of a grand experiment
At the turn of the last century, Robert S. Munger, a successful cotton-gin manufacturer and forward-thinking real-estate developer from an influential Dallas family, had a pioneering vision. And a unique plan. In a city where zoning had yet to be practiced, on any scale, Munger conceived the idea of building a planned, upscale residential community, just east of downtown. His development, Munger
Place, was the first deed-restricted neighborhood in Texas. And at its heart, he would build an exclusive enclave of grand and stately homes along Swiss Avenue, stretching from Fitzhugh Avenue at the east, to La Vista Drive at the west.
Swiss Avenue became the first paved street in Dallas. In keeping with the new neighborhood’s penchant for innovation, the paving material selected was Bitulithic, an early form of asphalt. Sidewalks, curbs and gutters were poured with finest-quality cement. A trolley line was installed to provide residents with convenient transportation to the downtown business and shopping districts, and a railway spur track was laid in what is now the alleyway between Swiss and Gaston, allowing residents who were well-heeled enough to own private rail cars to simply board at the rear of their homes and travel to anyplace the rails could transport them.
Front steps at 5112 Swiss Avenue
W.W. Caruth home, 4949 Swiss
Aerial view of Swiss from La Vista
Munger’s building restrictions stipulated that the homes on Swiss Avenue had to be at least two stories in height, the exteriors constructed of brick or masonry, they were not permitted to face a side street, and each residence had to cost at least $10,000 to build, a hefty sum at the time. No home could be constructed ‘on spec’, all houses had to be built and occupied by their intended residents.
Prominent Dallas families embraced the concept, they hired nationally renowned architects to design and build their showplaces. These included Bertram Hill, Lang & Witchell, DeWitt & Lemmon, Charles Bulger, Hal Thomson, Marion Fooshee, C.P. Sites, Marshall Barnett, and W.H. Reeves, among others.
In 1973, Swiss Avenue was designated as Dallas’ first historic district. On March 28, 1974, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is an official Dallas Landmark District.
Today, Swiss Avenue stands as the finest example of an early 20th Century neighborhood in the entire Southwest. Its eclectic mix of homes, spanning its 2 ½ mile stretch, represent virtually every popular residential design style of the day, including Mediterranean, Spanish, Spanish Revival, Georgian, Mission, Prairie, Carftsman, Neoclassical, Italian Renaissance, Tudor and Colonial Revival. It has evolved from one man’s unique experiment in planned urban development to become a living testament to America’s architectural diversity.
The original cornfields on Swiss Avenue
The Swiss Avenue Trolley on Main Street
CREDIT: Dallas Historical Society
The first house built in the District
Under construction in 1905
The first house built in the District
In mid-life crisis, circa 1970s
The first house built in the District
Restored to her original beauty
At the present-day intersection of Live Oak & Collett
Swiss Avenue at Bryan Street
View looking North up Bryan Street, circa 1916
The Aldredge House Circa 1920
5500 Swiss Avenue
The Aldredge House Circa 2020
5500 Swiss Avenue
The Rufus W. Higginbotham Home, Circa 1913
An early photo of The Rufus W. Higginbotham Home, designed in 1913 by architect Charles E. Barglebaugh of Dallas' Lang & Witchell Architects. Mr. Barglebaugh, who was apprenticed to Frank Lloyd Wright, created in this home what is widely considered one of the country's finest examples, outside of Chicago, of an early Prairie Style residence.
The Rufus W. Higginbotham Home, Circa 2020
The exterior, virtually unchanged for well over 100 years, features a low, hipped, green-tile roof; deeply overhanging eaves; and a long procession of first- and second-story windows that emphasize the home’s distinctive horizontal profile – all of which are signature elements of the Prairie School Design vernacular.
THE HIGGINBOTHAM FAMILY
At one point, there were 8 homes on Swiss Avenue owned by members of the Higginbotham Family, including the magnificent Prairie Style masterpiece pictured above at 5002 Swiss, owned by family patriarch Rufus W. Higginbotham, Sr. and his wife, Hattie Louise Smith Higginbotham. Mr. Higginbotham was co-founder of the Higginbotham Brothers dry-goods chain and was Chairman of the Board of Southwest National Bank, one of the largest banks in the state. During the Crash of 1929, when banks were failing and depositors were withdrawing their savings, Higginbotham publicly announced he was depositing $50,000 of his own money into the bank as an act of faith. As a result, his bank did not fail.
Rufus W. Higginbotham, Sr.
The Higginbotham Family on the porch at 5002 Swiss
Front row, L-R: Hattie, Frances, Hattie Sr., Rufus Sr., Louise
Back row, L-R: John, Nina, Joseph, Lucy, Rufus Jr.
