FORT WORTH — Shelby, a friendly 14-year-old heeler-Lab mix, has probably spent every day of her life walking around the Ridgmar neighborhood in west Fort Worth, her owner, Tami Ellis, figures. And like most longtime residents, Shelby likes it that way.Most of the houses in Ridgmar were built in the 1960s and ’70s, and there has been relatively little turnover among residents.“It was one of the first neighborhoods that had limited access and was well planned,” said Larry Patterson, president of the Ridgmar Neighborhood Association. “There are only a couple of ways in and a couple of ways out.”But it is a convenient place to live. The 670-house development is adjacent to both Ridgmar Mall, built in 1974, and the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base. Many residents are active or retired military and employees or retirees of Lockheed Martin.The hospital district and downtown are about 10 minutes to the east on Interstate 30. Marvin Leonard, of Leonards Department Store, bought land from the Amon Carter Foundation in 1956 to lay the groundwork for Ridgmar. Leonard built Shady Oaks Country Club in 1957, the same year that development began on Ridgmar.Developers had built some houses in the area in the late 1950s when the area was remote, rolling land overlooking then-Carswell Air Force Base. Interstate 30 was being built along the southern edge of Ridgmar. Ridgmar is in good company. Westover Hills is on Ridgmar’s east just across Roaring Springs Road, and the Ridglea neighborhoods are to the south. A gated community, Ridgmar Estates, is to the west. The Ridglea neighborhoods predate Ridgmar.The variety of Ridgmar developers left a blended heritage of designs. There are two-story and single-story houses, some with rear-entry garages. “It’s still a really great neighborhood. Some houses have deteriorated, but on the whole, it actually has improved,” Patterson said. “People have remodeled and added on.”Patterson and his wife, Carol, have lived in Ridgmar since 1973, rearing a daughter who now has a house of her own in the neighborhood.“There’s 13 houses on my block, and up until a few years ago, it was mostly original owners,” Larry Patterson said.Shelby’s owner Ellis, a resident since 1986, is a Realtor and says the area is “an easy sell.”Buyers like the character of the older neighborhood, the mature trees, and the proximity to downtown and the hospital district.“There was a little bit of a slump a few years ago,” Ellis said, “but now there’s a lot of remodeling going on, and younger people just love it.”The Mary and Marvin Leonard Park in the neighborhood’s heart was originally intended to be a school. When that didn’t happen, it became a gathering place for neighbors and later a formal park. In 1982, trees were added along with a half-mile walk around its perimeter. A new playground structure replaced the old wooden and metal equipment about five years ago.Angela Holcombe is a second-generation Rigmar resident who gets her exercise walking the park.“There’s quite a few multigenerational families here, people I grew up with,” she said. “Our parents live here, and we enjoy it being a nice, family-oriented place.”Public school students in the neighborhood attend Mary Louise Phillips Elementary School, William Monnig Middle School and Arlington Heights High School.The volunteer Ridgmar Neighborhood Association was founded in 1981, and about 60 percent of the households pay $10 a year to belong. Patterson started a community web page in 2010, and his email list includes 70 percent of the 670 households.“I send out emails daily on crime reports, lost and found animals, items for sale,” he said. “It keeps the neighborhood connected.”Though the busy shopping mall nearby and apartment complexes on the neighborhood’s south generate some crime, Patterson said it is not a major problem. The Ridgmar neighbors’ National Night Out event draws hundreds of people to the Mary and Marvin Leonard Park, and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price held a walking town meeting there in January.Traffic has gotten heavier lately on Ridgmar Boulevard, say some neighbors, but the curving residential streets within Ridgmar don’t invite drive-throughs.There are still projects to be done and issues to be addressed, Patterson said.Ridgmar neighbors are working with the Tarrant Regional Water District on a connection to the Trinity Trails system, and they are also collaborating with the city on a fall cleanup of nearby Kings Branch Creek.“We have a gas well, and we do keep an eye on what’s going on there,” said Patterson. “So far, that’s not been a problem.”Ridgmar’s biggest mystery?The park, and even a few back yards, are said by neighbors to be hiding a legacy from World War II.Concrete anti-aircraft bunkers were built on the unimproved land during the 1940s to safeguard the Convair aircraft bomber plant, the forerunner of General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin.When Ridgmar development began, the bunkers had to be broken up and removed, though one is still said to be buried under the southwest corner of Leonard Park.Ron Rudder, a Ridgmar resident since 1994, says another is in his back yard.“It’s broken up, but you can still tell what’s there,” he said.
Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657 Twitter: @shirljinkins