The East Dallas nook of Little Forest Hills keeps old neighborhood charm while embracing its eclectic nature and diverse residents
If there’s one part of town that truly doesn’t feel like Dallas, it’s laid-back Little Forest Hills.
The tiny district of about 900 homes is filled with small cottages, prairie-style homes, bungalows and Tudors, all mostly built from the 1920s through the 1940s. For a good part of the 1980s and 1990s, it was known affectionately by gay residents as "Lesbian Heights" or "Gay Gulch" due to the number of LGBT residents who had moved into the quaint homes with surprisingly small price tags, despite large yards filled with gigantic trees. Home values have continued to increase over the years as people fix up existing homes and, in rare cases, build new ones, but the neighborhood still remains one of the best values in East Dallas. As recently as 2007, homes could still be found under $100,000.
Little Forest Hills could easily be described as a Donnie & Marie kind of place: a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. Filled with artists, musicians and plenty of gays and lesbians residents of the diverse community still take pride in their yards, spend weekends working on home improvements, and flock to nearby White Rock Lake to walk their dogs, exercise or picnic along the shoreline.
Sandwiched between Garland Road, Lakeland Drive, Eustis Avenue and Old Gate Lane, the neighborhood prides itself for being funky, and many yards are adorned with signs declaring this fact. No two houses look the same and residents express their creativity through unusual landscaping, kitschy yard art and exterior adornments such as mosaics, stained glass or other interesting techniques, making many homes works of art unto themselves.
"This is a Norman Rockwell vision of community and friendship," says Todd Ramsey, who’s lived in the neighborhood with his partner, Dennis Jackson, for four years.
"We love the neighborhood because of the true warmth, respect,and acceptance we feel from our neighbors. It is a true community," he says."We eat and socialize with our neighbors at least three times a week, and we all come together for neighborhood events."
The tight-knit community holds parades, garden tours, and progressive dinners cater to the varied interests of residents. They can partake in a softball league, an artists’ group, a wine club, a running/walking club and they can volunteer time and money to help repair homes of people in need within the ‘hood.
"Little Forest Hills actually paid for and re-built an entire home for a resident that had his home all but lost to a fire," Ramsey says.
Ramsey finds additional comfort in the collective demeanor of his neighbors. He likes that sexual orientation doesn’t seem to be an issue.
"We are not known as the ‘gays’ on the street, like I feared we would be when we were looking at larger homes in Allen and Frisco. The neighborhood is full of liberal-minded voters," he says.
And if the gay citizens of Little Forest Hills could elect a leader, it would likely be Vince Montemayor, sort of the gay mayor of the neighborhood.
Several years ago, he gathered together all the gays and lesbians in Little Forest Hills for a party at his home to build a stronger sense of community; and it turned out to be the first of many. They later created a float for the neighborhood’s Fourth of July parade and have gotten together often for holidays, pool parties and barbecues ever since.
"I just think it’s a great neighborhood if you’re looking for diversity and gay-friendly neighbors," Montemayor says.
And it continues to attract new gay residents.
"This is my first house," says Dr. Gary Sinclair. "I looked for 10 years because I didn’t want to make a mistake. The best part bout this neighborhood is that you never have to feel lonely. You only have to sit on your porch for 30 minutes. Somebody will come by and talk to you, whether you want them to or not."
Chris Czarnecki lived in Little Forest Hills for 13 years before moving away. But she returned as quickly as she could and has been there ever since.
"It used to be just a little cheap neighborhood, a nice cheap neighborhood, but now it’s the neighborhood people want to get into. It’s desirable," she says.
Artist Laurie McClurg may sum up her LFH experience as ideal. She came to the area in 1980 from northern California, which had similar neighborhoods — small houses and big yards. She was a founder of the original neighborhood association and has seen it grow into a charming nook of Dallas.
"About 20 years ago when my neighbor had decorated for Christmas and put out a grapevine reindeer with a naked mannequin wearing a Santa hat," McClurg says, "I knew I was in the right neighborhood."
And so goes Little Forest Hills, funky and gay.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 5, 2010.