The Swiss Avenue Home Tour is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month by honoring the Swiss Avenue Historic District founders – 10 people who were instrumental in rescuing and restoring the East Dallas neighborhood and its grand homes.

Today, with more than 80 percent of the homes restored, there is little evidence of the massive decay the founders battled when they organized the Historic Preservation League and launched a campaign to convince residents and the City Council to create the City’s first historic district. Time and hard work have proven their contention that historic designation and rezoning would spark rejuvenation.

Nine properties in the 140-acre district – ranging from long term restorations to recent facelifts to new-but-compatible construction – will be open to the public Mother’s Day weekend, May 8-10.

“Twenty years ago, the tour was an effort to bring people back into the inner city to acquaint them with the housing stock, but now it’s more of a preservation festival,” says Steve Mabry, co-tour director.

Indeed, although the tour’s focus is eight homes and one English garden that have been lovingly restored to approximate the area’s 1910s-‘20s grandeur, numerous other activities are included to encourage tour participants to linger beneath the area’s numerous shade trees.

Whether it is an estate sale to benefit Trinity Ministry to the Poor, a drama performance, a concert by an elementary school band, or arts and crafts and food booths, the festival has something for all ages.

This tradition of civic pride would have been a pleasant daydream in the early 1970s, when a small group of residents banded together to save the former silk-stocking neighborhood from the cookie-cutter, apartment-complex fate that had befallen portions of nearby Gaston Avenue and Live Oak Street.

The result of their efforts was a City Historic District designation in 1973 and a listing in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 that includes eight blocks of Swiss Avenue (from Fitzhugh to La Vista) and parts of Bryan Parkway, Live Oak and La Vista.

The founding fathers and mothers of Swiss Avenue’s second chance include Dorothy Savage, Larry Offutt, Donna Vastine, Ann Courtin Williams, Virginia McAlister, Michael Brown, E.L. Dunn, Virginia Wahlstrom, Lynn Dunsavage and Harryette Ehrhardt.

Proceeds from ticket sales ($7 in advance; $10 tour day) benefit neighborhood agencies and projects. Past beneficiaries have included Habitat for Humanity, Lakewood Branch Library, Woodrow Wilson High School, J.L. Long Middle School, Lipscomb Elementary School and neighborhood beautification projects, says tour co-director Karen Mabry.

Tickets are available at the Consignment Place, First Lakewood National Bank and Dillard stores. Tour hours are 6:30-9 p.m. May 8 (homes only); 11 a.m.-7 p.m. May 9; and noon-6 p.m. May 10.

Free trolley rides will ferry visitors to and from First Interstate Bank’s parking lot (Gaston and La Vista).

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