George Kessler, 1862-1923, Parks & Boulevards
Here Lies Kansas City by Wilda Sandy, Published by Bennett Schneider Inc., 1984
| George Kessler shaped the physical face of Kansas City as landscape architect and Park Board secretary. He was sculptor of our soil and plastic surgeon of our parkways. He made beauty out of this beast. |
Kessler was born in Frankenhausen, Germany on July 16, 1862. His family came to New York when he was two. He was educated there but returned to Germany, studying gardening, botany and engineering. Afterwards he served a two-year apprenticeship in the gardens of the Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar before returning to New York City.
During the mid-1880s Kessler came west as Superintendent of Parks for the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Gulf Railroad expressly to create their amusement park in Merriam, Kansas. His next creation was Kansas City’s Hyde Park where he converted an ugly shantytown into a beauty spot south of 36th street on Gillham road.
Nearby, wealthy smelter operator August Meyer hired the young designer to landscape the grounds of his Germanic castle “Marburg” at 44th street and Warwick boulevard (today’s Kansas City Art Institute). In 1892 Meyer, president of the Park Board, and his friend William Rockhill Nelson, threw their considerable support behind hiring Kessler as secretary of the Park Board.
At the time, Kansas City had virtually no parks, and no park plan in mind. Kessler’s first task was to tackle the unsightly West Bluff—a ragged and smelly hillside slum which was a visitor’s first view on leaving the train station in the West Bottoms. There Kessler created West Terrace Park, and the beginnings of Kansas City’s Park system.
| In 1893 Independence avenue was built to boulevard specifications. Two years later, Gladstone was completed. The next year, The Paseo flowed form 9th to 17th street. By 1900 Cliff Drive, North Terrace Park, Penn Valley Park and Benton boulevard were underway. |
In 1902 Kessler stepped down from the Park Board to start his own firm, devoting his genius to cemeteries and college campuses including Mt. Washington, Elmwood and Forest Hill; KU, William Jewell and Washburn.
Kessler’s grand plan of public parks and interconnecting boulevards here became the yardstick for city planning. On March 19, 1923 at age 60 George Kessler died and was buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis.