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12 Hard Times on the Hill: The real estate bust of the late 1880s hit College Hill hard.

4 College Hill

Neighborhood Association elects new president and executive board.

7 Faced or defaced?

Old mulberry tree in College Hill park has a new look. Is it art, or vandalism?

THE COLLEGE HILL COMMONER Vol. 2 No. 11

COLLEGE HILL

• CROWN HEIGHTS • UPTOWN • SLEEPY HOLLOW

OCTOBER 2009

CYCLING THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD CITY

MULLS BICYCLE LANES FOR FIRST AND SECOND STREETS. MEANWHILE, DOUGLAS DESIGN DISTRICT EYES AVENUE FOR TWO LANES. PAGE 5

PLUS: RIDING THE RED BUD TRAIL A 10-MILE TRAIL FROM DOWNTOWN TO ANDOVER THAT CUTS THROUGH THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD. PAGE 10


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LETTERS

THE COLLEGE HILL COMMONER ❚ OCTOBER 2009

COME AS YOU ARE A LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

F

rom time to time I’ll get stopped by a reader while I’m walking the old neighborhood with my newspaper bag on, which is always a little embarrassing because of the perspiration and the smudges of ink on my face and the perpetual three day beard. And I know what they’re thinking—“Nice enough guy, but dude looks shabby.” It wasn’t always this way. I used to have real jobs, like water well driller and steamboat porter. I delivered Chinese food for awhile, and did my time in the grocery mines. But then I decided I wanted to be pithy for a living, which really takes it out of you. The pay, the hours, the blank pages to fill. Not much that I would recommend about the typing end of the job, really. It’s not so much your head that hurts after a long day at the keyboard as it is your bottom. No one tells you this in J-school. I was 10 years out of it before I discovered that they used to call newspaper writers drudges. Sounds, and feels, about right. Try this. Ask the next slouchy, defeated looking guy you see in wrinkled khakis if he has a press card. He will produce one. After college, I worked for The Emporia Gazette, a fine enough paper with a great history, but stifling dress code and severe wooden office chairs. Because the place was like a living museum, tourists and school groups were always walking through. That meant ties for the boys and skirts for the girls. All but the jocks behind the sports desk looked uncomfortable. Those guys could get away with T-shirts and shorts. Ballcaps, even. That never made sense to me and it was the kind of thing I would fume over while I was supposed to be filing a story about the 4-H club. Anyway, I haven’t worn a tie since. I kept up the slacks for awhile, and used to keep a couple pairs of shoes around that would occasionally require a shine, but those days are long gone. I’m strictly a canvas sneaker and denim pant sort of guy these days. I’m in business but I’m no business man. Those shirts in my closet with the collars and buttons are kept around for funerals and speaking engagements and such. I’ll be doing a few of those things this month (not the funerals), each of them at the sort of places that it wouldn’t do to turn up in my working uniform of baggy Levis. I’ll borrow a belt and muster as much dignity as I can, but I doubt elegant old William Allen White would approve. But he was a newspaperman. Me, I’m just a guy that makes newspapers. BARRY OWENS EDITOR

WRITE THE EDITOR:

We welcome your letters. No subject is out of bounds, so long as it is local. Letters should not exceed 300 words and may be edited for clarity and length.

E-MAIL US: editor@collegehillcommoner.com WRITE US: 337 N. Holyoke, Wichita, KS, 67208 CALL US: 689-8474 ADVERTISE: jessica@collegehillcommoner.com, or 689-8474 THE COLLEGE HILL COMMONER VOLUME 2 ISSUE 11 OCTOBER 2009

PUBLISHER

J ESSICA F REY O WENS

EDITOR

B ARRY

OWENS

CONTRIBUTORS

R ACHEL C ROSS , D AVE K NADLER , J ASON L ONERGAN , J OE S TUMPE

THE COLLEGE HILL COMMONER

Published monthly by The College Hill Commoner 337 N. Holyoke Wichita, K.S. 67208 316-689-8474 editor@collegehillcommoner.com www.collegehillcommoner.com


THE COLLEGE HILL COMMONER ❚ OCTOBER 2009

OP-ED

3

You’ve got the questions. I’ve got the answers

I

t’s been a quiet month in the neighborhood. Maybe too quiet. So let’s go straight to the mailbag.

