Hillcrest and the Heights were once the same township — Pulaski Heights — so you might think there would be little difference between them besides elevation. But that elevation manifests itself in more ways than height, which is what you might expect from a neighborhood that was built around the Country Club of Little Rock, whose founders were finally able to get to the distant wooded promontory when Prospect Avenue (Kavanaugh) reached the area in 1903. The oldest homes have that sweet smell of moss on damp brick pathways and old money; the new ones are astonishing in their breadth (though they don't have the space to compete with the sprawling mansions out west). The housing radiating forth from the club moves from big and imposing to the farther out post-war bungalows, but those once perfectly satisfactory homes are disappearing, tear-downs replaced by larger domiciles. (It's an unsettled issue in the neighborhood: Where some folks mourn the former 20th century look of the Heights, others celebrate the salubrious effect on property values of Dryvit.)
Once nicknamed the "silk-stocking ward," back when University Avenue was called Hayes Street and marked the city boundary, it has nevertheless always been a real neighborhood, with the requisites: lots of children, small shops to walk to, a school, grocery stores.
When the babies were getting boomed, a day in the Heights might start at Smith's Country Club Drug Store, where 6 cents would get you a Coca-Cola. Or you might stop in at the other little soda fountain at the southeast corner of Country Club and Van Buren, or the tiny lending library and the doctor's office up Van Buren. The doctor's office had on the wall that picture that is both a lady at a dressing table and a skull, to remind patients that life is fleeting. Or something. Once boomed and able to walk, kids headed on their own to that doctor's office for their summer typhoid shots, then finish the morning playing in the sewers before the shots' headaches set in.
In the 1950s and '60s, a mother might drop her kids at Forest Park Elementary School (1600 N. Tyler St.) — though many rode their bikes there — and then pick up some children's clothes at the Toggery (still in the Heights but at 5919 R St.), a record at Moses Melody Shop next door, dinner at the Food Palace, and a friend for lunch at the Quonset hut that held Franke's and go to a matinee at the Heights Theater — all at the corner of North Fillmore Street and Kavanaugh Boulevard.
Today, that same woman might start her day the same way — drop the kid at Forest Park and run errands along Kavanaugh, stopping first at Boulevard Bread Co. (1920 N. Grant St.) for a latte and a muffin or a bialy with cream cheese or maybe both. In good weather, she could sit on the little deck and watch the people hustle in and out with their baguettes tucked under their arms. Boulevard more than makes up for the late, great Food Palace.
Women of a certain age will remember the Clothes Horse on R Street with fondness, but WordsWorth Books (5920 R St.), which took its place many years ago, lets folks buy the latest best seller without having to fight freeway traffic to the big box store out west. A post-prandial visit here could perhaps be topped off with a visit to the venerable Mr. Wicks, The Gentleman's Store (5924 R), which used to advertise its stock of "shirtings" but has modernized since its 1960 opening. Fuller & Sons Hardware (5915 R) is just across the street, and mom does need to figure out a way to hang the painting she bought at the White Goat (5624 R, which happens to be next door to the Painted Pig, a little bit of animal husbandry right there in the Heights).
Then, the dog wants out, right? A walk around the circular driveway at the Catholic Diocese grounds at the end of Tyler Street will work nicely. In days past, the dog wouldn't be walked — there was no leash law — but might follow its owner into the woods next to what was once called St. John's Seminary, to the little grotto with the virgin tucked in. There's still a saint there today: St. John's, which is the name of the residential development that's taken the place of the woods and kite field.
That dog-walking means mom deserves a gelato at ZAZA's Fine Salad & Wood Oven Pizza (5600 Kavanaugh) in the little shopping center behind the old Heights Theater (later a jewelry store, now a bank). The original brick wall that defines the parking lot still stands, reminding folks that this is an old neighborhood with lots of history. Part of that history was once painted in the middle of North Spruce Street — STOP, or Stop This Outrageous Purge, painted by members of the Women's Emergency Committee to reopen Little Rock's schools after Orval Eugene Faubus shut them down rather than desegregate. The purge was the firing of 44 schoolteachers for not being racist, and STOP's campaign successfully retained moderates on the school board and got three segregationists off the board. (The opposing, pro-segregationist outfit was called CROSS — the Committee to Retain Our Segregated Schools. The religious reference sounds like the excuses to discriminate we hear today.)
Well, back to the future, for some contemporary art at Chroma Gallery (5707 Kavanaugh), which might be the funkiest place in the Heights (unless you think that would be the millennial fashion faves at Steamroller Blues (5801 Kavanaugh). Heightsians can't have enough art, which is why Boswell Mourot Fine Art, where glass lovers will want to pick up a sculpture by the owner, Kyle Boswell, or a painting by Jason McCann, and Stephano's Fine Art (1813 N. Grant St.) — Princess Leia portrait, anyone? — thrive.
A motherly type, loving her nest, would next pop over to Wild Birds Unlimited (1818 N. Taylor St.) for seed and feeders and the soothing sound of splashing water in garden fountains. She can feed her birds with the seed, her children with the groceries at the Cantrell Road Kroger or, a little farther up the road from Edwards Food Giant (7507 Cantrell), where they'll still carry your bags to the car, and her heart with a quick jog in the shoes she got at Go! Running (1819 N. Grant).
Then back to Forest Park to grab the long-haired boy and take him to Sullivan Barber Services (5908 R), which has been lowering ears for a generation. Fringe Benefits (5600 Kavanaugh) is where mom is shorn, especially on days when she knows a special evening will follow — like one at the restaurant at the Heights Corner Market (5018 Kavanaugh), the successor to Terry's Finer Foods. Dining at The Pizzeria down the block (4910 Kavanaugh) doesn't require new highlights, nor does a meal by the outdoor fireplace at Cheers (2010 N. Van Buren St.), but their menus have plenty that would fall in the dress-up dining category, like smoked salmon pizza at the former and sea scallops at the latter.
Do the children of the Heights still sneak up to the golf course to make out on the greens or jump in the pool? Do they still try to see how far they can go in the sewer tunnels? Do they still congregate in the Heights, though Browning's Mexican Restaurant has been replaced by the more upper crust Heights Taco & Tamale (5805 Kavanaugh) and Joe's Hobby Shop is gone? Surely, just as Local Colour gallery (5811 Kavanaugh) replaced Boshears Cleaners, today's loose teenagers have found something to do they'll shrink in horror at when they grow up.