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WESTHEIGHT MANOR HISTORIC SURVEY


HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
I. BEGINNINGS
II. THE KERR FAMILY
III. JESSE A. HOEL
IV. THE DEVELOPMENT OF WESTHEIGHT MANOR
V. THE LATER YEARS
VI. OVERVIEW OF BUILDING STOCK
VII. DESCRIPTIONS OF SIGNIFICANT SITES AND STRUCTURES
VIII. CONCLUDING REMARKS
APP. 1 PLATTING HISTORY OF WESTHEIGHT MANOR
APP. 2 HOEL REALTY COMPANY
APP. 3 WESTHEIGHT MANOR DEED RESTRICTIONS
APP. 4 WESTHEIGHT MATERIAL FROM THE KANSAS CITY KANSAN
APP. 5 ARCHITECTS

THE DEVELOPMENT OF WESTHEIGHT MANOR

The plans for Westheight Manor were prepared by Hare and Hare, landscape architects of Kansas City, Missouri, with engineering by R. L. McAlpine and P. A. Williamson. Although the drawings are not dated, the planning effort may have begun as early as 1914, after Fife's acquisition of the Taylor property. At this time Hare and Hare had acquired a national reputation as landscape architects and city planners, and were already heavily involved in planning for the development of the Kansas City, Kansas parks system. The founder of the firm, Sid J. Hare (1860-1938), was a protege of George Kessler (1862-1923), and had designed the Parkwood subdivision in Kansas City, Kansas in 1908. It was presumably this previous local work that led Hoel to hire the firm.

The plans developed for Westheight Manor by Hare and Hare were divided into three areas reflecting the ownership divisions and future platting: Westheight Manor No. 1, the property owned by Hoel south of Washington Boulevard and east of 22nd Street; Westheight Manor No. 2, the property owned by Kerr west of 22nd Street; and Westheight Manor No. 3, the property north of Washington Boulevard owned variously by Fife, Hoel, and Kerr. The engineering of the plans was also divided, with McAlpine handling the area east of 22nd and Williamson responsible for the Kerr property.

The subdivision plans of Hare and Hare were in the naturalistic tradition of Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., O. B. Simonds, and Kessler. Consequently, the layout that was developed had streets in gentle curves that followed the slopes of the terrain and left the high points for the siting of houses, large lots with generous setbacks, utilities underground or restricted to the rear property lines, and landscaped parklets at the principal street intersections. At the time, it was one of the most advanced subdivision plans to be proposed anywhere in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Jesse A. and Besse Hoel filed the plat for Westheight Manor No. 1 on August 28, 1915; Hanford L. and Nettie Kerr platted Westheight Manor No. 2 on December 17, 1915; and Hoel, Kerr and Fife platted Westheight Manor No. 3 in February, 1916.

Two more plats related to Westheight soon followed the first three, although they were apparently not part of the Hare and Hare design. On May 4, 1916, Jesse A. and Besse Hoel platted their property south of Minnesota Avenue and west of 22nd Street as the subdivision of West Grandview. The Hoels also acquired control of the two small, undeveloped subdivisions between State and Minnesota, Hanrion Place and the Upland Addition. The development of this area proceeded concurrently with that of Westheight proper, with many of the houses being built for the Hoel Realty Company. Moreover, Hoel Realty in its advertising and maps included this area as part of Westheight Manor, apparently viewing the entirety as a single development.

The fifth plat to be filed was that of Westheight Manor No. 4, on August 26, 1916, by Hanford L. and Nettie Kerr. This was the property on either side of Washington Boulevard from 16th Street to 18th Street that had been owned by Kerr since the 1880s, when it was one of the five identical tracts given by H. N. Kerr to his children. Despite the plat name and unlike West Grandview, it was not part of Hoel Realty Company's proposed residential development, but was instead set aside for neighborhood-oriented commercial uses similar to those in J. C. Nichols' developments. It remained largely undeveloped until after World War II. By 1930 the only buildings in Westheight Manor No. 4 were the shops on the southeast corner of 18th and Washington Boulevard and a Standard Oil Co. gas station on the northeast corner.

Other than platting, H. L. Kerr's role in the development of Westheight was limited, although he did build the grocery store and apartment building at 1700 North 18th Street in the Summer of 1916. Ironically, this would seem to have been contrary to Hare and Hare's plans. Kerr's interest in the area was severely curtailed when he and Nettie sold most of Westheight Manor No. 2, some 20 acres, to Edna Fife Betton on May 31, 1917, retaining just six lots surrounding their house in Block 16. As Edna and Ernest L. Betton were the daughter and son-in-law of J. O. Fife (and thus in-laws of Hoel as well), virtually all of Westheight was now within the family. The Bettons eventually built a house on their property across from Hoel's, at 1220 North 22nd Street.