Joe Bob from College Hill writes: I’ve noticed these small, cylindrical objects in my lawn, brown in color. They appear in the early morning and then again in the late afternoon. What gives? D.K.: First, the good news: This is probably not the work of a malevolent poltergeist, or worse, a DAVE KNADLER sullen youth. The bad news: If I were a betting man, I’d bet that one or more neighborhood dogs has made your finely manicured plot of grass part of its daily defecation routine. But back to the good news! Dog poop eventually biodegrades – although you wouldn’t think that if you’ve ever stepped in a pile while wearing Vibram soles. Joe Bob: You’re saying it’s dog poop? On my lawn? That’s outrageous! Is there nothing I can do? D.K.: Yes. There is nothing you can do. The problem is, neighborhood

dogs enjoy defecating on your lawn a sarcastic sign, as though somebody lot more than their owners enjoy took the trouble to place it there. picking up the results. You see, Some College Hill dog owner is College Hill dog owners are a proud making a proud statement: If you people — far too proud to pick up don’t like it, you should move to something as disSeattle. gusting as dog poop. Cyndi Lou from C’mon kids; is it This is not one of Crown Heights writes: really so uncool to those prissy cities don a Cuddly Bunny When is Halloween where owners are again? I forget. required by law to get-up when you’re do so. Around here, old enough to join the D.K.: That would be the last day of October — walking around with military? Get a not the last day of a sack full of numcostume. August, as you may ber two is considhave guessed when all ered odd behavior, the black-and-orange possibly resulting in themed stuff starting a loss of face. It’s showing up in stores. So one of the many there’s still time to stock up, if, like ways Wichita resembles Paris: In me, you’ve eaten all the candy you both cities, leaving dog poop in place bought back then. And then eaten the is de rigueur, requiring nothing more stuff you bought to replace it. than a bored glance and feigned nonchalance as one strolls away up the Cyndi: You know, I think I’ll skip street. C’est la vie! the candy this year. Maybe I’ll hand out carrots and celery sticks instead, Joe Bob: Oh yeah? I think I’ll start from those trays they sell at Dillons. putting sarcastic signs in my yard, and perhaps a poop-bag dispenser to D.K.: Excellent idea. That way the drive home the point. police will have no trouble finding your house when they respond to the D.K.: Good luck with that. Even in arson complaint: They can just folplaces where poop-bag dispensers low the trail of discarded carrots and are plentiful — such as College Hill celery sticks. Park — it’s not uncommon to see a fresh load steaming in the very shad- Cyndi: Speaking of Halloween, at ow of the dispenser. Or right atop the what age should people stop trick-or-

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treating? D.K.: It’s not really about age, is it? It’s about enthusiasm. Heck, I’d give Dick Cheney an entire sack of Baby Ruths if he showed up dressed as a sexy witch. But so many of today’s youth are content to drift up to your door in street clothes, thrusting out Hefty Lawn ‘n’ Leaf bags and frowning when you only give them one fistful of year-old taffy. C’mon kids; is it really so uncool to don a Cuddly Bunny get-up when you’re old enough to join the military? Get a costume. Don’t sneer. We’ll pretend we enjoy shoveling the sweets if you pretend you enjoy begging for them. Patty Patty Bobatty writes: I’ve heard that columnists who lack better ideas sometimes pretend to run letters so they can pretend to answer them. Please comment. D.K.: That’s calumny of the basest sort. A lie most foul. Who told you that, by the way? Patty Patty: That’s another thing: If I’m supposed to be writing this, how come it reads like a two-way conversation? D.K.: Unfortunately, we’ve run out of space. Writer Dave Knadler lives in Crown Heights.


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THE COLLEGE HILL COMMONER ❚ OCTOBER 2009

CHNA Elects New President, Executive Board First time in a decade that neighborhood assoc. has new leader BY BARRY OWENS Bill Hess, a life-long resident of College Hill, was elected president of the College Hill Neighborhood Association last month. Hess is Vice President and Land Manager with McCoy Petroleum Corp., and the owner of more than 40 rental units in College Hill. He and his wife, Judy, are the former owners of Inn at the Park and the Venue. Though they now live on Terrace, the couple began the tradition of lighting up Pershing for the holidays and have long been involved in the neighborhood association. “I’m willing to do this ... for awhile,” Hess said, dryly. It was the first time in a decade that there was a presidential election because it was the first time in a decade that there was a nominee. Celia Gorlich, who held the position since the late 1990s, stepped aside last month to make way, she said, for “new blood, fresh ideas.” She said she had tried in the past to find candidates to run for her position, but none stepped forward. Hess said one of the first orders of business during his administration will be to change the bylaws to set term limits on office holders. Hess was the only candidate for the office. College Hill resident Tim Goodpasture bowed out of the running. Beth King held her position as vice president of the association, winning the position as a last-minute write-in candidate. King has lived in College Hill since 1981 and been involved with the neighborhood association since its inception. She is owner of King Merj Public Relations. “I really, really, really, don’t want anyone to vote for me if they are not going to volunteer [to help the associa-

