GRUEN PLAN. J. B. Thomas, president of Texas Electric Service Company, commissioned renowned architect Victor Gruen (1903–1980) of Victor Gruene and Associates (a national architectural and engineering firm with offices in Los Angeles, Detroit, and New York) in 1955 to provide planning studies related to the future growth of downtown Fort Worth, Texas. Originally known only as studies for “City X,” which Gruen previously had offered as his secret “city of tomorrow” (with a population of 500,000) both in writing and public speaking in the months leading to the unveiling of his plan, Gruen’s proposal, “A Greater Fort Worth Tomorrow,” became known as the Gruen Plan and was revealed on March 10, 1956, in a presentation to city leaders and media at the Fort Worth Club. It was published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram the next day.
Fort Worth’s population was 278,778 in 1950, and initial figures for population growth as outlined in the Gruen Plan projected an estimated population of 695,000 in metropolitan Fort Worth in 1961, creating vehicular congestion and issues with quality of life. (The actual 1960 population census for Fort Worth proper was 356,268; the 1970 census reported a population of 393,476). Gruen, born in Vienna, was an advocate of a more European—if not medieval—density for the city and argued that, historically, retail, cultural, and governmental elements held the traditional center.
Gruen’s plan was intended to create a central business district that would be free of automobiles by developing a perimeter “belt” or ring of arterial circulation that entered six parking structures located around the edge of the center city. His proposal detailed the boundaries of the business district that would be free of vehicular traffic: Belknap Street to the north; Lancaster Avenue to the south; Jones and Pecan streets to the east; and Henderson Street to the west. Infrastructural services—garbage, delivery, truck circulation, and other necessary but less attractive needs—were moved to a below-grade level and were therefore not in conflict with the pedestrian “life” of the city. The garage structures were to provide a total capacity for roughly 60,000 cars, and the existing streets would be converted into pedestrian public spaces such as courtyards, malls, and landscaped plazas. The pedestrian visitor to downtown could reach any point internally within a 2.5-minute walk from a parking structure.
A handful of “special service” lanes would allow public transportation vehicles such as buses, taxis, and limousines to access downtown hotels. Battery-powered shuttle cars would provide circulation for the handicapped or those with packages. Gruen hoped that the plan would be implemented by 1970 and would alleviate the anticipated problems with urban growth and related vehicular traffic.
The southwest quadrant of the business district would provide a focus for cultural spaces and civic and governmental elements. A new city hall by Edward Durell Stone (1971) would be located in this area following Gruen precepts. A thirty-person Greater Fort Worth Planning Committee was formed and chaired by J. Lee Johnson, Jr., president of First National Bank, to assist with facilitation of the plan.
The work of Gruen and Associates in the creation of the 160-acre “Northland” mixed-use center in Detroit in 1954 for the J. L. Hudson Company served as a precedent, as did Louis Kahn’s studies in the early 1950s for the center city of Philadelphia. Kahn, later to design the Kimbell Art Museum (1972) in Fort Worth, imagined the street as a “river” and garages as “docks” from which people departed to walk to their destination. He described the street as a “room by agreement,” defined by the buildings on either side.
Financing for the Gruen Plan was conceived as increased tax revenue from increased urban land value as well as parking fees. The city would sell the unused street space in order to pay for below-grade service level. It might be noted that the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike was opened the following year (1957), and the tollway fees later were dropped upon the final retirement of the construction and development costs. However, funding for the Gruen concept was never achieved.
The Gruen Plan, while not implemented, was influential in the 1970s conception of Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth, which has operated, in effect, as an urban “mall” and has been managed as such by retail economic models since its inception, even if its various components and tenants occupy both existing, renovated structures, and new ones created specifically for their purpose. In the following decades, parking garages were located at several of the planned sites, although without the intended relief in traffic.
The plan’s influence on thinking related to the automobile and the city in general has been profound, and it plays a role to this day in such conversations. The plan was awarded a 1957 Progressive Architecture Award by Architecture magazine.
A considerable weakness of the plan was its lack of emphasis on the adjacent Trinity River and bluff, which had largely determined the site of Fort Worth in 1849. The CBD Sector Report by Lawrence Halprin and Associates of 1971 addressed the river in a more coherent manner fifteen years later and led to the design and construction of park spaces such as the Water Garden (1974) by Philip Johnson and John Burgee and Heritage Park Plaza (1980) by Halprin. Gruen saw the river and perimeter ring of rail lines as “boundaries,” and thus his plan chose to ignore them except as defined edges.
Gruen saw this new municipal model as coexisting with the suburban shopping centers that were proliferating in the post-World War II decades. He believed there was a strong desire to live in such density and said, “Give them beauty, culture and dignity and they will be back,” which proved less true in Texas where open space and reliance on the freedom of the automobile and inexpensive fuels have reigned for decades.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, March 11, 1956. The Gruen Plan Collection, Fort Worth Public Library Archives, accessible through Fort Worth Public Library Digital Archives (http://www.fortworthtexasarchives.org/digital/collection/p16084coll18/), accessed May 5, 2020.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, W. Mark Gunderson, "GRUEN PLAN," accessed July 16, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/cmg02.
Uploaded on May 20, 2020. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.