George Kessler bigraphy, stories - American landscape architect

George Kessler : biography

July 16, 1862 - March 20, 1923

George Edward Kessler (July 16, 1862 – March 20, 1923) was a German American pioneer city planner and landscape architect.

Over the course of his forty-one year career, George E. 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 farflung as Shanghai, New York, and Mexico City.

"Planning", wrote Kessler, "should be comprehensive. Even though a grand urban design could only be realized in bits and pieces, and over a long period of years, still we should always know where we are going. Each bit and piece should be understandable by reference to the great plan of which it is a part. Planning must also be relevant to the particular city: its geography, its economic character, all its local peculiarities. We must," he insisted, "deal with it in its application to the entire city. The object is to make cities decent places for masses of people to live in. Cities grow mostly by accident in response to trends in the real estate market. Very little thought is given to their qualitative characters. But there comes a time when development must be subject to control, when further growth must be planned such that urbanization will no longer proceed at the expense of devastating 'nature.'"



First job and Merriam Park

In October 1881, the Kessler family returned to New York. From January 1882 through March, Kessler sent four letters to Frederick Law Olmsted. The January 22 letter is the first record of his attempt to begin work in the United States. In the letter Kessler wrote of his studies and travel in Europe and wondered about an arboretum job at Boston's Arnold Arboretum. In the February 15 letter, Kessler wrote that he was “certain of a situation in Central Park” and of an offer of a partnership with a florist in Woodlawn. “Since November”, Kessler wrote, “I have been in the employ of A. LeMoult 172 and 174 Bowery, having charge of his greenhouse, seed and grass stock. Decoration of concert halls were also mostly in my care.” Kessler also sent drawings.

Olmsted responded in March and urged Kessler "to be ambitious to be master in higher fields" than pleasure grounds and home gardens. Also Olmsted encouraged Kessler to educate himself about nature through reading, reflection, and excursion,s and to aim to free himself from German associations in order to expand his capabilities and to not limit his influence and opportunities. A recommended reading list of book was included. Olmsted concluded by writing that the Kansas City, Fort Scott, and Gulf Railway Company might be in need of a man to take charge of a public picnic or excursion ground. He told Kessler that the President, H.H. Hunniwell, would be in New York, and that Olmsted had given him Kessler’s address.

On March 18, Kessler provided additional information on his work in the Bowery and wrote that if he stayed with LeMoult, he would receive fifteen dollars a week. The last letter to Olmsted on March 23 stated that Kessler was taking a position with the railroad at Merriam Park in Johnson County, Kansas, for a salary of forty dollars per month. The work was to design and supervise the construction of the railroad’s pleasure park.

Merriam Park was located ten miles southwest of Kansas City, Missouri. Kessler, along with his mother and sister, moved to a house on John Mastin’s Johnson County farm. Besides working on the park, Kessler served as caretaker of the farm property.

Although Merriam Park had been dedicated in 1880, when Kessler arrived there was only one building intended for visitors, a square dance floor, and nearly all the valuable trees had been cut down for cordwood. Less than two years after Kessler started the park had become a great success. The park had been enclosed with a fence and the main entrance was an ornamental archway. included an open-air shelter for large public gatherings, wild animal exhibits, picnic grounds, a pavilion, a lake, tennis courts, croquet grounds, a horse-drawn merry-go-round, numerous swings, and a baseball diamond. The cost to enter the park was 25 cents and the park attracted more than 20,000 visitors each day. A detailed description of the park before and after Kessler may be found in The Life and Work of George Edward Kessler.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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