Bill Hess, elected last month as president of the College Hill Neighborhood Association, proposed a number of changes to how the association operates, among them:

❚ Officers should be in office for a two year period after which they must resign or submit to reelection. ❚ Committee chairman should be in office for a one-year period after which they must resign or be considered for re-appointment.

❚ The resident criteria of College Hill

Celia Gorlich and Bill Hess visit after last month’s meeting of the College Hill Neighborhood Association. Gorlich stepped down as president and Hess was elected to replace her.

BARRY OWENS

should be comprised not only of single-family homeowners, but also those renting and those owning property in the confines of the neighborhood.

❚ CHNA annual dues should be raised from the present $10 per year to $30 per year to allow for adequate general income to manage the association. ❚ Quarterly meetings of all CHNA members should be scheduled for every 3rd Tuesday of March, June, September and December.

Bill Hess

Beth King

tion],” she said. “It is hard for four people to do it all.” The neighborhood association is 501c3 nonprofit organization that aside from putting on annual events, such as the Trolley Tour and Easter egg hunt, represents the neighborhood’s interests to the city and works to preserve the architectural integrity of the neighborhood. While membership in the association is high, it has had trouble finding members willing to step into leadership positions. “I think people would be more willing to serve if they knew it was just for a short period of time,” said John Belt,

Annie Woods

chairman of the nominating committee, citing the need for term limits. John’s wife, Marlene, had volunteered as “a temporary” fill-in as secretary. That was four years ago. “I kept asking her, when is the next election? She would say ‘I don’t know,” Belt said. Marlene was finally relieved last month when Annie Woods, another longtime resident of College Hill, was elected as secretary. Woods is a recently retired Spanish teacher. “I love this community and would like to serve anyway that I can,” she said. The association is still in need of a treasurer.

❚ A CHNA Web site should be managed and updated following each meeting and include contact information for all officers and committee chairmen, a summary of items of discussion of the previous monthly meeting, notice of upcoming meetings, general items of interest, a copy of the bi-laws and membership information. ❚ The CHNA should consider a permanent office space, with a contact phone number, recording machine, mailing address, record filing cabinets and adequate operating space for ongoing functions. ❚ An awards committee should be formed to notify the board of any College Hill resident that may be worthy of an award for service or activities that benefit College Hill.


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THE COLLEGE HILL COMMONER ❚ OCTOBER 2009

Bicycle Lanes Mulled for 1st, 2nd and Douglas A cyclist dream or congestion nightmare? Bike lanes the buzz last month at meeting. BY BARRY OWENS The city is considering installing bicycles lanes on First and Second streets to provide safe cycling conduits to and from downtown. City Manager Robert Layton unveiled the plan last month during a meeting of the College Hill Neighborhood Association. Reaction was mixed. While no one at the meeting seemed opposed to the lanes, their creation would drastically change traffic flow on First and Second Streets. In order to accommodate a five-foot wide bicycle lane along the curb, parking would be limited to one side of the street and vehicle traffic would be confined to a single lane in the middle. First and Second streets are residential streets, but they are broad and smooth and traffic flows through quickly. As one Second Street resident put it during the meeting, “I sometimes feel like I’m living on Kellogg.” He welcomed the bike lanes if they meant drivers would be forced to the middle of the

Example of a street laid out with two bicycle lanes and single lanes for vehicle traffic, similar to what is proposed by the Douglas Design District.

