Remembering George Kessler on his birthday

Remembering George Kessler on his birthday

I wonder what landscape architect and planner George Kessler would have to say about Dallas in the 21st century?

As we reach the anniversary of his birth on July 16, 1862, we reflect on his contributions and ask, “Why is Kessler important to Dallas?”

George Kessler was born in Frankenhausen, Germany but was raised in Dallas. Over forty-one years, Kessler completed over 200 projects and prepared plans for 26 communities, 26 park and boulevard systems, 49 parks, 46 estates and residences, and 26 schools. His projects can be found in 23 states, 100 cities, in places as far flung as Shanghai, New York, and Mexico City.

His 1911 Plan for the City of Dallas was a landmark achievement. For the first time in its history, Dallas had a comprehensive plan for growth. It started with a park system master plan, which Kessler then expanded to an entire citywide plan. To prevent flooding in the west end and along the Trinity, he recommended building a levee system. He didn’t live to see it, but it was primarily built in the early 1930s. The levees were later extended down to South Dallas. He also recommended the straightening of crooked streets in Dallas to increase consistency and reduce confusion. Finally, he promoted public safety by encouraging the removal of grade crossings in pedestrian areas. Even today, over a century ago, anyone knows that street-level train track crossings are dangerous. [embeddoc url="" download="all"]

Kessler was a visionary. He knew that five passenger railway stations would spell disaster for Dallas. His proposal to create a “union” terminal would coordinate smooth flow of passenger trains coming in and out of Dallas. That resulted in the Eddie Bernice Johnson Union Station, the stately historic building on Houston Street that was built in 1916. Next, he advised the city to pull up railroad tracks that congested Dallas’ central business district. That made major thoroughfares like Pacific Avenue and Elm Street much safer and easier to navigate. Furthermore, his concept of a “central boulevard” for the city would be a game changer. Most believe this was the origin of what’s now Central Expressway.

Kessler cared about social issues. He was a champion of the “City Beautiful Movement,” a philosophy of architecture and planning that hoped to alleviate social ills through beautification. In his view, developing parks in all neighborhoods – not just rich ones – was vital to providing healthy outlets for young people. Landscaped parks and boulevards also improve neighborhoods and make them more attractive. He believed that a park should be in walking distance of every child in the city.

Written by John Slate, Dallas Municipal Archives

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