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History of Kessler Park



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    History of the Kessler Park Historic District
The area known as Kessler Park and served by Kessler Neighbors United (KNU) neighborhood organization consists of several developments dating from the 1920ís until the 1960ís. All of the developments incorporate the Kessler name with the exception of Sam Dealey Estates and Timbergrove. Very little in-fill has occurred and most areas have a very high percentage of minimally changed or unaltered dwellings. Two additional and very unique areas within the KNU boundaries are Middlebrook Place and Kessler Court . Both provide townhome living within a suburban setting.

A significant portion of the area served by KNU is listed on the National Register of Historic places. The Kessler Park Historic District is an excellent collection of 1920's-1940's bungalows and large, revival style houses. The historic district consists of four additions and also has a distinctive design aspect resulting from the side-by side positioning of two neighborhoods with common architectural stylistic influences that appeal to different socioeconomic groups. Numerous, modest revival-style cottages cover the flat terrain in the south ( Kessler Square ) and east (Kessler Highlands). These areas, platted in 1923, contrast sharply with the imposing residences just north of Colorado Boulevard in the two hilly Kessler Park additions laid out in 1924. The Kessler Park additions and adjacent Stevens Park golf course form the north and west portion of the historic district. The curved streets and large, irregular sized lots of these latter additions are particularly significant and illustrate the developers' appreciation of Kessler Park 's hilly terrain.

The large, irregularly shaped Kessler Park Historic District is approximately 275 acres, three miles west southwest of downtown Dallas . The north edge of the district is adjacent to and south of IH 30, which connects Dallas to Fort Worth (25 miles to the west). Kessler Park is considered the northern anchor of the Oak Cliff community. Colorado Boulevard , a neighborhood artery running east-west through Oak Cliff, cuts the district into two sections. The primary thoroughfare through Kessler Park is Tyler Avenue which runs from north to south through the eastern part of the district. Kessler Park shares a short boundary with the King's Highway Historic District on the south, four blocks farther south is the Winnetka Heights Historic District (NR: 1983).

Over one-third of the Kessler Park Historic District is city park land (the Stevens Park golf course). The Contributing site wraps around the west and north sides of the residential development, almost indistinguishable from the privately landscaped yards across Kessler Parkway to the southeast. Stevens Park is part of the Coombs Creek system and follows the creek from southwest to northeast, draining into the Trinity River . Much of the park's appeal lies in its utilization of natural landscaping features and native plants. This feature is shared with the lush landscaping of Kessler Square and Kessler Highlands -- the first and second additions in the subdivision. Within the park are several buildings, including the Colonial Revival Stevens Park Clubhouse (1941, Site No. K6-4405, Contributing) and 1930's open-air buildings with fieldstone veneers.

Two distinct residential areas with underlying bonds of architecture and landscape are found in the Kessler Park Historic District. The plat design of the Kessler Park additions (north of Colorado Avenue and west of Windomere) is irregular with thoughtful conformity to the hilly terrain. Streets curve around hilltops and meander drawing one on to Stevens Park. The orientation of each house varies with the curve of the street. Stevens Park is barely separable from the residential development.

South and east of Colorado and Windomere are the rigidly laid Kessler Highlands and Kessler Square additions. West of Turner, closely spaced cottages are set on long rectangular blocks oriented to the north-south running streets. Alleyways split the blocks lengthwise and Temple Drive bisects the enclave from east to west. The regularity of setbacks, stylistic influences, scale, materials and landscaping is repeated east of Turner, but the street and building orientation changes to east-west.

Many of Kessler Park 's original auto garages remain intact. In the southeast part of the district, garages are accessed from the carefully planned alleys, while the more substantial homes to the north and west have garages connected to the main residential streets with long drives. Some of the newest Contributing buildings (late 1930's) and oldest Noncontributing structures (late 1940's) reveal a relatively recent concept garages incorporated into the primary buildings.

Architectural development in Kessler Park subtly reinforces the distinctiveness of each addition and unifies the entire neighborhood through stylistic applications. Stylistic influences found in the Kessler Park Historic District are dominated by post World War I revivalism Tudor Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival, Classical Revival and Georgian Revival. Far fewer in numbers are historic bungalows with craftsman details or other contemporaneous influences such as the Prairie School style.

The two Kessler Park additions within the district have numerous architect-designed houses, generally more substantial and complex in form than the cottages to the east. Many of the former are one-and-a-half or two stories. Custom window and door detailing and creative use of brick, stone, stucco and other decorative applications distinguish these dwellings from their more modest bungalow counterparts to the east. The smaller, mass-produced Tudor Revival and other revival style bungalows are also exclusively of masonry construction; but their diminutive forms are more straightforward, repetitive in plan and simply detailed.


The historic district maintains a high level of integrity, achieved through unchanged historic fabric and well maintained yards and public spaces. The conspicuous regularity of site planning and development patterns, even in the "natural" areas, and the kinship of architectural forms and stylistic influences throughout the district is striking. Few primary buildings have been razed in Kessler Park except for those lost during the widening of Tyler Avenue in the l950's.


The Kessler Park Historic District is a remarkably intact residential area in Oak Cliff's most architecturally significant neighborhood. The district has a high concentration of 1920's and 1930's dwellings and boasts many outstanding local examples of Tudor Revival, Colonial Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.

City directories and Sanborn maps reveal that much of the historic district was developed in the late 1920's and 1930's. Kessler Park 's grand, formal mansions were home to many of Dallas ' most influential political and business figures. While the district failed to surpass the prestigious reputation of Dallas ' affluent Highland Park , it still was recognized as a place of lavish and architecturally graceful residences situated within a thoughtful and coherent urban plan. Kessler Park 's unique features and many amenities (such as the Stevens Park golf course) attracted many locally prominent citizens who often erected houses that symbolized their financial wealth, social status and standing in the community.

The origins of the Kessler Park development date to March 19, 1923 when R.H. Stewart sold a parcel of land in northern Oak Cliff to S.A. Temple . Ten days later, these men dedicated the Kessler Square Addition. The addition comprised ten blocks in the southern part of the Historic District, along Windomere, Edgefield, Clinton and Winnetka avenues, between Colorado Boulevard to the north and Stewart Drive to the south. The houses in Kessler Square are on small lots, and are rather simple in design.

The second addition in the historic district, known as the Kessler Highlands Addition, was filed on November 30, 1923 , by J.B. Salmon, president of the Kessler Highlands Development Company. The bulk of this subdivision consists of long, rectangular blocks that run east to west (8/11). However, unlike the strict gridiron plan of the first addition, the portion of Kessler Highlands within the historic district is slightly asymmetrical in plan. The main north-south thoroughfare, Tyler Avenue , is west of the district's center. The rhythm and regular setback of the houses in Kessler Highlands follows that of Kessler Square . The lots and houses are small, again differentiating this addition from the later Kessler Park additions to the northwest.

The third phase of the district's development occurred in 1924 when R.H. Stewart conveyed a tract of land to the North Texas Trust Company, E.S. Owens, president. On April 19, 1924 , the company filed a plat for the Kessler Park Addition, which was immediately north of the Kessler Square Addition. Unlike the two earlier subdivisions, the Kessler Park Addition was irregularly shaped with large lots on each side of the circular Canterbury Court .

The fourth and final addition in the historic district was the Second Section of Kessler Park, filed for record on August 23, 1924 . Like much of the other property in the district, the North Texas Trust Company was involved in its development. This addition featured winding circular streets within an 11-block area in the northwest corner of the district.



The houses in both the third and fourth Kessler Park additions exhibit irregular placement and setback. While much larger than properties in the first two sections of the historic district, these houses utilize the same range of styles. The Kessler Park additions also feature larger Spanish Colonial Revival style homes.




George Kessler, a landscape architect from Kansas City , Kansas , advocated the integration of greenbelts in urban developments. The four additions that comprise the Kessler Park Historic District were named for him; however, research has failed to establish a direct connection between Kessler and the development.
KESSLER, GEORGE E. (ca. 1862-1923), pioneer city planner and landscape architect, was born in Frankenhausen, Germany, in 1862 and in 1865 was taken to Dallas, Texas, by his widowed mother, who taught French and art to support them. Later he worked as a cash boy at Sanger Harris Dry Goods. He moved to Europe and studied civic design in Germany, France, and Russia.

By 1882 he moved to Kansas City and designed a railroad-owned amusement park. In 1893 he drew up a plan for the development of the city's park-boulevard system. He designed and landscaped the St. Louis World's Fair grounds in 1904. The same year he redesigned the grounds of Fair Park in Dallas, but his biggest contribution in Dallas, the "famous" Kessler Plan, came five years later.

In 1909 the Chamber of Commerce established the City Plan and Improvement League and hired Kessler to draft a design for a long-range plan of civic improvements. Kessler drew up his plan to solve many of the city's problems, including the uncontrollable flooding of the Trinity River, the dangerous railroad crossings, and narrow, crooked downtown streets. The plan was not implemented at the time because it was not believed to be practical, but it became increasingly clear that changes were needed.