road, and to ease off the gas. “Anything that you can do to slow people down,” he said. Others questioned how safe cyclists would be on First or Second streets and suggested that the city rethink the placement of the bicycle lanes, perhaps placing them inside the curb. Similarly, the Douglas Design District is proposing that the city install bike lanes on Douglas Avenue on both sides of the street. The plan calls for reducing the four lane street to two lanes,

with a single lane for vehicle traffic in either direction. The aim is to slow drivers down in the District and the city, and to provide safe passage for bicyclists. “I only drive from College Hill to the Canal Route everyday for work, and I see at least five bicycle riders along the way,” said Wendy Mayes, who is a Douglas Design District member and addressed the Association during the meeting. The city and the District are only considering the plans for now, and the

Association was not asked for its blessing. But opinions were freely given from residents who attended and asked questions of Layton. “I’m thrilled,” said one resident, enthused by the idea of bicycle lanes. Another said that it was an idea whose time has finally come for a city long dominated by vehicles. “That is one area that really needs help in Wichita,” the man said. “We can’t walk anywhere or ride anywhere safely.” But others, like one Pershing Street resident, expressed concern that reducing vehicle traffic lines, especially on Douglas, would make it difficult for area drivers. “It’s already hard enough to turn left onto Douglas as it is,” she said. “If there is one long line of traffic to wait for, it will be impossible.” And what about the bus, which makes many stops in the neighborhood? It would be unable to pull to the curb because of the bike lane. “You could have a bus stop at Blessed Sacrament and be backed up to Fountain Street,” one driver suggested. “It is a congestion hazard.” Layton said the city is still mulling the placement of the bike lanes, and it could be that if Douglas Avenue gets lanes, they will be unnecessary on First or Second streets. “It’s a legitimate issue,” he said.


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THE COLLEGE HILL COMMONER ❚ OCTOBER 2009

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7

THE COLLEGE HILL COMMONER ❚ OCTOBER 2009

Faced or Defaced? Mulberry Tree Painted BY BARRY OWENS College Hill Park boasts a number of old mulberry trees, but none more well known than the crooked one at the base of the sledding hill. Arched and low to the ground, the tree is perfect for climbing. Longtime observers know that the tree has changed with age. It was taller not so long ago, but still hunched over enough to be welcoming of neighborhood children. But last month a new, more superficial change appeared on the tree—a painted face appeared near the base of the trunk. The face seems more like the work of a cartoonist than a vandal. It has red lips, big teeth, arched eyebrows and eyes with a bit of angry menace in them. “I actually think the face is kind of suiting,” said Bianca Kamnitzer, who lives nearby at English and Willow streets and noticed the face last month. She took a picture of the face and posted it—where else?—on Facebook. “Our beloved tree has a new personality,” she captioned the photo. Her friend, Whitney Tartler, who also lives in College Hill, was aghast. “Please tell me that’s not the tree at the bottom of the sledding hill,” she said was her first thought . “I think it’s vandalism,” Tartler said. “It’s kind of a cool paint job, but it’s sad that somebody painted it there. It would

A cartoonishly menacing face appeared last month on the trunk of the old mulberry tree in College Hill Park, near the sledding hill. The tree is popular with neighborhood children.

BARRY OWENS

be cool on a T-shirt. But not on a tree, and especially not that tree.” What that tree needs, she said only half-jokingly, is “a sweater, or flowers around it, or a poem.” Katie Oatman, who lives on nearby Circle Drive, says the tree deserves to be painted—but on canvas. “It has always reminded me of a declining nude,” she said. In 2001, the tree was nearly cut down by the city. It was only spared when College Hill residents circulated a petition to save it. “They couldn’t understand why the tree was being removed, and I

couldn’t either,” Craig Steward, the former city arborist, told The Commoner last year. “So I signed the petition, too.” Early this month, The Commoner called Steward and explained the appearance of the face. He said the paint is “not injurious” to the tree and is likely to eventually leach out. He noted that is also likely that the city will paint over it with a darker coat if it receives a complaint. “If it were graffiti, they would be out pronto,” he said. “Something like this, they might wink at until they have the time.” He suspects the face to be the work of

whimsy, not malice. “I don’t think it symbolizes that the anti-Christ has come to College Hill,” he said. Nor does Kamnitzer, whose son climbs the tree every day (and could be heard asking to go there during the telephone interview). “I think it was just somebody making public art and there is no place to do that here, so they chose a tree,” she said. Kamnitzer said she is more concerned with the ominous markings she has seen pop up lately on the other side of the park, markings that usually indicate that a tree has been targeted for removal by the city. “I really hope the day never comes that the city cuts that tree down, ” she said of the old mulberry. “I don’t care how crooked it is, or how dead it looks in the fall. That tree means a lot to the neighborhood and it needs to be respected.”


