Recently I was stuck in rush-hour traffic on Preston Road at LBJ Freeway. As I sat through at least three green lights without moving, I surveyed the deteriorating Valley View Center and the traffic parked on both sides of 635, and I sighed. I spent my childhood living less than a half-mile from this intersection. We lived on Preston Crest Lane, on what was then the next-to-last street in North Dallas.
It’s hard to believe now that my days were filled with riding horses across open fields where LBJ now runs. We played in the creeks, climbed the trees, and built forts.
In 1964 my father decided he wanted to build a new house in the hinterlands. He piled us into his Olds 98 and drove up Preston Road, which was only two lanes. He turned right on a barely paved road called Spring Valley. The only structure we passed was the Mount Pisgah Baptist Church, a small iron-ore stone building that dated back to 1864.
We drove past cotton fields and over White Rock Creek until we reached a hilly area with only a few houses under construction. The development was appropriately named Northwood Hills. We could see downtown Dallas from our plot of land on Paldao Drive.
Belt Line Road was the northern border. Beyond it were miles of cotton fields, farmland, and prairie. Preston Trail Golf Club was tucked between fields. In 1968, the Byron Nelson Golf Classic was first played at Preston Trail. I remember people parking for miles down Preston and east along Belt Line to Meandering Way and walking with picnic baskets to watch the tournament.
Northwood Hills was a great community. Unlike the Fox & Jacobs communities popping up in the surrounding areas, homeowners in Northwood Hills had a style of their own. My father designed our house. It was a two-story red-brick fashioned after the early American homes in Williamsburg, Virginia. He surrounded it with a white picket fence.
Our street had a variety of unique homes. There were plenty of ranch-style houses, but there were also modern, flat-roofed stucco homes and elaborate, sprawling split-level houses. One of my best friends lived in a Spanish adobe home with huge rooms that opened to a patio filled with pink bougainvillea. Craig Morton, then the Dallas Cowboys backup quarterback for Don Meredith, created a stir when he moved in two doors from our house. His bachelor pad had floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked a huge swimming pool. We used to sneak out on weekend nights, climb the trees behind his house, and watch the parties. On Halloween, he handed out huge bags of M&Ms and let us come inside and hang out.
Morton moved on, and my family sold our house in 1984. By that time, Northwood Hills was surrounded by housing and retail development. Malls appeared. Valley View, with Dallas’ first outpost of Bloomingdale’s, opened in 1973. Prestonwood Town Center, with Neiman Marcus and Lord & Taylor, featured an ice skating rink. Just down Belt Line, Sakowitz Village popped up in 1979. The war between Sakowitz Department Store and Neiman’s didn’t last long. Both shopping areas lost their luster after only a decade of business.
Today Sakowitz Village is called Village on the Parkway. Now the residents of Northwood Hills don’t need to travel south of LBJ to experience fine dining and upscale retail. Village on the Parkway has a Whole Foods with a bar inside. It’s not uncommon to bump into a neighbor in the cheese aisle and catch up with a glass of wine in the middle of the store. The shopping center boasts more than 20 restaurants, and AMC recently debuted AMC Prime, a spectacular movie experience with a concession stand that sells beer, wine, and cocktails.
Residents of Northwood Hills are about to get a big bump of personality. The area from Valley View to Galleria Dallas is undergoing a $4-billion development. The new urban living and retail center will make the Far North Dallas areas surrounding Northwood Hills a major economic engine. It’s going to be called Midtown, and it will basically be a city within the city. Its 70 acres will be filled with retail space, residential rental units, condos, a 500-room hotel and the “largest programmed Dallas city park.”
Once Midtown is complete, I’m sure residents of its high-rise condos will look to the east and see the sprawling, manicured lawns of Northwood Hills and remember the days when a neighborhood was all about playing in creeks and climbing trees.
Nancy Nichols is a senior editor for D Magazine.