Kessler returned in 1918 to act as consulting engineer for the Dallas Property Owners' Association and in 1919 began working for the Metropolitan Development Association of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce. He remained in Dallas until January 3, 1922, when he returned to St. Louis. The Trinity River was improved and the levee system was completed in the 1930s.

In addition to a plan for Dallas, Kessler drafted city plans for Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Cleveland, El Paso, Denver, and Syracuse. He designed Camp Wilson, the national army cantonment near San Antonio. On March 20, 1923, he died in Indianapolis, Indiana, survived by his wife and son.
The Kessler Park Historic District retains a high degree of architectural and design integrity. Since its development in the 1920's, the district has remained an affluent neighborhood in Oak Cliff, with most of its houses continuously occupied by their respective owners. The historic buildings have been well maintained and preserved, and restoration archives have been limited due the sensitive care home owners additionally have shown toward their properties. The district boasts many outstanding local examples of Tudor Revival, Colonial Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. Kessler Park is an interesting experiment in the democracy of design. Earlier additions featuring modest dwellings were juxtaposed with those sporting mansions. Overall, the district demonstrates an evolution of design, as George Kessler's ideas of community planning became more important with each addition to the subdivision.

City Directories and Sanborne maps verify that Sam Dealey Estates and Kessler Woods were the first post-WWII developments within the current KNU boundaries. The developments are made up mostly of the old John Francis Knott farm. John Francis Knott was a political cartoonist at the Dallas Morning News during WWI. Sam Dealey Estates gets its name from the decorated WWII submarine commander, Sam Dealey, nephew of George Bannerman Dealey. Initial homes were primarily one-and-a-half or two stories giving way almost exclusively to one story dwellings with the growing popularity of ranch style homes that responded to the more casual lifestyle of post WWII America. Early ranch houses were mostly based on western ranch house designs popular on the west coast and featured elements such as rough hewn posts on front porches, rustic brick or stone, and cedar shake shingles (now replaced). As the 1950ís progressed, homes now classified as Mid-Century Modern were constructed in addition to those incorporating traditionally historic elements within the ranch style framework. Emphasis was placed on backyards with many of the original homes featuring outdoor barbeques and large paved patios for entertaining. The more modern homes feature large plate glass windows, sliding glass doors, and decorative metalwork. In addition several homes in this area were designed by prominent architects.

As with older areas of KNU, Sam Dealey Estates and Kessler Woods maintain a high level of integrity, achieved through unchanged historic fabric and well maintained yards and public spaces. The conspicuous regularity of site planning coupled with the response to the natural terrain is unique. Sam Dealey Estates and Kessler Woods are two of the last intact 1950ís neighborhoods in Dallas. With no primary buildings ever having been razed and encompassing a period of architectural experimentation unparalleled since the 19th century, Sam Dealey Estates and Kessler Woods
represent a unique opportunity to preserve the legacy of the WWII generation.

By the mid 1950ís, an area just south of Colorado along Kidd Springs Creek, owned by automobile dealer Earl Hayes, was platted. This area is known as Kessler Lake . Besides the Hayes home which cantilevers over a private lake, many of the homes are of the Mid-Century Modern style. Steeply pitched roofs with plate glass windows are prevalent as well as the creative use of decorative metalwork. Later homes are interpretations of traditional styles. The homes on Kessler Lake represent some of largest homes in KNU and are an indication of the prosperity of the Post War era.

Developed by former Kessler resident and Dallas Mayor Robert Folsom, Timbergrove Circle represents the next addition to KNU. Starting in 1960, homes were constructed primarily in both the Contemporary style as well as more traditional houses still in the Ranch style but with more emphasis on the vertical structure. With one entrance and exit Timbergrove Circle is one of the more secluded streets in KNU. Additionally, the proximity of Stevens Park golf course provides many of the homes with additional green space.

Overall, the area served by KNU has remained virtually intact and represents a community cohesiveness that is a testament to the pride of place exhibited not only by current owners, but by those who preceded them. KNU is rich with history and has a high level of community spirit. Community activities include: Annual Neighborhood Picnic, Holiday Lights Ceremony, Easter Parade, Easter Egg Hunt, Jazz Picnic, and Kessler Krawl. The Kessler Stevens Book club was founded in 1938. Additionally, both Kessler Park United Methodist Church and the Kessler School have been community sponsors over the years. KNU looks forward and sees a brighter future as more residents and new arrivals are made aware of the significance of our neighborhood and the legacy of past generations.

* Information above was derived from the National Register of Historic Places document on Kessler Park , with additional information compiled by Pete Peabody.
 
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