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THE COLLEGE HILL COMMONER ❚ OCTOBER 2009

Photos by JOE STUMPE

Left: A cyclist rides the Red Bud Trail, a 10-mile long unpaved path along abandoned railbed that runs from Downtown to Andover. While there is support in Downtown quarters for paving and lighting the trail, suburban interests have so far prevented improvements. Below: Looking east from the trailhead, between Ninth and Central, near I-135.

THE TRAIL NOT TAKEN The Red Bud Trail could be a dream come true for commuters & cyclists. But so far, the off-road trail remains mostly off limits. BY JOE STUMPE f you wanted to lay out the perfect bike trail for Wichita, one that would promote cycling as an energy-saving means of transportation as well as recreation, it would probably look like this: Start Downtown, where there’s a significant concentration of cyclists and desirable destinations—Old Town, the Arkansas River, etc. Run it through diverse neighborhoods and past parks, schools, major employers and shopping centers. Of course, you’d want it to be protected from traffic, and scenic, and to link up with the city’s existing network of trails. Sound too good to be true? In fact, such a trail already exists, at least in nascent form. It was given to the city in 2003 when the Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railroad abandoned its track — 10 miles of former railbed that angles northeast from Downtown through east Wichita to the Butler County line in Andover. Sounds great, right? “The problem is,” as local trails enthusiast Cecile Kellenbarger said, “they haven’t done anything with it.”

I

RIDING THE RED BUD Today, what’s known as the Red Bud Trail remains much as it was when the city acquired it, covered in weeds and loose gravel, with barricades strung across it at intervals. Still, the trail is in decent enough

shape that it can be ridden on a mountain bike or hybrid. And to see what Wichita might be missing, that’s just what my buddy, Randy, and I decide to do on a recent fall afternoon. (Note: I do not recommend riding it at night, as it’s unlit and there are a few potholes and other hazards that could prove dangerous). We get on the trail on the east side of the 1-135 canal, between Ninth and Central, using a dirt trail that runs north from the latter. An old railway bridge over the canal at that point has been fenced off and posted with no-trespassing signs. On the west side of the canal, the trail continues for a few blocks before disappearing into an old industrial area at Cleveland Street. But we head east, through the modest neighborhoods of north-central Wichita. As in most stretches of the trail, thick stands of trees on either side give the trail a secluded feel. The trail is level though slightly elevated; the gravel slippery in places, firm in others. We quickly realize it’s best to stay in the tire tracks apparently made by city maintenance workers who occasionally mow along the trail. The city has strung wire or concrete blocks across the trail at its intersections with streets to prevent trash dumping. The strategy appears to have worked, although a drainage ditch that runs along a portion of the trail here contains the odd mattress and shopping cart. It means we have to get off our bikes and lift them over the wires at Grove and several other crossing streets.

Map of the proposed Red Bud Trail, which could be a commuter corridor to Downtown or east side locations. It runs past Wesley Hospital, McDonald Golf Course and W.S.U. and within a half-mile of eight parks, four schools and three library branches.

THE GREENEST THING At Hillside, we note how close the trail passes to Wesley Medical Center, a few blocks to the south. Here the trail bends sharper to the north, past the Sleepy Hollow neighborhood. It skirts MacDonald Golf Course and crosses 13th just west of the old Cedar (now the Elks) Lounge. Bending back to the east, the trail crosses Oliver at 17th, just south of the Wichita State golf course and campus. Although 17th Street ends here, the trail extends its footprint straight to Andover — hence its original name, the “17th Street Corridor Trail.” Biking enthusiasts later dubbed it the “Red Bud Trail,” is it sounds more appealing. From here we notice the homes and yards on either side of the trail are getting bigger, a trend that will continue the rest of the way. Some residents —and firefighters at the station along Woodlawn—have planted vegetable gardens instead of trees as a buffer between themselves and the trail. The trail crosses Rock between Bradley Fair and the walled com-

pound of Koch Industries chairman Charles Koch (more on that later). From here to where we started is a distance of 4.8 miles. Even allowing for the less-than-ideal surface and the time we’ve spent taking photographs and lifting our bikes over barricades, the ride has taken just 45 minutes. With the trail paved, we figure most cyclists could do it in half that time or less. According to the city, the stretch just from the canal to Oliver passes within a half-mile of eight parks, four schools and three libraries. Although we’ll continue along the trail another five miles to the Butler County line, past ever-larger east Wichita homes and sunflowerdrenched fields, Randy has already seen enough to be convinced. “This is the single most ‘green’ thing the city could do,” he says of developing the Red Bud. “It’s a crying shame they haven’t.” TRAIL BLOCKS So why haven’t they? If you ask city officials, it’s because the city doesn’t have the money in its budget to pave, light CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE


