Laurel Park was the first subdivision to break with Harlingen’s ruling street grid. It was developed in stages between 1949 and 1951 by John Walker McKelvey, Harlingen’s first millionaire. McKelvey was one of York’s major clients, and he and his associate, the contractor Bill Uhlhorn, were close friends of York’s. York persuaded McKelvey to retain Eugene Sternberg as Cocke, Bowman & York’s planning consultant for laying out the curving streets of Laurel Park. These followed the contours of the Arroyo Colorado, a deep creek that house sites on South Parkwood Drive abutted.
Proximity to the arroyo endowed the subdivision with topographic variation (rare in the flat landscape of the Valley) and stands of native mesquite and ebony trees, which were amplified with liberal plantings of bougainvillea and palms. Between 1949 and 1959 York designed at least fifteen houses in Laurel Park. Adjacent to it he designed the Laurel Park Shopping Center and the Laurel Park Magnolia Service Station for McKelvey and Sammy’s Drive-In for the restaurateur Sammy Reeder, who lived in Laurel Park. Laurel Park was the suburban, middle-class utopia of 1950s American modernism, where modern architecture merged luxuriantly with nature at the edge of town. All of York’s contractor clients built their houses on South Parkwood Drive, as did Walter Bowman. York built his dramatic house in a less expensive section, backing up to the Arroyito, or Little Creek, which emptied into the Arroyo Colorado.
Text by Rice University Professor Stephen Fox