Where is it? What is it? Why is it?
It sits in three counties, includes four school districts, and is seamlessly bordered by five suburbs. There’s no doubt about it — Far North Dallas is unlike any other part of the city.
Four longtime residents and community leaders gathered for a roundtable discussion to try and answer the question:
What is Far North Dallas?
It sounds simple, but many residents may not even stop to think about where our city ends and the others begin. These excerpts of the conversation help bring to light the history of the area and the factors that limit but also contribute to our sense of community.
On a sultry summer afternoon, longtime neighborhood residents gathered to help define Far North Dallas once and for all. After some small talk, flipping through old newspaper clippings and reminiscing about the old country days, we got down to business.
Sid Miller is the Valley View HOA president and serves on the board of the North Dallas Neighborhood Alliance. He moved to the area in August 1964 and has lived in the same house ever since.
Sandy Greyson is the District 12 city councilwoman. She moved to Far North Dallas in December 1979 and helped launch her homeowners’ association. Her active neighborhood involvement led to several leadership positions. She previously served on the city council 1997-2005 and was re-elected this summer.
Carol Short is the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce vice president of public affairs. She has lived in the city all her life and grew up playing on the railroad tracks that eventually became the Dallas North Tollway. She moved to the Prestonwood area of Far North Dallas in 1985.
Ann Murphy is the North Dallas Neighborhood Alliance co-president and a familiar face at city hall, arguing for quality-of-life issues in Far North Dallas. She has lived in the northernmost part of the city since 1983, buying up the last bit of property from the old town of Renner. She helped establish her Preston Villa HOA.
How we got here
Moderator: What are the geographical boundaries of Far North Dallas, and how have you seen the area evolve over time?
Greyson: I’ve always considered Far North Dallas to be everything north of LBJ. And, it’s bordered on the east by Richardson and on the north by Plano and on the west by Carrollton-Farmers Branch. Addison is over there. So we are surrounded by suburban communities, unlike other parts of the city.
Short: As we say at the North Dallas Chamber, North Dallas is a state of mind. We don’t have boundaries; anyone can belong to the chamber.
Miller: Carol, you’re a native here. Do you remember when there was only North and South Dallas?
Short: Oh, absolutely. We moved near Preston and Royal in 1956, and there were four gas stations, [one] at each corner. Where LBJ Freeway is was Valley View Lane — you probably remember that, Sid. Sears was out there all by itself. And once you got past Valley View, it was a two-lane road. The old Spring Valley Country Club was over there. There used to be fireworks stands at Preston and Spring Valley. That was the country. The chamber was started in 1954 essentially by real estate developers who wanted infrastructure improvements north of Northwest Highway. We’re talking early ’50s when Dallas pretty much ended at the Park Cities. Everything out here was cotton fields.
Miller: We lived here before LBJ was constructed. The Highland Park Airport was just south of us, where Park Central is now. The runway was parallel to Coit Road. There were two runways — one was paved, and one wasn’t. When they were building LBJ, they cut 300 feet off the runway to where an airplane couldn’t land there. The airport was closed in 1972. I think LBJ became the barrier between Far North Dallas and everything else north of Downtown.
Murphy: Do y’all have a sense that LBJ was ever anything but congested?
Greyson: I do. I remember when I moved here in 1979, we hadn’t quite closed on our house yet so we were living in an apartment at Midway and LBJ. One evening, I decided I wanted to go to that wonderful shopping center that I had seen just down the road. I got on this wonderful expressway that was wide open. I came from Chicago where nothing is wide open. I thought, “This is incredible.” It’s a short jump from Midway and LBJ to Preston and LBJ where the Valley View Shopping Center was. It was all kind of fresh and new. I went into Sanger-Harris, and they were playing soft music in the background, and all the salespeople were so polite, and they were eager to help me. I was just totally impressed. Do you guys remember how many shopping centers we used to have up here?
Miller: One of the articles I dug up was related to the major shopping centers in Far North Dallas. That was Sakowitz, Prestonwood, Valley View and the Galleria. That was back in 1982.
Greyson: It was shop till you drop; a shopper’s paradise. I used to wonder how this population could support all these stores, and eventually, we couldn’t.
Short: I think they didn’t think that people would move as far north as Allen and Frisco.
Murphy: I miss the mom-and-pop dress shops. There used to be a lot more specialty dress shops than there are now. I do think that the larger retail and the traffic moving into the malls did probably hurt some of the mom-and-pop stores.
Miller: And it hurt the smaller shopping centers.
