the issue > Press Coverage > May 10, 2013

Upscale Real Estate of Highland Park, Texas

Along a lush stretch of Preston Road, where manicured lawns gently roll down to a lake, three of Dallas’s most prominent businessmen own estates in a row: Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who has a 14,000-square-foot spread, real-estate mogul Harlan Crow, whose home is valued by the Dallas Central Appraisal District for over $24 million, and investor John Muse, who owns a nearly 25,000-square-foot mansion.

These businessmen, along with many other Texas big shots, are residents of Highland Park, an affluent neighborhood and independent town near Dallas. Located 3 miles north of downtown, the 2.26-square-mile town with about 8,900 residents is known for traditional homes and traditional, upscale living. Lawn signs display “Mad for Plaid,” for a coming school fundraiser, and many of the streets, with wide sidewalks and bright-blue signs, are named after Ivy League colleges.

Highland Park is home to former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, businessman Ross Perot Jr., software billionaire Sam Wyly and entrepreneur Carl Westcott, founder of Westcott Communications and 1-800-Flowers. Margaret McDermott, widow of Eugene McDermott, who was one of the founders of Texas Instruments, TXN +0.08% lives here as well. “Dallas” was filmed here in the 1980s, and Highland Park served as the inspiration for the fictional town in the book “Good Christian Bitches,” which was about the social maneuvers and gossip engaged in by a group of women in an affluent neighborhood.

Like many affluent communities, Highland Park, which experienced a decline in prices during the downturn, has seen a surge in sales volume in the last 18 months because of pent-up demand and dwindling inventory. But the increase in the number of sales hasn’t pushed prices higher yet; last year, the area saw 140 sales with an average sales price of $1.65 million, compared with 112 sales in 2008 with an average price of $2.2 million. Christine McKenny, a real-estate agent at Dave Perry-Miller & Associates, says the $3 million-plus range is still a buyer’s market, but “you can’t get enough listings” in the sub-$2.5 million market.

The school system attracts many families, says Jennifer Miller, a local real-estate agent. Lower property taxes are another draw. Ms. McKenny says a Highland Park resident with a $1 million home would pay about $7,000 more in taxes in Dallas, which has a combined tax rate of 2.73%, compared with Highland Park’s 2%. Of course, the entry point in Highland Park is much higher; its most affordable listing is $680,000 for a three-bedroom, 2-bathroom home.

Dallas County’s Highland Park has some of the priciest properties in the state and a star-studded list of residents including Troy Aikman and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Alyssa Abkowitz reports.

Armstrong Parkway, Beverly Drive, Lakeside Drive and Preston Road, where Mssrs. Muse, Crow and Jones live, are among the neighborhood’s grandest streets. Main events include the Christmas-tree lighting on Armstrong, which marks the beginning of the holiday season, and the Fourth of July parade, where neighbors line the streets with lawn chairs and children decorate their bikes with streamers and catch candy thrown from floats.

Highland Park’s architecture is traditional, with Tudor, French provincial and Georgian homes lining the streets. While some transplants are interested in more modern homes, the community tends to frown on buyers who tear down traditional homes to build contemporary ones. Stark modern homes are “not really well received in our area,” Ms. Miller says.

For most homes priced under $2.5 million, lots are fairly small, averaging 150 feet by 75 feet, says David Nichols, a local agent with Allie Beth Allman & Associates. Homes often are only 10 feet apart, limiting outdoor room for kids and dogs. On the plus side, Michael Stroup, who recently moved to the area from Nashville, Tenn., with his wife, Karen, and their three children, says the small lots enhance the tight community vibe. “It’s like a modern-day ’50s neighborhood within city limits,” Mr. Stroup says, adding that he laughed when lots were described to him in feet instead of acres.

This year the town is celebrating its 100th anniversary. In 1906, developer John Armstrong bought 1,326 acres from a group of investors for $276 an acre. He asked Wilbur David Cook, who had just designed Beverly Hills, Calif., to plan a neighborhood with 20% of the land used as park and green space, says Pierce Allman, a resident and co-chair of the town’s centennial celebration.

With the land at a slightly higher elevation than Dallas proper, Mr. Armstrong’s early sales slogan was, “It’s 10 degrees cooler in Highland Park.” In 1913, the neighborhood voted to incorporate and become its own town.

Before school desegregation, the small number of black people who worked and lived within the bounds of the Highland Park Independent School District sent their children to Dallas schools, says James Loewen, a sociologist and adjunct professor of African-American studies at the University of Illinois, who has studied the area’s history; the school district paid their tuition.

Today, about 90% of children in the school system are white, according to the Texas Education Agency. The town’s first black homeowner moved in about a decade ago, according to local news reports.

Many Highland Park homeowners have been lifelong residents. Businessman Ray Washburne, who was recently named the Republican National Committee’s finance chairman, grew up in the area and attended Southern Methodist University, which is right on the edge of the neighborhood. In 2009, Mr. Washburne bought Highland Park Village, an upscale shopping center that dates back to the 1930s; it was one of the first planned shopping centers in the U.S.

Under Mr. Washburne, the center has become a bit more cutting-edge, with tenants like Banana Republic replaced by boutiques that include Stella McCartney, Dior and Alexander McQueen, which opened last week.

Mr. Washburne points out that he has kept several old-timey staples; the cobbler, Deno’s of Highland Park, has been a tenant for more than 50 years and the Village Theatre, with two screens, was recently renovated but kept its 1930s facade. “I would’ve made a lot of money leasing it out as retail but it’s a community asset,” he says.

The Village Barber Shop has been at the center since 1936 and is next to Christian Louboutin. Manager Dale Sinclair says patrons include Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Jim Gold, a president of Neiman Marcus.

Says Mr. Washburne: “It’s like you’ve gone to Mayberry when you walk in.”

View article online >>