Swiss Misses

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

Sauser adopts a tiny, tight voice and turns her hands into little mouths as she slips into her imitation of a Guild lady.

"I have a big house, a fancy car, and a big hairdo, so I have to be the best, and I have to put other people down to make myself be better," Sauser mocks. "The Guild is like a little kid that says, 'I can jump higher than you can. My hair is longer than your hair.' It's the same thing."

Sauser stops flapping her hands and breaks out in laughter at the absurdity of the situation. Although she wouldn't join the Guild even if she could, Sauser says the recent criticisms of it, and especially of Palmlund, aren't helping the district.

"People sit back and say, 'Oh, she used to be a hairdresser and married well.' Well, I don't know her, and I don't care," Sauser says. "The biggest issue is not whether or not they're elitist, whether or not they like people who live in bigger houses, or whether they like people who drive fancy cars. The issue is the District."

Sauser refers to a recent article published in the Lakewood/East Dallas Advocate which boasted a large color photo of Guild members Palmlund, Victoria Wells, and Michelle Baus. The subject of the September article was the Guild's plans to market the Swiss Avenue Historic District.

"The people who saved Swiss Avenue in the 1970s worked about 10 years, and now it's our turn to take the next step," Palmlund told the Advocate, a glossy neighborhood monthly that's distributed free to 39,000 homes.

Sauser says the article is just the latest and most blatant example of the Guild's attempts to peddle itself as the official body of the District.

"When they come out in an article like this and say they are the representatives of the Swiss Avenue Historic District, they are at cross-purposes with the Swiss Avenue Historic District Association," Sauser says. "They cannot usurp the power of the Swiss Avenue Historic District Association."

It was for the District's sake that Sauser drafted a controversial letter two years ago, which numerous non-Guild sources say drove Palmlund away from the Association forever and helped transform the Guild into a meddling political machine.

During the 1995 annual budget meeting, held as usual in August, Palmlund informed the Association that the Guild had met privately with several real estate agents and decided that a brochure featuring Swiss Avenue homes would be a great publicity tool for the District. All she needed was $10,000 of the neighborhood's money.

Soon, the Association members discovered that several of the houses in the planned brochure just so happened to be for sale. At the time, Palmlund herself was asking $540,000 for her 5007 Swiss Avenue starter home--a Mediterranean-style house with four and a half baths, several "grand formal rooms," "intimate balconies," and a pool. (Her home, however, was not featured in the brochure.)

Sauser was in Cape Cod at the time of that meeting, but when she heard about Palmlund's request she promptly drafted a letter asking the Association to delay its vote on the matter.

Sauser says she didn't think it was right for the Association to spend its money on a brochure designed to help a few Swiss Avenue residents sell their houses. Especially at a time when the district's unpaved and pothole-riddled alleys are a hazard, and more lighting is needed throughout the District.

Moreover, Sauser and other Bryan Parkway residents didn't like the idea because Palmlund hadn't included any of the homes on their street. In explaining this exclusion, Palmlund is reported to have said, "Well, no one wants to see those little houses."

(Palmlund did not return the Observer's phone calls requesting comment on this.)

At a subsequent meeting, the Association agreed to give the Guild $5,000 for the brochure, but the compromise vote didn't please anyone. Earlier that year, Palmlund had raised a reported $60,000 for the neighborhood during a Christmas home tour she put on, and it didn't seem to her that $10,000 was too much to ask.

"To have people criticize [your work], you say, Hey! Where's the applause? Where's the pat on my back? My God," Palmlund says. "It hurts when you're put down and you're trying so hard."

Other residents didn't think the Guild should get a penny.
"It was a stupid idea. These people are fascinated with publicity brochures," says Jim Schutze, who is certain that the Guild is motivated by the desire to boost the property values of its homes. Schutze, the Dallas bureau chief for the Houston Chronicle, reports that no one left the meeting happy, particularly Palmlund's entourage.

"They were furious. They screamed at the meeting. These are people that can't handle any kind of debate or compromise," Schutze says. "They fucking can't stand any opposition."

Eventually, the six-page glossy brochure came out, and one home from Bryan Parkway was included in it. Its cover features a photo of a smiling Guild member strolling down Swiss Avenue with her Izod-clad children. "Swiss Avenue Historic District. A Great Place For Family Living," the brochure declares.

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