Vickery Meadow: An Oral History

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Not long after I wrote a story about Vickery Meadow last month, Jerry Holley, an antiques auctioneer who grew up in the area, sent me a polite email that made me curious as to what I hadn't written. "Enjoyed your article on Vickery Meadow, but you missed the real history of the area," he wrote.

My story focused on the present, a neighborhood on the mend from years of high crime and a place that has become home to refugees from around the world. I went back in time as far as the '60s and '70s, when the area was being built -- and ultimately overbuilt -- with apartment complexes for young professionals. By this point, Holley was a teenager and his family had sold their home in Vickery and moved to another neighborhood nearby.

Holley remembers the '50s and '60s, when he would roam the neighborhood with his friends as an adventurous kid. His and his friends' parents were unafraid to let them wander because they would always be under the watchful eye of other families or their teacher, who worked at the local feed store, which is now The Great Outdoors.

"We may have been the last to have that freedom as kids. We were just running around," he said.

"Vickery was a little town on its own," he said. It was annexed by the city of Dallas in the early 1940s, not long before Holley was born in 1948. When he was a child, the neighborhood had rolling hills dotted with wood-framed homes on spacious lots. There was plenty of room to breathe. He went to school in the same little red brick schoolhouse on Holly Hill Drive that his mother had attended decades before. His face lights up as he paints the scene of a childhood fit for a lovely black and white film, enjoyable in it's simplicity.

He would eat fruit off the trees of his grandma's farm at Greenville Avenue and Walnut Hill Lane. His grandfather had passed away when he was too young to really know him, but his grandmother maintained a big wooden home full of antiques and raised chickens and hogs. He grew up in a home next door. The pecan trees on the lot of the bank where his home once stood still have roots back to his childhood.

Other than those trees, "there's nothing here that used to be here, really," he said sitting at longtime Vickery establishment, Henk's, this morning.

Holley's first job in high school was at a place unknown to almost all who live there now, an amusement park called Vickery Park that boasted having the biggest pool in Texas. He operated the flying swings and could hear the park's big band music from his yard.

"Downtown" used to mean the corner of Park Lane and Greenville Avenue, where there was a market, a pharmacy and an old hair salon. "If you lived in Vickery, you ate at home," he said. But it was all changing.

When Holley left for the University of Texas, he would be away from Vickery for months at a time. Each time he visited home, he was struck by the new blocks of buildings and the businesses springing up to meet the community's new demands -- the original Filling Station, a great place to grab a beer and a burger that was at one time an actual filling station; the first Chili's; and the list goes on.

"It was kind of an isolated little community ... and then it got taken over," Holley said. And when it did, Holley wasn't yearning for the old days. "It was kind of exciting," he said. He enjoyed the new people and new businesses populating his hometown.

That's where my own article about Vickery Meadow picks up, at the neighborhood's apex -- the boom in housing fueled by demand, all of which eventually gave way as an economic downturn and the Fair Housing Act amped up the need for affordable housing. Crime plagued the area throughout the '90s and a few years beyond, but has been on the mend for most of the last decade.

"Sometimes I think it's kind of sad that this turned into what it is," Holley said. "It is what it is."

Every year, he attends a neighborhood reunion for the community that came before it all. He brings along his 90-year-old mother, who's still full of memories from her days in Vickery. Last year, she even sat next to someone she met in first grade. "It tells you something about the community that was here. ... it was a neat way to grow up," Holley said.

Now, he lives near Midway Road and Northwest Highway, a few miles northwest of his old neighborhood. As to why he didn't move elsewhere, he said simply, "I have no reason to live anywhere else."

Driving through the Vickery area these days, Holley sees vacant land where there was once run-down apartments, new retail development around the outskirts of the residential core, small cues that things continue changing. For the better, he hopes.

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