By Quin Mathews
Ever hear of Wandsworth Drive? How did Northaven get that canopy of Live Oaks? Read on…
This story is about tornadoes, but also about trees. It was near ground zero that I first heard of a “cyclone,” as it was called in the Wizard of Oz, a picture book version that Mrs. Biggerstaff read our class in 1956. We were the “Gremlins” class at the Mary Boswell School, a preschool and kindergarten in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, just across from the fire station obliterated by the recent tornado and next to Preston Royal Shopping Center. We know what happened there.
When Mrs. Biggerstaff finished reading us the book, she announced to our delight that the Wizard would be on television that Saturday night. It was to be its first broadcast ever. Cyclone, tornado, whatever — it was all very exciting, and on April 2, 1957 my mother called me to our front porch. There I saw a real one, a long, stringy thing to the south, enormous. No one told me to go inside and take cover. We watched it and I saw hailstones for the first time. Somewhere in that storm, at least nine people died.
Today parts of North Dallas have been un-landscaped back to the past.
In 1957 there were few trees. Our parents built homes on treeless lots. Was it foresight or crazy optimism that they put down skinny trees that would take root in the dry prairie? My parents built their first house on a street called Wandsworth in 1947. It ran from Preston Road almost to Hillcrest where it dead-ended. Old photographs show horses and cattle grazing on a treeless field. The homeowners got together, from the Dickey barbecue family on the western end to my parents on the eastern side, planted mimosa trees, and got the city to change Wandsworth to Mimosa Lane. Mimosa trees went out of fashion, but the name remained.
My parents joined the land rush farther north to accommodate a growing family. They paid $5,000 for a lot on an old farm road called Northaven, their section developed as Eudora Estates with a strict code: no garages in front, wooden shingles only, no chain-link fences. Every month or so a new house went up, and soon, Arthur Kramer School was bulging with 700 students. My parents, and I’m sure many others, bought trees from the Pinkus family’s Northaven Gardens. On our block, the neighbors agreed to plant live oaks at the curb, tiny things that took decades to mature into a canopy covering the street.
Last week I thought enough time had passed for me to tour the damage and not get in the way. I knew every house from south of Royal to Forest Lane, Hillcrest to Central, because it was my childhood bike territory, homes of my friends, and customers of my paper route. There was a house on Northaven where a newspaper customer tipped me a quarter for a beer (I was 16). The inside of that house is now the outside. I knew a family who long ago lived in a beautiful mid-century with a distinctive, low-slug roof and high windows. It is barely four walls now. North Haven Gardens is a wreckage. Block by block memories got jolted by the present.
Our house and block were untouched, just a block from houses that were obliterated. The people who now own our old house have added on, painted the Mexican adobe brick a subtle gray tone, and made it something new, their own. It’s a a good feeling, seeing new life in an old house.
The houses that were touched, or destroyed, will have futures, too. The treeless ground, looking like 1957, will grow shade. Waiting decades to watch a tree mature is time well invested. To those who live in this neighborhood, I don’t know you, but you have a great place to grow up or grow old. We are pulling for you. It is solid, proven earth that will hold you and the trees you plant and nurture.
Quin Mathews became a news anchor at age 22, while still a college student, and remained in broadcast journalism for 21 years. In 1993 he left WFAA-TV in Dallas to devote full time to Quin Mathews Films.
Quin has shot documentaries around the world on subjects like emerging artists in China, folk churches in Mexico and solar power in Africa. His films about art have shown in major museums in the United States, Asia and Europe.
In 1988, with radio partner Sharon Benge, he co-founded the program “Art Matters,” which during its 25 year run, broadcasted more than 2,500 interviews with people in the arts across the world.
In 2008 Quin received the Legends Award from the Dallas Contemporary. In 2012, He was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Business Council for the Arts.