The tall white steeple serves as a Preston Hollow landmark today, just as it did 50 years ago when Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church was built.
Although the spire can’t be seen from as great a distance these days – the trees are much taller and the neighborhood more densely populated – the red brick, Georgian-colonial church still conjures up visions of New England and our country’s heritage.
Located at the corner of Walnut Hill and Preston Road, the church complex and Preston Hollow Presbyterian School – which offers preschool and grades one through six are an oasis in the community. The architecture is the traditional nave design, with a commanding 35-foot spire reaching heavenly toward the sky. Inside the sanctuary, two rows of chandeliers light intricately detailed molding and plantation-style windows. The red of the carpet and velvet pew cushions gives the church a majestic feel.
Pioneed Presbyterians / Long before Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church (PHPC) was formed, the Presbyterian Church was making its presence known in Dallas. It was Rev. Daniel Gideon Malloy who turned John Neely Bryan’s cabin and courthouse into a “house of God” and held services there in 1847.
One of the most outspoken 19th century Presbyterian ministers was the Rev. J. Frank Smith who, when getting off a train in Dallas in 1881, said: “(There was) something about the whole scene, the little church and its need, the fact that the city has no YMCA building, no public library, no great regard for moral law, with saloons wide open on Sundays, these things seemed to call to me.”
When Rev. Robert P. Douglass founded the 67-strong PHPC flock in 1949, he also followed a vision. Postwar prosperity seemed to be promising continued growth, so plans were made, with an eye to the future, to build what would eventually be a 22,000-square-foot church complex.
Changing with the times / Not one to shy away from an important issue, Rev. Douglass said in 1961: “We adults, both white and Negro, are too deeply ingrained with Jim Crowism. But we must let the change come, particularly in the schools. Young people who do not come into the world with our prejudices have a chance to solve these problems, if we adults don’t force our prejudices on them.”
Ten years later, the church dealt with the issue of drugs by presenting, “Natural High,” a live performance devoted to getting kids “turned on” to God rather than drugs. The church ministry to children and youth is highly acclaimed, and members recently presented the play “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” to the congregation.
Today’s senior pastor, Dr. Blair Monie, says his top accomplishment during his past five years as senior minister is involvement with the Vickery Meadow Learning Center. More than 200 volunteers, mostly church members, support the literacy outreach program.
Rev. Monie says he wanted to offer the congregation an opportunity to “really participate in the church, as well as the community. Helping the Hispanic community in the Vickery Meadow area (near Park Lane and Greenville) to achieve literacy and English skills provides them the opportunity to lead more fulfilled lives,” he says.
“We help people acquire the cultural skills needed to get a job, to provide for a family.”
Fifty years and counting / With founding pastor Douglass in attendance, the church recently celebrated its Jubilee anniversary. Currently in the midst of a Jubilee 2000 Capital Campaign fund-raiser, PHPC is entering the planning stage of church and school renovation and expansion, as well as addressing the needs of the church choir.
Church membership stands at 2,700, and $9 million in pledges have been received.
Some congregation members prefer a hands-on approach. Bob Hoagh is a member of the grounds committee, and he has taken it upon himself to add a fountain and two statues in the courtyard area. He can be found working on the grounds almost any day, and Hoagh says he hopes “people will come out here to visit or to sit and meditate. My wife loved gardening, so my work here is sort of a memorial to her.”
Church members also can be found working at the Learning Center or with Habitat for Humanity on weekends, or in a myriad of other ways.
So whether or not the trees in Preston Hollow grow too tall to see the steeple from far away, this church will remain visible in more important ways.
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