Swiss Preservationists Protested One Wedding House but Defend Another

In the abandoned, aging mansion on Live Oak Street, around the corner from a dive bar and a convenience shop, Charlie Price once pictured an elegant wedding chapel. Or, if that business failed, maybe the boarded-up structure could be converted into a law office or an art gallery. Price bought the historic-looking but dilapidated building on 4901 Live Oak in July of last year for his daughter and son-in-law, Alicia and Adam Rico. The couple, who used to live in Brooklyn, now owns the Bows + Arrows flower shop around the corner on Bryan Street in East Dallas. Alicia had long wanted to run a wedding venue, her father says.

But the neighborhood leaders in the Swiss Avenue Historic District protested.  "With one rezoning request, it has the potential to destabilize that whole one-mile stretch of Live Oak," Joanna Hampton, the president of the Swiss Avenue Historic District, told WFAA at the time. "It introduces a higher-intensity use in an area that didn't anticipate it." 

The mansion's fate was decided at a Plan Commission meeting in January, when commissioners were set to vote on whether to grant Price his request that the mansion be rezoned from residential to commercial use. He recalls seeing Hampton there with other prominent preservationists and homeowners nearby. "All of a sudden I had an army behind me in opposition," Price recalled of the meeting, even though the mansion is not located within the Swiss Avenue Historic District. The Plan Commission ultimately decided in an 8-7 vote to deny Price's application.

"We are not enthusiastic about having a commercial structure in that corner, that would perhaps start out as a lovely wedding chapel, but could then ... be turned into anything else, because it would be zoned commercial," says Harryette Ehrhardt, former state representative and local preservationist leader.

Now, the same group of influential preservationists in the neighborhood who spoke out against the wedding chapel idea are defending another controversial wedding venue, the historic Aldredge House on 5500 Swiss Ave., even as homeowners who live nearby complain that the wedding parties there are getting out of control.  A group of homeowners on Swiss has filed a petition with the Dallas Board of Adjustment asking that the city revoke the house's right to host parties. Neighbors have complained in affidavits to the city that the weddings and other events the house regularly hosts are loud and obnoxious, ruining the peace and quiet on the residential street. They complain about valet drivers leaving cones on the street, trucks that idle throughout the area, the litter of wedding guests' cigarette butts and, according to one neighbor, being told to be quiet in her own yard so as not to interrupt the wedding next door. (One of the neighbors shot an undercover video of a wedding at the house.)

"On one occasion, a guest left a bra outside her vehicle in front of my home," writes one horrified neighbor. "My fiancé has three children who occasionally stay with us."

For now, marketing and booking are suspended at the Aldredge House, the Dallas County Medical Society Alliance, the house's landlord, announced on the venue's website. Ehrhardt says this shows how they're willing to negotiate and "bend over backward" to accommodate the neighbors. The Board of Adjustment will vote on the house's future on October 21.

Joanna Hampton, the district president who spoke out against the Live Oak venue, and others in charge of the Swiss Avenue Historic District have defended the Aldredge house. In an August neighborhood meeting, the district voted to send a message to the Board of Adjustment, stating: ‘"We are in support of allowing Aldredge House, located in the Swiss Avenue Historic District, to maintain its current uses and operations." 

Preservationists defending the Aldredge House say they would have been happy to see the Live Oak house turned into a wedding venue, had Price agreed to other conditions. "The conditions that were being presented at planning commission ... they did not protect the house," says author and Swiss Avenue preservationist Virginia McAlester. "Why in the world would you change the zoning to commercial if it's not to protect a wonderful house?"

McAlester, Ehrhardt and Hampton say they would have embraced Price's plans for a wedding chapel had he filed for a zoning change called a planned development "to zone it for exactly what the Aldredge House is zoned for," a special events house, Ehrhardt says. They say they also proposed he seek a landmark designation for the house. 

But such a specific zoning change would have made it difficult to ever sell the house, Price says. "I didn't want to do a landmark and planned development because it restricted the whole future use of the property," he says. "If the weddings didn't work out, I could have leased it to a law office or I could have turned it into an art gallery."

As it is, the Live Oak house remains empty today. McAlester says she worries for the house but does not know what will happen to it. "We were really excited about doing anything to try to make that [the wedding chapel] work, but we can't just say, 'Oh well, we're going to trust you,'" McAlester says.

Meanwhile, as controversy over the Aldredge house was growing heated between the wealthy homeowners, Ehrhardt wrote a post on Candy's Dirt real estate blog offering a measured defense of the venue, though still acknowledging that the home's neighbors are sometimes bombarded with "excessive noise and activity."

“In no way do I think they should be subjected to any undue discomfort,” Ehrhardt told another reporter in September. “But I would remind them that they moved next to an active historic structure that is open to the public.” 
Missing from Ehrhardt's polite defense is the acknowledgment that her granddaughter Lauren Twichell is listed as the Aldredge House's director of catering.  "Although I'm very proud that Lauren is there, it's not material" to her defense of the Aldredge House parties, Ehrhardt says. She says she's told plenty of people about her granddaughter's job, but didn't think it was relevant to include the connection in the essay she wrote. "My concern for this neighborhood goes back long and deep," Ehrhardt says. Twichell referred an interview request to the Dallas County Medical Alliance.

While the angry neighbors' Board of Adjustment application to stop the Aldredge House's parties is still pending, the house on Live Oak remains empty. Price sold the home shortly after he lost at the Plan Commission meeting, and the building still has no special landmark status to protect it.
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Amy Martyn
Contact: Amy Martyn