front. There is a small platform in front of the sign where people could step up to get a closer look, as sales people pointed out future plans and lot locations. A patchwork of flat stones on the ground formed a patio in front of the sign. Now the stones provide a floor in the storage building.
In 1983, the Lake Panorama Association sold a 10-acre site with lake access that included the two-story lodge, the swimming pool, two tennis courts and the sales office to the Des Moines Catholic Diocese. Presumably, the sign was thrown in at no cost, and St. Thomas More Center management decided to use it for one wall of a new building.
Electrical lines, lights and outlets now mar part of the painted sign. One section was removed so a door could be installed in the back of the building. Nails were hammered into the wall and used for hanging tools.
And yet, much of the map, which probably was painted in 1968, is accurate today. The two golf courses and three beaches are shown, along with the “central water system” and a west-side camping area. The dam and marina are there. The West Lodge, which offered the swimming pool, tennis and some ski runs, is highlighted.
An airport depicted on the east side never materialized. Neither did a “shopping area” along the north side of the main basin. Yet the lake, which wouldn’t have existed when the mural was being used to boost lot sales, looks almost identical to the Lake Panorama that exists today.