University Park began as a cluster of homes surrounding the fledgling Southern Methodist University, which was founded in the 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 utilities. In response, the area’s homeowners first sought annexation into the town of Highland Park, but were refused due to the high cost that would have been required to provide the necessary utility and safety services. Shortly thereafter, Dallas also refused a request for annexation on similar grounds.
Community leaders organized to incorporate as a separate individual 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 24, 1924, voters approved the 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 new city hall and fire station. When first incorporated, the city encompassed 515 acres (2.08 km2), 380 homes, and 1200 residents.
As 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 Board of Commissioners favored the annexation. In the largest voter turnout to that date and still one of the largest in city history, the annexation was denied by a 53% to 47% margin.
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