In many ways, the Lakewood and Lake Highlands neighborhoods of Dallas are opposite sides of the same coin.
They’re both located in the city but have different school districts. They’re both built around White Rock Lake but one is older and established while the other is young and trendy.
But, the fact that they’re so different means that instead of sharing a rivalry, they can actually use their different strengths to help one another, say residents of both communities.
“I don’t think there’s a rivalry between the two,” Lakewood resident Tim Hudson said. “As a matter of fact, I think they can live in harmony because they both have distinctive personalities. I don’t think there should be an ‘us vs. them’ kind of thing.”
Dallas, a sprawling city of nearly 400 square miles and more than a million residents, is fortunate to have two strong neighborhoods near its urban core.
The history of Lakewood is irrefutably tied to White Rock Lake itself, which recently celebrated its centennial birthday. The Lakewood Country Club, one of the focal points of the Lakewood community, was constructed in 1912, a year before White Rock Lake was filled up to capacity.
White Rock Lake Park is over 1,015 acres in size, which means it’s larger than Central Park in New York. It is also the largest urban lake in the entire country.
The local high school, Woodrow Wilson, first opened its doors in 1928, and the local middle school, J.L. Long, opened in 1933.
The social scene in Lakewood is dominated primarily by two locales – the Lower Greenville Avenue district, which goes to Mockingbird Lane to the north and Ross Avenue to the south, and the Lakewood Shopping Center area, located at the intersections of Gaston Avenue, Abrams Road and La Vista Drive.
The Lakewood Shopping Center is filled with multiple neighborhood businesses, family-owed restaurants and the historic Lakewood Theater.
Lower Greenville, on the other hand, truly comes to life after sunset. The street is mostly lined with bars and restaurants, but residents can also enjoy a night of live music at the Granada Theater. Lower Greenville will also be the location of one of the first coveted Trader Joe’s grocery stores to open in Texas. When California-import In-N-Out Burger first arrived in Dallas, it caused a great stir. The hope is that Trader Joe’s, which also originated in California, will have the same effect when it opens at the site of the old Arcadia Theater, which was destroyed by fire in the summer of 1996.
“Greenville Avenue, first and foremost, is a nightlife-type of area,” said Lakewood’s Hudson, owner of Belmont Ice House, an advertising agency near downtown. “As long as the neighborhood and demographics – right out of college up to first child young couples – stay the same and have a more social-bent to their lifestyle, then I think there is a place for that here in Dallas, and I think Greenville serves that very well.”
The Lake Highlands community, on the other hand, is a much younger neighborhood that is barely half the age of White Rock Lake. Lake Highlands Elementary School was completed in 1955. Lake Highlands High School wasn’t finished until the mid-1960s. But, despite its relative youth, the community is tight knit and connected.
“You can’t find this sense of community everywhere,” said Lake Highlands resident Andrea Speer. “I can name everybody up and down our street. There are block parties. It’s like a small town in the middle of a big city.”
Lake Highlands is filled with small shopping centers and home to pockets of local interest and lots of community involvement. However, the community, unlike Lakewood, lacks a central focal point that could otherwise be defined as the “core” of Lake Highlands.
However, that could soon change as the community and the city of Dallas are working hard to bring the Lake Highlands Town Center to life.
The Lake Highlands Town Center is using the largely successful Mockingbird Station, located at Mockingbird Lane and Central Expressway, as its primary model. Mockingbird Station was able to successfully combine residential, retail and office spaces in one area while relying on DART light rail and buses to provide easy and convenient transportation to and from the station.
At the Lake Highlands Town Center, only the DART station and needed infrastructure – the roads, the underground public utilities and a 20-acre, fully landscaped park with hike and bike trail, as well as an amphitheater with stone-tiered seating – have been completed.
The town center is still in search of a grocery store anchor that will become the location’s needed magnet that will attract other retailers.
Lake Highlands residents pushed hard for the Trader Joe’s but it went, instead, to Lower Greenville in Lakewood. Whatever grocery store decides to drop its anchor at the Lake Highlands Town Center, residents want guarantees that it won’t hurt neighborhood-based businesses.
“The Lake Highlands Town Center could be a real benefit to the community, as long as it doesn’t damage existing shopping centers,” said Lake Highlands resident Roger Hohnstein, who owns the Lake Highlands-based My Office with his wife, Karen. “It all depends on how it is completed.”
But, one thing that Lake Highlands can hang its hat on is its school district. Even though their schools are located within the borders of Dallas, schools in Lake Highlands belong to the Richardson Independent School District, which is rated as a “Recognized” school district by the Texas Education Agency.
Lakewood schools belong to the Dallas Independent School District, which generally has been ranked lower by the TEA. DISD schools have had to endure several rounds of budget cuts and teacher layoffs.
“Lake Highlands has great schools, and Richardson ISD is a great district,” said Hohnstein. “Some of the schools seemed like private schools and were a natural fit for my family.”
The schools of Lakewood may belong to DISD, but they are working hard to improve and have succeeded in some cases. Lakewood Elementary School, one of the primary elementary school for the neighborhood, is rated as an “Exemplary” school, which is the highest ranking a school can achieve. Woodrow Wilson, conversely, was ranked “Academically Unacceptable” in 2011 but hopes to improve that rating by offering a new International Baccalaureate program.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Lakewood and the rest of Dallas ISD is how much parents and the community care about their schools. It’s a characteristic shared by many of the top schools in Lake Highlands, and more then one resident believes it’s that level of involvement that makes schools better.
“I think Lakewood schools are superior to other DISD schools because of parent involvement,” said J.L. Long Middle School PTA President Stacy Stabenow. “I’m talking about Lakewood, Stonewall, Lipscomb – the elementary schools that feed into our J.L Long, Woodrow Wilson cluster.”
Although both Lakewood and Lake Highlands are stable, prosperous neighborhoods, each faces different futures. Although a few businesses may close and some new ones may open in Lakewood, the neighborhood won’t be changing any time soon.
On the other hand, Lake Highlands is a work in progress. Apartments and new homes are under construction all the time and work at the Lake Highlands Town Center could begin soon.
The one constant icon both communities share is the local jewel both neighborhoods claim as “theirs”: White Rock Lake. With an average annual attendance rate of about a million users, White Rock Lake is a place that all Dallas residents can leave behind the steel and concrete jungle of the city and enjoy a slice of nature.
“White Rock Lake provides a green space in a sea of concrete,” said Hudson of Lakewood. “One thing I love about this area specifically is that I can be walking at the lake, and I don’t feel like I’m in Dallas. I totally decompress in about five minutes.”
“White Rock Lake is a great place for people to be outdoors,” said Hohnstein of Lake Highlands. “You forget you’re in a city; it’s so relaxing and calm.”