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City History

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Dive-In Movies, Summer 2019.


SMUUniversity Park began as a cluster of homes surrounding the fledgling Southern Methodist University, which was founded in then rural Dallas County in 1915.  The University supplied these homes with utility service until 1924, when the growing population could no longer be supported by the school's facilities.  In response, the area’s homeowners first sought annexation into the Town of Highland Park, but were refused due to the high cost which would have been required to provide the necessary utility and safety services.  Shortly thereafter, Dallas also refused a request for annexation on similar grounds.

Determined to confront the challenges before them, community leaders organized to incorporate as a separate city.  According to state law, incorporation required that area residents hold an election on the issue before the new city could be officially formed and recognized.  On April 12, 1924, voters approved the incorporation measure by a 5:1 margin.  Operating under the Commission form of government, the city began the work of shaping the new government and addressing the pressing need to establish basic municipal services.  To provide for the financial needs of the city, another election was held soon thereafter to authorize the issuance of municipal bonds.  Passing by a near unanimous margin, the $150,000 bond issue funded the installation of a new water supply system, street paving, and the construction of a city hall and fire station.  When first incorporated, the city encompassed 515 acres, 380 homes, and 1,200 residents.

University-Park-City-HallAs a result of efforts to build and improve the city, University Park grew to a population of over 20,000 residents by 1945 and had become one of the most prestigious locations in the area.  In fact, the community’s attractiveness and tax value had risen to such an extent that the City of Dallas now wanted to annex University Park into its boundaries.  At the time of the election, even the University Park elected officials favored annexation.  In the largest voter turnout to that date and still one of the largest in city history, the annexation was rejected by a 53% to 47% margin.

In 1946, an election was held to adopt a Home Rule Charter, but the measure failed and the city continued to operate as a General Law city.  In 1989, voters approved a Home Rule Charter which officially adopted the Council-Manager form of government and expanded the three-member Board of Commissioners to a five-member City Council.  Since the 1940s, the population and area of University Park have remained relatively stable at 23,000 residents and 3.8 square miles.  The city is now surrounded by Dallas on three sides and the Town of Highland Park to the south.  The city’s unique character, high property values, and low tax rate have been steadily maintained.


"University Park - Our Community through the Years" -  City staff sat down with six former mayors to get their thoughts on our neighborhoods then and now, our city traditions, community partners and institutions and our leadership and governance.  The 17-minute long video was produced in March, 2017.  Click Here.

"The History of University Park" - Videotaped during a 2009 UP Leadership class, the presentation features former mayor Roy C. Coffee Jr. - click here video-camera-2