The story of Greenland Hills begins with a tale of two brothers and one helluva business scheme. In 1923, Fletcher and Frank McNeny bought 98 acres of the old Bennett dairy farm. It was on the outskirts of Dallas, near the end of the trolley line at Mockingbird. It was empty space, but it wouldn’t be for long.
The neighborhood is now in the center of Dallas—bordered east to west by Central Expressway and Greenville Avenue and north to south by McCommas Boulevard and Vanderbilt Avenue. “We were almost a suburban development in its day, and now we’re completely in the middle,” says Stuart Mut, an architectural historian who has lived in the neighborhood for 46 years.
Greenland Hills is commonly referred to as the M Streets, nicknamed for the number of streets that begin with “M.” Famous for its pricey Tudor Revival cottages, the neighborhood is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year with a home tour earlier this month and a neighborhood block party planned for November 4. Taking place at Glencoe Park, the festival will include live music and cake, of course. “The vision was to think about what it was like to go have a picnic in the park 100 years ago,” Greenland Hills Neighborhood Association president Laura Pratt says.
One hundred years ago, the McNeny brothers were doing something that hadn’t really been done in Dallas before. Unlike other developments, which built large homes first and then in-filled smaller properties, Greenland Hills “platted, subdivided, and laid out the infrastructure all at once,” Pratt says. As they built homes, they ran sewer, water, and gas mains. They incorporated with the city and later added 176 acres. They paved streets and sidewalks. And they brought in mass transit—the trolley, bus routes, and the Sherman/Dennison Interurban streetcar line.
Then, the McNenys advertised their “affordable” homes. A house here began at around $1,960. So, they marketed their properties to older couples and young professionals who couldn’t necessarily afford mansions but wanted something more upscale.
“You can’t afford Highland Park,” but that’s okay, you can come here, Pratt says. They had giveaways. They printed huge broadsheets, formatted like newsletters, to brag about all of Greenland Hills’ features. They were like car salesmen, she says, extolling all the attributes “for your comfort or convenience.” Newsletter articles had headlines like “Dallas Railway Co. Extends Service” and included explainers on a new species of hardy trees called a “Chinese elm” developed for the neighborhood. They emphasized how easy it was to get downtown.
The McNenys’ trump card, though, were the “60-foot lots.” Most of the properties in Greenland Hills were 7,500 square feet—125 feet from alley to parkway and 60 feet across. This was “very cost effective” with the neighborhood’s grid, Mut says, and it was desirable, too. The square footage gave you a decent-sized front yard, with space for a port cochere and a detached garage in the back. There was at least 15 feet between houses and room for driveways1.
And the McNenys made sure the neighborhood and the houses themselves, while modestly sized, were beautiful. A tunnel of trees arched over the streets.
They hired several builders—Pratt estimates at least 10—to design the homes. They had a vision, Pratt says, and the builders had to follow it. Houses had to be built up on a berm, so they looked more impressive. The builders often copied their floor plans and models throughout the neighborhood but allowed other architectural details set them apart.
“If you go through the neighborhood enough, you start seeing where there may be five or six of one design,” Mut says. “But you’d have to have seen it 100 times, because they disguised it so well.”
Many of the first homes here were craftsmans, which were popular at the time. But soon builders began constructing the English Tudors that Greenland Hills has become mostly synonymous with. Post-World War I Tudor Revival houses were popular all over, Pratt says. Several other burgeoning Dallas neighborhoods, Kessler Park and Hollywood Heights, were building them around the same time, too. In Greenland Hills, they made perfect sense, Mut says. “If you’re looking to do a smaller square-footage home, a little simpler, one-story, maybe where you can build a dormer in the attic and have more rooms for kids, this is a perfect style.” And the little cottages made the 60-foot lots look even bigger.
The Tudors, however, were not the Tudors of the 16th century days of yore. Sometimes called “Stockbroker’s Tudor,” these houses2 were influenced by the craftsmans that came before them. They had a “tuxedo front” of Tudor, says Mut, with gabled rooflines and stained-glass windows. But they also had wraparound porches and side doors for potential renters. There were shingled roofs to release hot air and French doors to help air circulation. Every house had an east-facing porch, to escape the late evening heat.
Construction in Greenland Hills slowed during the Great Depression but never fully went away, Mut says. In the years leading up to World War II, the neighborhood also saw the “infancy of modernism,” says Pratt. Styles like minimalist traditional, ranch, and contemporary began to appear. Post war, minimalist traditional homes, which were cute, compact, and cheap, exploded to house the waves of returning soldiers hoping to take advantage of the GI Bill.