Short: And now we’re going back to that. They’re not building malls anymore, they’re building open-air.
Moderator: Do you think Far North Dallas residents identify more with their neighboring suburbs than with the City of Dallas?
Greyson: It’s so easy for us to go shopping in a suburb. I live half a mile from Richardson. It’s just as easy for me to go over to [The Promenade shopping center] as it is to stay in Dallas. It’s still easy for people to go to Richardson or Plano or Carrollton to do their shopping although we encourage people to shop in Dallas — keep those sales tax dollars in Dallas. But when you’re in Far North Dallas, you’re right on the border of all these suburban communities with nice shops. There are no artificial barriers — it’s across the street.
Miller: And there’s no distinction.
Murphy: If you live in Far North Dallas and you want to shop in Dallas, you have to drive pretty far to get those same amenities, and you have to be very committed to that.
Greyson: I also think that people who live in Far North Dallas see the quality of life in those suburban communities, and they want that quality of life for themselves and their neighborhoods. And we’re very far from Downtown. I think that sometimes Downtown forgets that we’re up here, and it’s very easy to vote with your feet and move across the street and be in a suburban community.
Miller: [The suburbs] repair streets and fix walls in their subdivisions.
Greyson: Richardson passes bond programs to fix walls; Dallas says fix it yourself. There’s really always that kind of awareness. You look across the street, and you see the quality of life in that suburban community.
Murphy: I think that’s what causes some of the conflict for me being a neighborhood person with zoning cases. When we go down to city hall and argue for the neighborhoods on a zoning case, a lot of times the things we’re arguing for or trying to make sure we protect are things that
are automatic in some of the surrounding communities. Signage is an easy example.
Greyson: I think what Ann’s referring to is how the city just allowed digital billboards to go up. The suburbs don’t even allow billboards — or many of them. McKinney doesn’t even allow pole signs. You drive through Dallas, and you see a forest of billboards, and now they’re going to be digital.
Miller: [Suburbs] have height restrictions on all signs.
Murphy: Their code enforcement is a lot better than ours.
Greyson: We see the comparison so easily up here.
Miller: I think it’s also our school configurations.
Greyson: Which is one reason why I think our area keeps growing compared to some other parts of the city. In [Dallas] redistricting, we have to lose population in District 12 because we keep growing, and I think the reason is we have all those really good school districts. People move here for those schools. It is kind of unique. I’ve often had people say to me, “Where do I live? I live in the City of Dallas, but Collin County and Plano schools.” Or, “I live in Denton County, City of Dallas, Carrollton-Farmers Branch schools, I go to jury duty in McKinney.” So, it’s very confusing up here. We have a whole lot more governmental entities than any other part of the city.
Miller: And I think that one of things that distinguishes Far Far North Dallas from Far North Dallas, by our definition, is that down here south of Belt Line is, by and large, more focused on Dallas. It’s Richardson schools, but it’s City of Dallas, it’s County of Dallas.
Moderator: So you would say that Belt Line is sort of the dividing line for that Dallas identity?
Miller: Yeah, but it’s not very clear. It might be Spring Valley. It might be Belt Line. Somewhere in there.
Greyson: But I don’t see it that way, Sid. To me, it’s just all Far North Dallas. I don’t see a Belt Line or an Arapaho kind of separation.
Moderator: Ann, you live way up there on the edge of Plano. What’s your perspective on the bleeding suburbs?
Murphy: I try to live by the code of buying in Dallas, but I do cheat. I definitely have a rule — restaurants are out. Wherever I get hungry and want to eat, I don’t care where it is, that’s where I’m going. But I don’t care for Plano. The thing I think I see most in people that live in Dallas is they want that Dallas address. It’s a much bigger city, it’s a bigger bureaucratic will. Things will take longer; we all put up with it. I just think there’s a genuine affection for Dallas and people wanting to be from Dallas. I was born in Tyler, Texas, and I just thought that Dallas was the place to be.
Miller: And I think the converse is true. Plano is not a big city, but it’s small-town politics. It’s like that with all the suburbs. It’s big city versus small towns. I don’t think I’ve ever intentionally gone to Plano to shop. I worked up at Legacy and the Toll Road for awhile, and it’s blurred as to where you are when you’re driving. You don’t have walls like Berlin did.
Moderator: What about the area west of the Tollway above Addison? The Advocate doesn’t distribute there. Are those folks even more isolated from the City of Dallas? Or even Far North Dallas for that matter?
