Fairfax Hills Historic District
The Fairfax Hills Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2014, The Gombach Group. We included Fairfax Hills in the Automobile Suburbs category given that the design of the development included for off-street parking lots — additional charge above rent, $1.50/month.
The Fairfax Hills Historic District is a 33-acre landscaped site adjacent to the Fairfax industrial district in Kansas City, Wyandotte County, Kansas. Located at the edge of the Missouri River bluffs, the topography of the District slopes down from east to west, giving the development a tiered appearance. The series of roads that organizes the property (Parkwood Boulevard, Coronado Road and Hilltop Road) responds to the topography with curving alignments. The buildings relate to the road system in a variety of ways. Most sit close to the road with their long, primary facade facing the road. Some are oriented perpendicular to the road, facing it with their short, side elevations. Along Hilltop Road and Coronado Road groups of three buildings create courtyards facing the road. The forty-eight one- and two-story brick apartment buildings that comprise the District represent four variations of stripped-down Late Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Revival and Modern Movement designs applied to multifamily residential forms. Common building materials and design features unify the variants. All of the buildings have concrete foundations; low horizontal massing; red brick exterior walls; asphalt shingled roofs; and concrete structural systems. Symmetrical facades, simple brick trim at the window openings, and stylized wood door frames with shallow stoops enhance the traditional character that defines the District's appearance. The Fairfax Hills Historic District retains a high degree of integrity and clearly conveys its associations with housing developed for defense workers during World War II.
Fairfax Hills derived its name from the Fairfax industrial district located just to its north. Until the mid-1920s, truck farmers cultivated grain and vegetables in the Missouri River floodplain north of downtown Kansas City, Kansas and northwest of downtown Kansas City, Missouri. Only dirt roads connected the farms and scattered farmhouses in the "North Bottoms" while the metropolis grew to the south.
In late 1923, the Kansas City Industrial Land Company, a subsidiary of the Union Pacific Railroad, purchased nearly 1,300 acres of Missouri River bottom land and launched over $3.7 million of infrastructure improvements to create a modern industrial district. In addition to a new road system, the improvements called for private railroad spurs behind each block that would connect to the main line of the Union Pacific Railroad. The developers also proposed a new bridge across the Missouri River to connect Fairfax to communities on the north side of the river. A representative of the Union Pacific Railroad boasted that the Fairfax industrial district, "offer[ed] the manufacturer the lowest first cost and minimum operating expenses of any property developed along well defined industrial plans." By offering land at cost, the railroad enabled manufacturers to build plants that were more-modern and more-efficient than facilities erected in Kansas City's older, more densely built industrial districts. The Union Pacific Railroad expected to profit only from the railroad service it offered the industries. Employees could walk to work from nearby residential neighborhoods or ride a street car, which ran within two blocks of the district.
By March 1926, half of the planned improvements were complete. The Fairfax industrial district now boasted four miles of paved streets; water, gas, electric and sewer systems; and six miles of railroad spur track. Eight industrial concerns had established facilities within Fairfax, while another twelve industries occupied sites just outside the district's boundaries. The businesses within the district included an iron and steel foundry, an oil refinery, a thresher assembly plant, two construction companies, a lumber mill, and an aviation school and small airfield. Those nearby included a paving company, box manufacturer, several foundries, a boiler maker, a seed company, a grain elevator and several oil refineries.
By 1939, Kansas City, Kansas was the state's leading industrial center. Home to a broad range of industries, it boasted local primacy in meat packing, oil refining and serum manufacturing as well as a strong presence in the production of items such as soap, machinery, airplanes, steel products, concrete, mattresses, ammonia, and food products. The following year, as military actions in Europe and Asia intensified, government officials selected Kansas City, Kansas as one of three locations nationwide for new military aircraft assembly plants to be operated by private contractors.
Ground was broken on March 8, 1941 for the new Kansas City, Kansas aircraft assembly plant on an 85-acre site adjoining the existing Fairfax Airport. As part of the development, the City of Kansas City, Kansas purchased the airport from its private owners and leased it to the federal government for use in testing the new aircraft. The government selected California-based North American Aviation to operate the plant, and by November 1941 workers had begun building B-25 bombers. By 1944, the Kansas City plant was the sole source of B-25 planes flown by American and international military forces. Over four years of operation, North American Aviation's Fairfax plant employed 59,337 men and women who built over 6,000 B-25 planes. In one peak month, the factory produced 315 complete aircraft plus the spare-parts equivalent of twenty more. At the end of the war, North American Aviation employed 7,600 workers at the Fairfax plant.
