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Remembering the Life of Legendary Dallas Antiquarian Betty Gertz, and Her Magical Store

East & Orient Attracted the Rich, Famous, and Stylish — It's the End of an Era

BY // 08.20.20

Betty Gertz, owner of world-renowned Dallas antiques store East & Orient, died on Sunday August 16, at age 94. Her store, which opened on Henderson Avenue in 1979, moved to its longtime Slocum Street location in 1995, hosting a world-class roster of clients through its doors. Bill Blass, Aritistotle Onasis, Princess Michael of Kent, Charlotte Moss, Bunny Williams, Mark Hampton, Viscount David Linley, and Stanley Marcus all made the pilgrimage to her enchanting 18,000-square-foot shop, entering via an ivy- and rose-covered brick courtyard scented by orange trees. A foyer with a Mughul-era marble fountain and ancient Assyrian heads guarded the treasures inside.

Gertz welcomed people to the store from all walks of life with sweet tea and Swedish gingersnaps, and was beloved for her wit, kindness, and insatiable curiosity. She made a major mark on the world of antiques in 1984, when she and two of her close friends purchased a trove of rare blue-and-white Ming porcelains at a Christie’s auction in Amsterdam.

Gertz, along with Antwerp interior designer Axel Vervoordt and late London scholar David Howard, bought a substantial percentage of the 17,000 pieces offered, all from Captain Michael Hatcher’s legendary haul of ancient shipwrecked porcelains from the South China Sea. After 300 years under saltwater, the surfaces of the priceless porcelains had been smoothed to a beautiful matte patina and were highly coveted by collectors. She sold some of it through the store, and to the astonishment of many, she often set her dinner table at home with shipwrecked Ming bowls, plates, and vases.

Magical courtyard of East & Orient, with fig ivy, roses, and orange trees.
The magical courtyard of East & Orient with fig ivy, roses, and orange trees. The antiques store attracted the rich, famous, and stylish, from Aristotle Onasis to Bill Blass and Bunny Williams.

East & Orient stood out not only for the rarefied treasures Gertz brought back from around the world, but also for how it was styled. Furniture by Maison Jansen, monumental Chinese cloisonné cisterns, and Blanc de Chine figures, along with gilded Russian, French, and Italian antiques, were all placed as if in rooms a grand but comfortable European house — a display concept that was ahead of its time in Dallas 40 years ago.

Inside, you were transported to another place and time — one that was elegant and refined, but also enchanting and a little mysterious. You could get lost wandering through East & Orient’s more than a dozen rooms, all glowing by lamplight and flickering candles. Gertz sometimes startled people by emerging from a jib door hidden behind a faux bookcase, the only entrance to her personal office.

The room was awash in natural light from a window that faced the courtyard, where errant fig ivy vines poked through the casing and wound their way along the walls and ceiling. Her desk was an antique table piled with books and paperwork and mounds of correspondence. Next to it, a William and Mary chest served as a filing cabinet. An old-fashioned Rolodex held the names and numbers of her many illustrious clients.

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Betty Gertz’ office, hidden behind a secret door
Betty Gertz’s office, hidden behind a secret door

Gertz brought her sophistication and well-traveled eye to her own magnificent homes as well — she and her late husband Melvin H. (Bud) Gertz maintained residences around the world including New York City, Guam, Hong Kong, and Hawaii. The 1919 Georgian in Highland Park where she raised her family had interiors originally designed by Dorothy Draper and included beautiful stained and worn antique Chinese tea paper on the walls. Her close friend Axel Vervoordt helped her with the decoration, and when she sold it after her children were grown, he totally gutted, renovated, and redecorated another one for her.

Gertz continued to work as an antiques dealer almost until her death; She moved East & Orient three years ago to a smaller spot in the Dallas Design District. It closed permanently in 2019.

She is survived by her children Glen L. Gertz, Paige E. Gertz and Lindsay G. Morren, daughter-in-law Claire Gertz, son-in-law Brian Morren, and grandson Marshal Gertz. Her beloved grandson Richard Tyler Gertz preceded her in death. Arrangements for a memorial service are pending. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for contributions to Donate Life America, SPCA of Texas, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, or a charity of your choice.

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