Do you dream of living in an incredible old house shaded by huge trees, in a place where everyone knows your name? The dream is a reality in the historic neighborhood of Winnetka Heights.
Even though they’ve only lived in Dallas three years, Andres and Kristin Calderon have already purchased their second home in Winnetka Heights. Finding Oak Cliff on the internet while living in New Mexico, Andres cites proximity to downtown, good public transportation and a strong sense of community as the deciding factors in choosing to relocate to Winnetka Heights. “We love the funky feel of Jefferson Avenue,” he says, adding that the ethnic makeup of the area affords their son the opportunity to grow up bilingual.
Rob Romano, also living in the second neighborhood home he’s restored, moved here because the historic designation provides protection for the wonderful Arts and Crafts style homes. In fact, he’s looking for another property to bring back to its original glory: “I love my neighborhood and want to make it even nicer,” he says.
Carla Boss and her husband have lived here for 30 years and count themselves among the first of the urban pioneers. Carla found their house the first day it was on the market. She wanted a big old house to restore and cites the hominess of Oak Cliff as the main reason they settled in the historic neighborhood. It became a family affair as one of their daughters bought a home two doors away and their other children have settled nearby.
Vicki and Richard Fitzgerald fulfilled their dream of owning an old home when they sat in the driveway of their home and refused to move until they got a contract on the house. They are excited by the restoration that’s been going strong for the last several years. Vicki and neighbor Errol Miller have become the unofficial historians of the neighborhood, and Vicki says this is “the best place to live if you want to really know Dallas.”
Now to the trees. Ah, the trees of Winnetka Heights. Ann Lee, a key figure in the community’s reforestation efforts, says the neighborhood has planted over 500 live oaks, red oaks, and eastern red cedars — more than any other organization citywide. Winnetka, a Native American word meaning “beautiful land,” speaks to the towering pecans and oaks that canopy the homes and streets. Winnetka Heights lives up to its meaning, and has earned a spot on the National Parks map.
The trees are a backdrop to one of the most active communities around. Always eager to socialize, Winnetka Heights residents routinely get together for community happy hours and yard sales. Competition is fiercely friendly for the Christmas holiday lighting contest and yard-of-the-season award. The National Night Out crime awareness gathering is so much fun that neighbors forsake their air conditioned homes for a chance to mingle on a hot August evening.
The neighborhood message board crackles with residents sharing their favorite front porch libations, where to find a great electrician, and which garden plants are currently blossoming. And, in the spring and fall, you’ll find many residents gathering around picnic baskets for Movies on the Lawn, a fundraiser for historic Turner House, that has quickly become a family favorite.
Entrepreneurship is also strong in Winnetka Heights. The Nodding Dog Coffee Company, Loretta’s restaurant and Oline’s Hair Salon are just a few of the businesses owned by residents. Tom McCoy and Henry Branstetter, owners of Starfish seafood restaurant and the former Oak Cliff Mercantile, opened both their businesses not only to serve a need, but also because they believe in the community. “We’ve had a great response from everyone,” says Tom of Starfish, their newest venture, “and without the neighbors we couldn’t succeed.”
Got the itch to see this unique neighborhood up close and personal? The popular Heights By Candlelight home tour takes place in early December. The tour starts at Turner House on North Rosemont and features beautifully restored homes decorated for the holidays. Don’t be surprised if you come away with a smile on your face and a sudden urge to get to know all of your neighbors.
The 22nd annual Heights by Candlelight Home Tour is Dec. 9-10, 1 p.m. For more information, visit www.winnetkaheights.org.