Friday, May 10, 2013

Totally Texas -- Keep mom in the house

Swiss Avenue Historic District Home Tour

Swiss Avenue (between Fitzhugh & LaVista)



What’s nicer on Mother’s Day than getting out of our own house and into somebody else’s, where we can feel like guests, unworried about kids and dogs tracking in mud? Make that several houses, as in the Swiss Avenue Historic District Mother’s Day home tour this Saturday and Sunday, May 11-12. Or stretch the weekend’s with tonight’s first ever Friday night candlelight tour and party.

Last year, fearing there might be little to interest my daughter’s elementary-age twins, she left them at home with her husband while she and I toured Swiss Avenue’s turn of the century mansions. Our fears were groundless. The self-guided tour along the avenue included a playground and plenty of food and drink.

This year, neighborhood bistro Penne Pomodoro provides the refreshments at Savage Park, approximately halfway down the avenue. Area bands perform on the park’s main stage throughout the weekend, and local artists offer wares along the median in front of the park. Visitors can travel between the seven homes and historic cathedral on the tour in air-conditioned mini coaches or horse-drawn carriages, both free. Or just stroll -- the avenue is only two and a half miles long.

Swiss Avenue was one of Dallas’ first planned neighborhoods, developed in the early decades of the twentieth century. It was the first paved street in Dallas, with a trolley line to downtown business and shopping districts, although residents wealthy enough to afford their own rail cars could board a nearby railway spur. In 1973, Swiss Avenue also became the first designated historic district in Dallas.

Swiss Avenue has housed some of the city’s best-known residents, but the most famous home of all, at 4949 Swiss, won’t be on the tour this year. The house, formerly the home of Mary Ellen Bendtsen, was notorious as the focus of a lengthy struggle for ownership between Mrs. Bendtsen’s daughter and two men later convicted of coercing the elderly socialite to name them as her heirs.

The house was shown in 2012 in a state of extreme dilapidation, with some rooms roped off due to collapsed ceilings. The picture illustrating this post shows the grand staircase, barely useable. Although the house still isn’t ready for prime time, I saw encouraging signs of continued exterior renovation on a recent drive by. One day I hope to see it restored to its original, 1918 grandeur.  More about the house’s story at

Tour times are 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Saturday, noon - 6 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20 in advance (through 6 p.m. Friday, May 10), $25 on the weekend. They’re sold at area Whole Food Markets, Talulah Belle in the Lakewood neighborhood, or through the PayPal link at

On Saturday and Sunday, tickets will also be available at any of the tour sites. On our tour, cash, local checks and credit cards were accepted. Parking is available on side streets and adjacent to Munger Place Church and the Cathedral Church of St. Matthew, which is also on the tour. See the link above for a list of tour sites and additional information.

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