Contributed by:
David Preziosi

Lost and Found Dallas: Swiss Avenue - The Start of Historic Preservation in Dallas

Forty years ago, Swiss Avenue was much different than the jewel of a neighborhood it is today. In 1973, the once-upscale Swiss Avenue neighborhood was run down. Its houses were dilapidated, and many were carved into apartments and new high-rise apartment developments threatened the neighborhood's character.

Swiss Avenue was platted in 1905 as part of the larger Munger Place development, the first deed-restricted neighborhood in Texas. The street was the premier landscaped boulevard of the development and houses were required to be two-story, have a uniform setback of 60 feet, and cost at least $10,000. In the early 1900s, Swiss Avenue was home to many of Dallas' professional and social elite who lived in houses of Neo-classical, Tudor, Spanish Eclectic, Italian Renaissance, Colonial Revival, and Prairie style designs by such noted architects as Hal Thomson, C.E. Barglebaugh, and Lang & Witchell.

Unfortunately, by the 1970s, blight had spread to Swiss Avenue and it was no longer home to the Dallas elite who had long ago moved to other parts of the city. A determined group of neighborhood property owners banded together in 1973 to reverse the downward course of Swiss Avenue and protect it from inappropriate development. They worked closely with the Historic Preservation League (now Preservation Dallas), which was formed just a year earlier to help save Dallas' historic landmarks and to get the Swiss Avenue Historic District established. It was the first historic district designated in the city and one of the earliest in the state. At the same time, the league and concerned citizens successfully lobbied for the passage of the first preservation ordinance to protect historic buildings in Dallas.

Thanks to the early preservation efforts on Swiss Avenue, nearly every house in the Swiss Avenue Historic District has been fully restored, earning the district a distinction as one of the finest intact neighborhoods of early 20th century residential architecture in the United States.

The effort to protect the Swiss Avenue neighborhood 40 years ago spurred a preservation movement across the city which has resulted in 20 historic districts and over 100 individual structures designated as City of Dallas landmarks. With the passage of the first historic preservation ordinance in 1973, and subsequent ordinances, thousands of historic structures in Dallas are now protected. This has been paramount in maintaining the unique historic character of the many architecturally, culturally, and economically diverse neighborhoods that help make Dallas a great place to live.

David Preziosi is the executive director of Preservation Dallas.