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The City Beautiful Movement

The City Beautiful Movement, Daniel Burnham, and George Kessler

Daniel Hudson Burnham was indisputably the “Father of the City Beautiful.” As director of works for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, Burnham effectively launched the movement that 18 years later would lay the foundation for George E. Kessler's Park and Boulevard system now in place in Fort Wayne.


City Beautiful advocates sought to improve their cities through beautification, which would "sweep away" social ills by improving the beauty of the city to inspire civic loyalty.  By using the City Beautiful Movement to beautify cities, advocates also believed American cities would be brought to cultural equality with their European counterparts through the use of the European Beaux-Arts arcitectural style to create a more inviting city center.


Burnham found great fulfillment as the leader of the City Beautiful movement—an effort to achieve for American cities something similar to the cultural advances of Europe's great urban centers.  Parks were central to the City Beautiful impulse and to Burnham's sense of civic harmony.   Burnham argued that parks were essential to good city planning. Civic renewal more generally, Burnham believed, could provide healthy activities to those citizens who could not afford to travel and who, therefore, depended on the city for recreational and cultural enrichment.


Fort Wayne's City Beautiful Movement began via a somewhat small yet beautiful Beaux-Arts designed park at the corner of West Main Street and Rockhill Street.  The area had been used as a dumping grounds in full view of the citizenry, and, over the years, it had become not only unsightly but also a hazard to the health of citizens. 


Theodore F. Thieme resided a short distance from the site and walked by it daily on his way to his company, the Wayne Knitting Mills.  Thieme had become a supporter of the City Beautiful Movement and a proponant of river beautification through his European travels, thus he determined to make the unsightly garbage dump into a small park where the public could enjoy a short daliance while enjoying the view of the St. Marys River.  His choice of George E. Kesler as the designer set in motion the events that led to Fort Wayne's Park and Boulevard system.


Kessler, working with Thieme, designed a curved railing with columns and balustrades to be anchored at the top of the drop-off to the river. A series of steps to the left of the park would lead to the river and a set of ledges along the river's edge would complete the design.  In 1911, the first Kessler design in Fort Wayne was completed and a celebration held.


But Kessler would not be done with Fort Wayne projects.  Through the efforts of several city fathers, Kessler was contracted to create an overall plan of parks and boulevards for the city.  In 1912, that plan was presented to the City with work continuing over several years.  Today, the Kessler Park and Boulevard System is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The historic district which protects the Kessler Plan includes 11 parks, four parkways with 10 associated park-like areas, and 10 boulevards — 1,883 acres in all.

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