Tucked away in a tiny enclave of tree-lined hills hugging a small section of Coombs Creek lies a hidden jewel.
This quiet, wooded retreat with its 150 homes, bordered by Jefferson, Twelfth, Briscoe and Ravinia, is one of the smallest yet most distinct neighborhoods in Oak Cliff. For long-time residents like John Marshall, Joel Ward and Brian Rumpel, those are precisely the reasons they made this little haven home.
First developed between the 1920s and 1950s, the neighborhood boasts a signature assortment of homes from Tudor and Bungalow, to Spanish Revival and Ranch. During development, many of the houses were set back from the street and provided two full lots. Developer Claude Cain purchased the land from Eli Sanger of Sanger Brother’s Department Store in 1914. Soon after, he built the estate “Ravinia” and later developed the surrounding neighborhood. Many of the streets, such as Claudette and Lyman, were named for his children, who eventually moved into the area homes built by their father. Until recent years, the secluded “Ravinia” mansion remained vacant, becoming home to many local ghost stories. New owners recently revived the estate.
Current neighborhood resident John Marshall has lived in Ravinia Heights for 26 years. In his early thirties when he bought his home, he was the only one on his street who wasn’t already retired. Many of his neighbors were original homeowners and shared stories of “old man Cain” and other bits of area history. He has seen many changes over the years, explaining, “They extended Alden and Duval streets all the way to up to Plymouth in the 1980s. Before that, those two streets stopped at a pasture. The neighborhood opened up more and we lost some of our privacy.” It has been interesting for John to watch the older residents move on and the younger ones move in. “We never heard kids playing before,” he says, “now there’re children riding bicycles up and down the block, while homes are finally being updated. People are taking special care in restoring the original integrity of their houses.”
Homeowners Joel Ward and Brian Rumpel moved to a house in the center of Ravinia Heights 16 years ago, and are known among residents as the neighborhood’s anchors. The couple makes a point to welcome every new arrival. Neighbors gather at their home for happy hour in the 10 brightly painted outdoor chairs always arranged in a semi-circle, which Joel jokes is their own “city council.” In the summer, their garden-lined pool becomes the local swimming hole.
Unfortunately, Ward was recently diagnosed with cancer and has been undergoing treatments. Despite this hardship, he beams, “I haven’t had to cook a meal in six weeks because the neighbors keep bringing me dinner…we’d never move away after developing this extended family of the people who live around us. We are neighbors to each other in the truest sense of the word.”
There are also other noteworthy residents in this tiny but mighty place. Stuart Sikes is a quiet and humble recording engineer who has worked on dozens of critically-acclaimed albums, such as White Stripes’ White Blood Cells, Modest Mouse’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News, and the Grammy-winning Van Lear Rose by Loretta Lynn. He, his wife and his well-deserved Grammy all reside in Ravinia Heights.
Additionally, Jason Roberts, the founder of the new Oak Cliff Transit Authority which endeavors to revitalize the historic street cars in Oak Cliff, also found his home in Ravinia Heights. Further, one of the newest residents, Charles Allen of the Trinity River Expeditions, guides weekend canoe trips down the Trinity River and knows the river almost as well as himself. Allen feels that this community is the perfect blend of friendly people, old homes and natural beauty.
The neighborhood gets together for annual holiday crawls and community parties, some of which raise funds for charities. What Ravinia Heights lacks in amenities and large neighborhood associations, it more than doubles in personality, camaraderie, beauty and charm.