Hattie Smith Higginbotham
Rufus & Hattie on the front porch at 5002 Swiss in 1925
Rufus & Hattie Higginbotham
during their later years
THE HIGGINBOTHAM FAMILY HOMES
Over the years, the Higginbotham Family owned 8 homes on Swiss Avenue. Here are just three of them:
5002 Swiss Avenue, built in 1913
Home of Hattie & Rufus Higginbotham
5020 Swiss Avenue, built in 1928
A gift from Rufus to his daughter, Louise
5907 Swiss Avenue, built in 1927
Home of Glenn & John Higginbotham
THE PADgitt FAMILY
J. D. Padgitt was the co-founder of Padgitt Brothers Manufacturing Company, the largest wholesale saddle manufacturer in America. He was also instrumental in organizing The State Fair of Texas. His family's presence on Swiss Avenue was not quite as prolific as was the Higginbothams, but it was significant, nonetheless. Mr. Padgitt built three impressive homes on the street. In 1912, he built a classic Prairie Style home at 4933 Swiss for his daughter. Five years later, he built his own High Prairie Style mansion at 4937 Swiss, designed by architect Charles P. Sites. And that same year, he built the Italian Renaissance Style home at 5421 Swiss, designed by famed architect Hal Thomson, as a wedding gift for his son, J. Durell Padgitt and J. Durell's wife, Mai Blanche.
Due to his expertise as a major leather-goods manufacturer, Mr. Padgitt designed and patented a medical saddle bag for use by the British and American Army during World War I. His contributions to the Allied war effort resulted in Mr. Padgitt receiving death threats from German sympathizers, which he ignored. The threats culminated in saboteurs posing as coal delivery men and dropping explosives through the coal chute in the basement of his home on Swiss Avenue. The saboteurs were spotted and apprehended a few blocks away and the plan was scuttled before the explosives could be detonated.
Padgitt Brothers Company Letterhead
Jesse David Padgitt
Jesse David Padgitt
Padgitt Company Directory Ad
THE PADGITT FAMILY HOMES
J.D. Padgitt built three magnificent homes on Swiss Avenue for himself and his children:
4933 Swiss Avenue, built in 1912
Home of J.D. Padgitt's daughter
4937 Swiss Avenue, built in 1917
Home of J.D. Padgitt
5421 Swiss Avenue, built in 1917
Home of J.D. Padgitt's son
THE MUNGER FAMILY
When cotton-gin magnate and real-estate visionary Robert S. Munger developed the Munger Place neighborhood, he established Swiss Avenue as its centerpiece – a boulevard of grand homes that would serve for decades as the exclusive enclave of the city's most prominent citizens. Mr. Munger himself never resided on Swiss Avenue, but several members of his family did.
Mr. Munger's son, Collett Munger, who was the manager-in-residence of his father's Munger Place development, owned the massive Prairie Style home at 5400 Swiss Avenue. Collett's brother, Hamilton Munger, an architect, lived directly across the street in the Eclectic Style home he designed and built at 5405 Swiss Avenue.
Munger's niece, Rena Munger Aldredge and her husband George Aldredge, owned the home at 5500 Swiss Avenue, a massive French Eclectic mansion with Beaux Arts details designed by Hal Thomson and originally built for Texas rancher, William J. Lewis as a wedding gift to his bride. Now known as The Aldredge House, it serves as the City of Dallas' first designated Historic House Museum. The entire house has been preserved inside and out, and is considered a pristine example of this city's rich and colorful history. The House, and Mrs. Aldredge, played a key role in the creation of the Swiss Avenue Historic District by providing an early preview of what the neighborhood would one day become. .
Robert Stanley Munger
Tinted postcard promoting the Munger Place Development
Rena Munger Aldredge
THE MUNGER FAMILY HOMES
Three of Robert S. Munger's family members lived on Swiss Avenue, in homes with distinctly different designs:
5400 Swiss Avenue, built in 1908
Home of Collett Munger
Prairie Craftsman Style
5405 Swiss Avenue, built in 1915
Home of Hamilton Munger
Eclectic Era Style
5500 Swiss Avenue, built in 1917
Home of Rena Munger Aldredge
French Eclectic Style
THE NEIMAN-MARCUS FAMILY
Theodore Marcus was among the first members of the world-renowned Marcus Family to settle in Texas. His brother, Stanley, followed him to Hillsboro, Texas from Louisville, Kentucky and by 1899, both men had relocated to Dallas. After taking a variety of janitorial and retail jobs to escape economic hardship, Stanley eventually rose to the position of buyer at the Sanger Brothers clothing store. In 1907, Stanley co-founded Neiman-Marcus along with his and Theodore's sister, Carrie Marcus Neiman, and Carrie's husband, Abraham Lincoln (A.L.) Neiman. At the time, both Carrie and A.L. were employed at Sanger Brothers competitor, A. Harris & Co., which later merged with Sanger Brothers to form Sanger-Harris.