After World War II, the Fairfax industrial district continued to prosper as private industrial development replaced the military plants. General Motors converted the North American Aviation plant to a Buick-Oldsmobile-Pontiac assembly line in 1947, and Trans World Airlines assumed the North American Aviation airport facilities. Owens-Corning Fiberglass Corporation completed construction of a factory that was started during the war for a rubber company. In January 1947 four new factories were under construction with more expected in the near future. The district offered businesses four miles of waterfront along the navigable channel of the Missouri River, easy access to the 800-acre privately-owned Fairfax Municipal Airport, and reciprocal switching arrangements that provided access to all twelve trunk line railroads serving Kansas City. Design controls regulated the appearance of the industrial plants. Shared amenities also included air conditioned restaurants, sidewalks flanking all roads, landscaped parkways, underground telephone and power lines and recreation fields for employees.
As happened nationwide, the opening of defense industry plants in Kansas City, Kansas brought an influx of workers to staff the new facilities. One report anticipated as many as 20,000 new workers to the Fairfax industrial district by 1942. As the city prepared for the tremendous population surge, a local housing survey determined the vacancy rate of the city's acceptable housing stock to be only three percent. Given the shortage of suitable housing, the Federal government began to explore locations for the development of new public housing in Kansas City, Kansas. Responding to the number of new jobs anticipated in Kansas City, Kansas, Federal Defense Housing Coordinator Charles Palmer specifically recommended that new federally-funded housing not be constructed in Kansas City, Missouri "due to the difficulties of transportation between the Missouri and Kansas sides of the river." Sites north of the river in the Missouri counties of Clay and Platte would be considered, however, since the Fairfax Bridge provided an easy river crossing to those locations.
The solicitation for a site to build 350 single-family houses of "permanent-style construction" in Kansas City, Kansas received over one-dozen responses in June 1941. The vast majority were in rural Wyandotte County. Two were in the developed areas of the city. One was near Klamm Park, south of Quindaro Boulevard at 22nd Street. The other was adjacent to the Fairfax industrial district and less than one mile from the new North American Aviation plant. Described in the newspaper as "75 acres on the Sorter road about 200 yards north of Kansas Highway No. 5," this latter parcel became the early favorite for the new public housing development. Land agent L.G. Hepworth offered the property for $675 per acre plus $21,000 in improvements.
On July 15,1941, Public Works Administrator John Carmody announced the selection of the Sorter Road site for the construction of the Quindaro Homes Federal Housing Project (Quindaro Homes). It was part of a $300 million national defense housing bill submitted to the House Public Buildings and Grounds Committee at the end of July 1941 that proposed construction of 3,500 housing units in Kansas. Other Kansas projects recommended by the plan were 2,500 housing units in Wichita; 400 housing units in Parsons; and 100 housing units at Fort Riley.
After visiting the Quindaro Homes property, the Public Buildings Authority determined that the topography of the bluff top site was better suited to the construction of multi-family housing than to single-family dwellings. Consequently, the estimated cost to construct each unit dropped from $3,500 to $3,000.
Construction of the Quindaro Homes began in November and continued through May 1942. When it opened, residence was restricted to employees of three specific plants in the Fairfax industrial district: the North American Aviation Company; the Fruehauf Trailer Company; and the Aircraft Accessories Corporation. The development featured 100 one- and two-story frame buildings, each housing two, four or six apartments. The buildings had wood shingle exterior walls painted in a variety of colors, which the Kansas City Star reported helped add some variety to "the rather plain design [of the buildings]." Rents for the 350 one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments ranged from $26 per month to $31 per month. Each unit had a gas-fueled stove, heater and water heater as well as a double sink "to permit use for laundry tubs."
Fairfax Hills Charles Palmer's wish came true in 1944 when plans were announced for the construction of forty-eight garden-style apartments on a bluff top just west of the Quindaro Homes. This property had operated as the Fairfax Hills Golf Course during the 1930s. Local real estate developer and President of the Kansas City Industrial Land Company Guy Stanley, Sr. established the course at the northern limit of Kansas City, Kansas in 1931. When golf pro Max Kranz operated the course from 1932 - 1936, green fees were 50 cents on weekdays and 75 cents on weekends. In Kansas City's golf history Kranz is noted for introducing Kansas City's career women to the game. Women's clinics on weekday afternoons included lessons and an end-of-session tournament. The venture was not long lived, and by the end of the decade the course closed.
The proposed Fairfax Hills apartments were intended to supplement the Quindaro Homes as housing for defense workers employed in the nearby Fairfax industrial district. Unlike the Quindaro Homes, which were built and managed by the federal government, a private company, Fairfax Hills, Inc., would build and manage the new project using loans insured by the FHA under Section 608 of the National Housing Act. The price tag for the 350 one- and two-bedroom apartments was $2 million.
