History of the Kessler Park Historic District
The KNU neighborhood, known as Kessler Park, is comprised of 10 separate developments dating from 1923 to 1979. Seven of these are named in honor George Edward Kessler, a pioneering urban planner and landscape architect hired by the city in 1909. He drafted the Kessler Plan for Dallas, a long range plan of civic improvements designed to solve many of the city’s problems, such as flooding and dangerous railroad crossings, and to beautify by incorporating greenbelts into urban areas. Although never fully implemented, the Kessler Plan influenced residential development in Oak Cliff and other parts of Dallas.
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 includes ten blocks, running north-south along Windomere, Edgefield, Clinton and Winnetka avenues, between Colorado Blvd. and Stewart.
The lots in Kessler Square are small and regularly gridded; the houses are masonry bungalows of revival architectural styles, predominantly Tudor Revival and Colonial Revival. The second addition, known as the Kessler Highlands Addition, was filed on November 30, 1923, by J.B. Salmon, president of the Kessler Highlands Development Company. This subdivision, east of Kessler Square, consists of long, rectangular blocks that run east-west, including Salmon, Thomasson, Stewart and Kidd Springs. Like Kessler Square, this addition consists of masonry revival architecture bungalows on small, regularly platted lots.
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 Kessler Square. This Addition was irregularly shaped with large lots on each side of the circular Canterbury Court. On August 23, 1924, the same company filed for the fourth addition, also called Kessler Park. This added an 11-block area of winding and circular streets in the northwest corner of the district.
These first four developments plus the Stevens Park Golf Course were listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 17, 1994 as the Kessler Park Historic District. The Texas Historical Commission was responsible for the research and nomination, noting that the “district is a remarkably intact residential area in Oak Cliff’s most architecturally significant neighborhood”.
Quoting from the National Register listing:
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 became more important with each addition to the subdivision.”
Sam Dealey Estates and Kessler Woods were the first post-WWII developments, made up mostly of the old John Francis Knott farm. Knott was a political cartoonist at The Dallas Morning News during WWI. Sam Dealey Estates was named for 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 1950’s 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.
By the mid 1950’s, 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. The Hayes home, which cantilevers over a private lake, and many others are of the Mid-Century Modern style. Later homes are interpretations of traditional styles.
Timbergrove Circle was developed, starting in 1960, by former Kessler resident and Dallas Mayor Robert Folsom. Homes were constructed primarily in the Contemporary style, as well as houses 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.
The final sections to be built were the Kessler Court (1974) and Middlebrook Place (1979) townhomes developments. On May 25, 2005, the Kessler Park Conservation District was established through the efforts of the neighborhood and the city Planning Department and with the unanimous approval of the Dallas City Council. This District includes all of KNU’s sections except for Kessler Lake and the two townhome developments.
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 and Kessler Krawl. The Kessler Stevens Book club was founded in 1938 and just celebrated its 75 anniversary. 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.