Kessler Plan Association


By: Robert B. Fairbanks

Type: General Entry

Published: October 16, 2020

Updated: October 16, 2020


The Kessler Plan Association (KPA), incorporated on May 13, 1924, by C. L. Sanger, John E. Surratt, Porter Lindsey, and W.C. Barnes, was an outgrowth of the Dallas Property Owners Association. Frustrated by fights over priorities in implementing the Kessler Plan, published in 1912, the downtown planning group initiated a movement whose goal was to create a new organization that focused on “the development of a greater Dallas along efficient and scientific city planning lines as proposed by the late George E. Kessler.” Supported by civic leaders such as George Bannerman Dealey, Karl Hoblitzelle, and Edward H. Cary, the KPA emerged as the most important planning organization in Dallas during the 1920s.

Committed to representing the entire city, it recruited members from “every section of the city and every class within the city and county.” The KPA designated five vice presidents with one from each of the city’s electoral districts. It also included an executive committee of twenty-five to thirty men and women elected at an annual meeting and also designated presidents of affiliated groups, such as improvement leagues, as ex-officio. During its first year, the KPA prioritized bringing together residents from various sections, including many with strong priorities that differed from the establishment. Consequently, Cary called the KPA “the most democratic organization in Dallas.”

By 1928, 115 civic groups, including labor unions, manufacturing associations, mothers’ clubs, and neighborhood improvement bodies, had joined the organization. Blacks as well as working-class Whites were encouraged to attend KPA meetings and voice their concerns.

Although its first meeting focused on the need to alleviate traffic congestion, the larger goal of the KPA was to educate the public about the value of planning in general and especially the importance of the Kessler Plan and its revisions (completed in 1919). A common theme also stressed that improvements in one district would benefit the entire city, since Dallas was a complex city of streets and sewers, parks and playgrounds. Toward that end, the KPA produced pamphlets as well as a newsletter, provided talks to various clubs and groups, and used the Dallas Morning News to publicize its agenda. Probably its most ambitious effort to publicize the importance of planning was the development for seventh graders of a civics textbook, written by Justin F. Kimball, former superintendent of Dallas public schools. Published in 1927, Our City—Dallas: A Community Civics was inspired by a similar textbook written for eighth graders that promoted the 1909 Plan of Chicago.

The Kessler Plan Association also assisted individual neighborhoods by providing free access to its reports, maps, and general expertise. One city planning commissioner observed that its “work with little homeowners and small property owners” constituted the Kessler Plan Association’s finest contribution. The Kessler Plan Association played a major role in securing voter approval of the Ulrickson Program, a $23.9 million bond program that would not only allow the city to complete the Kessler Plan, including levying the Trinity River, but also initiate other programs needed by a rapidly expanding city.

Unfortunately, controversy arose over whether to use all the bond money designated for sewers by the Ulrickson Program to provide sewer relief throughout the city, as was originally planned, or redirect funds for the Trinity River Project that would salvage land and protect the city by moving the river and building levees to confine it. Members of the City and County of Dallas Improvement District, which had initiated the project, were widely criticized when they pushed city officials to provide all the sewer bond money for the Trinity River drainage project. John Surratt, executive secretary of the KPA, along with other prominent members, including E. H. Cary (president of the KPA), and Karl Hoblitzelle, sided with the neighborhoods needing the money for sewers, while prominent citizens such as Leslie Simmons and G. B. Dealey widely criticized the city’s delay in funding the sewer for the levee district. This controversy deeply weakened the KPA as numerous downtown businessmen withdrew financial support and failed to participate in the planning body. G. B. Dealey, a strong planning advocate, completely broke with the KPA by 1931. Such action forced the KPA to cut all its paid positions except Surratt’s role as executive secretary. With the budget cut, Surrat reordered the association’s priorities and focused on helping smaller rural towns and communities within the Dallas Trade Region through its community research arm. Unable to secure adequate funds for even this effort, John Surrat barely kept the struggling KPA going until his death in 1957, when it ceased to exist.

Dallas Morning News, March 25, 1924; May 14, 16, 1924. Robert B. Fairbanks, For the City as a Whole: Planning, Politics and the Public Interest in Dallas, 1900–1965 (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1998). Robert B. Fairbanks, “The Great Divide: The Politics of Space and the First Trinity River Valley Controversy,” Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas 27 (Spring 2015). Robert B. Fairbanks, “Making Better Citizens in Dallas: The Kessler Plan Association and Consensus Building in the 1920s,” Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas 11 (Fall 1999). Justin F. Kimball, Our City—Dallas: A Community Civics (Dallas: Kessler Plan Association of Dallas, 1927). John E. and Marshall E, Surratt Papers, AR685, Special Collections, University of Texas Libraries. William H. Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Robert B. Fairbanks, “Kessler Plan Association,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 19, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/kessler-plan-association.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 16, 2020
October 16, 2020

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