In its advertising, the Hoel Realty Company repeatedly called attention to the fact that Westheight Manor was a "restricted" development. As the ads made clear, this referred to deed restrictions placed on all sales of property within the development. The restrictions included such items as requiring uniform setbacks from the property lines, and limitations on the use of property; apparently only single family homes and owner-occupied duplexes could be built within Westheight. Such restrictions were felt to be necessary for Westheight to develop in the way Hoel envisioned, as Kansas City, Kansas had no zoning ordinances until 1924. The restrictions also included an offensive clause regarding race, but unfortunately such racial covenants were all too common at the time.

In addition to the presumed protections afforded by the deed restrictions, Westheight was presented to the potential home builder as a finished product. All general site grading was completed, sewer, water and electrical lines installed, streets graded and paved, and the landscaping designed by Hare and Hare was installed prior to the beginning of lot sales. All of this was at the developer's expense, and according to one source Hoel was promised tax abatements by the City, which subsequently reneged on its promise. The original development plan also called for sidewalks throughout the development, but for some reason only a few in the blocks nearest State Avenue were ever built.

Despite these efforts, development was initially slow in coming, with only three houses built prior to 1919, presumably because of the Great War. One of the first houses to be completed in the new subdivision was that of Jesse Hoel himself, in 1916. He took as his site five lots northeast of the intersection of 21st Street (now Hoel Parkway) and Washington Boulevard, just to the west of his father-in-law's house. His designer was Louis Curtiss, Kansas City's most notable architect, and the house that resulted was one of Curtiss' finest achievements.

Since about 1905, Curtiss had pursued his vision of a personal architecture, gradually abandoning the eclectic revival styles in which he had already shown both skill and wit. Curtiss' association with Hoel and Westheight lasted for six years and may have included as many as five houses and the subdivision entry markers at 18th Street. But of these works, one is now lost and only the Hoel, Rickel, and Miller houses are fully documented.

The Westheight work of Louis Curtiss has in general been so little known that an article on Curtiss in a major architectural magazine (Progressive Architecture, August 1963) erroneously stated that his last work was done in 1915. It is true that in his last years he became inceasingly involved in architectural theory, to the point where the Miller commission of 1920-21 is said to be the result of a design prepared some years before, but the Westheight designs are among his most accomplished, and nowhere else is there such an assemblage.

Once the war ended, development was slow in returning to its pre-war pace as the economy went through a recession tied to a decline in industrial output and a collapse of farm prices. In 1919, sixteen houses were built in Westheight; this number included Curtiss' Rickel house, the Betton house, the first house for contractor Thomas Torson, and at least two fine examples of the Prairie Style. The following year was considerably worse, with just five houses built in 1920.

Despite this slow start for Westheight, Jesse Hoel began to play a prominent role in civic affairs. He was instrumental in the founding of the Kansas City, Kansas Real Estate Board, and in June of 1920, became a member of the first Kansas City, Kansas Planning Commission. Noted planner and landscape architect George Kessler served as planning consultant to the Commission, while Fred S. Wilson was hired as staff engineer. As Wilson had formerly been in the office of Louis Curtiss when the Hoel house was designed and built, Hoel may have helped him procure his appointment.

Wilson undertook private architectural commissions while working for the Planning Commission, including at least four for Hoel. Perhaps discouraged by the slow pace of home building in Westheight, Hoel hired Wilson to design a large apartment building for the northeast corner of Washington Boulevard and Minnesota Avenue. Although the building remained as a proposal for a year or so and was included in an aerial view drawing of Westheight, like several other projects Wilson did for Hoel it was never built. At the same time, Wilson still did job supervision for Curtiss, most notably for the Miller house of 1920-21.

The economy remained slow in 1921, yet 23 houses were built in Westheight. Moreover, on January 7, 1921, Hanford Lester Kerr died at just 60 years of age. (He died intestate, and his property was placed into a trust for his widow and two children.) Nettie Kerr subsequently sold most of the remaining property adjoining the Kerr house in Block 16 of Westheight Manor, a total of four lots, to contractor Thomas M. Torson. This included a house or barn (since demolished) which stood at the north end of the property near Everett Avenue. The Kerr house was sold to George W. Biggs in 1923, and with it the last of Hanford Newell Kerr's legacy in Kansas City, Kansas.

