The Best Places to Live

Choosing a neighborhood involves more than just real estate prices; you want to pick the right way to live. But everyone has different priorities. D Magazine divided Dallas into eight categories, and whether you seek good

The Best Places to Live in Dallas

winner: Cedar Creek Lake Runner Up: Sunnyvale Honorable Mention: Rockwall
winner: Winnetka Heights Runner Up: Deep Ellum Honorable Mention: Munger Place
Winner: Bluffview Runner Up: Forest Hills Honorable Mention: Kessler Park
Winner: Stonebridge Ranch Runner Up: Four Seasons Area, Las Colinas Honorable Mention: Gleneagles Country Club
Winner: Park Cities (Highland Park, University Park) Runner Up: Southlake Honorable Mention: Plano
Winner: Knox-Henderson Runner Up: Uptown Honorable Mention: Lower Greenville
Winner: Lakewood Runner Up: Greenway Parks Honorable Mention: Bryan Place
Winner: TCU Runner Up: Westover Hills Honorable Mention: Downtown (Sundance Square)

 

In a city where growth is so sprawling, how do you choose a neighborhood? Within an hour of downtown are lofts and lakefronts, tree-canopied hideaways and townhome communities. In some, you barely need a car. There are neighborhoods where young couples turn their weekends into equity and neighborhoods where Fortune 500 executives cluster near pro shops and the airport. Some of our favorites are the older Dallas communities—Lakewood, Munger Place, and Winnetka Heights among them.

D Magazine subdivided Dallas into eight categories: Hills and Trees, Worth the Commute, Historic Homes, Country Club Life, Schools, Street Life, and Community Spirit. We even took a look at Fort Worth. Then we got in the car and started driving. We toured every one of the places listed below. We talked to residents, teachers, waiters, real estate agents, storeowners, and business leaders. We endured animal-rights protesters posted in front of a veterinarian’s office on Abrams Road. Five hundred and fifty-three miles later, here is our report.

 

 

 

Worth the Commute
winner: Cedar Creek Lake
If you ask Cedar Creek residents or second homeowners how long it takes to go back and forth to Dallas, you get the feeling that they start and stop the watch in Mabank. “It’s only 40 minutes,” one person told me. “Forty-five,” said another.

Maybe it depends where you’re headed. It’s 57 miles from downtown Dallas to the bridge at Payne Springs. I met one commuter at a gas station. (By several counts, 30 to 40 percent of Cedar Creek residents commute to Dallas to work.) I asked how many miles he had on his truck. “287,000,” he said, then added, “but that’s nothing. My last one went 400,000.”

Why drive? Of the major area lakes that offer water sports and fishing, Cedar Creek is the only one where you can have a boat dock in your backyard. Dan Waitman, a general contractor who builds in the area, says property values have doubled or tripled in the last 10 years. “The money people are finding this lake,” he says.
And some without money: Cedar Creek has everything from $39,000 mobile homes to million-dollar mansions.

Runner Up: Sunnyvale
We’ve all heard that tall fences make for good neighbors. So does a hedge of corn. In Sunnyvale (pop. 2,200), there’s still room to drive your tractor. Mike Brewer, a 20-year resident, turned off his orange Kubota to talk to me. “There used to be five houses on this street,” he said. “Now there are 15 to 20. But we’ve still got lightning bugs, all kinds of birds, and a pond to fish in.” Brewer raises pecan trees. “Out here you get the benefits of the big city with peaceful, country living.”

Recently the town council purchased its first ambulance, a $120,000 state-of-the-art model complete with Corian countertops. After the vote, the mayor pointed toward the beaming EMS crew, “I don’t want to see you guys driving it around tonight, trying to pick up girls.”

Honorable Mention: Rockwall
I had car trouble in Rockwall; the car overheated. Getting it fixed on a Saturday was no easy task. “I close up at noon,” one service station attendant told me. The owner of another just shook his head. Maybe they were headed to Lake Ray Hubbard. It’s right in town.

Rockwall residents love being on the other side of the lake from Dallas. “There’s something about crossing the lake on the way home,” one told me. “Work stays on the other side.” Perhaps as a result of the lake and the distance from Dallas (20 miles from downtown to the Rockwall shore), the town is self-sufficient. It has an old city square, movie theaters, restaurants, and two golf course developments: The Shores to the north and Buffalo Creek in nearby Heath. Home prices in Rockwall range from $150,000 to $600,000.
I eventually found the Goodyear store. They had me out in less than an hour.