Greyson: Well, not really. There are the same, pretty single-family neighborhoods. But it’s just because it’s Collin County until you get to Midway. And then from Midway Road all the way to the city limits on the west is Denton County. So, there are people that just find it hard to believe that they’re in the City of Dallas. Of course, that’s Carrollton-Farmers Branch schools. I used to have trouble finding a place to even hold a town-hall meeting over there. Now we have built the Timberglen rec center and Timberglen library because that area needed some City of Dallas facilities. It’s very necessary because there are a lot of apartments over there and a lot of density. People forget it’s part of the City of Dallas.
Short: They think it’s Carrollton.
Greyson: I actually had city staff once ask me why I was holding a town-hall meeting in Carrollton. I said, “But it’s Dallas!” It kind of juts out from the rest of Far North Dallas, which kind of juts out from the rest of the city. It’s just kind of a unique area.
Multiple school districts
Moderator: Let’s go back and talk about the effect of the four different school districts. They further confuse our Far North Dallas identity, but do you think people form separate individual communities around them?
Greyson: Well, we don’t have much DISD. That’s Bent Tree, and I don’t know that they send their kids to DISD.
Murphy: [Private schools] are a large part of the equation, too.
Greyson: I know, for instance, when you look at Lake Highlands, they build their whole community around the school system. I don’t know that we do to the extent that Lake Highlands does.
Short: I’m not sure that Richardson and Pearce are anywhere like what Lake Highlands is.
Greyson: I think people up here think more of their homeowners’ associations … I think that might be more the focal point of their identity. I know the Advocate uses neighborhoods. They have their Lake Highlands neighborhood and their Lakewood neighborhood and their Oak Cliff neighborhood. But it’s hard to say that about Far North Dallas.
Miller: In Valley View, for instance, we’ve got 1,200 homes. We go from $60,000 homes to $3 million homes. There’s nothing common about those 1,200 homes except their eligibility for volunteering with the Valley View homeowners’ association.
Murphy: And then when you would have your meetings, you’d pull to the rec center or the library.
Meet me at the …
Moderator: Aside from HOA meetings, is there a central gathering place for people in Far North Dallas? For instance, Lakewood has White Rock Lake, and Oak Cliff has the Bishop Arts District.
Greyson: You know, when you get elected to council, you’re supposed to pick some part of your district and have a picture taken there — something distinctive. Something that would immediately say, “This is the part of the city I represent.” Now, tell me a place like that in Far North Dallas.
Short: You could do the trail.
Greyson: Now I can do the Preston Ridge Trail, but before it wasn’t there.
Miller: If you were in [District] 11, you could do that trailhead at Valley View Park.
Short: I think it all goes back to the development in the ’70s and ’80s. They were building shopping centers and houses. They weren’t building Addison Circles.
Murphy: It was hard to get that green space.
Greyson: They used to say [the land] was too valuable to make a park out of it.
Short: And I remember an argument back when I worked for the city council about building swimming pools and parks in North Dallas, and council members would say that people’s backyards in North Dallas were parks because everybody has pools.
Greyson: Yes, I remember that. I used to hear that when Campbell Green rec center was built. There’s no pool there, and they said that everybody has pools, and we don’t need to build a pool there. Well, I don’t have a pool.
Miller: We’ve got 12 acres of undeveloped land over by Valley View Park across from Hillcrest.
Short: You mean on the west side of Hillcrest? Where there are picnic tables, but you can’t get to them?
Greyson: You know what my neighbor calls that? Useless Park. Because you can’t get to it. There was a house there, and I believe the story was that it was built in a flood plain, and it wasn’t supposed to be there. They had built up some kind of area around their house to protect it. There was some sort of lawsuit with the city, and the house got taken down, and the city turned it into this little park. But they never had anywhere to park, and they never had any way to access it. You can’t park on Hillcrest.
Miller: And there’s no cross streets, and there’s no alleys.
Greyson: So you kind of drive by and gaze at it and think, “Gee, that’s kind of pretty.”
Miller: No, but the place I’m talking about is south of Alpha, west of Hillcrest. There’s a nursing home on the south. That’s all part of Valley View Park West now.
Greyson: Oh, I think that’s great. I worry constantly every time I drive by there that someday they’re going to tear all those trees out …
Miller: No. The power company has an easement on some of that land. There’s a nature trail that the Boy Scouts have put in — three-quarters of a mile that wanders through there.
Greyson: I just hope that never goes away. It’s so natural. It’s so unusual in Far North Dallas.
