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Victor Gruen Downtown Redesign Plan


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#1 cbellomy

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 08:21 PM

While doing some of my favorite serendipitous googling, I found this 44 year-old article from Time on their website (apparently they're bringing all their back issues online, I guess). Here's an excerpt:

QUOTE
The businessmen of Fort Worth—like those in many another U.S. city—watched in dismay as traffic congestion clogged downtown streets and customers fled to the suburbs. At their behest the city hired Architect-Planner Victor Gruen to redesign the downtown area, but Gruen's elaborate plan proved to cost more than the city fathers were prepared to pay. [bold mine -cb] Then a downtown mall was tried, but planners failed to provide enough convenient parking space; in the Texas long hot summer, the few potted trees they installed did little to shade the wide concrete expanse, and business declined. But Marvin and Obediah Leonard, who own Leonards, the biggest department store in town, refused to move to the suburbs.

"Let them put up the sideshows anywhere they want," said Marvin Leonard. ''They'll still want to come into the main tent, and this is it." The Leonards set out to solve the problem on their own. And last week they proudly opened a private, mile-long, $500,000 underground subway, running between parking lot and store.


Does anyone here know anything about this Gruen plan? Sounds intriguing.


#2 Fort Worthology

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 08:52 PM

Found this on Time's web site:

QUOTE
"They were advised to dig deep into the heart of their beloved Texas to create subterranean truck lanes, park every arriving automobile, and turn streets within a downtown square mile into a pedestrians' paradise of shrubbery, statuary, malls, covered walks and sidewalk cafes. The cost ($100 million, according to some guesses) would be partially paid in parking fees and through higher tax values.

Author of the plan is Victor Gruen, who has pioneered some of the boldest new architectural projects in the country, e.g., Detroit's 11,500-car Northland shopping center, largest (163 acres) in the nation. Charting Fort Worth's growth, Gruen's planners estimated that 1970 would see 152,000 cars downtown, twice today's total. They advised against widening streets, instead visualized a beltway from which cars would pull into multistory parking garages pronged toward the heart of the site; no central city building would be more distant from a parking space than 2½ minutes' walking time. Small shuttle cars would carry the infirm and lazy.
For trucks, Gruen's planners suggested a subsurface road network linked to the beltway. Recessed drives would connect with cellar entrances for deliveries. The taller, high-value buildings in the area today would remain, with new skyscrapers added. Disappearing to make way for the beltway and garages, whose roofs would serve as heliports, would be shabby, less desirable structures."


Frankly, it sounds horrible. It sounds like typical Modernist insanity. How much you want to bet that the "shabby, less desireable structures" would have been mainly comprised of old, historic buildings? Perhaps many of the same ones we love today? Knock 'em down - we need the room for highways, parking, and our pedestrian mall with its brave new concrete & glass towers!

#3 cbellomy

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 09:07 PM

Oh, I was sure it would have to be something fairly horrible, Kevin, but that's what was so intriguing about it to me... how horrible a thing could he have come up with? It makes me appreciate that they at least had some restraint at the time.


#4 JBB

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 09:21 PM

Somebody with a better memory than me might know better, but is this the plan that called for sky bridges and enclosed, aerial sidewalks connecting all of the buildings? Seems like there was a thread about this on the old ez board or maybe on the first incarnation of the forum.

#5 mosteijn

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 09:38 PM

The plan is mentioned in that famous urbanity book...gah the name escapes me at the moment. There's also a picture in there. BUT my former boss (being an architect) has a book all about the plan, and me being unhelpful, I don't know the name. All I can say is - I'm glad it never happened!

#6 John T Roberts

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 10:34 PM

It was called the Gruen Plan and it definitely was of the "Modernist" era. All of parking garages were placed on the perimeter of downtown and current parking lots had new buildings placed on them. All blocks did have skybridges connecting them. The plan also eliminated most of the buildings that were present in the 1950's. I believe there was no room in the plan for "Historic Preservation".

#7 Sam Stone

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Posted 12 April 2007 - 11:02 AM

There is a section about it in Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs.

#8 JoelBurns

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Posted 19 July 2007 - 08:58 PM

QUOTE(John T Roberts @ Apr 11 2007, 11:34 PM) View Post

I believe there was no room in the plan for "Historic Preservation".



Indeed, it was the antithesis of Historic Preservation. More so, it was a precursor to "Urban Renewal". It was however, quite visionary and a few components of the plan worked their way in to Fort Worth urban planning long after the plan was abandoned. I have a copy of the original plan (again, this is a scanned and re-printed copy) if you ever want to take a look, John.

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#9 mbdalton1

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Posted 21 July 2007 - 03:51 PM

Yes, I have seen the Gruen Plan brochure.

I took an extended education class through TCU last year on Fort Worth History, taught by Quentin McGown, and he talked about the plan and passed the brochure around in class. Wow, it was something else, that is for sure! I'm glad it didn't happen. I cannot imagine travelling throuogh all the buildings via sky bridges!

What is going on now in FTW is so much better!


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#10 John T Roberts

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Posted 23 July 2007 - 07:35 PM

Joel, I would love to take a look. I remember seeing a copy of the plan at some point. I just can't remember when or where I saw it previously.