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THE COLLEGE HILL COMMONER ❚ OCTOBER 2009

THE TRAIL NOT TAKEN CONTINUED FROM PREVIOUS PAGE

and sign the trail, estimated to cost about $400,000 per mile. However, they acknowledge that many other cities have found the money to develop trails on former railroad tracks and other pathways. But others contend that politics and misplaced priorities play a big role in the city’s failure to develop the Red Bud. For the past two years, the city has applied for federal transportation funds to pave the trail as far east as Oliver. It’s been turned down both times, possibly because the city has not designated the Red Bud as a top priority. Instead, the city has made completing a series of bike trails that loop around the city its top priority. Kellenbarger says those trails are good for recreation, but not functional for commuting. “If you’re trying to get people to ride to work, you’ve got to be going someplace,” she said. “You can’t just be going around in a loop.” Then there’s the question of why the city’s plans for the Red Bud now stop at Oliver rather than continuing on to Rock, Webb, Greenwich and eastern Sedgwick County, where so many residents who could presumably use the trail live. According to Kellenbarger and others who’ve lobbied the city on behalf of the Red Bud, the sticking point is City Council member Sue Schlapp, who represents that area. Schlapp did not return The Downtowner’s call, but she has made no secret of her opposition to the trail. “She listens but we just don’t get anywhere with her,” said cycling enthusiast Cindy Claycomb. Schlapp says many of her constituents don’t want a bike trail going past their backyards, fearing it will bring crime and loss of privacy. Claycomb said that when she canvassed about 40 east Wichitans doorto-door, only two or three felt that way.

PHOTOS: JOE STUMPE

Above: The end of the Red Bud Trail at the Butler County line at Andover Road. Top right: Looking west toward W.S.U where the trail intersects Oliver. Center right: A garden planted behind a house. Bottom right: Looking east where the trail passes Rock Road and Bradley Fair.

There is a prevalent rumor that Charles Koch, or at least his security guards, are among those opposed. Whether that is just a conspiracy theory of bicyclists, who can be an iconoclastic lot, or the truth, Koch did not respond to a request for comment for this article. BABY STEPS Closer to downtown, there’s no doubt that there’s broad support for the trail. The city’s application for federal funds is filled with letters of support from neighborhood associations— Sleepy Hollow, Hyde Park, Murdock,

Ken Mar. City Hall is full of employees who would like to see it developed. “It really is remarkable the way it connects the east side to the Downtown core,” said Larry Hoetmer, a landscape architect with the parks department. “It would create a unique opportunity in the city of Wichita,” said Scott Wagle of the planning department. City Manager Bob Layton said last week that he is not familiar with the trail, indicating it is probably not a high priority at City Hall. Still, the city has just hired a consultant to prepare a

development plan for Downtown that is expected to put a priority on bicycle use, and during a meeting last month in College Hill, Layton unveiled proposed plans to install bike lanes along First and Second streets. So there’s hope in some quarters that the Red Bud will become a reality at some point. Kellengbarger would settle for the Downtown-to-Oliver option in the short term. “My theory is if you get up to Oliver, you’re going to have enough people wanting it, the opposition will back down,” she said.


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THE COLLEGE HILL COMMONER ❚ OCTOBER 2009

Oktoberfest: Where everybody knows your name BY BARRY OWENS The weather was crisp, the bratwurst warm and the beer cold. What more could you ask for out of Oktoberfest? “Did you see the hot air balloon?” asked Jim Schoelwer, who organizes the party at Blessed Sacrament every year. How could you miss it? It buoyed 100 feet in the air every few minutes with a fresh basket load of waving children. The party, which this year was a fundraiser for charities and the Church’s crisis fund, had a little bit for everyone: rock ‘n’ roll in the afternoon, (supplied by the MeanEyed Cats) a polka dance at dusk, bratwurst, knackBARRY OWENS worst and mettwurst, a hot air balloon, games and inflatables to dizzy up the little ones and beverages to loosen up the parents. “Come on, kids, daddy needs a beer,” one neighborhood father implored.