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Historic Homes
winner: Winnetka Heights
If you’re moving to Winnetka Heights, you might consider a crash course in Spanish. The drive from I-35 to Winnetka on Jefferson Boulevard looks like a Mexico City thoroughfare: money transfer businesses, La Ocasion Bridal Shop, Mundo de Oro Jewelry, and Fiesta Supermarket.

Originally platted in 1908, Winnetka Heights was then promoted as Dallas’ ideal suburb. Most of the bungalow and prairie-style houses, featuring wide front porches and decorated columns, were built around 1915. In the 1920s and ’30s, many Dallas business and political leaders lived in Winnetka, including Mayor Waddy Tate. According to Realtor Ed Kucharski, buyers tend to be young couples who dream of being general contractors. This is where they get their practice. Expect to pay about $150,000 to $200,000 for a piece of Dallas history.

Runner Up: Deep Ellum
“I tell people we’re east of Deep Ellum, where downtown starts,” James Dunham told me from behind the bar at the Sons of Hermann Hall, where Dunham has been hanging out since the early 1960s. “Twenty years ago,” he continued, pouring a drink for a wedding reception guest, “it was a ghost town over here.”

Once part of Dallas’ warehouse district, Deep Ellum was abandoned when Dallas moved north and west. In the last 10 years, the empty warehouses have been transformed into lofts. (Want to signal a leasing person that you’re not loft material? Ask how many bedrooms a unit has. I did. “Lofts don’t have bedrooms,” she told me. “That’s why they’re called lofts.”) At Futura in east Deep Ellum, lofts have stainless-steel appliances and black granite countertops. The only doors are on the bathrooms. Rents in Deep Ellum start around $700 a month for 600 square feet and run to $4,000 for 3,500 square feet.

Honorable Mention: Munger Place
This neighborhood is ideal for urban pioneers who want to be close to downtown, Lower Greenville, and Baylor University Medical Center. In spite of the fact that there are painters sanding and carpenters hammering on almost every block, the range in quality from one Munger Place home to the next can be dramatic. On Victor Street, beautifully restored, single-family homes painted in yellows, blues, and reds are separated by a run-down apartment complex plopped in the middle of the block. Nevertheless, in Munger, virtually every home has a wide front porch with a porch swing, perfect for Saturday-morning newspaper reading.

On Reiger Avenue there are “Rooms to Rent” signs and $350,000 David Weekley homes going up. I was pleased to note that the Weekleys are consistent in architectural detail with the c. 1900 Munger homes, complete with deep roof overhangs and brick bases for porch columns. The difference, I suspect, is that they have trustworthy wiring and plumbing.

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Hills and Trees
Winner: Bluffview
Drive into Bluffview on a rainy night and you may never get out. Bluffview is the most private part of Dallas—trees, underbrush, and curvy roads do the work of fences and walls. Bluffview is located north of Lovers Lane and east of Love Field. Bachman Creek runs through the middle of it. The creek is one of the best fly-fishing spots in Dallas. (And you probably didn’t know there were any fly-fishing spots in Dallas.) The homes range in size from cottages with gravel driveways to mansions, like the one owned by the chairman of Cinemark USA, with a 21-seat movie theater inside.

When I drove through, a three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath, Austin stone on a wooded half-acre at the intersection of Cherokee Trail and Bluffview Boulevard was listed for $1.195 million. Shopping close by on Northwest Highway at Midway Road: Albertson’s, Honey Baked Ham, Blockbuster, and the Original Pancake House, good for a hungry tribe after Indian Guides sleepovers. Try the apple pancakes.

Runner Up: Forest Hills
Forest Hills sits on the spillway side of White Rock Lake, which is still the best place to cycle in the city. If you don’t have a bike, head over to Richardson Bike Mart’s Garland Road store. The Bike Mart is the top shop in town.

On San Leandro, Santa Clara, and Forest Hills drives, the homes have beautifully landscaped yards and mature trees. In places it looks like the Arboretum has jumped the fence. Unusual perhaps for Dallas, Forest Hills homes are scaled to fit their lots. Those lots and houses get smaller the further you drive from the lake toward downtown. Recently, a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath brick home with a pool on a wooded half-acre on San Benito Way was for sale for $486,000.

Honorable Mention: Kessler Park
There’s a home on Allison Drive where the lawn guy must use ropes: the backyard is limestone and vertical. Kessler Park, comprising only 1,500 homes, is located in Oak Cliff and is separated from downtown by the Trinity River. It’s the most hilly and wooded residential area near downtown.

