Homes on a Hill: Oakhurst's corner of the World buffered from city clamor
By Susan Aschoff, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
The enclave of curving streets, well-tended flower beds and charming houses is one of the best kept secrets in Fort Worth.
Yet Oakhurst, a neighborhood of about 2,000 people a scant two miles northeast of downtown, is a highly visible force at City Hall when there's a battle to be fought involving the neighborhood.
The brick and wood-frame houses and mature trees resemble those in Arlington Heights, another established Fort Worth neighborhood attracting young families and enthusiastic refurbishers.
But until recently, Oakhurst escaped the housing inflation common in near west Fort Worth's older neighborhoods. It has retained its eclectic combination of $200,000-plus brick homes perched on scenic bluffs just blocks away from small, under $60,000 homes whose front yards are littered with tricycles.
"The area has some of the nicest homes on this side of the city," said Khosrow Keynejad, the associate city planner assigned to the area.
Oakhurst's sector plan for the future emphasizes protection of the borders of a "valuable residential neighborhood." "I've always been Charmed by (Oakhurst)," said resident Gary Kutilek, assistant city parks director. The Kutilek family has lived in Oakhurst for nine years, first as renters and later as homeowners after Kutilek spotted a "for sale" sign going up in front of a Bluebonnet Drive home and asked the owner to take it down so he could have first shot at purchasing it. Often overlooked by people unfamiliar with Fort Worth, Oakhurst's close-in location and well kept homes have become lures. Blessed with easy access to Interstate 35, residents can reach downtown in less than five minutes.
When at home, they find a peaceful retreat with sheltering trees and familiar neighbors. Although the 1980 Census found Oakhurst's population down by almost 400 since 1970, the number of owner-occupied homes has climbed from 78 percent to 87 percent—a characteristic that gives a neighborhood stability and, generally, better maintained properties. Perhaps the only drawback, said Keynejad, is the lack of nearby shopping.
On Oakhurst's west side, the streets curve and climb up steep hills. Residents decorate the triangles of grass at intersections with flower beds. Many homes are brick and have steeply pitched roofs. One house on Daisy Lane looks like a cottage, its covered porch dangling lush flower baskets and its roof topped with a weathervane. Farther east, streets straighten out and meet at right angles, but the large trees remain. Wood-frame and smaller brick houses are home to retired couples and the occasional renter. Front yards covered with toys give away the presence of families with young children.
A key factor that shaped Oakhurst is its unique topography, officials and residents say. "Nature helped Oakhurst: topography helped them," said Keynejad. "Geography is always a major factor in urban planning. Oakhurst sits on a bluff which protects it on the south," he said.
Interstate 35 is to the west, but the neighborhood's altitude insulates it from traffic noise. The Mount Olivet Cemetery to the north offers additional protection. Although industrial and strip commercial development have sprouted in neighboring Riverside, Oakhurst's geography has kept the neighborhood largely residential. The biggest threats it faces are commercial encroachment from Sylvania Avenue, its eastern border, and ongoing city efforts to widen some of the streets and truck drivers' efforts to use those streets as shortcuts to I-35.
"The neighborhood is always watchful of any encroachment from the east," Kutilek said, "particularly the city's desire, on an intermittent basis, to widen Yucca Avenue. The residents have been able to fight that off."
A traffic sign barring trucks on Yucca is enforced by residents' watchful eyes and their willingness to report violations to the city. The active Oakhurst Neighborhood Association, started in 1981 by Kutilek's wife, Sharon, has made the neighborhood politically astute and introduced residents to each other. Participation in the association is extremely high, and the group has lobbied against street widenings and zoning changes, established a Crime Watch program and spearheaded cleanups and commercial renovation on Sylvania.
A monthly newsletter called The Oak Leaflet publishes meeting times and social events, and it lists representatives from streets in the association. The community's closeness—enhanced by its geographical isolation—also benefits from neighbors' concern for each other, said the Rev. Gene Chamness, pastor of Oakhurst United Methodist Church. "People here are very caring," Chamness said. "Anytime you find caring, a community is possible." The church is an integral part of Oakhurst and provides a central meeting place and community services ranging from annual health clinics to a weekday distribution point for meal delivery to shut-ins.
On Saturday, a combination auction, barbecue and rummage sale called "Fall Festival" was held on the church grounds to raise money for a family life center—a planned recreation and meeting hall.
(The article above originally appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on November 4, 1984. It was donated to the Oakhurst Neighborhood Association Archives and reprinted in the January 2009 edition of the Oak Leaflet in recognition of Oakhurst's 85th anniversary.)