RACHEL CROSS BARRY OWENS

The party was held entirely outdoors this year, giving it more of a festival atmosphere. Schoelwer harbors dreams of the festival one day taking over Douglas Avenue. “Imagine a party with 8,000 of your closest friends,” he said. Organizers did not take a head count, but near the end of the evening Trent Oatman worked a few figures out on his own. “When you really get right down

to nut chasing, it’s about the [hot dog] buns,” he said. “We’re up 100 buns over last year.” That would put the attendance, Oatman figured, around 2,500. But it’s not an exact science. As Schoelwer noted, not everyone at the festival ate a bun. Beer sales were probably the better indicator, Oatman determined. “Because these people that are still here,” he said, surveying the full beer garden. “They’re not eating.”

RACHEL CROSS


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THE COLLEGE HILL COMMONER ❚ OCTOBER 2009

COMMUNITY CALENDAR Bundtlettes Available at Dillons Bakery. Kansas Artist at Artifacts

Second Sunday Recycling

Works by Stan Herd depicting Kansas scenic byways will be on view during Final Friday this month at Artifacts, 4729 E. Douglas, in Lincoln Heights Village. Herd was commissioned this year by the Kansas Lottery to produce paintings of the byways. The original paintings will be grand prizes in a new Kansas Lottery scratch game. Works depicting all nine of the byways will be exhibited Oct. 30, 6-9pm. For more information, 683-8900.

College Hill United Methodist Church, 2930 E 1st St., accepts neighborhood recycling this month on Oct. 11, 8-11pm. All items can be recycled except for styrofoam and PVC. Volunteers will be taking items in the northwest corner of the main parking lot north of the building.

Fall Art Fair Yoga Central, 402 N. Hillcrest (corner of Woodlawn and Central) will host a Fall Art Fair on Nov. 1, 12-5p.m. The fair will feature works by eight artists and will include oil paintings, watercolor, acrylic, ceramics, silver and stone jewelry, photography, embellished boxes, glass beads and platters, and live music by Nikki Moddelmog. For more information, 2684929, or jrtwotreads@yahoo.com.

Lt. Bleckley Honored Lt. Erwin Bleckley, the namesake for Bleckley Drive, will be honored during a luncheon Nov. 11 at St. James Church, 3750 E. Douglas. Bleckley was shot down in France during World War I [see story, page 15]. Officers from the Air National Guard Museum in Topeka will bring Bleckley’s military artifacts, including his personal journal, and will share the story of his heroic service. The luncheon will also include a trip to the nearby V.A. Hospital, where a wreath will be placed at Bleckley’s memorial there. Cost is $12. RSVP by mailing a check ($12) to St. James ECW, Kay Hoffman, 102 S. Oakwood, Wichita, KS, 67218. Deadline is Nov. 6. For more information: Jerry Malone, 688-1590, or jmalone17@cox.net.


HISTORY

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House movers around the turn of the past century move a home in Michigan using the method of the day, horse and capstan. Many homes were moved out of College Hill in similar fashion during the real estate bust of the late 1880s.

HARD TIMES ON THE HILL

Real estate bust of the late 1880s hit College Hill hard. Many homes were seized, abandoned, or hauled away. BY JEFF A. ROTH

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n the outskirts of town, platted additions showed long lines of parallel, stalwart weeds along what had been, in Boom Days, projected avenues. Residences abandoned, sitting afar on the prairies, facing streets that existed only on paper. Abandoned homes stood eyeless and lonely, starting up from patches of sunflowers and cockleburs. Half-dug cellars, filled with water when it rained, where small boys with brimless hats fished hopefully all day long. Lamp posts stood drunkenly at obliterated street corners, streets never populous save in the teeming brain of some real estate genius. “For Sale” signs dotted the suburbs like pallid labels of distress. Birds circling overhead, rejoiced in the restored stillness and wildness of the place. These images of post-Boom Wichita and its suburbs were penned by Rea Woodman, an 1870 immigrant to Wichita in her 1948 book Wichitanna, 1877 – 1897. (She is also the namesake of Rea Woodman Elementary). The citizens of Wichita were so caught up in the seemingly limitless profits from buying and selling town lots that, like the Dutch in the “Tulip Craze” 200 years earlier, they denied that their financial fortunes would ever abate.

