Ferris Plaza Live Oak Grove

Southern Live Oak, Quercus virginiana

The live oaks surrounding the fountain at Ferris Plaza across from Union Station in downtown Dallas have welcomed arriving visitors, hosted events surrounding the civil rights movement, and survived attempts to remove them.

The Story

The land that would eventually become Ferris Plaza was first designated special use park land in 1918. It sits on prime real-estate in downtown Dallas between Young Street and Wood Street surrounded by Dallas Union Station and the home of the Dallas Morning News. This plaza was part of George Kessler’s master plan for Dallas. Royal A. Ferris, the namesake of the park, donated the iconic fountain that runs to this day along with some specialty lighting to accentuate the fountain. A waiting station, designed by George Dahl, was added to the park in 1925. This served as a way station for people either coming or going on the railroad as well as a place to grab a quick bite to eat while waiting on a taxi. The location and amenities of Ferris Plaza would earn it the reputation for being the ‘gateway to the city’ before Dealey Plaza was constructed.

Part of Kessler’s original design for the park was a row of Live Oak trees around the plaza along the streets. Photographs from 1936 and 1949 show what appear to be the original planting of trees around the border of the plaza. A photograph from 1950 showing the fountain frozen solid however has significantly smaller Live Oaks in the background. Sometime in 1949 or 1950, it looks like the trees had been replaced for one reason or another, possibly when they removed the waiting station. These new trees would continue the legacy of the previous generation in watching Dallas grow as they themselves would, and still do to this day.

As if carrying on the grand vision Kessler had for Dallas wasn’t enough of a legacy, the Live Oaks at Ferris Plaza would be witness to an event that would help shape the voice of the city. In 1965, Ferris Plaza became the meeting point for the NAACP and other protesters showing their support for voter registration and other events happening in Selma, Alabama during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Over 2,000 people protested the unfair treatment of African Americans in this country in one of Dallas’ oldest and most iconic parks under the shade of Live Oak trees. There are very few trees still standing in the city today that can say they’ve seen such a historic gathering.

In 1998, these trees were once threatened to be removed. The city and Belo Corporation announced plans to upgrade Ferris Plaza by removing 21 mature Live Oaks (rumor was the removal was to displace a noisy and messy grackle population). Due to the diligent efforts of Steve Houser, the Texas Historic Tree Coalition, and Mayor Laura Miller, the plans to remove the trees ultimately failed. Today, 19 Live Oaks still stand on Ferris Plaza. The size and condition of the trees support being planted around 1950. The average diameter at breast height (DBH) of the Live Oak grove is 30 inches across, ranging from 21 inches to 36 inches. All stand roughly 40 to 50 feet tall and are in surprisingly good condition for trees located in an urban environment.

Ferris Plaza may be less noisy today, but the trees that still grow there have stood witness to profound moments in Dallas’ history and the history of its people. With recent efforts to remove these trees, it is important these trees receive the historic status they deserve to dissuade any future plans to harm this piece of Dallas’ past.

Data
Estimated Age
75
Height
up to 50 feet
Circumference
up to 11 feet
Contributors

Eric Wettengel, Steve Houser, Marion Lineberry