Most Dallas homes are so young and vivacious, they have no history. Old homes, like old broads, have years upon years of stories, unique inhabitants, and quirky homeowners which make for juicy stories. Or a little dirt. Swiss Avenue, for example, is loaded with great house stories: we will never forget Mary Ellen Bendtsen, her lavish parties and the boys who tried to snatch that home from her estate.

There are some really good stories in North Dallas, too, and you pass another notorious house whenever you steer down Royal near Hillcrest. 7122 Royal Lane was built in 1958 but was extensively remodeled in 1980, when it became known as The Party House. The owner at the time was a socialite bachelor who’s name escapes me — perhaps one of you will recall — and he had many large “fundraisers” in the huge backyard overlooking two lakes, the scene loaded with socialites and out of town celebs pre PaperCity days.. The yard here is 33,114 square feet, just under an acre (43,560 square feet), so even with the pool you had plenty of party space to boogie. When famous people were in town, the socialite bachelor would open up the backyard and the dance floor, which cantilevered over one of the two private lakes in the backyard, THEE backyard for huge parties. Cars were parked all up and down Royal Lane, neighbors were frowning.

One night of a major fundraiser, Mikhail Baryshinkov was in town and the guest celeb. He got over to the house in his tux, broke into a little early vino along with the home owner, and that’s when things got  little crazy. Mikhail and the home owner grabbed some pistols and, still wearing tuxes, went down to the lake and played shoot em up with pond turtles.  Both still wearing their Tuxedos.

Totally un -P.C. I am hoping that with the wine, they were not very good shots.

7122 Royal was, of course, first remodeled in 1980. Well, this place got ANOTHER major remodel in 1990, on the ten year plan I guess.  The partying bachelor finally settled down and stopped shooting turtles, got married, went suburban and sold the place to the current owners, who vividly recall attending some of those  infamous parties in the late 80’s, early 90’s.  7122 Royal was also on the cover of Pinnacle Magazine in 1996.

So what do you have now, in 2012? A gorgeous, sleek 4232 square foot home with giant rooms, formals, three bedrooms, two and a half baths, and two private lakes. Though this home is in a pocket off Royal west of Central/I75, the yard is surprisingly private, can entertain 20 or 2000.  Walk to the set-back pool over a charming bridge. Inside, there are walls of windows including an indoor water wall & hot-tub, a solarium, drip watering, custom lighting, hardwoods, a gourmet kitchen, stainless appliances, landscaped grounds, and surprise for the location, total privacy & security.

Like every home in Dallas, this one got a new roof this year, and also skylights. This is a heavily treed, lushly verdant green lot with lake views from almost every room. It would also make a perfect physician’s home, since THR and Medical City are ridiculously close by. Asking is $1,015,000 or yes, just $15 over a solid million. I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking I like this home with it’s notorious past. And I wonder WHAT ELSE Mikhail shot up while he was in town… the man was a pretty well-known womanizer.

 

 

 

4949 Swiss (Photo: Joanna England)

This dilapidated, once elegant mansion  has been the focal point of poignant legal battles since the death of the owner, Mary Ellen Bendtsen, in 2005. Agents tell me it may have the messiest title in Texas. This week, legal justice may be coming. Three men, including two Dallas antique dealers who prosecutors claim conspired to take advantage of Bendtsen’s mental state and her kindness right at her deathbed, go to trial in Dallas County.

Yesterday was day one in court for Mark McCay, age 50, who is accused of attempted theft. Prosecutors say he weaseled power of attorney from 88-year-old Bendtsen after alienating her from her family, and persuaded her to leave the Swiss Ave. house to him and his partner. Bendtsen signed her will in her hospital bed at Baylor. The defense says no, McCay and “the boys” befriended and entertained Bendtsen ten years before her death.

This must have been a tough moment: prosecutors showed jurors a video of Bendtsen signing a will in her hospital bed shortly before she died. She had just suffered a massive stroke and been diagnosed as too mentally impaired to make legal decisions.

McCay and Burgess were at the foot of her bed while their attorney, Edwin Olsen, who is also charged in the case, asked questions. Bendtsen, who looks pale and frail in her hospital gown, softly answered. She repeatedly rubs her lips and eyebrows.

In the video, Olsen asks Bendtsen if she wants her daughter, Frances Ann Giron, to have her money.

“No,” Bendtsen replies.

What about the house?

“No.”

Olsen asks Bendtsen who she wants to have the house.

“I want it,” she says.

What if you die, Olsen asks. Who do you want to leave it to?

“To the boys … the boys over there,” she says, calling McCay and Burgess by their first names.

Bendtsen signs her name illegibly.

After Bendtsen died, a probate court threw out that will because of a problem with a signature — not Bendtsen’s. The court instead followed a 2002 will and the house was awarded to Bendtsen’s daughter. It has since been sold.

As someone who is experiencing a difficult probate case for one of my relatives, I know how heartbreaking this must be for Bendtsen’s family. Lee Hancock, formerly of the Dallas Morning News,  wrote an excellent long-form dissection of 4949 Swiss Avenue, in 2009. The only thing that bothered me was how Lee described Mary Ellen as a “socialite” — I think she was an elegant women, a former model who loved to entertain, but not sure the term “socialite” was appropriate except for headline steam. Also, I received an email after one of my earlier posts informing me that one of the three accused men, Mark perhaps, was suffering from cancer. I was never able to confirm that.

Happily for the house, it was purchased by Cameron Kinvig last summer, who is restoring the mansion to the glory it once was when it belonged to W.W. Caruth. And it was on the Swiss Avenue Home Tour last month. Wall paintings from the ballroom (from Mattie Caruth’s debutante ball) were apparently saved and will be shown in their original (pre-restoration) condition in the ballroom. And the lovely Ms. Joanna England will be over there one of these days, bringing us a peak of the new grandeur! As always, stay tuned!

 

 

There appears to be some construction going on at 4949 Swiss Avenue, but the historic home remains boarded up.

Lee Hancock wrote an excellent long-form dissection of Mary Ellen Bendtsen’s home, 4949 Swiss Avenue, after Mark McCay and Justin Burgess were willed the house under suspicious circumstances. While there have been some reports of construction going on at the “Grand Dame” of Swiss Avenue, the front is boarded up and the carriage house is still crumbling.

But it won’t be that way for long, says Cameron Kinvig, who purchased 4949 Swiss and plans to restore the mansion that was once home to W.W. Caruth. In fact, all three floors of 4949 Swiss will be open to onlookers during this year’s Swiss Avenue Mother’s Day Home Tour on May 12 and 13.

“Many of the wall paintings from the ballroom (from Mattie Caruth’s debutante ball) were able to be saved and will be shown in their original (pre-restoration) condition in the ballroom,” Kinvig said via e-mail. “Docents will be on hand to discuss plans for the home’s renovation, and will be able to share some of the fun tidbits I’ve discovered since purchasing the home.”

After touring Swiss Avenue, if you want to watch the drama surrounding 4949 Swiss play out on the small screen, flip to the Discovery Channel’s “Investigation Discovery” on May 12 when they re-air the special about the case.