Longform

Swiss Misses

Page 6 of 9

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.

Larry Johnson thinks it's symbolic that the Guild's first speaker was a plastic surgeon. A tall man with a deep laugh and country-boy mannerisms, Johnson is feared within the district for his unwillingness to mince words--and his willingness to openly criticize the Guild, especially Palmlund.

"Suzanne will never give up until she gets shot dead. And when she gets shot dead, she'll be terribly sad and hurt. But she has to be stopped," Johnson says. "It's gonna be war until it's over."

On this balmy fall evening, Johnson is joined by Bryan Parkway resident Jean Naczi, who had the unfortunate pleasure of serving as the Association's president during the year of the brochure. Besides the spat over funding the brochure, Naczi caught hell because she made the faux pas of putting up the median's Christmas lights before Thanksgiving.

Two years later, Naczi says she's still filled with regrets about her tumultuous tenure.

"I feel like, man, I should have done something better. We should have first listened to Suzanne's ideas about the lights in the bushes and the trees," Naczi says. "We've never had anything like this before."

Johnson, as usual, has sharper words. "What if they do all these elaborate things that we have no say in and then they move? Then you've got 20,000 azaleas with no money or means to take care of them," he says. "It's scary."

The sound of a nearby gunshot pierces the air as the pair sit on the front steps of Johnson's two-story estate--modest by Swiss Avenue standards--and contemplate how life has changed in the District.

Back in the old days--in the '70s, when the houses were still being renovated--Johnson says, the neighborhood had an air of mellow cooperation about it.

"Someone would walk up and say, 'Hey, are you working on this house?' You'd say, 'Yeah, want a joint?' And you'd go inside and smoke a joint," Johnson says.

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Rose Farley
Contact: Rose Farley