Harryette Ehrhardt and her husband, Jack, bought the house at 5731 Swiss Ave. in 1970, when the neighborhood was nothing like the pristine row of mansions it is today. The homes were in disarray, and Ehrhardt called it an inner city slum. Parts of the street had been purchased by developers and were set to become apartments. But it was a neighborhood where her children could go to integrated schools in very segregated Dallas, and they made the street their own. Built in 1919 for Theodore Marcus, brother of Herbert Marcus (of Neiman Marcus), the home’s next owners were the Van Winkle family, who owned a Pontiac dealership. The Ehrhardts were the third owners, purchasing the house for $30,000, with the adjacent empty lot running them $35,000. They discounted the lot with the house, as it was assumed the home would be torn down. As a teacher, SMU professor, Dallas ISD school board trustee and state representative, Ehrhardt made it her home, and it has quite a story to tell.
1 Third Floor Apartment Originally home for the live-in maid, the efficiency apartment hosted numerous foreign exchange students over the years, as well as recent graduates and political operatives on many of the campaigns that Harryette Ehrhardt helped coordinate over the years.
2 Guest bedroom Glen Maxey, the first openly gay member of the Texas legislature, would often stay at Ehrhardt’s home while in Dallas. It also housed political volunteers who would camp out and sleep on the floor while working campaigns here.
3 Second floor office During a 1984 event for Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice presidential candidate in history, Ferraro came down with an eye infection. Ehrhardt’s late husband, Jack, was an eye surgeon, and treated her infection right in the office.
4 Dining Room Meeting with famous Dallas oilman H.L. Hunt’s wife Helen Hunt, Ehrhardt helped form the Dallas Women’s Foundation, which is the largest regional women’s foundation in the country and helps raise money to support women and improve opportunities for women in North Texas.
A plan to keep East Dallas students in the neighborhood was born during the integration of Dallas schools. The plan said naturally integrated neighborhoods like East Dallas could not be split apart to integrate other segregated areas of town. It became the law of the land after the Supreme Court ruled in their favor.
5 Living Room Nancy Pelosi held an event while running for Congress, and a stage was built for her to help mask her short stature. In 1982, then future governor Ann Richards attended a meeting of the Dallas Women’s Political Caucus, which was formed in the home after the Equal Rights Amendment failed to be ratified. 1984 Presidential candidate Walter Mondale’s wife Joan also hosted an event here, and the decorations were hustled down the street to decorate a neighbor’s house hosting an event for Mondale’s opponent’s wife, Barbara Bush.
With the help of former Dallas mayor Wallace Savage, the Historic Preservation League (which became Preservation Dallas) was formed to try and protect Dallas’ architectural history in 1972. The Swiss Avenue Historic District was also part of the process, protecting the historic estates in the area.
6 Carriage House Originally home to the cook and manservant (whose job was to shovel coal into the furnace all day in the winter), a group of flower children inhabited the space when the Ehrhardt’s moved in. They had been squatting in the main house, painting it saffron pink, and cut holes in the doors so that they could check on each other during their drug trips.
7 Solarium After sitting next to each other at a Turtle Creek Chroale performance, Ehrhardt and former first lady Laura Bush scheduled a private lunch in the addition. Bush was Ehrhardt’s student when she attended SMU, and the two remain friends despite political differences. Laura Bush honored Ehrhardt by dedicating the library at Zan Wesley Holmes Jr. Middle School to Ehrhardt.
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