Photography by Jessica Turner.

There’s a particular East Dallas neighborhood that has it all: lovely rolling hills, mature trees, charming cottages and lawns adorned with giant giraffe art and enormous gumball machines. Oh, were you expecting topiary and unnaturally green grass? Sorry, this is Little Forest Hills, and residents definitely live up to their motto of “keep it funky.”

Do yourself a favor and cruise around this area bordered by Garland Road, Lakeland, Eustis and Old Gate. Once farmland and woods, the 1910 construction of nearby White Rock Lake spurred development of small homes and lake cottages. By the late 1950s, most of the lots were built out. The 1980s saw an influx of artists drawn to the area’s natural beauty, affordability and lake proximity.

Drive down any street in Little Forest Hills and sense the bohemian vibe. Animal art abounds: the aforementioned giraffe, of course, along with cranes, lizards, a rooster, horse, pig and longhorn cow. You’ll even catch a glimpse of the elusive Bigfoot.

All types of art dot the neighborhood. Joe Stokes, a resident of 23 years, knows something about it. You can’t miss his place on San Benito. Just look for the bright yellow bottle gate.

“When I first moved into the house, I began gathering concrete and rock that was discarded to build a serpentine wall around the front of the property because I like walls,” he says. “Then I thought, ‘What’s a wall without a gate?’ I also thought it would add a touch of whimsy as well as security.”

Whimsy, for sure. The gate has evolved over the years to its current  yellow. It’s topped with a gable covered with a mosaic scene of a man overlooking a village at night. Peek just past the gate and through the trees to glimpse a vivid blue companion mosaic on the gable of Stokes’ house.

Most eye-catching of all are the several dozen Topo Chico bottles mounted all around and atop the gate, creating a halo effect. 

“For a time, my girlfriend and I only drank burp water,” he says. “I collected bottles thinking one day I might build a bottle wall or bottle tree. Instead, I created my bottle gate. Later I learned that bottle trees are supposed to remove evil from those who pass nearby. With my gate being the main passage to the entry to my house, everyone who enters gets a cleansing.”

Another can’t miss item — the one that began his quirky yard art quest — is a 10-foot-diameter metal spool, which Stokes rescued from  an old strip mall. He hauled it home in his old Toyota pickup, convinced it belonged in his yard.

Be sure to look up for one of his favorite pieces: a Talavera frog on the roof.

A  couple of streets over on Groveland, you’ll no doubt spot the shady corner lot with a giant gumball machine front and center in the yard with a line of blue, green, purple and red bowling balls serving as edging. Welcome to the explosion of art that is the home of Laurie and David MacIver, who have lived in Little Forest Hills for 13 years.

The MacIvers admit they are not above what they term “trolling for treasures.” For them, bulky trash day equals art inspiration. A box of antique bottles and a random metal rack? Why, yes, those could be the makings of a wind chime. Three tiers of colorful bottles, strung at varying lengths, catch breezes and light.

Look just beyond this lovely piece to the two giant dragonflies perching on the house’s chimney. 

“I saw a post of someone making dragonflies out of stair railings and bed posts [for the body] and started making those with fan blades as the wings,” David MacIver says. “The first art we actually did were the stained glass windows. We had a neighbor who is a retired stained glass artist that was giving away her leftover glass. We took it and created our own windows.”   

Adding to the couple’s collection of glass art are David’s clever creations made with old window frames filled with antique dishware, such as platters, ashtrays and plates. The spaces are filled with glass beads.

“We love the comments we receive from neighbors telling us this is their favorite house in the neighborhood,” he says. “They drive home specifically by our house to see what we have that’s new.”

The artistic spirit is alive and well among these quiet, shady streets, and Stokes sums it up well: “If you are seeking uniformity, monotony, keep going. You won’t find it here. People here know what they are getting into. Keep Little Forest Hills funky.”

PATTI VINSON is a guest writer who has lived in East Dallas for more than 20 years. She’s written for the Advocate and Real Simple magazine.

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