Does this look like an appealing place to call home? (Photo: Wikicommons)

Ask John Neely Bryan: What’s the History of Munger Place?

A quaint neighborhood, ever quainter.

John Neely Bryan, Our Founder
John Neely Bryan, Our Founder

Question: I’m trying to do some research on my new neighborhood, Munger Place. What’s the history of it, and why are there so many damn apartment buildings? — Ricky F.

Congratulations and felicitations on settling into the Swiss Avenue Historic District’s disreputable older brother, Munger Place. You’ve arrived in time to surf a wave of urban renewal and nouveau gentrification. These days your new next-door neighbor is as likely to be an associate at some dandy-pants downtown law firm as a hooker — not that there’s much difference.

Time was, a ways back in the 20-aughts, that more “respectable” citizenry frowned upon the goings-on in this corner of Old East Dallas. But, from my vantage point, you missed out on much of what made life in the neighborhood an invigorating experience. Listen to how George Dealey’s rag described those days:

The changes in neighborhoods such as Munger Place were gradual. It was completely normal for friends’ cars to be broken into four or five times in a very short period. I had no idea why anyone would want to live here. No Victorian-style abode could be worth such headaches. But they told me it had its perks. Friends would California-roll through stop signs practically in full view of the police, marijuana smoke drifting lazily out of the car windows. I was amazed at the nonchalance. “You have to really be doing something around here for a cop to notice you,” they would say. Not one to partake myself, I was both impressed and terrified.

Boy howdy, a California roll would hit the spot right about now. Where was I? Oh yes, too bad you’ve missed out on all the fun, and Munger Place is now a Utopian playground for those wishing to stumble home half a mile, inebriated, from the lowest of Greenville or the least uppity segment of Henderson’s bar-hood.

I hope, at least, that you’ve snagged yourself a place in one of the Prairie-style homes by which some self-important architect somewhere decided we all should be very impressed. (Though why anyone would want to live in an oversized doll house instead of a solid log cabin, I’ll never understand.) Irregardless, it’s the cachet of those houses that earned Munger Place a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. If you’ve gotten one for your own self, then I encourage you to lord that fact over your friends and family. There are few greater pleasures in this life than the inducement of real estate envy.

Your “elite residential district” was established by cotton gin magnate R.S. Munger in 1905. Or so the story goes:

In his planning, Munger reflected farsightedness in his consideration of all aspects of a modern housing development. He offered the prospective buyer and builder of 1905 all of the available conveniences. There was electricity, sewage, and running water. Telephone lines were strung, concrete sidewalks were poured, and the streets given curbs. New bitulithic paving was used in the streets, offering quiet and ease on horses’ feet. All sites were landscaped to be from one to four feet above street level so that water could drain. Easy accessibility to schools, churches, and the downtown area was also taken into account.

Just think of it: bitulithic pavement! A marvel of modernity!

The Great Depression was a blow to the district, and grand homes began being converted into apartments. A post-World War II housing shortage led to — gasp! — the reinforcement of this trend toward multifamily housing and a goodly number of the original houses were otherwise left to rot away.

However, you and your upper-middle-class brethren have been resurrecting the neighborhood’s old bones since even before it was officially declared a historic district in 1980. Enjoy life in this unique corner of the greatest city God ever gave me to give man. And don’t neglect to invite me over for tapas. Or I will break you.

Service with a smile,

John-Neely-Bryan-signature
John Neely Bryan is founder of the city of Dallas and an expert on all matters. For advice, to have a dispute adjudicated, or seeking wisdom on any of a myriad of topics, [email protected].

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