After a group of French, Belgain, and Swiss settlers known as the La Reunion Colony failed in their attempt to establish a utopian community just west of the Trinity River in 1855, several of the remaining settlers chose to remain in Dallas and moved east of the Trinity River to get a fresh start. Among the remaining settlers were Swiss businessmen Jacob Nussbaumer and Henry Boll, both of whom settled in 1859 on adjoining properties along White Rock Road, which they renamed Swiss Avenue in deference to their native country.
Following Jacob Nussbaumer’s and Henry Boll’s return from serving in Colonel Nat Buford’s 19th Texas Cavalry in 1865, the two men subdivided and sold pieces of their property along Swiss Avenue to the remaining La Reunion settlers as well as to Dallas’ new wave of European immigrants, which included Frederick Wilson and Captain William H. Gaston.
When the Texas & Pacific Railroad crossed the Houston & Texas Central in 1873 one mile east of the courthouse, businesses began to develop around the intersection, and residential development to the east thrived. An independent town of East Dallas existed from 1882 to 1889, when it was annexed by Dallas. In 1905 brother Collett and Robert S. Munger, who had made a fortune in the cotton gin industry, began a development north of Old East Dallas, with an extension of Swiss Avenue as its centerpiece. The Munger brothers advertised Munger Place as “the most attractive and desirable residential district in the entire Southland,” and Swiss Avenue became known as the “upscale core of the Munger Place development.”
In an effort to promote Munger Place as “a strictly high class residential district,” the Munger Brothers established Munger Place as the first deed restricted neighborhood in Texas, and mandated that houses on Swiss Avenue be a full two stories, have a uniform setback of sixty feet, and cost at least $10,000. Designed as a landscape boulevard for the highest priced homes, Swiss Avenue became the “silk-stocking district” of Dallas in the early 1900s. With its collection of Neoclassical, Tudor, Spanish Eclectic, Italian Renaissance, Colonial Revival, and Prairie style houses built by such noted architects as Hal Thomson, C.E. Barglebaugh, as well as Lang & Witchell, Swiss Avenue represented the grandeur of Dallas’ professional and social elite.
Today, the Swiss Avenue Historic District includes 200 houses located on portions of Swiss Avenue, Bryan Parkway, Bryan Street, La Vista Avenue, and Live Oak Street. With sweeping lawns, oak-lined streets, historical architecture, and large setbacks, Swiss Avenue Historic District reflects the prestige and graciousness of a by-gone era. Thanks to the efforts made by Swiss Avenue residents in the 1970s to preserve their neighborhood as Dallas’ first historic district through the formation of the Historic Preservation League, almost every house in the Swiss Avenue Historic District has been fully restored, earning Swiss Avenue Historic District the description as “one of the finest intact neighborhoods of early 20th century residential architecture in the United States.”
Author: Michelle Stanard
Editor: Michael Hazel
Photographs: Preservation Dallas