- Highland Park and River Oaks by Cheryl Caldwell Ferguson
From the 1890s through the 1920s, developers across the country built what they envisioned as a new type of idealized residential community, incorporating curved roads and the natural landscape as picturesque elements of design. These new “garden suburbs” were to serve as models for how cities in the United States could be beautifully, rationally, and responsibly modernized. In this work, Cheryl Caldwell Ferguson seeks to uncover the meaning and significance of designed suburban communities within two of Texas’s largest cities. The author’s meticulously researched and extensively illustrated work draws on a range of primary sources to provide an encompassing documentation of the planning, design, financing, and long-term management of these suburbs. Along the way, Ferguson examines individual homes built by architects John F. Staub, Birdsall P. Briscoe, Charles W. Oliver, and H. B. Thomson, among others.
Ferguson tells the stories of Highland Park and River Oaks within the broader context of the development of garden suburban communities in Texas and across the United States to explain how and why these two communities achieved such durable renown. Her work demonstrates that despite campaigns in Dallas and Houston for the city-wide adoption of a comprehensive plan in the 1920s, such practices gained only limited acceptance in Dallas and failed entirely in Houston. However, comprehensive planning was embraced in the middle-to upper-income suburban [End Page 215] communities of Highland Park and River Oaks. Architectural styles in these two planned communities exemplified national trends and involved a range of sources from the American, Dutch, and French Colonial, Beaux-Arts, and Spanish Colonial Revival. The author effectively connects how design, development, and implementation of the planned communities in Highland Park and River Oaks directly influenced and differed from those in San Antonio, Wichita Falls, and Corsicana. Caldwell smartly examines the evolution of that old standby of suburban living—the shopping center—in full detail, providing an interesting overview of Highland Park’s Shopping Village. In the end, Ferguson demonstrates that some aspects of the garden suburbs in Dallas and Houston had a lasting impact, while other dynamics within this essentially idealized community development did not.
If Ferguson’s work is missing anything, it might be the inclusion of contemporary maps and an extended engagement of the economic, social, and political issues surrounding the demolition of a number of historic resources like the Flippen House in Highland Park or the Gerner House in River Oaks. Small details aside, this work represents a meaningful contribution to the scholarship of twentieth-century Texas architectural history. It is a beautiful book with lovely illustrations and crafted prose that balances the narrative of neighborhood development with detailed insight into the construction and architectonic history of individual houses in both neighborhoods. Caldwell should be commended for not only her research, but for creating a work widely applicable to subject experts, students, and the general public.