Yeah, Absolutely, Highland Park Sucks
There's an Associated Press story from this afternoon about how some folks in Oxford, Mississippi, are trying to get their neighborhood designated as a historic preservation district. It means the same thing there as is does here: People living in houses contained within the Jefferson-Madison neighborhood in Oxford can't destroy or make radical alterations to their homes without running it by the city's landmark commission. And the reason people living in the neighborhood want to create the safe haven is a familiar one as well: Too many old homes are being torn down, while others being built in the Jefferson-Madison area look totally "out of character" within the neighborhood confines.
Turns out the president of the Jefferson-Madison Neighborhood Association knows all too well how it goes down in Dallas. Apparently, she is from Dallas. Says the AP:
"Until the historic preservation district can add official help to the neighborhood, Candis Varnell, president of the Jefferson-Madison group, appeals to developers to build compatibly.
'I moved here from Dallas and I've seen what's happened in Highland Park, where they tear down beautiful old homes to put up bigger ones, and they're destroying the neighborhood,' Varnell said. 'Don't come in here with towering structures that overwhelm all the other houses. Try to preserve what we're built on.'"
Turns out Varnell--a wedding planner who's actually from Plano from what I can tell, but still--is absolutely right. Says Dwayne Jones, executive director of Preservation Dallas, Highland Park has become "teardown central" in recent years, and it "will be a shadow of what it once was in five years." That's because Highland Park has no historic district or preservation ordinances and has "never expressed any strong interest in them," Jones says. The reason? Well, he can only speculate, but "perhaps the value of the the development is more important to them than the value of the historic building and what it says about the city's history."
There are some HP residents trying to preserve some of the city's older homes by contacting the National Trust, but usually most properties going on the market are offered for sale only as land that can be developed; the houses are just in the way, and usually not for long. (And it's a good deal for real estate agents, who don't have to mess with things like inspections and open houses.) Just a few months ago, a house on Crescent Avenue from 1913 or 1914 was torn down to make room for just such a towering structure--a spec mansion that'll be valued at some $7.5 million whenever it's built.
Speaking of, historian and Preservation Dallas co-founder Virginia McAlester's working on a new book, with Willis Winters and Prudence Mackintosh, about the history of Highland Park. The book, which is being funded by the Friends of the Highland Park Library, is expected to be released in about two years, says here. From the sound of it, they had best hurry, while there's some history left. ----Robert Wilonsky
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.