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Swiss avenue
The Evolution 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, Early 1940s
Aerial view of Swiss looking West from La Vista
W.W. Caruth home, 4949 Swiss, Circa 1949
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5600 block of Swiss, Winter of 1917-1918

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.

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Workers with horse-drawn wagons preparing to pave Swiss Avenue, the first paved street in Dallas
The original cornfields along newly paved Swiss Avenue
The Swiss Avenue Trolley on Main Street

CREDIT: Dallas Historical Society

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5303 Swiss
The first house built in the District
Under construction in 1905
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5303 Swiss
The first house built in the District
In mid-life crisis, circa 1970s
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5303 Swiss
The first house built in the District
Restored to her original beauty
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Collett Circle

At the present-day intersection of Live Oak & Collett

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Swiss Avenue at Bryan Street

View looking North up Bryan Street, circa 1916

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The Aldredge House Circa 1920

5500 Swiss Avenue


The Aldredge House Circa 2020

5500 Swiss Avenue


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5002 Swiss

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.

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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.


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. 

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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


Over the years, the Higginbotham Family owned 8 homes on Swiss Avenue. Here are just four of them:

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5002 Swiss Avenue, built in 1913

Home of Hattie & Rufus Higginbotham, Sr.

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5907 Swiss Avenue, built in 1927

Home of Glenn P. & John Lanham Higginbotham, Sr.


5020 Swiss Avenue, built in 1928

A gift from Rufus to his daughter, Louise

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5822 Swiss Avenue, built in 1924

Home of Ann W. & John Lanham Higginbotham, Jr.


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. 

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Padgitt Brothers Company Letterhead

Circa 1924

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Jesse David Padgitt

Circa 1870s/1880s

Jesse David Padgitt

Circa 1920s

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Padgitt Company Directory Ad



J.D. Padgitt built three magnificent homes on Swiss Avenue for himself and his children:

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4933 Swiss Avenue, built in 1912

Home of J.D. Padgitt's daughter

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4937 Swiss Avenue, built in 1917

Home of J.D. Padgitt

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5421 Swiss Avenue, built in 1917

Home of J.D. Padgitt's son


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. . 

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Robert Stanley Munger

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Tinted postcard promoting the Munger Place Development

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Rena Munger Aldredge

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The Aldredge's Swimming Pool

A Rare Luxury - Installed in 1927

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George & Rena Munger Aldredge

On their 50th wedding anniversary

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Family Members on the Rear Terrace

Rena Munger Aldredge seated at far right


Three of Robert S. Munger's family members lived on Swiss Avenue, in homes with distinctly different designs:

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5400 Swiss Avenue, built in 1908

Home of Collett Munger

Prairie Craftsman Style

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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


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.

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Carrie Marcus Neiman

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A.L. Neiman & Carrie Marcus Neiman in 1920

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Abraham Lincoln Neiman

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The original 2-story Neiman-Marcus Store

Opened in 1907 at Elm & Murphy Streets

Destroyed by fire in 1913

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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

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5731 Swiss Avenue, built in 1919

Home of Theodore Marcus

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5803 Swiss Avenue, built in 1922

Home of Carrie Marcus Neiman & A.L. Neiman


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.

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Preservationist Dorothy Harris Savage (R) and her daughter, author Virginia Savage McAlester (L) 

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Dallas Mayor Wallace Savage discussing transportation issues with a young constituent.

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The historic Harris-Savage House at 5703 Swiss Avenue, built in 1917, is an extraordinary example of Mission Style design

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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.

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Savage Park serves as the centerpiece of the city's annual Swiss Avenue Historic District Mother's Day Home Tour.

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Tribute in Savage Park to Wallace Savage, who helped build the city, and Dorothy Savage, who helped save it.


Benjamin T. Seay arrived in Dallas from Tennessee in 1886 and established himself as a successful real-estate dealer and developer. He was among the early builders on Swiss, where he constructed several homes, including his own personal residence at 5647 Swiss. He founded the Seay-Cranfill Company which was one of the oldest and largest real estate firms in Dallas with offices in Galveston, El Paso, and Waco.  As was common practice at the time, Mr. Seay shared his large Prairie-Style home with his adult children, his young granddaughter, a family cook and a housekeeper. The live-in family members included: his son Robert B. Seay; his daughters Mai Seay and Mary Belle Seay Ray; Mary Belle's husband, Erastus Hugh (E.H.) Ray and; their young daughter, Roberta Ray.


Benjamin's son, Robert, was himself a successful businessman in the real-estate and oil industries. Robert was an executive at the Seay-Cranfill Company which, having been connected with the oil industry in Texas since its infancy, grew to be one of the state's leading oil-and-gas operators with the majority of its production in the bountiful oil fields around Wichita Falls. Belle Seay Ray and E.H. Ray later moved to 6140 Bryan Parkway and eventually built a home a few blocks away on Oram Avenue. Mai Seay married Thomas Cranfill, a partner in the Seay–Cranfill company. The Cranfill family also lived in several houses on Swiss while Mai and Thomas also moved to a house they built on Oram Avenue.


