George Kessler, The Paseo and the 1st Fountain
George Kessler, The Paseo & the City’s First Fountain
Kansas City may have never been known as “The City of Fountains” without the foresight of George E. Kessler’s vision of The Paseo, Kansas City’s first boulevard.
Kessler is credited for designing the beautiful landscaping of the Hyde Park neighborhood, which showed his ability to use natural curves and make them purposeful. Once completed, Kessler caught the eye of some prominent Kansas Citians, namely William Rockhill Nelson, founder of The Kansas City Star (and later philanthropic donor, aka, Nelson-Atkins Art Museum) and August Meyer, KC’s first Park Board President; thus in 1892, Kessler was hired as the city’s first landscape artist.
At a time when Kansas City was considered a “Cowtown”, Kessler wanted to create a beautiful city; to fashion Kansas City “with more boulevards than Paris, more fountains than Rome”, so he started with the natural backdrop of land. His concept of beauty provided people the ability to watch their neighborhoods grow upon perfectly-placed parks, trees, shrubs, and of course fountains.
His 90-page 1893 report was the backbone of the movement called “City Beautiful. The report outlined the creation of three major parks; North Terrace Park (now named Kessler Park), West Terrace Park, which overlooked the West Bottoms and Union Depot, and Penn Valley Park, which helped transform the slums in the southwest portion of the city.
Kessler was ambitious in his vision – creating a boulevard system that would link all the parks together and provide greenspace for the communities, where previously there was none. The nucleus of his system was The Paseo, Kessler’s “premier Boulevard.”
Along The Paseo, features such as the Pergola, sunken gardens, fountains, and Troost Lake were constructed to exemplify the City Beautiful movement. Kessler’s desire was to create a parkway for not only navigation but recreation and refuge for the city’s residents. The project was completed in 1898.
Presented to the city on Jun 21, 1899, the first fountain in Kansas City sprung up at 15th Street & The Paseo and was tall and grandiose-looking! Modeled after Latone’s famous Parisian landmark (seen at right) Kessler designed this Fountain after his own image of what a modern-day city should look like: energetic with five rings that rose up one onto another until they reached fifteen feet high like some sort of “juggler’s cylinders!.”
A technological and artistic marvel (to the tune of $11,427.73), the 15th Street Fountain was an early predecessor to our modern-day fountains. The 15th Street Fountain originally was electric and had switches to change the colors of the lights inside the structure. However, the massive water spouting into the sky became a hindrance due to its gusty Midwestern winds that caused spray from terraces. It is said that the first level of this towering fountain was removed when a passing parade, including President Roosevelt, was sprayed by its water. One-by-one, the terraced jets and sprays of the fountain were removed. The fountain was permanently dismantled in 1941 when the Parks Board voted to remove it due to structural problems
The fountain was demolished and removed in 1942. Several tons of dirt and a flower bed replaced it. Now I-70 passes overhead nearby and exit and entrance ramps carry heavy flows of traffic between Truman Road and the Paseo and the interstate in the area of the fountain site.
George Kessler’s second fountain was revealed, not surprisingly, at 9th and The Paseo in 1899, further confirming his passion for this stunning street. Designed by Kessler and John Van Brunt, the 9th Street Fountain, now Kansas City’s oldest-surviving fountain has decorated The Paseo for the past 120 years. After being turned off for some time, this historic landmark along Kansas City’s oldest boulevard had water running once again when funds were raised for repairs in 1989 and renamed The Woman’s Leadership Fountain.