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New jewel has rich history

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Highland Village has big plans for a park on a piece of property with a colorful past.

Step into the Cross Timbers Way-Back Machine then use the keypad to enter the year 1952. World War II ended several years ago, and the short supply of housing found many newlyweds holed up in parents’ attics and basements.  Builders erected “housing projects” of linoleum floored, 2-bedroom, 1 bathroom “garden apartments,” and neighborhoods of equally tiny “crackerbox” houses.  If three generations lived together in these cramped quarters, grandparents slept on the hide-a-bed then spent their days supervising the baby boomers at the nearest playground.  Dad drove the family car to work; mother hung wash out to dry; boys wore “dungarees,” not jeans, and yes, lucky girls wore bobby socks and poodle skirts.  Jonas Salk created the polio vaccine that made iron lung producers insolvent.

That year, a two-lane dirt thoroughfare now called Highland Village Road connected the Denton County farms informally known as the Bethel community. The arrival of electricity attracted farmers, and 10 years earlier Mr. and Mrs. Lewis DuVall of Grapevine had purchased 36 acres and started a dairy farm.  Old Timers later recalled blazing hot summers without air-conditioning, and fondly remembered the DuValls’ ice cold milk stored in electric machines with refrigerated coils.

The postwar economy boomed, making way for the widespread middle class wealth Highland Villagers enjoy today, but at the time, being rich still meant inheriting accumulated wealth.  The rich congregated as gentry in every big city.  In Dallas they lived and socialized in Highland Park near downtown– you know, big homes, country clubs, exclusive schools, cotillions, debutante parties, and Ivy League colleges.

Some wealthy entrepreneurs cooked up the idea of building weekend “cottages” or lake houses for DFW’s wealthy–way north of town, out in the boondocks on Lake Dallas.

Have you ever vacationed at Jekyll Island or Saint Simons off Georgia’s Atlantic coast?  America’s fabulously wealthy 19th century “robber barons” maintained huge vacation “cottages” there.

The local North Texas development was a bit more modest, but its creators struck gold because Dallas’s elite enclave showed up at the trailer sales office to buy parcels of the land then build holiday homes in Clearwater Estates.

In time, the homeowners established a community association, and after the Corps of Engineers merged Lake Lewisville and Lake Dallas, the neighbors set up the convivial Clearwater Club with its cowboy boot-shaped swimming pool, a boat dock, and picnic area.

In the meanwhile a British gal in Dallas experienced cowboy life at a Wiley, Texas dude ranch then went on to meet and marry the DuVall’s military veteran son Robert–the cowboy of her dreams.  Several years later Robert’s father sold the family cows, and reinvented the farm as a western recreation destination called Doubletree Ranch.

The family operation catered to the wealthy weekenders and fun-loving locals with its big pool, tennis courts, popular Saturday night dances, banquet facilities, camps, fishing, horseback riding, and you-name-it.

Here’s a piece of pioneer Americana.  A singletree is the crossbar on a wagon or coach tongue used to harness a draft animal to pull a load.  A doubletree crossbar sports a singletree on each end so two animals can be harnessed side-by-side.  The ranch’s name describes its place in the mid-century southern Denton County economy.

Robert DuVall led the move to turn the changing the Bethel neighborhood into the City of Highland Village, and in 1963 he became the new municipality’s first mayor.  The ranch’s barn became city hall.

Forty years later his son, Duncan, the business’s next owner, attempted to sell the property to the city, but the bond election failed.  In 2004 the voters approved a half cent “4B” sales tax to acquire the land at a reduced price.  4B tax income must be used for economic development projects.  A proposed public park and soccer complex, the second largest park facility in Highland Village, qualified as a 4B acquisition.

“We envisioned the project,” Linda Cornelius, the Highland Village Parks and Recreation Director said, “to be completed in phases as funds came available.”

But Lady Luck skipped into town decked out for the state-funded width expansion of Interstate 35E near Copperas Branch Park.  The Texas Department of Transportation needed the existing park, leased federal land to stage its heavy equipment, and paid Highland Village $3.5 million in mitigation funds for recreational and environmental impact and an additional $640,000 for lost revenue during the renovation.

Who says there’s no God?  That unexpected boon ramped up the dream park’s completion schedule.

Doubletree Ranch Park’s preliminary facilities are already open to the public daily from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., but construction bids were opened on May 13, and Ms. Cornelius expects work to begin in earnest by late June.  The venue will be closed for about 12 months in 2014-15.

“The Master Plan reflects a western ranch look and feel in keeping with the Doubletree Ranch’s history,” she said.

The full-color architectural drawings depict the future pavilion, a lighted, covered picnic structure with beams supporting an open air cathedral ceiling under a metal roof.  Can you feel the cool breeze blowing through?  The pavilion and its 4 open-air rooms are set off by white limestone rock half walls of various eye-pleasing heights. Let the hide-and-seek games begin!

“It’s a nice location for an outside wedding reception, family reunion, or special event,” Cornelius said.

Next door, the two-story concession/restroom/meeting room building brings to mind a field stone barn with picturesque barn doors that slide on big tracks.  There’s a reproduction barn loft door at one end of the building’s second floor.  The structure has a metal roof and dormer windows that overlook multiple covered patio areas.

Both structures will be available for private events for modest fees, but, “The Parks and Recreation Department doesn’t want to get into the concessions business,” she said.  To that end, the division will request concessions proposals as the park nears completion. “We hope companies and individuals will also be interested.”

Vying with the two buildings for status as park crown jewel will be two full-size soccer fields, each subdivided into four half-fields for the Village’s pee-wee players.  But that, of course, is not all this public venue has to offer.

“There is no city pool in Highland Village, but we will have the best splash zone around,” Ms. Cornelius said. “Splash facilities often look, well, industrial.  We worked hard with our landscape designers to come up with a natural setting.  We plan waterfalls, misters, and bubblers.  The thing about this pad is that all three zones will function simultaneously.  The kids don’t have to chase after the water sources.”

From above the water play garden looks like a curlicue of fountains meandering through mature woodland inhabited by Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh.  At one end sits the concession building with its covered patio that leads down a few steps to outdoor seating and tables nestled in the play area.  The drawing depicts shade, and evokes the memory of childhood laughter.

Like a lawn?  The pavilion will open on to a grassy knoll which will open on to a wooded picnic area, fishing pond, rain garden, bird blind, and several eventual boardwalks.  The Master Plan includes future shuffleboard and bocce ball areas, and horseshoe pits.  Is there anything the designers missed?

“During the design phase our aim was to be inclusive of residents’ needs and desires,” the Parks Director said.  “The park will provide something for the entire family.  During league play Dad can sip a cup of coffee and read in the shade, siblings can play in the splash zone, and Mom can jog or walk on the more-than-one-mile of trails that criss-cross the park.”

Highland Village plans the park trail to be part of the Highland Village Inland Trail System.  Theoretically people could jog through Doubletree Ranch Park on the way across the city on foot, but cyclists need not fear because these trails are wide enough for them too.

One planned pedestrian bridge from the park will connect Highland Village walkers, runners, and bikers with the DCTA commuter rail station across the bay in Lewisville, so go ahead and count on some exercise to and from the office.

Officially located at 310 Highland Village Rd., the place is a 36-acre gem of public land use, and don’t worry about parking because there will be room for close to 300 vehicles.

Contact Noelle Hood at noellemhood@gmail.com.

 

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