Swiss Misses

Page 5 of 9

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.

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.

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Rose Farley
Contact: Rose Farley