The Homes of the Park Cities, Dallas
Great American Suburbs
By Virginia Savage McAlester, Willis Ceci Winters, Prudence MacKintosh, Steve Clicque
Abbeville Press Copyright © 2008 Virginia Savage McAlester
All rights reserved.
Excerpt from: Homes of the Park Cities, Dallas
This is the story of how thousands of acres of Texas blackland prairie were transformed into two earlytwentiethcentury suburbs. Located approximately four miles from downtown Dallas, the area had one grand natural asset, Turtle Creek, which with many multiple branches and small feeder creeks wandered through the site and made its way to the Trinity River.
The first suburb, Highland Park, was purchased as a whole in 1889 by Colonel Henry Exall and a group of Philadelphia investors for development as a railroad suburb. After this dream was dashed by the Panic of 1893, John Armstrong purchased the entire tract in 1906. Armstrong’s intention was to create the Residence Show Ground of Texas,” as was announced in Highland Park’s first Dallas Morning News
advertisement, on April 21, 1907. Although he was the owner of a wholesale grocery business and meatpacking company, Armstrong had briefly been part of an enormous effort to create a new community in Oak Cliff and had long observed land development practices. His vision of community building was to create longterm quality and value. He passed this farsighted vision to his two daughters, Minnie Mae and Johnetta, and their husbands, Edgar L. Flippen and Hugh E. Prather, who had formed the FlippenPrather Realty Company. Despite Armstrong’s untimely death in 1908, his family implemented his dream over a period of almost forty years.
The slightly later suburb, University Park, was developed as most American communities have been, under the aegis of a number of owners and multiple developers and with much of the planning coming from the municipality rather than the developer. Together Highland Park and University Park offer an overview of the type of suburban development practices that built America’s earlytwentieth-century neighborhoods. This era of neighborhood is today being rediscovered for its livability and is being emulated by new developments. They are often under siege themselves, with everlarger homes being squeezed onto their desirably located lots.
Few things affect us more directly and more regularly than the built environment. It is easy to understand and to affect the domestic realm of a house. But when the scale moves to that of the neighborhood, the subject seems more esoteric. Planning and development are the forces that take vacant land and turn it into neighborhoods. Through the efforts of a developer or a municipality, a natural environment became something that would shape people’s lives for decades, if not centuries. Decisions such as how wide to make the streets, how long blocks should be, where to set electric poles, whether there will be sidewalks, where to situate the entrances to garages, and whether there will be culdesacs all affect how a neighborhood feels and functions. So does the amount of green space, determined by factors like how far the houses are set back from the street, whether front lawns are open or fenced, and the amount of parkland. If there is a stream, will it have a park alongside it, or will it even exist above ground as a watercourse, or be sent underground into a culvert? Once these kinds of decisions are made and carried out, then how are they protected from future encroachments?
It wasn’t until c. 1900 that planning for new neighborhoods and towns began to be practiced in earnest in the United States. There had been a few wellpublicized and innovative early plans (Savannah, Georgia, with its town squares, and Olmsted’s plan for Riverside, Illinois, are examples), but this was not the norm. Not only were these towns unplanned, but also construction within them was in no way regulated.
Controlling residential neighborhoods was a step made necessary by the Industrial Revolution. New modes of transportation, new industrial uses, and new building techniques that could produce everlarger buildings all worked together to dramatically impact the ways that people had built and lived in cities and towns. Because a home was often the largest investment that a family would ever make, the protection of that investment from unpleasant adjacent uses was crucial. Traffic, sounds, odors, nighttime activity, parking lots, train tracks, factories, and such did not make desirable neighbors. As these uses multiplied, their detrimental effects became more and more obvious. People sought out protected places in which to build their homes.
Highland Park was at the forefront of the movement toward planned suburban neighborhoods. Under the control of John Armstrong and the FlippenPrather Realty Company, Highland Park became a community of homesalmost entirely residential. University Park, without a single entity overseeing its development, also became a community of homes, but with a university and more support uses included. In both communities, potential residents were attracted to their controls, to the regulation of building materials, the zoning certainty, and the level of municipal services that would surround their dwellings. The following chapters trace how Highland Park and University Park grew and developed over a period of almost forty years, each town with its own unique history and direction. Necessary to the story is the relevant history of Dallas, it’s economy, and other neighborhoods that inspired, rivaled, or imitated the Park Cities. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Homes of the Park Cities, Dallas by Virginia Savage McAlester, Willis Ceci Winters, Prudence MacKintosh, Steve Clicque. Copyright © 2008 Virginia Savage McAlester. Excerpted by permission of Abbeville Press.
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