Benjamin's son-in-law, E.H. Ray also prospered in the Dallas business community. He came to Dallas from North Carolina as a representative of his family's tobacco business. He went on to become a successful real-estate developer in his own right and was a pioneer in the early Dallas automobile industry. He was an owner of the Ray Rose Company that sold Saxon Automobiles.  

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Benjamin T. Seay

An Original Builder On Swiss Avenue

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Mary Belle Seay Ray

Benjamin T. Seay's daughter


Erastus Hugh (E.H.) Ray

Benjamin T. Seay's Son-In-Law

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A 12-year-old Roberta Ray, in 1916, on the lawn of her grandfather's house at 5647 Swiss Avenue

Roberta Ray as a young teenager in Tartan Dress posing in front of her grandfather's home 

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An early sales promotion for E.H. Ray's automobile company, The Ray Rose Company, which sold Saxon Automobiles


Benjamin Seay and his descendants have built, owned or resided in homes throughout the Swiss Avenue Historic District since its earliest years. Here are just a few of them:


5533 Swiss Avenue, Benjamin Seay's first project on the street, which he sold to Judge M.M. Brooks

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6140 Bryan Parkway, the former residence of Mary Belle Seay Ray and E.H. Ray

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5647 Swiss Avenue, built in 1916 by Benjamin Seay

to serve as the permanent family home.

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6114 Bryan Parkway, currently owned by Robert Bracken, Benjamin Seay's Great-Great Grandson

THE Magnolia oil families

If you worked in upper management at the Magnolia Petroleum Company at the turn of the 20th Century, there’s a good chance you lived on Swiss Avenue. In fact, legend has it that the name of the company was inspired by the view of a large Magnolia tree that the company founder would gaze at each morning from the breakfast-room window of his home on Swiss Avenue. But since the company was originally founded in Galveston, we suspect that story may be more fiction than fact


The President of Magnolia Petroleum, George C. Greer, lived in an Italiante Style home with Georgian details at 5439 Swiss Avenue. The Chairman of the Board and his wife, Mr. And Mrs. Edwy Rolfe Brown, lived at 5314 Swiss Avenue. Mrs. Brown hired renowned architect Hal Thompson to design and build a home for the Brown Family that resembled an Italian Villa because she felt that style fit well with the Dallas climate. Benjamin Stephens, the founder of Magnolia Petroleum Company, built his home at 5634 Swiss Avenue. He was also Director of Mercantile National Bank and Dallas Federal Savings and Loan, and was a political adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II. Frederick M. Lege, Jr., the first President of Magnolia Pipeline Company, a subsidiary of Magnolia Petroleum, lived at 5302 Swiss.


All of these homes on Swiss were within just a few minutes' trolley ride of the Magnolia Petroleum Building on Commerce Street. The company’s original Magnolia Flower logo continued to be used after Magnolia was acquired by Standard Oil Company of New York (Socony) in 1925 as well as after Socony

merged with Vacuum Oil Company to became Socony-Vacuum Oil in 1931. Socony-Vacuum later adopted as its logo the image used on Magnolia's "Red Flying Horse" brand of retail petroleum products, the mythic Greek figure known as Pegasus. Pegasus went on to become not only the iconic logo for Mobil Oil Corporation (now Exxon Mobil Corporation), but the official mascot of the City of Dallas. 

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THE magnolia oil FAMILY HOMES

Several of the most prominent members of Upper Management in the early years of the Magnolia Petroleum Company owned homes on Swiss Avenue. Here are four of them:

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5439 Swiss Avenue, Home of Mr. George C. Greer

President of Magnolia Petroleum Company

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5634 Swiss Avenue, Home of Mr. Benjamin Stephens

Founder of Magnolia Petroleum Company


5314 Swiss Avenue, Home of Mr. E.R. Brown

Chairman of Magnolia Petroleum Company

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5302 Swiss Avenue, Home of Mr. Frederick M. Lege, Jr.

President of Magnolia Pipeline Company


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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)


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.

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Mary Ellen Bendtsen
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Mary Ellen's former home, 4949 Swiss
"The Queen of Swiss Avenue"
Built in 1918 for John R. Tenison
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Willetta Stellmacher
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Willetta's former home, 6243 La Vista
"The Crown Jewel of Swiss Avenue"
Built in 1926 for Robert Campbell Stubbs

Prominent RESIDENTS: Past & present

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. J.B. Cranfill (5303 Swiss), Prohibition Party candidate for U.S. Vice President in 1892

Dr. W.A. 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 

William Jenks Lewis (5500 Swiss)Wealth West Texas rancher and cattle merchant

Willie Newbury Lewis (5500 Swiss)Dallas debutante, socialite and author

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

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