One of our oldest and most beloved neighbors is leaving at the end of this school year—City Park Elementary School. Built in 1919 directly across from City Park, as it was then known, the school has long been an anchor to a neighborhood in constant change. When the school opened, Gano Street was a residential street forming the south border of Dallas’ first city park, and the neighborhood known as the Cedars was then a relatively well-to-do residential area a short walk, or trolley ride, from downtown.
Over the years the neighborhood has changed dramatically. After 1940, car dealerships, manufacturing, and warehouses largely replaced the residential housing, and after Interstate 30 was built in the early 1960s, the Cedars was effectively isolated from the rest of Dallas. Through all of these changes City Park School continued to serve the neighborhood, taking care of the gradually dwindling population of school-aged children. In the 1990s, as the neighborhood began transitioning into the demographics that it still has today—a mix of Hispanic families, African-American families, artists, and young professionals who work in nearby downtown, the school also began serving a sizable population of children from area homeless shelters.
Dallas Heritage Village began moving into City Park (rechristened Old City Park in 1976) in 1966, and we have enjoyed a close relationship with the school from the beginning. Various principals have served on our board of trustees and City Park kids were always entitled to free field trips at the Village. We, in turn, have occasionally field-tested new education programs on City Park students before expanding them to general use. We have also had a reciprocal emergency plan agreement for many years: City Park students have sheltered on our grounds and in our pavilion when they needed to evacuate the school, as they did a couple of years ago when a gas leak forced everyone out. And as recently as a few weeks ago, we made arrangements to shelter ourselves in their basement (a former civil defense shelter) when severe storms pounded the Dallas area.
I will miss the school and the life it brings to our neighborhood. The school playground has long served the entire neighborhood as the one safe playground for kids, and one of my perks for having an office that overlooks the playground has been seeing the kids playing there during recess. I long ago internalized the routines of the school: parents dropping off their kids around 7:30; parents and kids again clogging the street in front of our parking lot around 3:00 at dismissal; the bells signifying the start of classes, recess, the end of recess, and so on. All of this is second nature to me by now, and it will seem oddly quiet this next year when the school is shuttered.
So what will happen to the school? A few weeks ago I visited with DISD authorities to try to learn its future. They plan to keep the school secure and in good condition with the hope that demographic changes will justify its reopening sometime in the future. In the meantime, they hope to lease the school and keep it occupied, perhaps as a charter school. Either way, I hope that something that is good for the neighborhood is in this school’s future. I will miss the way it has been for the past 93 years.