By Deb Silverthorn
Dallas Heritage Village is looking forward to welcoming back visitors to its popular Blum House, depicting Jewish life at the turn of the 20th century.
Planning for the restoration of the popular home, which closed in 2019, is underway, thanks to a $425,000 grant from the Theodore and Beulah Beasley Foundation.
“The lead gift from the Beasley Foundation is incredible. Gifts, especially during the pandemic, are a huge challenge and we’re more than grateful,” said Dallas Heritage Village Executive Director Melissa Prycer. “We look forward to once again representing the diversity of experience that this area provided at the turn of the century.”
Dallas Heritage Village hosts 30-plus relocated historic structures dating between 1840 and 1910. The open-air park offers self-guided tours. Before the pandemic limited operations, the park welcomed tens of thousands of visitors and more than 25,000 students every year.
Blum House, first built in 1900 as The George House, was a wedding gift from David Colonel “D.C.” George to his bride Verner Elsie McPherson. Descendants sold the house to the City of Plano in 1974. Five years later, Dallas County Heritage Society bought the house and moved it to its current location.
The Blum House represents a fictional Orthodox Jewish family of its era. At the time, Anshe Sphard (the Romanische Shul) and Congregation Tiferet Israel were first located in what was then known as North Dallas. Congregation Shearith Israel (then Shaareth Israel) and Temple Emanu-El were in the Cedars neighborhood. Agudas Achim, Temple Emanu-El and Tiferet Israel eventually moved to South Dallas, close to the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (which evolved to become the JCC), all walking distance to what was then known as City Park.
“As people left the synagogues they would gather to visit, especially during the High Holidays,” said Debra Polsky, executive director of the Dallas Jewish Historical Society. “B’nai B’rith, Hadassah and others would come to the park for concerts and meetings, picnics and swimming in the summer: It was the center of the Jewish community. Having the house is a reminder of the Jews who were here then.”
Generations after it was the Jewish community’s hub, the Enda family has spent much of the last decade calling the space their second home.
“I was proud to teach about mezuzahs, kosher kitchens and the Shabbos visitor guest room,” said Grace Enda, now a senior research assistant in the Economic Studies program at Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C. She participated in the park’s Junior Historian camp as an eighth grader, and ultimately became a guide. “As a Jewish Texan I relate to the history.”
Her father, Steve Enda, is Dallas Heritage Village’s immediate past board chair. He became enamored with its history and traditions after being introduced to it by his daughter.
“The preservation and education of what life was is meaningful,” said the elder Enda, whose family belongs to Temple Shalom. “It’s beyond what things looked like but an immersion into the history of our city and who built it.”
Part of Blum House’s charm is its aromas, triggering many Bubbie“licious” memories.
“The woodburning stove is fun to cook on and great on a cold December day,” said Gail Enda, wife of Steve and mother of Grace. As “Mrs. Blum,” she welcomes guests while making homemade latkes and applesauce, re-enacting stories of “her” Blum family. Grace’s sisters Helen and Sophie have also volunteered.
“I love when people come through, reminiscing about their parents or grandparents and family gatherings,” says Gail. “Then, I’m happy to return to, and am grateful for, the conveniences of my modern kitchen.”
It was the good feelings and sense of tradition that motivated the Beasley Foundation to make their gift.
“Dallas Heritage Village is kettle corn and candlelight, it’s popping into homes to learn where the people of this city came from,” said Vicki Vanderslice, president of the family foundation that bears her grandparents’ names. Their gift will cover replacement of Blum House’s 120-year-old roof. “It’s a special place to us. We wanted to spare the artifacts, and help however possible, before it was too late.”
Another $400,000 is needed for additional renovations to repair the exterior of the home, to expand and enhance the exhibit space and the Jewish artifacts on display, and to staff a history educator.
“If you live in Dallas, or have a business here, you owe the city,” said Vanderslice, who says she learned the lesson of giving back from her grandparents. “You owe the city to care.”
For more information and updates about Dallas Heritage Village, or to make a donation, visit dallasheritagevillage.org.