#11 anathan

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Posted 25 July 2007 - 09:06 AM

QUOTE(John T Roberts @ Jul 23 2007, 08:35 PM) View Post

Joel, I would love to take a look. I remember seeing a copy of the plan at some point. I just can't remember when or where I saw it previously.


John - It would be great to scan this and find a home for it on the website. I've heard and read about this plan so many times, but never actually seen anything.


#12 JoelBurns

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Posted 27 July 2007 - 06:56 PM

QUOTE (anathan @ Jul 25 2007, 10:06 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
QUOTE (John T Roberts @ Jul 23 2007, 08:35 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Joel, I would love to take a look. I remember seeing a copy of the plan at some point. I just can't remember when or where I saw it previously.


John - It would be great to scan this and find a home for it on the website. I've heard and read about this plan so many times, but never actually seen anything.


John and others,

The actual physical plan itself is a clunky format -- about 18x18 square, maybe 20x20. There is a note on my copy that says "Planning Dept. Library" (I assume the city of FW Planning dept.) and "Do not loan out -- only known copy in Fort Worth". My copy is a scan of that which Dwayne Jones (formerly of Preservation Dallas, now at Galveston Historical Foundation) did for his masters thesis. I don't really have the equipment to do a scan that big (plus, it's many pages AND it would be a scan of a scan).

I do know, however that it is not the only known copy in FW. I've seen an original in the home library of Paul Geisel's (former UTA urban studies prof, lives in Meadowbrook and chairs The T board). His story is something along the lines that one of the Bass brothers (or someone like that) gave it to him as a thank you gift for something.

I'd recommend checking with the Planning Dept. to see if we can get a scan. Second choice would be to call Paul and see what he says.

Joel

#13 Dismuke

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Posted 19 August 2007 - 01:45 AM

QUOTE(cbellomy @ Apr 11 2007, 10:07 PM) View Post

Oh, I was sure it would have to be something fairly horrible, Kevin, but that's what was so intriguing about it to me... how horrible a thing could he have come up with? It makes me appreciate that they at least had some restraint at the time.



Restraint? I actually rather doubt that had much to do with it. The mindset back at that time was "old is bad new is good" regardless of the nature of the particular old and the new things in question.

My guess the reason it never went through was mostly because of money. Acquiring large blocks of land in downtown is not a cheap proposition and would probably have required much of it to have been confiscated by eminent domain which would have complicated things even further.

I agree, however, that we definitely dodged a bullet there. Imagine the state of downtown Fort Worth today if it consisted mostly of decaying examples of sterile, unfriendly and banal mid-century modernism. I promise it would not be a destination for tourists or suburbanites and it certainly would not be a trendy place for people to live.

Fort Worth, by the way, was far from being the only city to have a Gruen plan. When he was not designing shopping malls, the man, it seems, was everywhere drawing up plans to destroy.....er, I mean, "revitalize"....downtowns.

Portland had a plan that sounds very similar to the one proposed for Fort Worth. Fortunately for that city, nothing became of it either. At this link is the following description of Portland's Gruen plan:

QUOTE
Gruen's plan for Portland - titled Patterns for Progress - was pretty grim. Among other mad schemes, Gruen's firm envisioned a ring road around downtown, tunnels under Monument Square, a pedestrian mall along Congress Street, an orgy of demolition, and plenty of parking garages.

Then there was the civic center. Gruen and his minions actually wanted to plop a gigantic civic/convention center right on top of the blocks bounded by State, Congress, High, and Cumberland (and bisected by Deering). Not everything on that site would have been paved over - The State Theater and the Portlander Motor Hotel (today's USM dorm) would have been integrated into the complex, and the Baptist Church on the corner of High and Deering would have been allowed to stand as well. Everything else in this huge tract of land, however, would have been S.O.L.


Unfortunately, Lancaster Pennsylvania was not as fortunate as was Portland and Fort Worth. At this link are the drawings for what Gruen did to that city. This link shows the destruction that made way for it - be warned, the images at the other end of the link are not very pleasant to look at. The project - quite predictably - was an utter failure. It did not revitalize downtown Lancaster and much of the new office and commercial space remained vacant for a long time. In recent years, they ended up having to come up with a "master plan" on how to revitalize the project which was supposed to "revitalize" Lancaster. You can find a link to a .pdf file of the plan here.

"Urban renewal" did to American cities what the bombs of World War II did to the cities of Europe. Fortunately, there was not a similar loss in life. But the physical scars and blemishes look pretty much the same. Fort Worth definitely escaped something. Of course, we had the convention center and the destruction of many very nice buildings in Hell's Half Acre - and that was bad enough.

All of this makes me wonder something: has there ever been an instance here in the USA of a big city downtown that had gone into decline and was successfully revived in a way that was not heavily based around the preservation and rehabilitation of its pre-World War II buildings? Has there been a downtown that was successfully revived based on the construction of 1950s - 1970s style buildings? I can't think of a single example - but perhaps I am overlooking something. Also, while we are on the subject - was Fort Worth the first big city to successfully revive its downtown? (Not counting cities such as New York and Boston where the importance of their downtown areas never really went away.)



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