MELISSA REPKO – Dallas Morning News
Highland Park, which grew from an open prairie into an affluent bedroom community, will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2013 with a year of events.
Town officials and a centennial committee launched a website and plan to host a community picnic, history lectures and a film festival. They are asking residents to contribute stories, photos and clippings to build a digital archive and are selling centennial-theme items at highlandparkcentennial.com.
The town’s centennial is one of several big birthdays in the Park Cities. Highland Park ISD is planning its 2014 centennial celebration. Southern Methodist University is in the middle of a five-year centennial celebration, which stretches from 2011 to 2015. And Highland Park United Methodist Church will commemorate 100 years in 2016.
“We are entering a centennial era,” said Pierce Allman, longtime resident and co-chair of Highland Park’s centennial celebration.
In 2013, town officials will visit elementary school classes, young students will complete a 1913-theme art project and Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm will talk about Highland Park’s trolley route and its impact on Dallas’ growth. The town’s annual events — such as its Fourth of July parade, home tour and December tree lighting — also will take on a centennial theme.
The theme of the yearlong celebration will be “Highland Park, an American Community Making a Difference.”
The founders of Highland Park “weren’t just entrepreneurs, they were leaders in the Dallas community,” Allman said. “They were not only involved in the town, but the civic good.”
The 2.2-square-mile community was one of Dallas’ first suburbs. Yet it was unique for being small and close to the heart of downtown.
Though it has its own police force and local government and an independent school district with University Park, many of its residents are closely tied to Dallas through business or philanthropy.
Before the land became Highland Park, it was purchased by John Cole, a doctor from Virginia, in 1843 and inherited by his son, Joseph Cole. It was later acquired by Col. Henry Exall with the backing of investors. Exall built the dam that created Exall Lake and developed a few gravel roads.
In 1906, John S. Armstrong — for whom Armstrong Parkway and the town’s first school were named — purchased the land and developed it along with his sons-in-law, Hugh Prather and Edgar Flippen. They sold real estate, developed a neighborhood called Highland Park West and the town’s shopping center, Highland Park Village.
The town’s master plan was laid out by Wilbur David Cook, who also planned Beverly Hills in California and inspired the name of Beverly Drive, one of Highland Park’s best-known streets. In 1913, residents voted to incorporate the town.
Highland Park attracted leaders in business and civic life nearly from its inception, said Darwin Payne, a Dallas historian and author of Big D: Triumphs and Troubles of an American Supercity in the 20th Century. Early advertisements described Highland Park as a getaway from the dust, dirt and rush of city life. Slogans included “Beyond the city’s dusk and smoke” and “It’s 10 degrees cooler in Highland Park.”
The town also boasted the Dallas Country Club, the first country club in the Dallas area, plenty of park land and large, architecturally significant homes.
But there were times when the town’s independent status was uncertain — particularly in the 1940s, Payne said. Dallas officials, including Mayor Woodall Rodgers, campaigned for the annexation of the Park Cities to make them fit with Dallas’ master plan. Rodgers supported annexation, saying Park Cities residents were using Dallas facilities without sharing the costs and drawing the affluent and influential away from the city.
The battle was contentious, with some Highland Park and University Park residents fearing they’d lose their independent school system, police departments and other amenities that set them apart from Dallas.
Prominent residents supported the plan to join Dallas, including Edgar Flippen and Umphrey Lee, president of Southern Methodist University.
Highland Park and University Park voted to reject annexation in April 1945. Preston Hollow residents voted to approve it and became part of Dallas.
Soon after, the Dallas City Council annexed the land surrounding the Park Cities, permanently freezing their borders.