Colorado Boulevard divides Kessler. North, the homes sell for $165 to $200 a square foot; south, for $135 to $140. Values are up 18 to 20 percent for each of the last two years, according to local real estate agents. Homes range in price from $200,000 to $800,000 and sell to advertising people, designers, and architects. In September, a three-bedroom, three-bath Mediterranean with three living areas on North Edgefield Avenue—2,300 square feet total—was listed for $360,000.

Downtown commuters pass two landmarks: Lone Star Donuts, where you can buy three sugar cake donuts for a dollar, and Ripley Shirts, a custom shirt maker since 1920

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Country Club Life
Winner: Stonebridge Ranch
Located west of McKinney (which has one of the best town squares in North Texas), Stonebridge Ranch has 11,000 people, wide sidewalks, churches, schools, an assisted-living center, a growing YMCA, and one of the best community swimming pools in greater Dallas, complete with an artificial beach. Home prices range from $200,000 to $1 million.

Stonebridge has two private golf courses, both of which are owned and operated by Dallas-based ClubCorp: The Hills, which has 27 holes, and Stonebridge Country Club, a Pete Dye monster, 7,200 yards with a slope rating of 146. The Stonebridge course has been host to a number of tournaments, including the Texas Open and Texas Amateur. The clubs (assuming the proper navigation of membership channels) can be joined individually or as a package.

Runner Up: Four Seasons Area, Las Colinas
Live near the Four Seasons Resort and Club on MacArthur Boulevard if you want golf and tennis with quick access to DFW. Join the Sports Club and get two 18-hole courses: Cottonwood Valley and the Tournament Players Course, host of the PGA tour’s Verizon Byron Nelson Classic. Members are entitled to free run of the extraordinary fitness club, complete with a full-service spa.
Home prices range from $329,000 for a three-bedroom, zero lot line house in gated Cottonwood Valley, to $1.495 million for a 5,815-square-footer in the Enclave development adjacent to the TPC course. The area is popular with executives who office nearby.

Honorable Mention: Gleneagles Country Club
Also owned by ClubCorp, Gleneagles is harder to get into than Stonebridge or The Sports Club. Located in Plano on West Park Boulevard near The Shops at Willow Bend, Gleneagles has two golf courses designed by the team of Von Hagge and Devlin: King’s, which runs along White Rock Creek (par 72; 6,806 yards), and Queen’s (par 71; 6,901 yards). Both are excellent. A separate fitness center is located in the old Willow Bend Polo Club. The massage therapy facility operates out of a former tack room.

Houses in the area sell for anywhere from $500,000 to millions. A real estate agent showed me a villa at 5520 Gleneagles on a Sunday afternoon. The 4,000-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-and-a-half bath home, which backed up to the 9th tee of the Queen’s Course, was selling for $799,000—marked down from the lower $800s after 93 days on the market.

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Schools
Winner: Park Cities (Highland Park, University Park)
What’s remarkable about Highland Park High School, which ranks number three on our best high schools list, is not that its average SAT score (1166, up 13 points from last year) tops the state average (920) and national average (1020), or that 97 percent of its students take the SAT. It’s not the school’s success in the AP program (555 HP students took AP tests in 2001). It’s not even that 95 percent of Highland Park’s students go to college or that the school’s sports program has produced dozens of state champions. We should also mention that Armstrong ranked number one on our list of top elementary schools in May 2001.

Highland Park achieves all this in spite of the state’s Robin Hood property tax recapture, which is expected to seize $52.5 million out of this year’s school tax revenue of $89.6 million and send it out of the district. In effect, Highland Park competes with one hand tied behind its back.

The secret of Highland Park’s success is parental: mothers run the elementary school cafeteria programs; dads manage the sports support programs; fundraising for school programs is nonstop. How much house do you have to buy to get your kids in? A lot. The average valuation this year for the Park Cities is $752,990.

Runner Up: Southlake
There are various ways to size up a Texas high school—one is to attend a football game. I went to Southlake for the opening of Dragon Stadium: a $15.3 million, 7,500-seat facility, complete with a double-decker press box and a grassed area for little kids to clothesline each other. The stadium would make many small colleges jealous.