Faced with the continuing slump, Hoel had initiated a major advertising campaign designed to "sell" Westheight. Beginning on January 31, 1921, Hoel Realty placed an impressive series of advertisements, many of them full page, in the new Kansas City Kansan newspaper. The series continued through June and was reasonably successful despite the recession. Twelve lot sales were announced at one point in February, although the Georgian Revival house for Arthur J. Stanley, perhaps the largest ever to be proposed for Westheight, was left unbuilt following Stanley's injury in an automobile accident.

At this time one archirect, even more than Louis Curtiss, became responsible for the distinctive character of Westheight Manor. Victor J. DeFoe was, like Curtiss, of Canadian descent, although he was born in Mexico in 1892. His architectural background is uncertain. He originally worked for twelve years for the American Sash, Door and Fixture Co. as an architect and estimator, while carrying on a practice as a residential architect on the side. After a brief stint as a draftsman for the J. C. Nichols Company, he set up an independent practice in 1920. (It was at this time that he changed the spelling of his last name from Dafoe to DeFoe.) By 1921 he had begun designing houses in Westheight, both alone and as a senior partner in the firm of DeFoe and Carroll (1922-23). He was eventually responsible for at least 20 designs for Westheight Manor, some unbuilt but including many of the most distinguished residences in the neighborhood. His work was generally a disciplined example of the Arts and Crafts Movement, freely mixed with elements from the Renaissance and Colonial Revivals. His skill as a designer was such that several of his houses have previously been misattributed to Curtiss. It is unfortunate that very little is otherwise known about such an obviously gifted individual.

The original plat for Westheight Manor No. 3, the area north of Washington Boulevard, had omitted a tract of land of disputed ownership at the northwest corner of 18th and Washington Boulevard. Also, perhaps because of previous development by Kerr, the four blocks north of New Jersey Avenue (and the Kansas City Western Electric Line that ran down it) were platted as small lots on a grid, with no attention given to the topography of Jersey Creek. The result was an area very different in character from the rest of Westheight Manor. These planning lapses were obvious weak spots in the overall concept. Accordingly, a new plat designed by Hare and Hare was filed for Westheight Manor No. 3 on September 8, 1921. This plat replaced the two topographically impossible blocks north of New Jersey with a new public park, Westheight Manor Park, and included the previously omitted corner tract. Hoel then filed Quiet Title suit in District Court on December 6, 1921, claiming sole possession of the disputed corner parcel for the last fifteen years and challenging all other claims. The suit was successful and Westheight Manor had reached its final boundaries.

Among the amenities that graced the revised plat of Westheight Manor No. 3, in addition to the new park, were a proposed pedestrian walkway designed by DeFoe and Carroll that would serve as a westerly extension of Freeman Avenue, and a landscaped median down the center of Walker Avenue. Unfortunately, the walkway was never built and the landscaped median has since disappeared, although the additional right-of-way for both is still in existence.

By 1922 the economy had left its post-war slump and the "Roaring Twenties" were racing full throttle toward the eventual crash. Newspapers articles in 1923 (itself a good year) would state that 1922 saw a record number of building permits issued in Kansas City, Kansas. Westheight was part of the boom, with 24 residences built including DeFoe's Sihler, Torson, Jennings and Robertson houses, as well as W. W. Rose's new home.

Perhaps because of the increased volume of business, the Hoel Realty Co. did not resume its advertising campaign in the Spring of 1922. Instead, they began to consider the provision of additional amenities for the neighborhood residents. A swimming pool was designed by Fred S. Wilson for the northwest corner of 20th and New Jersey in the new Westheight Manor Park, but was never built. In the West Grandview portion of the Westheight development, only a handful of lots on the west side of North Washington Boulevard had as yet been sold. This led Hoel to propose a golf course and club for Westheight residents on the nine blocks between 22nd and North Washington Boulevard south of Minnesota. A three-story, $80,000 club house was designed by Wilson, although the structure as built in Fall of 1922, at the southeast corner of Minnesota and Washington Boulevard, was considerably more modest. The course itself was laid out by James Watson, referred to in the Kansan as a noted golf expert.

