One of Kansas City's most beautiful Christmas traditions is the Historic Westheight Holiday Homes Tour.
The annual tour has long been a favorite of local historians, architects and connoisseurs of grand old homes. Historic Westheight Manor has one of the richest architectural histories in all of Kansas City.
The land now occupied by Historic Westheight Manor was originally owned by several members of the Wyandotte Indians. A marker now stands where the small log "Church of the Wilderness" once stood, which was built by the Indians in the Spring of 1844. A little more than 380 acres of this land was eventually bought from the Wyandotte tribe by Hanford N. Kerr, from Ohio. The Kerr family farmed the land and built the two stately Queen Anne Victorians that still remain in their original grandeur.
Th development which was to become Westheight Manor was begun in 1915 by Jesse A. Hoel, from Indiana, with the help of his wife, Besse Fife's family. J. O. Fife, a prosperous lawyer in the city of Wyandotte, bought one of the Kerr homes in 1883. It was the acquisition of this land that may have been the first step towards the development of the Hoel Realty Company in 1912; and with the continued acquisition of land by J. O. Fife, the future of Westheight was begun.
Mr. Hoel employed the expertise of the nationally recognized architectural landscape and city planners, Hare and Hare of Kansas City, Missouri. The resulting layout of Westheight was in the naturalistic tradition at that time and still remains a valuable example of architectural landscaping and city planning. The graceful curve of the streets aesthetically respond to the natural slopes and terrain of the land. The houses were positioned on the high points of the property, with generous setbacks, and the utilities were either underground or confined to the rear of the properties. The aesthetic consideration made the development one of the most advanced in the area. The original street lights, circa 1922, still stand, and are as difficult to find. The original opalescent glass globes have gradually been replaced by contemporary plastic replicas, but the cast iron bases have been maintained as they were originally designed.
The first house to be built in the new subdivision, and to this date, one of the most architecturally significant homes in the entire Kansas City area, was Jesse A. Hoel's house. The architect was Canadian-born Louis S. Curtiss, who is recognized as Kansas City's most notable architect. Possibly, Historic Westheight's greatest claim to architectural fame is that the greatest concentration of Louis S. Curtiss homes in all of Kansas City can be found here. There are four and possibly five homes, plus the entrance markers to Westheight Manor, by Curtiss. The Jesse Hoel House is considered to be one his finest achievements.
Development remained slow until after 1920. Another architect, born in Mexico, but of Canadian descent, Victor J. DeFoe, had begun his career in Kansas City with J. C. Nichols. In 1921 he began designing homes in Westheight, and is credited for as many as twenty of the designs. Much of his work was of the Renaissance and Colonial Revival styles. DeFoe's style is often misattributed to Curtiss.
Other notable architects include New York born architects Edward Buehler Delk, J. G. Braecklein and William Warren Rose - all of whom contributed to the unique community of Westheight. Since the building of Westheight Manor continued on and off until 1971, the neighborhood has at least one representation of almost every architectural style built in Kansas City from Victorian to the American Split Level.
In the past twenty years, the surrounding community has become blighted. However, Historic Westheight has amazingly weathered the threat of this decay. Although there have been a few houses lost, the vast majority of these historic homes have never fallen into disrepair. Some remian in their original condition. Many others have been renovated and restored.
In more recent history, Westheight has had strong ties to the Eisenhower presidency through one of Westheight's most distinguished residents, former Senator Harry Darby. The community has even had a Hollywood connection, when Robert Altman used the streets of Westheight as a backdrop for his movie Kansas City. Where is this unusual and extraordinary neighborhood? Someplace that most Kansas Citians would never expect. Historic Westheight Manor is one of the surprises to be found in Kansas City, Kansas. The annual homes tour is being held this year on Sunday, December 6th, 1998, 1-7 p.m. For ticket information, please contact Curt Cutting at 621-4434, or Field's Florist in Corinth Square at 381-9898, and in Hawthorne Plaza at 345-9441.