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Dallas History Items: Munger Place
The following is an excerpt from Dallas Rediscovered, pp. 155-168:
"In 1905, a real estate development began which was conceptualized and promoted as a direct alternative to the problem of the declining exclusiveness of the other East Dallas areas. Called Munger Place, it was contractually guaranteed by certain deed restrictions to remain 'strictly a high class residential district'. The Munger Place Addition embraced over 300 acres (about fifty city blocks) between Fitzhugh, Live Oak, Henderson, and Columbia streets, which 'served to emphasize the important fact that its occupants need never fear the encroachment of factories, shops, or any other undesirable class of neighbors within its boundaries'. Its promoters pledged that there would be 'no unattractive environments to mar the beauty of its perfect surroundings or to disturb the peace of its occupants.'"
"Munger Place was very carefully planned and laid out with all the best city conveniences: gas for fuel and lights, water and sewage connections, street railway service, fire stations, schools, churches, concrete sidewalks, and streets paved by the new bitulithic process on a solid concrete foundation. Telephone lines and electric wires were discreetly placed in the alleys 'to insure more sightly streets and avenues'. Homes on Swiss and Gaston were required to show a minimum investment of $10,000 in an era when the average cost of a home was $2,000 to $3,000. Prices on side streets like Worth and Junius were scaled down to $4,000 or $5,000 with 'lots sold to white persons only'. Interestingly enough, the Munger Place planners consciously designed a definite social hierarchy by these investment restrictions, which placed the presidents and board chairmen of Dallas' corporations on Swiss and Gaston, their mid-level and junior executives on flanking streets, and delegated the clerks and workers to the bungalow subdivisions south of Fitzhugh and east of Columbia streets."
"The man behind Munger Place was a cotton gin genius named Robert S. Munger who had come to Dallas from Birmingham, Alabama, about 1883. Through his Munger Improved Cotton Machine Manufacturing Company (later called the Continental Gin Company) at the corner of Elm Street and the Texas Trunk Railroad (now Hall Street). Munger made a fortune and a sizable reputation for himself by improving Eli Whitney's cotton gin. He held numerous patents for such things as gin saw cleaners, gin saw sharpeners, spiked belt elevators, and revolving double box presses--devices which made Dallas the world's leading manufacturer of cotton gin machinery and largest inland cotton market in the United State in the 1890's..."
"In spite of such efforts as Munger Place, Dallas' real estate development was a little too nearsightedly laissez-faire, particularly in East Dallas, for its own good. Many East Dallas home owners constructed smaller wood-frame back buildings and rental houses which deteriorated much more rapidly than the adjoining houses...they built for themselves. Also, the total lack of coordinated planning or conceptualization of future problems, and the absence of municipal zoning policy until 1927, led to the same problems that eventually strangled The Cedars. East Dallas became laden with pockets of servants' shotgun houses, sheds, and outbuildings among the expensive mansions along Swiss, Ross, and Gaston, and randomly placed and often poorly constructed subdivision bungalows appeared. The major streets were increasingly commercialized, with stables, saloons, and later pawn shops and topless bars, while heavy industry like C.H. Alexander's Dallas Ice Factory, Light and Power Company plant (at the northeast corner of Swiss and Hall) and the W.J. Lemp Brewery ...invaded the area. This amalgamation contributed to the decline of East Dallas and helped establish its reputation, by the 1960's, as a questionable area for investment in new home construction."
"In part this decline dated from about 1941 when the Ford Motor Company plant on East Grand dramatically increased its production capacities for the war effort. With the large influx of new workers into the area, it was considered patriotic for local residents to open up their homes to boarders. After the war, the city zoned East Dallas for multi-family dwellings, hoping to attract apartment developers who would provide permanent housing for these people and in the process, clear out the old, dilapidated buildings in the area. But the developers needed large lots on which to build apartment houses and began to buy and demolish the bigger homes on sizable tracts of land along Gaston, Live Oak, and Ross. They ignored the smaller, less desirable homes and lots, off the major thoroughfares, which continued to decay. These pockets of older residences were unattractive to single family buyers and were eventually converted to rooming houses or cut up into efficiency apartments."
"This same process was repeated all over East Dallas by both large and small property owners; combined with the city's irresponsibility in zoning the area for multi-family units, it began a severe erosion of the community's exclusiveness--traditionally a very desirable and salable commodity in Dallas' housing market. Gradually East Dallas property became attractive only to apartment builders, boardinghouse owners, and . . . commercial developers . . . The conditions were only reinforced by the city and by the Federal government when they funded Washington Place Apartments, a low-income Dallas Housing Authority project built between 1941 and 1945 directly behind the Baylor Medical Center. Not only did it demolish a number of large homes in the Slaughter family compound, but it also perpetrated the wide discrepancy between rich and poor in the area."
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