The Faded Queen of Swiss Avenue

An Update


   Below is a story I posted in 2010 after visiting the Swiss Avenue Tour of Homes.
   On May 13th, 2012 my family and I once again visited the Swiss Avenue Tour of Homes. We were quite surprised that 4949 Swiss Avenue was back on the tour, but even more surprised to find the the home had been purchased in late 2011.
   What is amazing is that the home is approaching its 100th year, but it has had only four owners. It was purchased by Mr. Cameron Kinvig, who graciously allowed us to tour all three floors of the home. One of his discoveries was a third floor ballroom that featured murals and other decorations from Maddie Caruth's debutante ball. (The Caruth's are the family that sold the home to Mary Ellen Bendtsen's family in 1949).
    Touring the home in its current state gives you an appreciation for the endeavor Mr. Kinvig has chosen to undertake. The home has had virtually no upgrades since 1949.
   In Mr. Kinvigs first few months of ownership he has stripped the kitchen and a downstairs bathroom and is preparing to take the first of many steps into repairing the shine to the jewel of Swiss Avenue.



My Original Story    May   2010


   Sunday, my wife and I visited the Swiss Avenue Tour of Homes. Arguably the most beautiful street in Dallas, most of these 1920 era mansions have been beautifully restored to their early grandeur.  One however, continues to  slowly decay. The only thing sadder than the fading glory of 4949 Swiss Avenue, is the story of its last resident.


   4949 Swiss Avenue was built in 1918 when Swiss Avenue was the showcase for Dallas elite. The Caruth family bought the home in 1922. (The Caruths once owned all the land north on Mockingbird to what is now Forest Hill. They donated the land to build the SMU Campus).




   In 1949, when Swiss Avenue was losing many of its prominent families and many homes were becoming boarding houses, the Caruth's sold the home to John Logan. Logan's daughter Mary Ellen was a fashion model of such stunning beauty that Life Magazine once named her "The Most Beautiful Woman in America". She was the model for the Art Deco statue that appear outside the Hall of State in Fair Park.



    Mary Ellen Logan, later Mary Ellen Bendtsen outlived most of her family and her husband. By 1985, she was the only person  living in the giant home. As she got older and her income shrank, Mary Ellen closed off more of the house. Living on just $800 a month, the widow lived in just a few small rooms and heated the home with the oven, which was constantly on during the winter months. A three car garage behind the home caught fire and was never repaired. Plaster was falling from the walls. A post was installed on the front porch to keep it from collapsing. Unable to afford a washing machine, she took her clothes to her daughters home to be laundered. Her daughter desperately wanted her mom to move from the fading mansion, but Mary Ellen would not hear of it. Her home was her identity, often telling people she met that she was the woman of 4949 Swiss Avenue. 

    Two of the few people who visited the lonely widow in her aging home were a couple of unscrupulous antiques dealers. The family was never comfortable with the two young men who had a history of befriending other elderly couples and often seeking their financial assistance. The family's suspisions were validated when the pair and got Mary Ellen to change her will a few days before her passing in 2005. 
                                     

   Prior to her passing, she had lived alone in the house for 20 years, Unable to afford repairs, the house like her health continued to deteriorate. After her death, it sat empty for years while the court tried to decide who were the rightful heirs to the mansion, the family or the two young men. 

   Five years since Mary Ellen Bendtsen's passing, the home is still vacant.  I was lucky enough to walk through the mansion during the Tour of Homes. The 7400 square foot home, listing for sale at $795,000, is in need of tremendous repair and updating. The windows have been replaced by plywood to keep out the vandals who have stripped the home of its antique features. The garage roof is in danger of collapsing. The faded star of Swiss Avenue sits alone, waiting for someone to once again restore her tremendous beauty. 



The Story of Swiss Avenue, Dallas' Most Beautiful Street

   Swiss Avenue was the brainchild of Robert Munger, who conceived the neighborhood in 1905 as part of his Munger Place development. In its day, Swiss Avenue was the most elite address in Dallas. By the 1920's, Swiss Avenue stretched to just west of White Rock Lake. 
   After World War II, Dallas begin to grow to the north and many of the original families sold their East Dallas mansions. A post war housing shortage caused many of the mansions to be split into boarding houses. Nearby mansions on Gaston Avenue were being torn down for modern apartments.  Unable to compete with the sleek new apartments, many of the families that owned the Swiss Avenue mansions / boarding houses sought to sell their homes to developers. 
   A bitter fight among homeowners was won by preservationists. The street became the city's first historic district in 1973. However, by then the surrounding neighborhoods were in serious decline. The once sleek apartments on Gaston Avenue were in disrepair. Junius Hieghts and Munger Place also suffered from neglect. Swiss Avenue's mansions were being restored, but the street had become an elegant island in the middle of urban decay. 
   Slowly, the surrounding area began to turn around.  The Munger Place and Junius Heights neighborhoods are now designated historic districts and property values have climbed significantly. Area apartments are being restored to the former glory. The influence of Swiss Avenue has spread throughout the area.
   Recently a mansion at 4519 Gaston that had been empty for 30 years was purchased and is being restored, further proof that  Swiss Avenue is continuing to spread its magic.






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