While Fairfax Hills was fairly small in comparison to developments being erected elsewhere around the country with thousands of dwelling units, it was large enough to benefit from economies in both design and construction. Guy Stanley, President of Fairfax Hills, Inc., assembled a team of professionals to design a complex of garden apartments that would comply with the FHA guidelines, that would be cost effective to build and operate, and that would be an attractive, desirable place to live. He hired renowned Kansas City, Missouri landscape architects Hare & Hare to plan the new development and to layout the road system and the grounds; Wichita, Kansas architect George Metz to design the buildings; and engineer W.L. Cassell, also of Kansas City, Missouri, to design the mechanical systems.
The plan produced by Hare and Hare embodied the garden apartment ethos. The site plan incorporated open areas "for grace and charm," curving roads, and a pedestrian walkway that bisected the development's main block. Arranged on the site "in a manner adjusted to the rough but attractive topography," some buildings faced the street while others were grouped to create courtyards. The developers spent $35,000 on landscaping that included grassy hillsides and park areas, numerous shade trees, ornamental flowering trees, and evergreen and deciduous foundation plantings. Playground facilities included slides, teeter-totters, swings and sandboxes.
Automobile parking at Fairfax Hills included off-street parking lots for 154 cars and curbside parking for 134 cars. While the curbside parking was free, there was a charge of $1.50 per month for off-street parking. Those who did not own a vehicle could access bus and street car service on Quindaro Boulevard, just a few blocks to the south, and the management company planned to provide transportation for residents between the transit facilities and the property.
The four apartment building types varied in massing, height and architectural details but shared a vocabulary of common materials and general architectural styling. The unified, cohesive appearance of Fairfax Hills reflected the use of standardized building components and modern construction technologies that afforded the project cost efficiencies. A newspaper story described Fairfax Hills as a complex of one and two-story brick buildings with a Colonial style. The design incorporated a new structural system that left concrete ceiling beams exposed in the first story apartments and concrete floors visible throughout the buildings. The fireproof masonry construction and brick building exteriors distinguished Fairfax Hills from many other government-financed housing projects. The Kansas City, Kansas municipal power plant piped steam from its generating station just north of Esplanade Avenue to furnish Fairfax Hills with electricity, heat and hot water. The newspaper reported that other details, such as "eyecatching" front doors, ornamental round windows, and "decorative trimmings," created a "homey" atmosphere in the complex that was otherwise sparsely designed to meet FHA guidelines.
Ninety percent of the units were two-bedroom apartments, and the remainder had one bedroom. Complying with FHA standards, the larger apartments maximized the efficiency of their square footage by combining kitchen and dining areas, while the smaller units had a dining room separate from the kitchen.
Rental rates were considerably higher than those at Quindaro Homes. They ranged from $58 per month for a one bedroom apartment to $62 per month for a two-bedroom apartment. Rent covered costs for heat, water, lights in public spaces, trash removal, basement laundry facilities, janitorial services, lawn care, and playgrounds. The developers provided each unit with two new electric appliances, a seven-cubic-foot Crosley Servador refrigerator and a three-burner stove for an additional $5.50 per month. Tenants also paid for their electricity, and as noted above, for off-street parking. If all services were used, rent for a two-bedroom apartment was $70 per month.
When the first residents moved into Fairfax Hills in mid-October 1944, the project was heralded as the first federally-funded housing development in the Kansas City area to be operated by private property managers. Jonas Gerber, Director of the Kansas office of the FHA, proclaimed Fairfax Hills "one of the finest multiple family garden-type undertakings developed by the FHA," and he praised "the fine planning and unselfish efforts by local promoters [that] had gone into the conception and design." In addition to Guy Stanley, the management team included property manager Theodore L. Iliff.
By the end of May 1945 about 300 of the 350 units were occupied and the remainder were completed and ready to be leased. Potential tenants were restricted to employees of essential war-related industries and the War Housing office in downtown Kansas City, Kansas vetted all applicants. From this larger group of war-industry workers, eligible tenants were limited to: 1) "immigrant" workers arrived to Kansas City after 1 April 1942; 2) local residents whose commute between home and work was a burden of time or cost; and 3) local residents whose current housing was deemed substandard. The 1945 city directory illustrates the credentials of residents who received housing at Fairfax Hills. Members of the military and their families were a notable presence. Others were professional employees of war-related industries, such as North American Aviation Company, Proctor and Gamble Manufacturing Company, and Remington Arms. According to one newspaper account, thirty Fairfax Hills residents were employees of the Pennsylvania-based Lee Rubber and Tire Corporation, which was completing a new tire plant in the Fairfax industrial district. Pilots, railroad engineers, doctors, and medical researchers also lived at Fairfax Hills. The directory lists several female heads-of-household women employed in the war industries.
