Swiss Misses

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

Ahr is so paralyzed by the fear of worsening relations between the Guild and the Association that the normally opinionated financial advisor declines to make even neutral comments about the skirmish.

He will, however, confirm that representatives of the Guild and the Association's median committee recently met to discuss the issue.

"All five of us agreed that we weren't going to put in azaleas or any other plants that would be high-maintenance," says Ahr, who stresses that any final decisions on the median must be approved by the Association.

The sensitive negotiations were called after the Guild presented its "vision" for the median during the meeting inside the Aldredge house--the same meeting in which Johnson bluntly predicted civil war.

On that fateful evening, the neighborhood spat came to a head as the Guild women unveiled their plan to plant flowers in the median and install moonlights, which hang from trees like over-priced Christmas lights.

Exactly who presented what idea at the meeting is a bit cloudy. When reached by telephone, Association President Al Tatum declined to pass on a copy of the minutes from the meeting.

For now, the question of whether azaleas will be taking root in the median cannot be answered with any certainty, but Ahr says the two factions have identified some basic priorities.

First, the plan is to finish the edging work and install additional turf and shrubbery. The committee agreed that the moonlights are a good idea if and only if the Guild can raise enough money to pay for them.

"The goal is for us all to work together," Ahr says. "We can't have a bunch of people freelancing in the median."

Ahr won't say it, but the agreement reflects a victory for the Association, which thought long and hard about landscaping back in the early 1990s. The Association wanted professional advice at the time, so it hired Texas gardening guru Neil Sperry to assess the median.

"His opinion was, less was more: Let the landscaping of the houses take the focus," Ahr says.

Ahr's negotiated cease-fire is in effect for now, but it is likely that the Guild will soon be gunning for its azaleas.

Palmlund concedes as much. "We're gonna take that on later," she says.
"It needs to be completed. It needs to look like Armstrong Parkway," adds Novorr, who's referring to the azalea-lined median in Highland Park. "It doesn't need to look like our yards, but it needs to look well-maintained. It needs to look like we love it."

The residents of Bryan Parkway didn't bother to RSVP the Guild for its hoity-toity, $60-a-head awards ceremony on October 4.

And the Guild, in turn, didn't let their absence spoil the party.
At 7:30 that Saturday evening, pairs of tuxedo-clad men and their elaborately costumed wives promenaded into the DMA for the long-awaited soiree.

Museum guests who didn't know the Guild is a social club might have mistakenly thought it was the official body of the Swiss Avenue Historic District, given the Guild's display of promotional materials. Indeed, an oversized scrapbook was placed in the museum's entryway--dangerously close to the District brochures. Like a family photo album, one of the book's first entries is a full-page dedication to Dr. Barton, the plastic surgeon.

"Some of us wondered what plastic surgery would be like," says Novorr, who breaks out into an extended giggle and adds, "Don't print that."

Wrapped in a black gown cut to accentuate her fit 38-year-old frame, Novorr's face lights up in surprise as she exchanges air kisses with a blonde woman named Roxanne.

"We don't just know each other as neighbors. We worked in the trenches together," Roxanne says, apologizing for missing some of the Guild's recent teas. She pauses for a moment to prevent a teardrop from smearing her mascara and, after some hesitation, spontaneously flings her arms around Novorr. "I missed you, Martha. I really did."

For $60 a head, the Guild's guests were treated to hors d'oeuvres, two drinks, and a private viewing of the DMA's Egypt exhibit. The guests were also encouraged to participate in a silent auction to raise money for the Guild.

The items on sale included a Road Warrior 2000 Extreme Cigar Protection Device, a bottle of Chateaulafite Rothschild 1984 Bordeaux Wine, and a wine-tasting class for 30 people at Tony's Wine Warehouse & Bistro.

(Generally speaking, Tony's Michel Monzain does not recommend the 1984 Bordeaux because the French territory suffered its wettest and coldest May in 25 years. Besides, the region's pro-Nazi leaders were responsible for sending 1,690 Jews, including 223 children, to their deaths during World War II.)

But the real purpose of the soiree was to give the Guild members an opportunity to honor themselves and their corporate sponsors, which included WFAA-Channel 8 and Mary Kay cosmetics, with Magnolia awards.

Much to the Guild's delight, Mary Kay President Tim Wentworth was there in person to collect his porcelain Magnolia, which he did graciously, but with little comment.

But there was one very special Magnolia award recipient whose name did not appear on the program, because the presentation was meant to be a surprise.

As the ceremony neared its conclusion, Vanessa Hoffman solemnly announced that she was going to depart from the evening's schedule. The chatter in the room dropped to whispers, then silence, as Hoffman explained that the Guild wanted to honor a woman who can be depended on "as surely as the sun rises."

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