Beautifying the ‘Front Door’ of Dallas with Ferris Plaza

Ferris Plaza, with its sizeable water feature, is an integral part and anchor of the west end of the central business district. Its origins lie in George Kessler’s 1911 A City Plan for Dallas. Amidst an appeal for a massive expansion of park space in Dallas, both Kessler and The Dallas Morning News advanced an idea for a union station to centralize railroad transportation and eliminate duplication for the multiple railroad depots that dotted the old downtown.

In Kessler’s words, “It is essential that the approaches and first impressions of a city be as pleasing as possible…The open space will give setting to the Union Station and its existence would unquestioningly encourage a superior station building.” At the time of Union Station’s completion in 1916, civic leaders and philanthropists endorsed the idea of a public park that would provide a lush gateway into the city facing the busy railway terminal.

The plaza as it appeared when it had newly planted trees, about 1921 (image courtesy of Dallas Municipal Archives).

The original plot of .918 acres was purchased in 1918 for $250,000. The space was improved with pergolas, brick walks, and lighting in 1920. In 1925 a concession building was built by the Dallas Junior Chamber of Commerce and included a waiting room for Union Station travelers and an information bureau.  

During the Second World War, the United Service Organizations (USO) asked to use a room of the Ferris concession building as a shower space for active military in Dallas passing through Union Station.

In this aerial from 1977-78, the plaza is now surrounded by sprawling live oaks. Reunion Tower is under construction behind Union Station, and work is just getting started on Reunion Arena on the left (image courtesy of Dallas Municipal Archives).

Ferris Plaza is named for Royal A. Ferris, banker, investor, and civic leader. He’s noted for starting several banks in Dallas, investing in mass transit through the Dallas Consolidated Traction Company, and for serving as a president of the State Fair of Texas. Ferris himself donated the $40,000 to erect the fountain in 1925.

The fountain and brick walkways were refurbished in 2004, while additional landscaping enhances the setting of this sunken garden nestled among sprawling live oak trees. Interpretive signage was developed and installed in 2017, providing historical context and architectural history for the buildings facing the plaza.

This guest post was written by John Slate, Certified Archivist, Fellow of the Society of American Archivists, and the City Archivist of the Dallas Municipal Archives since 2000. Additional text from the Dallas Park and Recreation Department.

Header image: [Dallas Union Terminal], photograph, Date unknown; University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,; crediting Texas Historical Commission.