The neighborhood started falling into disrepair in the middle of the 20th century. The Interurban was phased out in the 1950s. Rail lines were paved over. Homeowners aged in place, and the houses weren’t properly cared for. Newcomers struggled with expanding the small one-story cottages to make room for their expanding lives. In the 1960s and ’70s, folks began enclosing those eastside porches. Then starting in the late 1970s, they popped up into the attics to create a second story.
As remodels became more prevalent, the neighbors grew more concerned. Some of the updates were tacky, Mut explains. One house had a roof that looked like Sally Fields’ hat in The Flying Nun, a cornette with two large flaps sticking out horizontally on either side. “That would have been fine if this was just going to be some kind of really very freaky neighborhood,” he says. “But people were moving here and spending money.” Even worse was a house on Homer that looked like a fire station. It wasn’t a bad build, he says, but it didn’t fit the neighborhood’s character, and “it had a stainless-steel door.”
Oh, What’s in a Name?
If you’re talking about Greenland Hills, you’ll also probably hear it referred to as the Greenland Hills Addition, and the M-Streets. All these names can get confusing, so Mut has broken them down.
This is the name of the original development by the McNeny brothers.
Greenland Hills Addition
This is the name the city used to incorporate the development into Dallas, Mut says. So, Greenland Hills and Greenland Hills Addition is one and the same.
“M Streets is more of a Realtor identification of this area,” Mut says, deriving its name for the number of streets here that begin with “M.” M-Streets and M-Streets East are also the name of the area’s two conservation districts.
Neighbors were also concerned about tear downs and new builds. They watched as modern mega mansions took over the Park Cities. “There’s this thing coming,” Pratt says. And the residents, who founded the Greenland Hills Neighborhood Association in 1983, knew they had to do something to fight the “McMansions.”
Meanwhile, there was strife with the city. Dallas wanted to widen McCommas Boulevard and Monticello Avenue, Mut says. And a ’90s-era thoroughfare plan would have turned Greenville Avenue and Matilda Street into couplets, “three lanes going into town, three lanes coming out of town—that would have absolutely ruined the first blocks of M-Streets.” The one-way traffic also would have killed businesses and bars along Lower Greenville. So, despite tensions between the neighborhood and the businesses, they joined together and fought the city. The thoroughfare plan was eventually nixed.
After that, Greenland Hills residents formed a conservation district. In the early 2000s, they surveyed the houses, and a feasibility study showed that about two-thirds of the homes were Tudors. And there was a schism in the neighborhood. There was the M Streets, between Central and Greenville, and then there was M-Streets East, which was sandwiched by Greenville and Skillman. East wanted less restrictive conservation rules, Mut says, and some blocks wanted to opt out.
Finally, the M Streets and M Streets East conservation districts formed in 2003. The M Streets Conservation District protects seven architectural styles, like neo colonial and contemporary. “We all get hung up on Tudors, and we should because that’s pretty massive,” Pratt says. “But the other styles are just as notable in the time period as well.” The district rules preserve each architectural style’s most iconic features on the front façade. The longest section is dedicated to the Tudors. There are specifications on window proportions, roof pitches, secondary gables, even doors. “We’re not going to put a Victorian door and a Tudor home,” Mut says.
In the two decades since, they’ve seen huge improvements in the neighborhood, Mut and Pratt say. People were more invested in fixing up their homes. The schools improved. Central Expressway reopened in 1999, physically opening the neighborhood to more visitors. Mockingbird Station opened in 2001, and the neighborhood got better shopping opportunities. The neighbors were more united on common issues, like nearby developments. “I see a huge trend in a lot of people power,” Pratt says.
And the prices of the houses increased. Homes in Greenland Hills often go for $800,000 or more. Mut can’t pinpoint the exact reasons for the surge in pricing, but he attributes it to inflation, the proximity to downtown, and demand for the homes. Mut and Pratt recognize the irony of the neighborhood’s start as an “affordable” neighborhood versus today. But it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, Pratt says, especially now that the neighborhood is not on the outskirts of Dallas. And the overall value, she says, is still there.
The demographics of the neighborhood are changing too, they say. For years, people used Greenland Hills as their starter homes. Newly married young professionals from Uptown moved in, had their first kid, then left when their second came along. They were using Greenland Hills as a “first equity steppingstone,” Pratt says. Nowadays, they’re still getting young folks from Uptown, along with transplants from other cities, but the new residents are choosing to stay for the long haul. “It’s almost coming back around full circle” to what it was like 100 years ago, Pratt says.
As for the next 100 years, Pratt and Mut hope people recognize they’re buying a “time capsule.” These homes are a piece of history to be protected. The biggest issue for the future is figuring out how to maintain Greenland Hill’s historic character while still modernizing (you don’t want your house to be a museum, Mut says). But, if they can pull it off, then, “this could go on over here indefinitely,” Mut says. “It would be like living in a little village in England.”