Kern Place was founded by Peter Kern, for whom the neighborhood was named. Kern was a promoter, a businessman, a philosopher and a traveler. Kern first came to El Paso in 1881 when he was in his early twenties. He saw El Paso as a growing city with great potential in the newly arrived railroad. He began a jewelry store that became quite successful in a town of saloons, brothels and gambling houses.
While in the jewelry business, Kern began to purchase a considerable amount of land around El Paso, including an undeveloped Northwest mesa of sandy hills. While Kern enjoyed great success early on, within 10 years of arriving in El Paso, he lost his once successful jewelry business, and then his wife and daughter abandoned him. Bankrupt and alone, Kern packed his belongings and headed to the gold rush in Alaska. There, he opened another jewelry store and profited well.
With $50,000 in cash, Kern returned to El Paso to find that his property had cleared his financial obligations during his absence. He had lost everything but the sandy hilled mesa, which had become more valuable over the 10 years he was in Alaska. With no other purpose, Kern designed a plan for what would be known as Kern Place.
Kern looked to W.I. Rider, an engineer originally from Rochester, New York, to develop the plans for the subdivision in 1914. Construction began on November 21, 1914. Earliest construction began on Cincinnati Street, and by 1917 about 40 homes had been built. Though urban today, when Kern Place was built, it was on the edge of the desert and was well removed from the populated areas of El Paso. Twenty years later, Rider visited Kern Place and stated that he was not happy with the layout of the streets, and "had he then foreseen the universal use of the automobile, he would never have curved the streets" which he considered "dangerous."
In 1924, Kern's daughter Madeline returned to El Paso. Not only did she discover that Madeline Drive and Madeline Park were named for her but that her father's fortune had been restored. Shortly thereafter, Madeline went to court on behalf of her mother to have Kern Place designated community property.
Madeline obtained a judgement that ultimately caused problems with property titles for some Kern Place land, and legal woes spun her father once again into bankruptcy. Madeline sued her father, two banks and many of the residents for rent. Those who were being sued in turn sued Peter Kern for fraud, and the first day's lawsuits filed totaled $1,610,000.
Although Madeline's claims were found to be groundless, the resulting legal fees were too much for Kern. According to a 1956 El Paso Times article, "One of the banks took over, making a contract with Mr. Kern to allow him to sell off what land was still considered his, making him an allowance as long as practicable of $100 a month on which he lived for a while." But soon the demand for land in Kern had diminished, and Kern's remaining assets rapidly disappeared.
By 1930, Kern was penniless. Ironically, he found work in the neighborhood he had created. He worked as a gardener in Kern Place, earning $0.30 an hour. He had never lived in his own development. Although he made one last attempt to regain his fortune with a development on nearby Krazy Kat Mountain, funding fell short, and the project was never fully realized during his lifetime.
In 1932, Kern moved to Arlington, Texas, retiring at the Home for Aged Masons. He was taking his customary morning walk along the railroad tracks and failed to hear the approaching train that struck him from behind and killed him on February 8, 1937, at age 80. He was survived by a sister and his daughter Madeline.
In a way, Kern did realize his vision. He had a dream for a beautiful neighborhood and Kern Place is every bit a vision to everyone who lives in it. But even he could not have imagined the impact that this subdivision would have over the years. Rather than being defined by the man whose name it bears, Kern Place was and is distinguished by the residents who moved in one by one to live in Peter Kern's neighborhood.
Courtesy of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.