The York Brothers' Highland Park Girl.
There are a ton of songs about or inspired by Dallas, and they say a lot about who we are. So each week in this space, we'll take a closer week at one of these songs — and we'll try to determine what, exactly, they say about this great city of ours. Check out this feature's archives here.
Though they aren't necessarily household names, George and Leslie York, who performed together as The York Brothers in the '40s and '50s, stand as an important duo in country history.
Not only did they help to pioneer the rockabilly genre, but they were extraordinarily influential on eventual successors such as the Everly Brothers, who would even go on to record a cover of the Yorks' “Long Time Gone” for their Songs Our Daddy Taught Us album.
And though they were based in Detroit early on in their career, penning several nods to that region with songs such as “Detroit Hula Girl” and “Motor City Boogie,” the Yorks moved their lives and careers to Dallas in the early '50s. And they remained in Dallas up until their respective deaths in '74 and '84.
Here, just as they did while they were based in Detroit, which is to say that they ingrained themselves into the fabric of the city. They were frequent performers on The Big D Jamboree (a regular show that took place in the Dallas Sportatorium that was broadcast on KRLD-TV and the CBS Radio Network that was considered a jumping block to The Grand Ole Opry), and they were regularly featured on WFAA's popular “Saturday Night Shindig” radio program.
They also started up a label — York Bros. Records — in the '60s, and George even spent some time around that same era running a local nightclub.
Before moving here, though, the duo wrote an accidental song about Dallas. In 1939, they released a single through Universal Records called “Highland Park Girl.”
The song tells the story of a man dining solo one night in Highland Park when a female asks him for a ride home. When they get to her place, the two begin carrying on romantically — until the woman's husband comes home and clocks the narrator in the jaw.
Thing is, both of the brothers' hometowns of Detroit and Dallas have enclaves called Highland Park.
The Michigan town fully encircled by Detroit was first incorporated in 1918. The Dallas version did the same thing, five years earlier, in 1913.
And while most signs point the tune being about the Michigan town, we prefer to think of the Yorks' accidentally adulterous jaunt as being set in our own backyard.
A full 33 years before the York Brothers penned their tune, John S. Armstrong (a former meatpacker who, along with Thomas Marsalis, co-founded Oak Cliff years before) invested his money into a piece of high land overlooking downtown Dallas called Philadelphia Place. He changed the name before long, though, opting to develop it under the name of Highland Park. To help complete the job he brought in Wilbur David Cook, a landscape designer that had recently developed the city plan for Los Angeles' Beverly Hills enclave, and George Kessler, who had previously planned Fair Park and most of downtown.
A decade later, Armstrong's little escape from downtown was on the verge of being annexed by Dallas. For the next 26 years, though, councilman J.W. Bartholow led an anti-annexation campaign against the city. Feeling defeated, Dallas simply began annexing all the land surrounding Highland Park in the '40s and '50s. Soon, Highland Park could only grow by tearing down old buildings and being ultra-selective with the businesses and homebuilders they'd allow to into their 2.24 square mile confines.
Despite their efforts to remain a wholly separate entity, though, those early Highland Parkers have never been fully successful in their endeavors. To this day, the U.S. Post Office prefers the designation of “Dallas” to be affixed to all mail being delivered to Highland Park addresses, if only for the sake of simplicity.
In 1931, the town became home to Highland Park Village, an upscale shopping mall that is widely considered the first self-contained shopping center in the entire country. Known too for being very selective with its selection of tenants, Highland Park Village gave Texas its first Chanel, Christian Louboutin and Stella McCartney stores. In 2000, the shopping center was officially named a National Historic Landmark — and, when it was sold nine years later, the $170 million price tag was the highest price paid for retail property that year.
That limited square footage has to this day helped Highland Park remain equally selective on who can build houses within its city limits. Over the years, the average price of houses on the market in Highland Park have ballooned to $1.2 million — or nearly $960,000 more than the average price in nearby East Dallas. Furthermore, the median household income of Highland Park residents is over $219,000 — or over four times above the state average.
As such, the area's lone high school has produced dozens of famous actors, musicians, professional athletes, businessmen and politicians. While that list is far too long to list here, a few of the notables include Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who won the 2011 NL CY Young award, NFL Hall of Famer and 1948 Heisman Trophy winner Doak Walker, President Ronald Reagan's would-be assassin John Hinckley Jr., Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp, two-time Texas governor Bill Clements, and actresses Jayne Mansfield, Stephanie March, Morgan Fairchild and Dorothy Malone, the last of whom won the 1956 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
But behind that seemingly Utopian facade, The York Brothers, perhaps, understood like few others at the time that everything isn't necessarily how it seems on the outside. Even a place like Highland Park can be home to adulterers and would-be Presidential assassins.
To that end, consider the song's closing line: “After it is dark, stay away from Highland Park / Don't go knocking on the married women's door.”
Or maybe their wryly dark lyrics indicate something else entirely — that there's indeed humor to be found in the fact that the main shopping drag in this hoity-toity neighborhood shares its acronym with a sexually transmitted disease.