Authors, Scholars Inspired by Neighborhood Full of History

Though many are unaware, the two oldest houses in University Park sit in the bucolic historic 3400 block of University Boulevard. 

The second oldest, a 1916 prairie style home originally owned by Theology Dean James Kilgore at 3415, belongs now to architect and preservationist Craig Melde and his wife, Rebecca. He’s compiled an inventory of UP houses up to 1930, with their addresses, age, and style of architecture. 

“We’re putting together an inventory for Highland Park and University Park for a book that will be published soon, Park Cities Homes: A Field Guide,” he said, referencing his work with Preservation Park Cities. “I think we have 170 houses. The house on the corner predates this house by half a year or so.”

Melde identifies the oldest house as the majestic white neoclassical home constructed for SMU Bishop Edwin Mouzon at 3444. Philip and Melissa Wise own it now.

“There are probably 10 historic districts in Dallas that are protected,” Melde noted. “I started Preservation Park Cities in the ’90s to build momentum to get the city to adopt some sort of protection mechanism. But that’s not going to happen.” 

“All we have is advocacy,” Melde said, adding he worries about historic homes like those at the architecturally significant intersection on Shenandoah.

“There are four Charles Dilbeck houses, one on each corner,” he said. “They’re really quite beautiful, and I’m scared one of them is going to just go away.”

Melde has since left Preservation Park Cities, though he praises the organization for its great efforts and the increasing impact it has on the community. 

“I think we designated 20 or 30 houses,” he said. “It’s just a plaque of recognition that says this is an important place.”

SMU Medieval Literature professor and neighborhood historian Bonnie Wheeler moved into the block in 1975, then into her elegant present 1925 home in 1978. 

“This house started with the back house, which was built in 1915, but because of the war, construction of the main house was delayed due to the wait on materials — bricks from Chicago. This is true of almost all these houses. As they were building them, they tended to live in these little back cottages while they were waiting for the front house to be built.” 

“This was kind of ‘Dean Street,’” she said. “I’m only the third owner of this house, which tells you something about consistency on this street. Although, these days that’s rare.” 

A photo scanning project turned into a book, she said. “It was supposed to take a weekend, but it turned out taking two years.” 

The Block Book (Scriptorium Press, 1996) is her engrossing and exhaustive history of the 3400 block of University Boulevard. 

“The history of these houses and the people who lived in them just got richer and richer,” she said. “It’s an amazing story of how one neighborhood can have such a rich, diverse history in a city as new as Dallas.” 

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