In 1920, Theodore moved into a handsome, three-story, dark-red-brick Prairie Style mansion on Swiss Avenue. His sister Carrie Marcus Neiman and her husband, A.L. Neiman lived just a half block away, at the corner of Swiss Avenue and Skillman Street, in an immense Tudor Style manor built in 1922.
Carrie Marcus Neiman
A.L. Neiman & Carrie Marcus Neiman in 1920
Abraham Lincoln Neiman
The original 2-story Neiman-Marcus Store
Opened in 1907 at Elm & Murphy Streets
Destroyed by fire in 1913
The flagship 4-story Neiman-Marcus Store
Built in 1914 at Main & Ervay Streets
Expanded to 9 floors by 1983
The Neiman-marcus family homes
Retail giants Theodore Marcus, Carrie Marcus Neiman, and A.L. Neiman all owned homes on Swiss Avenue
5731 Swiss Avenue, built in 1919
Home of Theodore Marcus
5803 Swiss Avenue, built in 1922
Home of Carrie Marcus Neiman & A.L. Neiman
THE HARRIS-SAVAGE FAMILY
Members of the Harris-Savage Family have lived on Swiss Avenue for an entire century, from 1921 until 2021, making their presence on the street the longest continuous residency of any family in the history of the District. Four generations of the family have called the street home.
In 1921, W.R. Harris, one of the original partners in the prominent Dallas law firm of Thompson, Knight, Baker and Harris purchased the home at 5703 Swiss Avenue for his family. Mr. Harris, who acted as special prosecutor in the impeachment of Governor “Pa” Ferguson, later passed the house to his daughter and son in law, Dorothy and Wallace Savage. Mr. Savage served as mayor of Dallas from 1949 to 1951 and Mrs. Savage was long active in local preservation efforts. In the 1970s, the Savages and their daughter, Virginia Savage McAlester, were instrumental in the campaign to save Swiss Avenue from the threat of extinction. Savage Park, located at the midway point on Swiss Avenue, was named in honor of Dorothy and Wallace Savage.
Virginia Savage McAlester was a renowned writer, architectural historian, and historic preservationist. She was the author of what is widely considered the definitive reference work on residential American architecture, "The Field Guide To American Houses". Ms. McAlester was a co-founder of Preservation Dallas and Friends of Fair Park. Her efforts to preserve and promote the architectural heritage of Dallas were her life's work and her dedication to this city is without equal.
Preservationist Dorothy Harris Savage (R) and her daughter, author Virginia Savage McAlester (L)
Dallas Mayor Wallace Savage discussing transportation issues with a young constituent.
The historic Harris-Savage House at 5703 Swiss Avenue, built in 1917, is an extraordinary example of Mission Style design
Author, historian and preservationist
Virginia Savage McAlester
DOROTHY & Wallace Savage PARK
Savage Park sits at the epicenter of Swiss Avenue, directly across the street from The Aldredge House.
Savage Park serves as the centerpiece of the city's annual Swiss Avenue Historic District Mother's Day Home Tour.
Tribute in Savage Park to Wallace Savage, who helped build the city, and Dorothy Savage, who helped save it.
Five of the original members from the group of concerned neighbors who banded together in 1973 to have
The Swiss Avenue Historic District designated as the city's first residential historic district.
(L-R: Larry Offutt, Anne Courtin, Dr. Harryette Ehrhardt, Virginia Savage McAlester, Martha Heimberg)
CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO SEE THEIR STORY
The Grande Dames
Throughout its history, Swiss Avenue has always been home to colorful characters with larger-than-life personalities. Among the most illustrious were two Grand Dames who anchored opposite ends of the Avenue: Mary Ellen Bendtsen, whose massive Prairie Style Palace at 4949 Swiss (formerly owned by W.W. Caruth) is known as the The Queen Of Swiss Avenue; and Willetta Stellmacher, whose magnificent Tudor Revival Manor at 6243 La Vista (at the top of Swiss) is known as The Crown Jewel Of Swiss Avenue.
Mary Ellen was a Dallas model and ingenue who appeared on the cover of Cosmopolitan Magazine and was named LIFE Magazine's "Ideal Dream Girl". She was the model for the Art Deco statues commissioned for the 1936 Texas Centennial that line the Esplanade in Fair Park. She was also a gifted pianist who entertained guests on twin baby grands in her front parlor and once played for Cole Porter in his Manhattan townhome.