While Southlake Carroll, number seven on our list of top high schools, whipped Haltom City (final score: 45-6), Principal Daniel Presley beamed. He should. Last year Southlake’s academic team won the state 4A championship (defeating reigning champs Highland Park) and took home the Lone Star Cup—awarded by the state to the best performing high school in academics and athletics. Every campus in Southlake ISD was rated exemplary. This year HP returned the favor by whomping them at a home game.

One administrator told me, as a Southlake wide receiver ran a screen pass for a 57-yard touchdown, “If you’ve ever taught in another district, Southlake is heaven. Kids work hard. Parents work hard. All 1,750 (grades 9-12) of them.” House prices reflect parents’ hard work: $300,000 to $2 million.

Honorable Mention: Plano
Somehow, Plano has been able to protect the quality of its schools in a rapidly growing community. Plano schools are consistently rated among the very best in the state and the nation. (All three high schools made it in the top 10 on our list.) Compared to Highland Park and Southlake, the system is enormous: almost 49,000 students spread over 59 separate schools. There are 4,085 teachers and 150 principals. There are three separate senior high schools (grades 11 and 12) and 38 elementary schools.

Two of its high schools, Plano Senior and Plano East, have been named National Blue Ribbon Schools twice by the U.S. Department of Education. Music, sports, academics—Plano ranks near the top of every category in public education. The high schools have an extensive AP and International Baccalaureate program, and every school facility is linked via a fiber-optic network. Neighborhoods and home prices vary. Generally speaking, the nicer areas are north and west.

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Street Life
Winner: Knox-Henderson
This is the neighborhood for townhome buyers who don’t want to travel more than three blocks to furnish their residences. In Knox-Henderson (Knox is west of Central; Henderson is east) retailers sell everything from antiques to hammers. Crate & Barrel, Restoration Hardware, Weirs, Pottery Barn, Smith & Hawken, and Dallas’ best electronics store Ed Kellum & Son are only a few of the 36 stores that bring shoppers to the area on Saturdays.

Knox-Henderson is full of upscale apartments and townhomes. It also has an active restaurant and night life. The best grilled cheeses in the city come from the griddle of the Highland Park Pharmacy. There’s even a Latin Quarter with Cafe Madrid, Sipango, and the Samba Room. Knox-Henderson is presently the northern terminus for the Katy Trail and from the patio at Momo’s on Knox you can watch roller bladers negotiate the speed bumps that mark its entrance.
As for where to live, residences at the 17-storied Travis at Knox take up the top 10 floors. Almost all of the units are multi-leveled. Rents start at $2,160 for one bedrooms and climb to $6,550 for a 4,200-square-foot penthouse.

Runner Up: Uptown
Long-term, Uptown is Dallas’ best hope for an Upper East Side. Short-term, there may be some hiccups. The amount of building in Uptown over the past decade is astounding and, in classic Dallas developer fashion, racing toward a glut. Three new boutique condominium towers, with names like the Metropolitan, are slated. Prices start at $500,000 per unit.

Uptown has many of the better restaurants in town: Primo’s, S&D Oyster Company, Ruggeri’s, and Breadwinners. It also has bars: The Gingerman and McKinney Avenue Tavern. For necessities, Uptown goes to Lemmon Avenue; for clothes, to the new West Village. As for arts, Uptown has the MAC, and the museum district’s not far away. Measure the area’s growth by the shrinking of the Hank Haney Golf Center at Cityplace. It’s beginning to resemble a giant seine net.

Honorable Mention: Lower Greenville
According to area residents and business people, “Upper” Greenville is defined as Greenville Avenue north of Mockingbird Lane; everything south is “Lower” Greenville. That puts the M Streets squarely in Lower Greenville along with the restaurants and bars nearer to Ross Avenue.

James Slaughter owns the Whisky Bar and Firehouse. He recently bought a home in the M Streets. “I’ve lived in Dallas for more than 30 years and I love it down here,” he says. “Everything’s close—work, movies, food.” Another longtime resident described Lower Greenville as the only place in Dallas that a person could live without owning a car. M Street Tudors, many with large trees, sell for approximately $250,000. The buyers tend to be empty nesters or the parents of pre-K children. Buy groceries at Whole Foods on Greenville or Kroger on Mockingbird.

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Community Spirit
Winner: Lakewood
Lakewood doesn’t wait to be asked. While driving around recently, I saw a sign at the corner of Lakewood Boulevard and Pearson Drive. It read: “Found. Shar-Pei. Young and on its own for a while.” Lakewood is located along the rolling hills west of White Rock Lake. The homes are well-tended; the residents are neighborly. The country club is a fine p

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