Highland Park Village is America’s first shopping center and the prototype for shopping centers all over the country. This unique Mediterranean Spanish-style development was constructed in 1931. According to the Urban Land Institute, Highland Park Village was the first planned shopping center in the United States with a unified architectural style and stores facing in toward an interior parking area, all built and managed under a single ownership.
The story of the development of the Village began in 1906 when entrepreneur John S. Armstrong purchased 1,326 acres of land bisected by an Old Indian trace later used as a cattle trail, now called Preston Road. Mr. Armstrong envisioned a new, exclusive planned community just north of the bustling young city of Dallas.
With great foresight, Mr. Armstrong and his two sons-in law, Hugh Prather and Edgar Flippen hired noted architect Wilbur David Cook, the designer of Beverly Hills, to lay out the new Town, which opened in 1907. They set aside 20% of the land for parks, planning a high-class community with fine homes surrounded by abundant green space. The new community would be named Highland Park. After all, it was 130 feet higher than Dallas, and it certainly had plenty of parks.
In 1912, Mr. Flippen and Mr. Prather lured a country club to Highland Park as a drawing card to attract wealthy citizens of Dallas to their new development. This club, Dallas Country Club, is the oldest country club in Texas.
Over the years, Highland Park, a separate town now located within the boundaries of the city of Dallas, has become one of the most beautiful communities in the nation, rivaling even Beverly Hills. Because of a good original master plan and strict deed restrictions, it is today an enclave of gracious homes, fine schools and beautiful parks.
When Mr. Flippen and Mr. Prather decided that Highland Park needed a shopping center that could function as a town square, most bankers and merchants offered them discouraging words. Business was “expected” to stay downtown. But with the same planning and foresight used in establishing Highland Park, the developers traveled to Barcelona and Seville, Spain as well as to Mexico and California, studying the architecture in order to plan a retail center for Highland Park.
Prominent architects Marion Fooshee and James Cheek created this Mediterranean Spanish masterpiece, which today truly has become the “heart of the town.” Located at the corner of Mockingbird Lane and Preston Road, it’s often referred to today as “Downtown Highland Park”.
When Highland Park Village had its Grand Opening in 1931, nearly everyone in town came. According to a longtime resident, it was a true community party with booths and games, a Ferris wheel in the center, and the attraction of a grand prize for the lucky winner – a pony. For many years afterwards, a pony was raffled off at the annual Village fiesta celebrations. During these early years, it was not unusual for a shopper to arrive on horseback from one of the nearby bridle trails, and hitch up his horse to do a little shopping at Hunt’s Groceries, or to stop for a bite to eat at the S&S Tearoom.
The first buildings in the Village were a filling station on Preston Road, a sales office in the middle section, and the first retail section in the southwest corner. The completion of the Village required more than twenty years, interrupted by the great Depression and by World War II.
In 1935, the landmark Village Theatre opened. It was the first luxury suburban theatre in Texas. Built at a cost of $100,000 with seating for 1,350 persons, it has been a popular entertainment spot ever since. Until the theatre was leased in 1987 to American Multi-Cinema, the second-largest theatre chain in the United States, it was said to be the last independently run theatre in the nation’s ten largest cities to show first-run films. Today the renovated theatre, operated by AMC, boasts four screens.
The year 1935 was a busy one in the village, which saw the addition of Safeway Supermarket, as well as Volk Brothers. At first, Volk’s just sold shoes, only later becoming a department store. In fact, everyone thought Mr. Volk was crazy to be the first downtown store to open a branch in the suburbs. But in just a few years, the store had doubled in size and many people in Highland Park were wearing Volk’s shoes.
Possibly the grandest grand opening in the Village came in 1951 when hometown football hero and Heisman Trophy winner Doak Walker opened his sporting goods store. The celebration caused traffic jams for blocks. By this time the Village was nearly complete. It had truly become the town square envisioned by Mr. Flippen and Mr. Prather, “Downtown Highland Park.” Business and pleasure on the plaza did not have to be interrupted by delivery trucks and service vehicles. The foresight of the planners and architects was reflected in their careful eye to detail. In the original master plan of the Village, they provided for loading zones in the back of stores so that trucks would not have to be on the plaza during business hours.
After the death of the late Hugh Prather, Sr., in 1959, management of the Village was taken over by his sons, John Prather and Hugh Prather, Jr. In 1966, the Howard Corporation acquired the shopping center. Under Howard Corporation management, little attention was given to proper tenant mix, landscaping deteriorated, overhead wires began to criss-cross the property, inappropriate signage appeared, and tenants were permitted to make facade alterations that were not in keeping with the classical architecture of the Village. Spanish arches were covered up and newer materials that did not blend with the basic stone and stucco began to appear.
In 1976, the Howard Corporation decided to sell the Village and enlisted the help of the Henry S. Miller Company. When several prominent investors turned down the property, Henry S. Miller, Jr., himself became attracted to its unrealized potential. He had a sentimental attachment to the property already because his father had been an associate of the Flippen-Prather Realty Company from 1917 to 1919 and a close personal friend of both partners, Hugh Prather and Edgar Flippen.
Mr. Miller, Jr. and his partners acquired the property in 1976 for $5 million, a small portion of the money eventually invested in its renovation and refurbishing. He immediately set about replacing the basic infrastructure with new wiring and plumbing, and removing the overhead wiring. Simultaneously, he concentrated on the re-tenanting of the center. He convinced two of the anchor tenants that were considering leaving the Village to renew their leases. As leases of other stores expired, certain tenants were replaced by more appropriate ones.
In 1986 this nationally recognized landmark development received a bronze plaque from the Park Cities Historical Society in recognition of the historical and architectural significance of the center. The foresight of the original developers and the hard work of Henry S. Miller, Jr. were paying off.
Surrounding the central fountain, typical of Spanish plazas, are ten acres of brick paths and walkways, lush landscaping, benches and trees, and unique rows of buildings designed in a timeless Spanish Mediterranean architecture boasting arched doors and windows, imported red tile roofs, overhanging balconies, ornate tile work, embellishments, all finely crafted. You can even hear the birds sing in the trees throughout the Village.
One of the developments of which Mr. Miller is most proud is the restructuring and renovation of the Village Theatre. It cost a lot more money than it would have cost to build a brand new four-screen theatre, but he wanted to maintain the exterior of the theatre because it was a landmark. It was also a drawing card helpful to other tenants.
In 2009, Ray Washburne, Heather Washburne, Stephen Summers, and Elisa Summers, known as HP Village Partners, LP, took ownership of the 80 year old historic shopping center.
Highland Park Village has evolved into a center full of high quality apparel that also caters to the everyday needs of the people. Site of the annual Christmas Tree Lighting, Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides and Celebrations, Highland Park Village offers something for everyone.