Winnetka Heights is the second-largest historic district in the city of Dallas. (Photos: Joe Horner/Scout DFW)

By Deb R. Brimer
Contributing Writer

Winnetka Heights has the look and feel of a modern Rockwell-esque painting. Today’s canvas reveals stunning historic style, native North Oak Cliff beauty, and the vibrancy of a culturally diverse, urban neighborhood. But the picture wasn’t always pretty.

Some people make history. Others preserve it.

Formerly the Winnetka Heights Baptist Church, this historic sanctuary now hosts arts events and education.

According to the Winnetka Heights Neighborhood Association (WHNA), the neighborhood dates back to 1890 when it was part of the City of Oak Cliff’s Midway Addition. Seven years after annexing Oak Cliff in 1901, the City of Dallas replatted the 50-square-mile area as Winnetka Heights.

Four prominent Dallas investors – Leslie Stemmons, J.P. Blake, R.S. Waldron, and T.S. Miller Jr. – made history by developing and marketing sprawling homesites to affluent buyers. While most things in 1911 were archaic compared to today’s standards – the adage of location, location, location wasn’t one of them.

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The historic Winnetka Heights neighborhood in North Oak Cliff had a big win this Wednesday at City Hall. The city’s thoroughfare plan was amended to take away the 12th St. Connector, knitting the neighborhood back together with parks and open space. It was a change 40 years in the making, with some of the original residents still part of the fight.

When cars became big in Oak Cliff and everywhere else, Tyler and Polk streets were made into a one-way couplet, and this connector, installed in 1967, allowed northbound traffic to reach West Jefferson Road by skipping the Jefferson St commercial core. More importantly it has allowed first responders (located at Polk and 12th streets) to access the neighborhood to the north more quickly.

The election of Dallas City Council member and mayoral hopeful Scott Griggs to the District 1 seat in 2011 is a big reason we’re seeing this change.

“The project got legs when Scott joined council” says Lee Ruiz, president of the Winnetka Heights Neighborhood Association. “He understands the new urbanist feel of how neighborhoods should be.”

Conversations began with City of Dallas staff and elected officials in 1981 when the neighborhood association formed and work began to dedicate the area as a Conservation District. But the project wasn’t a priority.

“Our neighborhood is known for its tenaciousness,” says Ruiz. (more…)