Swiss Misses

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

A woman, Hoffman said, who brought the Guild to life and is responsible for its many achievements--including the neighborhood's Sunday brunches and monthly teas.

"For all of her hard work," Hoffman said, pausing briefly for effect, "the Gala Committee gives the Magnolia Award to Suzanne Palmlund!"

The crowd rose to its feet and applauded as Palmlund shuffled to the podium, lifting her flowing brown gown from the floor as she walked. Visibly overwhelmed, Palmlund wiped a tear from her eye.

"This is an unbelievable surprise," Palmlund said. "[Swiss Avenue] is something to live for, especially in the '90s. We do tend to forget to slow down and realize what's important. My home to me is very important."

After regaining her composure, Palmlund in turn thanked all of the women who had helped make the Guild what it is today.

"These past 12 years, I've had the most incredible friendships," she said. "And the most that I've ever had anyone ask of me has been, 'What carpenter have you had?' Mine's in the audience tonight!"

When the Association puts on its annual Mother's Day Home Tour this spring, it will celebrate its 25th anniversary by emphasizing the District's role in renovating old East Dallas.

The Guild, meanwhile, has its own plans.
In December, it's hoping to raise some money by opening up Palmlund's house for a separate version of the home tour, one that isn't an official Association event.

"I personally don't care if they [the Association] never do a tour. That's part of what they do, and they have fun and they raise money," Palmlund says.

While some of the District's other residents may be leery of the Guild's fundraising methods, Hoffman says it wouldn't hurt them to consider the possibility that the ladies might know a thing or two about fundraising.

"We need to move forward, and I think we have provided a vehicle that enables the District, working hand-in-hand with them, to move forward," Hoffman says, lowering her voice to a whisper. "And people are resistant to change. For some people, change is like, 'Oh no!'"

As the discussion on Palmlund's porch veers toward the subject of the Guild's critics, the frequency of the three women's nervous giggles increases. They are not, they insist, trying to undermine the Association's power.

"We haven't shut ourselves off from the District," Novorr protests. "We've had the entire District over for an Easter egg hunt. I do the vintage Santa Claus, and they're all invited to our home, and Santa's there, and the children sit on Santa's knee."

By the time the allotted 30 minutes is up, Palmlund has grown inpatient with the questions. No longer able to hold her tongue, Palmlund throws a barb at her childish critics. In order to be in the Guild, Palmlund says, you have to at least act like you're in the first grade.

"If I don't want to join something, I just don't join," she says. "I don't make trouble for them. Go interview their employers and find out if they cause the same trouble in their jobs and their churches and their schools.

"We're very high-energy women," she adds. "We're not little book-club women, you know.

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