The Most Perfect, Charming, Elegant, Graceful, Cozy, Genteel, Affluent 2.2 Square Miles in Texas

My thirty years in Highland Park.

I AM NOTOLD HIGHLAND PARK.” Old Highland Park is much too genteel to call attention to itself in print. A friend who grew up here says, “It used to be that if you wanted to show off, you had to move to Preston Hollow.” I’m not even a Republican, although the Republican National Committee seems to think my ‘05 zip code entitles me to a steady stream of solicitations, certificates, and fine eight-by-ten color photographs of the Bush family and, before them, the Reagans.

There are much grander places to live with more acreage farther north in Dallas. During the real estate boom of the seventies, mansions built in new suburbs boasted enormous walk-in closets and Roman spa bathrooms, which made Highland Park’s once elegant third-floor ballrooms seem merely quaint. A recent article about “downsizing” due to the economy suggested that one might consider jettisoning the mansion for a more modest place in Highland Park. Still, there is an aura about the tiny island city that everyone here calls “the Bubble,” 2.2 square miles surrounded on three sides by Dallas and to the north by sister city University Park. In Dallas’ growth years following World War II, most of the downtown business leaders lived in the Park Cities. Important people flew in to Love Field, just a mile from Highland Park. They might have lunch in a downtown club, but in the evening they were frequently entertained in Highland Park homes. Visitors accepted this place as the face of Dallas, until the image was supplanted by J. R. Ewing and Southfork.

When we moved to Dallas from Austin, in 1969, my husband, John, was a young lawyer and I was a schoolteacher. For $150 a month we lived in a post-war upstairs duplex on Hawthorne in the Oaklawn area, just one block from the millionaires of Armstrong Parkway. Sometimes our evening’s entertainment was a drive through Highland Park. With their draperies drawn back, candles lit, and chandeliers gleaming, these houses seemed charmingly hospitable, sophisticated, and gracious, and we enjoyed imagining the graceful lives of people living there.

We did not aspire to live in Highland Park, even after our first child was born. Public schools in Dallas were holding their own at the time. We simply found a two-bedroom, two-bath Tudor cottage we liked and could almost afford on Normandy, a block from McCulloch Middle School. The “location, location, location” that real estate people scream about was perfect: ten minutes from John’s office, four blocks from the elementary school—and a neighborhood swimming pool, tennis courts, and small public library were only a bike ride away. The libraries, musical offerings, and theater performances at Southern Methodist University were within walking distance. Some old friends from our University of Texas days who, like us, would eventually have three sons, lived just down the street. Our house even had nine-and-a-half-foot ceilings, which accommodated the early parsonage Victorian furniture we had inherited from my husband’s grandmother. Hot and sweaty from the move into the little house with window-unit air conditioners, I shared a Coke with one of the young men who helped us move. “This is Highland Park, isn’t it?” he said. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure, though I probably won’t know the answer.”

“Don’t you have to be somebody special or get approved by someone to live here?”

We struggled to meet the house payment in our cute redo, unredone. I sold my piano to buy a more useful washing machine. John parked his car in our narrow little garage; my lumbering old Chevy Caprice, which from our years of uncovered parking had a slightly peeling vinyl top, remained on the side street. The doorbell rang one evening, and I was met by a Highland Park policeman, who asked if he should call for a tow truck to remove what he took to be an abandoned vehicle. We figured our shabby auto was the first item in our Highland Park police dossier, along with a note that recorded our failed attempt to use the Highland Park swimming pool in 1969, when we were still living on Hawthorne.

Life was good. We gained all of the advantages of a small town with the cultural amenities of a large

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