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Hollywood Heights-Santa Monica keeps it 100

The Hollywood Heights-Santa Monica neighborhood is straight out of a storybook with its rolling hills, tree-lined driveways and Tudor homes. “It’s like this little oasis that you just found by getting lost or by accident,” said Ed Zahra, a longtime neighborhood association board member. “But once you arrive, you don’t leave.” This month, the East Dallas neighborhood is celebrating its centennial anniversary with a special home tour and gala that, appropriately, has been years in the making.

In the early 1920s, developer J.B. Salmon purchased a tract of land in East Dallas across from what is now the Tenison Park Golf Course. Early city maps listed it as “Miss Martin’s Dairy.” He renamed the neighborhood Hollywood Heights and sold the first lot in June 1924. In 1925, just north of Salmon’s land, Bert Blair began developing the Santa Monica neighborhood. Both had California-inspired names and similar looks, given their mix of Craftsman, Spanish, and stone-decorated Tudor homes. There were also similar deed restrictions, such as 35-foot setbacks and height limits.

By the late 1970s, however, the old deed restrictions had expired. “Suddenly the developers found East Dallas and demolition began,” Zahra says. Hoping to save the neighborhoods’ identities and preserve the facades of their homes, a coalition was formed to combine Hollywood Heights and Santa Monica into one conservation district.

It was not an easy task. The city required a lot of paperwork, including documentation of each home. The biggest hurdle, Zahra says, was convincing residents to give up some of their property rights for a relatively new idea; Dallas had declared its first conservation district in 1988. But they got it done and the Hollywood Heights-Santa Monica Conservation District was officially established in 1993, with deed restrictions close to the originals. This move, Zahra says, “saved our neighborhood from the wrecking ball.”

What has not been preserved is the origin of the names Hollywood and Santa Monica. Volunteer community historian Jennifer Near says the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles had just been built in 1923 and people were fascinated by the growing film industry. As it turned out, the neighborhood ended up being the scene of plenty of movie-worthy moments. In 1938, a scorned lover planted a bomb in a suitcase and threw it through the window of the house where his ex-girlfriend was staying, destroying the Monte Vista duplex. Another house apparently had a secret speakeasy and bowling alley in the basement.

However, most residents were quiet, middle-class families. There were firefighters, dentists and foremen. Because the front yards were so deep, most residents made a habit of sitting outside on their porches and chatting with passersby. In the 1940s and 1950s, Near says, the neighborhood was widely regarded as “Vice President of Treasury Secretary Row,” where not the company presidents (who lived on Swiss Avenue) lived, but one floor below.

The Roaring ’20s-themed centennial celebration hopes to honor all that history. For three years, the neighborhood association designed new street signs, selected the homes for the tour and planned the final evening’s flapper-forward gala at Times Ten Cellars. During the tour you will see “a unique group of homes,” said Juliette Smith, president of the neighborhood association. And the last party is ‘when we really celebrate our neighborhood’s birthday’.

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Catharina Wendlandt

Catharina Wendlandt

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Catherine Wendlandt is the online associate editor for D magazine‘s Living and Home and Garden blogs, where they all…