The Dallas Woman’s Forum fosters one of our city’s oldest mansions

Dallas Woman’s Forum members Virginia Cook, Suzanne Palmlund, Cathy Roach and Susan Williams organize the club’s annual home tour. Photo by Danny Fulgnencio

The Alexander Mansion is 106 years old, and along with the Belo Mansion Downtown, it is the last of the grand mansions that once lined Ross Avenue. No one has lived there since 1930. But the house, built for the equivalent of $3.2 million in today’s dollars, is full of life.

It has served for the past 82 years as the clubhouse for the Dallas Woman’s Forum. The club takes care of the house, and like any centenarian, the house has a few ailments. The old mansion needs foundation work first and then a new roof.

That’s why the woman’s forum five years ago started its annual holiday home tour and European tearoom. It is the club’s one big fundraiser. This year’s home tour is Dec. 6-9.

The club has asked a historian to lead the tours this year, and it is a magnificent house. Enormous marble pillars at the front of the building were so large and unwieldy that workers had to build a cart specifically to haul them from the railroad during construction.

The home has most of its original details such as mother-of-pearl inlays in the leaded windows. All but one of the light fixtures is original. Even though Dallas didn’t have citywide electricity at the time, this house had its own generators for lights. Most rooms on the ground floor are paneled entirely in oak, and the dining room in mahogany. An appraiser from Sotheby’s currently is working to determine whether a large stained-glass window above the grand staircase is Tiffany. A shower in one of two second-floor bathrooms is one of the first installed in Dallas, and it has six knobs to control water at six points on the body.

The home’s original owner, C.H. Alexander, ran C.H. Alexander’s Dallas Ice Factory in Old East Dallas, and he had a huge icebox installed in the kitchen. The icebox is accessible from outdoors so that ice trucks could pull up and deliver ice without bothering the staff. In the Dallas summers, Alexander had mounds of ice delivered to the mansion’s front lawn so that his six children could play in it.

The women of the forum decorate the house for Christmas themselves, and each room has its own theme. The main dining room, for example, is decorated all in Tiffany blue and white. For the European tearoom, Dec. 12-21 this year, the women of the forum loan their personal china, crystal and silver. Each table is laid out with its own settings, so no two are the same.

“We’ve noticed a lot of the same mothers and daughters every year, so they’re starting to make it a tradition,” says club member Sharon Cooper.

The forum was founded in 1906, and its early rolls are a who’s who of “firsts” among Dallas women, including Leonora Kirk Hall, the first woman elected to the Dallas school board. One of the founders, Mrs. E.P. Turner, in 1921 founded the organization that would become the Dallas League of Women Voters. The women of the forum organized their first fundraiser to help victims of the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

In the early days, members of the forum used the mansion as their home away from home. A parlor at the front of the house is known as “the writing room” because it’s where women would sit together and catch up on their personal correspondence. Their housekeeper, Willie, would serve them tea while they worked.

“We truly represent an era that’s gone,” Cooper says.

At the height of its popularity, in the 1930s, the club had 700 members. Membership had dwindled to about 50 by 2007. But recruiting efforts over the past two years have bolstered the club’s membership to about 200.

The Alexander Mansion also includes a collection of Texas art, which the forum has collected since the early 1900s. The club used to sponsor a juried art show, and it would always buy the winning work. The ladies of the club would like to bring that tradition back, and they are planning a juried art show for next year.

 

Alexander Mansion Holiday Home Tour

Dec. 6-9, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

$10 adults, $5 children younger than 12

 

Holiday European Tea Room

Dec. 12-21, seating at 1 p.m.

$45 adults, $15 children younger than 12

 

The mansion is located at 4607 Ross. Tickets for both events can be purchased by calling 214.823.4533 or online at dallaswomansforum.org.

 


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