Swiss Misses

A tempest in a teacup over azaleas erupts into a class war in Dallas' Swiss Avenue Historic District

Of course, there are also many eerily identical pictures of Guild women posing for the camera with large smiles planted on their faces as they sip tea or champagne at the various Guild teas. Instead of name tags, the women pin large color photographs of their homes to their chests.

But life in the Guild hasn't been all fun and games, the women say. With much sweat and toil, they've produced several items designed to promote Swiss Avenue.

"We're an inner-city neighborhood. When you drive a family through here that just showed up today and you drive them through the inner city to get here, which is the way you have to go to get here, many families think this is not a wonderful place to live," Novorr explains. "The only way to show that this is a wonderful place to live is to publicize yourself."

Last year, the Guild finished work on a glossy brochure that includes snapshots of various homes in the District and is distributed to real estate agents and businesses whose clients may be relocating to Dallas. The Guild also produced an audiotape tour of Swiss Avenue homes and has plans to complete a similar videotape tour, which WFAA-Channel 8 has agreed to produce, Novorr says.

In addition, the Guild has designed and manufactured refrigerator magnets and coffee mugs, each of which features one of a few select Swiss Avenue homes, which have an average value of $350,000. As a special touch, the mugs come with a packet of "Swiss Chocolate," the Guild's very own blend of coffee.

Only a Guild critic would point out that the items focus on Swiss Avenue homes and barely mention the more modest dwellings on Bryan Parkway and La Vista. But it is the exclusion of those "fringe" areas that is making the Guild a loathsome entity elsewhere in the District.

The giggling trio on Palmlund's back porch swears that they limited the Guild's membership to Swiss Avenue only because they needed to limit the size of the club, and not because they've got a bias against people who live in the smaller houses of Bryan Parkway and La Vista.

"Anybody who is upset about [us] excluding anybody, we excluded 100 percent of the men," Palmlund says, stopping as the three women laugh uncontrollably at the joke. "I mean, pleeaasse. You know? I mean, please!"

"Not only that, we drag them around and put them in tuxedos," Novorr adds. "And you know what? At first there was a little bit of resistance in the men. And now, they can't wait to go to parties."

Not everyone who lives in the Swiss Avenue Historic District loves a party, especially if it's thrown by the Guild.

One afternoon in late September, the residents of Bryan Parkway were stunned to discover that an unusual invitation had been placed in their mailboxes.

These were not authentic invitations, but mere photocopies of a real invitation, and they weren't addressed to specific residents. Instead, the Guild had just stuffed them in each mailbox like grocery-store flyers.

Nonetheless, if those people wanted to fork over $60 a head, they could still come to an October 4, 1997, party the Guild was throwing for itself at the Dallas Museum of Art. The invitations were the Guild's way of letting their neighbors know they were welcome after all.

Unfortunately, that's not quite how the invitations were received.
"My response to one of the [Guild] founders was, 'You expect me to give an evening of my time and $120 of my money for a group that won't allow my wife to join? I have a problem with that,'" says Bryan Parkway resident Gerald Ragsdale. "It seemed strange to me that they consider themselves very apart, yet wanted our money to help put dinner on."

One neighbor recalls that Ragsdale's response also included some nasty epithets, but Ragsdale guarded his words during a recent telephone conversation, insisting that he didn't want to engage in a "spitting contest." He did, however, comment that the Guild's exclusivity is counter-productive.

"If you slap a child every day before dinner," Ragsdale says, "they aren't going to come to the dinner table."

Katy Sauser, one of Ragsdale's neighbors, recalls how she couldn't believe her eyes when she found the invitation in her mailbox that sunny September afternoon. The computer programmer turned stay-at-home mom says she wandered outside to see if the other neighbors had gotten one too.

"I thought it was a joke. At the very least, it's extremely tacky," Sauser says. "My guess is, the people on Swiss Avenue got real invitations."

Sauser crosses her feet and pulls them onto the rose-trimmed wicker couch inside her Bryan Parkway home, built in 1922, which is a perfect example of the clean elegance of Prairie-style architecture. The house is also notable because it was the childhood home of Jerry Haynes, the one and only Mr. Peppermint.

If the Guild seriously expected non-Guild members to donate $60 a head for their party, Sauser says, the least they could have done was send out decent invitations. Although the gesture may have been well-intended, it came off like a cheap afterthought, and it's just the sort of slight that Sauser says the residents of Bryan Parkway are sick of getting from the Guild.

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