Immediately to the north of the golf course, the Board of Education acquired the block between 22nd and 24th Streets for the construction of the first phase of Mark Twain Elementary School, designed by Rose and Peterson. (This ground may have been set aside by Hoel for school purposes, as the plans for Westheight showed a school on the site as early as March 1921.) The area received its first church with the construction of the Westheight Methodist Protestant Church at the northwest corner of 25th and Nebraska. And the year also saw the installation through the neighborhood of cast-iron street lamps with underground wiring, which provided an effective complement to Hare and Hare's street layout.

Toward the end of the year, on November 13, Hoel purchased Westheight Manor No. 2 from his sister-in-law and her husband, Edna and Ernest L. Betton. From that point on, Hoel Realty Co. had direct control over the entirety of the residential development. In all, 1922 would seem to have been the year in which Westheight's position as the city's most attractive and prestigious residential neighborhood was securely established.

The pace of construction continued to accelerate in 1923, with 28 houses built in Westheight, and 1924 was even more impressive with 53 houses built. These were years of solid growth for the neighborhood. One (possibly negative) indication of this growth came in the Spring of 1923, when the residents of Westheight petitioned the Board of City Commissioners to have State Avenue declared a boulevard from 22nd Street to 29th, therby closing it to non-residential traffic. The request was denied, as State Avenue was already the city's principal east-west artery, but the request obviously reflected concerns that remain unresolved to this day.

Hoel Realty Co. had built speculative houses in Westheight almost from the project's inception, beginning with three houses on State Avenue in 1919. By 1924 the company was becoming increasingly active in residential construction. The high point of this activity came when Jesse A. and Besse Hoel replatted Blocks 13 and 14 of Westheight Manor No. 2 on April 16, 1924. The new plat combined the two blocks into one and ended Nebraska Avenue at 24th Street, allowing for the development of Westminster Court. In this case the architects were Courtland Van Brunt and Edward Buehler Delk (the latter having just designed the first phase of J. C. Nichols' Country Club Plaza) while the engineer was again Fred S. Wilson.

The residential court development they designed was unique for the time in Kansas City, with five houses and two duplexes arranged facing an interior pedestrian court, while access to garages was provided by a peripheral alley. The ensemble nature of the design was emphasized by the linking of the individual houses with connecting walls and gateways. The design antecedents of both the layout and the buildings lay in the English Garden City movement, with its simplification and idealization of English late medieval architecture. Somewhat similar houses, without the Garden City layout, had been designed by Van Brunt for J. C. Nichols in 1919-20, for the 400 block of Greenway Terrace in Kansas City, Missouri. At the same time, Delk had recently returned from a lengthy visit to England. The resulting project was the culmination of the most adventurous period in Westheight's development. After 1924, the buildings in Westheight, while still of high quality, would become increasingly conservative in design.

Between 1919 and 1927, Hoel Realty Co. built a total of 90 houses in Westheight Manor. Thirty-six of these were built in the area between State and Minnesota west of 24th Street in 1925 and '26, thereby bridging the gap between Westheight proper and the golf club property. Among the homeowners in this area were two employees of Hoel Realty Co.: Gus A. Sandstrom, manager of the Westheight Manor Department, at 1001 North Washington Boulevard, and Mahlon S. Weed, manager of Business Property, at 2417 State Avenue. At this time Hoel Realty Co. also advertised an on-site office at Hoel Parkway and Washington Boulevard, but its exact location is uncertain.

Initially, most of the houses built by Hoel Realty Co. were Craftsman bungalows, although by the mid 1920s more traditional styles such as the Tudor Revival and Colonial Revival were used. The houses were scattered throughout Westheight, but tended to be located toward the periphery of the area. In two instances other than Westminster Court, the houses were apparently designed and constructed as a group. The houses at 1814, 1818, 1822 and 1826 New Jersey Avenue, built in 1924, were virtually identical examples of the Colonial Revival. The four houses built at 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 Oakland Avenue in 1927 also utilized a single floor plan, but with more variation in the design of their facades. Three were examples of the Tudor Revival, while one was in the Prairie Style. The latter may have been one of the last examples of that style to be built in Kansas City, Kansas, and like the designs of Curtiss and DeFoe may have reflected the personal preferences of Hoel.

As their investment in Westheight expanded in the mid 1920s, Jesse A. Hoel and Hoel Realty Co. also became involved in several commercial projects in downtown Kansas City, Kansas. One proposal that was actually carried out was for "The New England Shops," designed by Victor J. DeFoe. This involved the construction or remodeling of four commercial buildings in a row at 841 through 853 Minnesota Avenue in 1924-25. A six-story hotel building that was to adjoin the shops on the south, also by DeFoe, was initially projected but unfortunately was never built.