Murphy: Back to the original question — it’s not green space or anything, but Prestonwood Mall was a gathering place for Far North Dallas at one point. The skating rink and the kids’ playground …that really was a draw for the area. It was packed a lot of time.
Short: I guess now you have the Galleria — if you can get there.
Moderator: The Advocate has continually referred to Far North Dallas as a neighborhood. Is that accurate. Why or why not?
Miller/Greyson: I don’t think it’s accurate.
Moderator: What would you call it?
All in unison: Far North Dallas.
Short: A section of the city.
Miller: I think in the same way that South Dallas is not a single neighborhood …
Greyson: Well, the southern sector isn’t — South Dallas is a single neighborhood.
Miller: Yeah, the southern sector.
Greyson: I think you’re right, Sid. The southern sector has a lot of different neighborhoods. I just think that when you talk about a neighborhood in Far North Dallas …Ann lives very far from Sid. Her neighborhood isn’t his neighborhood. Carol and I live close to each other and our neighborhood isn’t their neighborhood.
Miller: There’s no cohesiveness.
Murphy: And they gather in their amenities they have in their little area.
Miller: That’s one of the problems we have with the Valley View homeowners’ association. There’s so much diversity that the only thing that creates unity is a crisis. The homeowners’ association was created when they tried to come in and build commercial high-rise buildings there.
Moderator: How can residents create communities beyond their HOAs?
Short: I think one of the most unique things is the North Dallas Neighborhood Alliance. There’s nothing like that anywhere else in the city. I think it’s fabulous that Far North Dallas has that.
Murphy: What surprises me about the Alliance, though, are the people who have such a loyalty for it and want to make sure it doesn’t end. How passionate people are about that organization.
Short: We haven’t even talked about rear-entry garages. And how they don’t foster neighbors.
Greyson: Oh, you’re right. That is really a good point, Carol.
Miller: About a third of Valley View homes have rear-entry garages.
Short: Ours is all rear-entry. I know very few of my neighbors, and I’ve lived there 25 years. I don’t have children — that’s a big part of it.
Greyson: That’s why alleys are so important up here. You hardly use your street.
Short: There are good things and bad things about it. The good thing is you don’t have cars parked in driveways and open garage doors. So, it makes for a more attractive street.
Miller: Not only do we have rear-entry garages, we have fenced-in yards — high-fenced yards.
Greyson: Privacy, privacy, privacy. I lived here four months before I ever saw a neighbor. It isn’t until springtime when you get out there and start mowing the lawn that you actually see people.
Miller: I walk our neighborhood every day for about an hour, hour and a half. It’s amazing how few people you see.
Greyson: The HOAs have social events. They have parades and Easter egg hunts, and you get to meet your neighbors that way.
Miller: When we first moved in and my youngest kid graduated from high school, there were nine kids on our block graduating from high school the same year. We had blocked off the streets to have a party. So, there was a unifying because of the ages. Those were the initial occupants of the neighborhood. They were all about the same age group that came in — child-rearing age. That similarity is gone now.
Greyson: I think one thing that speaks well for the neighborhoods up here is that a lot of the families that are moving in are the children who grew up in the neighborhood and are now bringing their families back and buying a house in the neighborhood they grew up in. They want their kids to go to the same school they went to and have the same experience because they thought it was a good experience.
Miller: The neighborhood school has kind of diminished, in my opinion, as we’ve developed magnet schools. There are magnet schools and private schools. Those nine kids I was talking about represented three different high schools.
Moderator: So our children don’t attend the same school, our home values vary widely, and everyone in Far North Dallas is different in almost every way. But what common values do we all share?
Murphy: We’ve embraced our diversity. We get accused down at city hall of being cookie-cutter, but you know, I just don’t get that feel when I’m out walking around the block on a real nice evening.
Greyson: Well, your neighborhood really does have diverse home styles.
Murphy: And it’s on a flood plain, and some neighborhoods are fortunate enough to have flood plains.
Miller: We’re not affected by the Fox & Jacobs subdivisions. That never happened in Far North Dallas.
Short: Compare us to Plano or Allen. [In those suburbs], you have to have the address in front of you because you can’t remember if your friend’s house is the pink brick or the red brick. Otherwise they’re exactly the same.
Greyson: We don’t have a lot of tract housing up here at all. Sometimes I hear some criticism down at city hall about how we’re cookie-cutter, as Ann said, and we’re not historic or anything, but obviously people like to live here because we keep growing, and people stay here for a very long time. Look how long we’ve all been here. Obviously there are things that keep us here.
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