The next city directory for Kansas City, Kansas was published in 1948. Eugene J. Jenkins was the property manager at Fairfax Hills. In the immediate post-war period, the residents at Fairfax Hills fell into many of the same occupational categories as noted in 1945, although there were significantly fewer military personnel. Proximity to the Fairfax industrial district made the development a desirable location for employees of the nearby industries and the railroads. Many Fairfax Hills residents also worked in the legal or medical fields or for non-military companies.
In 1951, Fairfax Hills, Inc. sold the property to a group of six investors. Ownership reconsolidated in a single owner in 1961 when Lender-Durst of Kansas, Inc. purchased the various shares. Fairfax Hills, now known as Parkwood Estates, continues to provide low-income housing to the residents of Kansas City, Kansas, many of whom still work in the Fairfax industrial district. Eighteen of the forty-eight buildings were renovated in the 1990s. The remaining buildings are presently vacant. One building was substantially destroyed by fire several years ago. A new owner plans a tax-credit rehabilitation of the surviving forty-seven buildings that will be completed in 2008.
Landscape Architects — Hare & Hare
The cohesive, flowing design of Fairfax Hills owes much to the well-thought out landscape plan created by Hare & Hare. Sidney J. Hare and his son S. Herbert Hare of Kansas City, Missouri became professional business partners around 1910. The elder Hare had worked in the Kansas City, Missouri city engineer's office in the 1890s where he met George Kessler, designer of Kansas City's parks and boulevards system. Inspired by Kessler, Sidney Hare left the City for a job as superintendent of Forest Hill Cemetery. He became a proponent of the garden cemetery movement and developed an extensive collection of Midwestern trees and shrubs at Forest Hill. After opening his own landscape architecture office in 1902, Sidney Hare designed parks, residential subdivisions, and grounds for institutions and cemeteries. Herbert Hare was among the first students in the United States to receive a formal education in landscape planning, studying under Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. at Harvard University.
Fresh from school in 1910, Herbert Hare joined his father in a practice. During this time Sidney Hare concentrated on park and cemetery projects, while Herbert focused on community planning and design, consulting regularly with city planning commissions throughout the Midwest. Hare & Hare were noted for respecting the natural topography of a given site. Their designs included winding roads that followed landscape contours and for the preservation of trees, valleys and scenic vistas.
Beginning in 1913, Hare & Hare worked with developer J.C. Nichols laying out new subdivisions in the Country Club District of Kansas City, Missouri and in Mission Hills, Kansas. They also designed the grounds for many of the individual homes in the Nichols developments. Landscaped entrances to the subdivisions featured sculptures and pocket parks designed by Herbert. Their work with Nichols led to collaboration with George Kessler on the new community of Longview, Washington in the early 1920s; later they designed Nichols' Country Club Plaza shopping district in conjunction with architect Edward Buehler Delk. Following Kesslers' death in 1923, the City of Kansas City, Missouri appointed Hare & Hare to finish Kessler's City commissions. By the end of the decade, the firm had established a national reputation and regularly worked on projects nationwide.
World War II affected the nature of the firm's work. As private development ground to a halt, government-backed projects, such as Fairfax Hills, accounted for the majority of their projects during this period.
Following the war, Hare & Hare continued to design a variety of projects for public and private sector clients throughout the United States as well as in Canada and Central America. While they became increasingly involved with planning and zoning studies, they also continued to design traditional landscape projects, such as campus plans, subdivisions and the grounds for the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Missouri.
Architect — George Metz
Little is know about architect George Metz. Census records suggest that he was born c. 1911 and grew up in Sumner County, Kansas with his mother and stepfather, Verna and Elmer Metz. In 1930, at the age of nineteen, Metz was living in Wichita and working as a draftsman for a mapping company. By 1944 Metz had opened his own architectural practice. He and his wife Charlotte remained in Wichita until the early 1960s, after which they disappear from city directories. The only other project known to be the work of Metz is an institutional housing development at 21st and Grove Streets in Wichita, Kansas. The Institute of Logopedics, an organization that provided physical therapy for children, commissioned Metz to design a residential treatment center, known as the Children's Village, in 1948. The complex included a two-story administration building and a series of forty, one-story residential buildings, each with four two bedroom dwelling units. Groups of three residential buildings were arranged around grassy courtyards that faced a tree-lined parkway. The complex included also recreational facilities and specialized buildings to accommodate children with specific illnesses or disabilities. Like Fairfax Hills, financing for the Logopedics Children's Village was insured by Section 608 of the Federal Housing Act, and the newspaper touted the project as the second largest FHA project approved in Kansas at the time. Clearly designed to meet FHA guidelines, the Children's Village buildings shown in newspaper renderings appear to share many similarities of design and construction with the Type A buildings at Fairfax Hills.
† Elizabeth Rosin, Principal, Rosin Preservation, LLC, Fairfax Hills Historic District, Wyandotte County, KS, nomination document, 2007, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.