Hoel's civic involvement also grew at this time beyond his positions with the City Planning Commission and the Real Estate Board, to include the presidency of the Kansas State Real Estate Board. He was active in the Elk's Club as well, and during his one-year term as Exalted Ruler of the local chapter he was instrumental in acquiring the property for the new Elks Club Building at 905 North 7th Street (the Huron Building), built in 1922-1924 [demolished 1999].

Building in Westheight Manor continued to be strong through the mid 1920s, with 28 houses erected in 1925 and a record 71 in 1926. Speculative builders other than Hoel Realty Co. became increasingly active in Westheight during this period, most notably Charles L. Edwards, Harry Oldfather, and Jacob Yoakum. Yoakum advertised himself as a builder of bungalows, and was responsible for some of the better examples of the Craftsman style in Kansas City, Kansas. In the early and mid 1920s he built at least 13 houses in Westheight Manor. Among the more notable examples of his work was the house at 1806 Oakland Avenue (1926).

Harry L. Oldfather, like Jacob Yoakum, generally worked within the Craftsman style. His own home was an excellent example of the style, and was located at 1911 Armstrong Avenue in nearby Kerr's Park. He built a total of 37 houses within Westheight, 22 of them for Hoel Realty Co., more than any other builder. He was also the general contractor on Westminister Court, another indication of the favored position he apparently occupied with Hoel and a substantial tribute to his abilities.

Charles L. Edwards' career as a builder apparently began in 1924 or '25. Before that time he had worked in various office jobs. His own house was the first to be built in the southern portion of Westheight, on North Washington Boulevard across from the golf club. He subsequently built at leat 30 houses in Westheight, including 18 for Hoel Realty Co.. His favored styles were the Colonial Revival and the Tudor Revival. His finest house was in the latter style, built for his brother-in-law Harold C. Falconer at 906 North Washington Boulevard in 1926-27.

The continuing increase in residential development brought with it additional incentives for non-residential growth as well. Construction on the second church in Westheight began in 1925, when St. Paul's Protestant Episcopal Church moved from 7th and State to the southwest corner of 18th and Washington Boulevard. Designed by a Troy, New York architect, A. K. Mosley, the first phase of the church was completed in 1927. At the same time, the Westheight Manor Shops were built on the southeast corner of the intersection as the first phase of the commercial development intended for Westheight Manor No. 4.

Despite the increasing number of builder's houses, architect designed houses continued to be erected in Westheight in the mid 1920s, and indeed throughout the history of the subdivision. Perhaps the most prominent architect to work in Westheight during this period was Charles E. Keyser. Although best known for larger buildings such as the Washington Avenue Methodist Church, the Kansas City Kansan newspaper building, and the City Hall Annex and Fire Headquarters, Keyser designed at least nine projects in Westheight between 1923 and 1931, including his own house at 2421 Washington Boulevard.

Keyser's most widely publicized work in Westheight was "The Ideal Home", built as a show house at 2335 Washington Boulevard in 1925-26. The house was conceived as a joint project of the Kansas City Kansan and the Kansas City, Kansas Real Estate Board, with considerable input from Hoel. Keyser was selected as architect in a closed competition with J. G. Braecklein and Victor J. DeFoe. Although the house incorporated all of the most up-to-date ideas in planning and convenience, the Colonial Revival design was decidedly conservative in appearance, in keeping with then-current public taste. The Kansan frankly pointed out the contrast with some of the earlier residences in Westheight, and this conservativism may have been why Keyser, the relative newcomer, was chosen over his older but more adventurous colleagues.

Yet another platting closed out this period in Westheight. On December 10, 1926, J. A. and Besse Hoel and the nine property owners along North Washington Boulevard replatted West Grandview as Westheight Manor No. 5, making the area part of Westheight in name as it had always been in practice. The lots, blocks and streets in Westheight Manor No. 5 generally matched those in West Grandview, so apparently the replat was for legal purposes only. The ground occupied by the Westheight Manor Golf Club was again subdivided on the plat, suggesting that Hoel still intended to eventually dispose of the property. In addition to West Grandview, the plat of Westheight Manor No. 5 also included land owned by the Hoels west of Roach Road (the present Westview Drive). Never developed by Hoel, this tract eventually became the subdivision of Westvale.

Continue on to next chapter:
V. THE LATER YEARS


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