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
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
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 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"
Willetta's former home, 6243 La Vista
"The Crown Jewel of Swiss Avenue"
Prominent RESIDENTS: Past & present
Kay Bailey Hutchison5020 Swiss Avenue
Former US Senator, 22nd United States Permanent Representative to NATO
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 (current, 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 (current, 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
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
Alfred F. Weir (6204 Bryan Pkwy), Founder of Weir's Furniture Store