Willetta, who was a ravishing beauty in her youth, was a Las Vegas showgirl, a chorus dancer on both The Lawrence Welk Show and at the prestigious Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago, and was the original model for Cook's Champagne. She had been the steady girlfriend of a notorious Chicago mobster, once dated Frank Sinatra, and was a lady who rubbed elbows with famous actors, entertainers, singers and bandleaders.
Mary Ellen Bendtsen
Mary Ellen's former home, 4949 Swiss
"The Queen of Swiss Avenue"
Built in 1918 for John R. Tenison
Willetta's former home, 6243 La Vista
"The Crown Jewel of Swiss Avenue"
Built in 1926 for Robert Campbell Stubbs
Prominent RESIDENTS: Past & present
5500 Swiss Avenue Niece of Munger Place developer, Robert Munger
6034 Bryan Parkway Iconic children's television show host, Mr. Peppermint
5020 Swiss Avenue Former US Senator, 22nd United States Permanent Representative to NATO
4946 Swiss Avenue 3rd Bishop of Dallas (1911-1954)
5703 Swiss Avenue Renowned author and architectural historian
5750 Swiss Avenue Mayor of Dallas (1939-1947)
5803 Swiss Avenue Co-Founder, Neiman-Marcus Department Store
5731 Swiss Avenue Former Texas State Representative
6102 Swiss Avenue Former U.S. Congressman
Rena Munger Aldredge (5500 Swiss), niece of Munger Place developer, Robert Munger
Dr. Raliegh W. Baird (5303 Swiss), Founder of Blue Cross & Blue Shield
Mary Ellen Bentsen (4949 Swiss), Dallas ingénue, model for Art Deco statues at Fair Park
Dr. John Bourland (4902 Swiss), inventor of the baby incubator
W.G. Breg (5650 Swiss), President of Dallas Trust & Savings Bank
Edwy Rolfe Brown (5314 Swiss), Founder of Magnolia Petroleum (later renamed Mobil Oil)
W.W. Caruth (4949 Swiss), early Dallas pioneer, landowner and philanthropist
Carr P. Collins (6102 Swiss), Founder of Bailey & Collins Insurance
James M. “Jim” Collins (6102 Swiss), former U.S. Congressman
Martin M. Crane (4937 Swiss), former Texas Lieutenant Governor
Dr. John Criswell (5901 Swiss), Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas
Dr. Harryette Ehrhardt (5731 Swiss), former Texas State Representative
Shirley English (4926 Swiss), 1st President of The Postal Telegraph Corporation
George C. Greer (5439 Swiss), General Counsel of Magnolia Petroleum (later renamed Mobil Oil)
H.H. Green (6119 Bryan Pkwy), son of W.A. Green Department Store founder, W.A. Green
W.A. Green (5125 Swiss), Founder of W.A. Green Department Store
Will Harris, Sr. (5703 Swiss), prosecutor of impeached Texas Governor James Ferguson
Jerry Haynes (6034 Bryan Parkway), iconic childrens' television show host, Mr. Peppermint
Rufus W. Higginbotham (5002 Swiss), prominent Dallas merchant & banker
Kay Bailey Hutchison (5020 Swiss), former US Senator, 22nd US Representative to NATO
W.J. Lang (5640 Swiss), Lang & Witchell Architects
Frederick M. Lege, Jr. (5302 Swiss), 1st President of Magnolia Pipe Line Company
Bishop Joseph Lynch (4946 Swiss), 3rd Bishop of Dallas (1911-1954)
Virginia McAlester (5703 Swiss), renowned author & architectural historian
Carrie Marcus Neiman (5803 Swiss), Co-Founder of Neiman-Marcus Department Store
Theodore Marcus (5731 Swiss), member of the Neiman-Marcus family
Curry McCutcheon (5439 Swiss), noted criminal attorney
Collett Munger (5400 Swiss), original co-developer & manager of Munger Place
Hamilton Munger (5405 Swiss), son of Munger Place developer, Robert Munger
A.L. Neiman (5803 Swiss), Co-Founder of Neiman-Marcus Department Store
J.D. Padgitt (4937 Swiss), saddle magnate; co-organizer of the State Fair of Texas
Judge John A. Rawlins (6006 Swiss), District Court Judge, 116th Judicial District of Texas
J. Woodall Rogers (5750 Swiss), Mayor of Dallas, 1939-1947
Wallace Savage (5736 Swiss), Mayor of Dallas, 1949-1951
Joseph Schepp (4902 Swiss), Founder of Schepp’s Dairy
Willetta Stellmacher (6243 La Vista), former showgirl, dancer & Dallas bon vivant
Benjamin H. Stephens (5634 Swiss), Founder and Chairman, Mercantile National Bank
J.R. Tenison (4949 Swiss), Founder of Tenison Brothers Saddle Company
Alfred F. Weir (6204 Bryan Pkwy), Founder of Weir's Furniture Store