If you were a pessimist you were derided as a “croaker” who was missing the opportunity of a lifetime. However, the optimistic mob was set up for a collective fall. Among the fallen would be the real estate promoter, his financiers, the booster and new business recruiter, the college builders and ordinary townsfolk who bought lots on which to build or, more often than not, on which to speculate and trade. “When men abandon legitimate trade to embark on a craze of any character the end is not far off,” Wichita Eagle editor Marshall Murdock wrote in 1886 in an editorial titled “Call a Halt.” The rise and fall of Wichita’s 1880’s fortunes is paralleled by the life of one of the early financial geniuses of the “boom years,” George C. Strong. The son of a professor of calligraphy, George had more of a knack for numbers than letters. The 1880 census listed his occupation as a bookkeeper. His career path eventually led him to banking and real estate investment. In the early Boom years he and an investor group bought the Bank of Commerce, a local bank which had become the fourth bank to serve Wichita on a national basis. Strong’s group renamed it the 4th National Bank in Wichita, today’s Bank of America. In the real estate game, Strong teemed up with local businessman and brother-in-law A.A. Hyde. (Strong had

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George Strong

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married Mrs. Ida Hyde’s half-sister Pattie). The families partnered in establishing suburban housing additions at Fairmount, College Hill and elsewhere around the city. George and Pattie Strong are often recorded as land owners in old College Hill real estate abstracts, although upon closer examination their holdings were only for brief periods of time: buying, subdividing and selling. They were joined in property investment by friends and family. The extended group lent their names to a series of Wichita streets (Ida, Pattie, Lulu, Laura, and Fannie) in an 80 acre tract developed by A.A. Hyde. Ida’s cousin Lulu (Hewitt), Ida’s Chicago sister-in-law Laura (Todd) and close friend Fannie (Lewis) were the namesakes. Regrettably, Fannie Street had its name changed to “Greenwood” in 1940 after prudish residents lost sense of the historically popular 1880s name and successfully petitioned the City Commission. Strong formed a street car company called the Wichita and Suburban Railway Company. The company’s tracks were laid out to his newly platted real estate development, Fairmount Addition. His trolleys initially consisted of a small steam engine which would pull trolley cars that had no power train, so called “dummy” cars. After horse and buggy owners voiced complaints about the noisy steam engine, electric lines were strung overhead and the cars were converted to electric motor power. To bolster the trolleys’ success and to facilitate real estate sales, Strong advertised easy credit: “Mr. Strong, president of the company, has made arrangements whereby he can assist anyone wishing to build along the line of his road, by making a real estate loan for them.” The Beacon reported in 1888. Strong promoted the establishment of a college within his development and served as a charter member in the founding of Fairmount Ladies College. He “philanthropically”

Marshall Murdock

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donated 20 acres to its establishment. Strong was on his way to becoming a prominent civic leader. With A.A. Hyde he co-founded the Maple Grove and Highland cemeteries on Hillside north of the Frisco tracks. But Strong, along with most of the town’s moneyed capitalists and many of its ordinary citizens, was destined to become trapped under the 1887 – 1888 real estate market collapse. In the year of Murdock’s call to a halt of the madness, land values began to plummet, notes became due, incomes faltered, and the banks began to call in their loans. Foreclosure suits clogged the court system. Sheriff Rufus Cone began to hold auctions of the seized and foreclosed lots on the steps of the recently completed Sedgwick County Court House. Cone’s name appears often in College Hill real estate abstracts. Litigation also dogged Mr. Strong. He faced six separate lawsuits in 1889. In one, the eastern money interests accused Strong of appropriating investors’ funds to his personal use. Sheriff Cone was kept busy attaching liens to the “seven or eight hundred lots” Strong owned in the suburban additions. When The Beacon asked what George’s situation was, friends said he was “land poor.” He soon left town busted, not unlike Rea Woodman’s family by the “Unpaid Tax Route.” That was her euphemism for abandoning one’s property when its value was less than the taxes owed against it. For those who could hang on, a “paid” real estate tax receipt was a badge of honor, according to Boom-era attorney Kos Harris (namesake of Kos Harris Elementary, later the consolidated PriceHarris Elementary). In his later life Kos Harris reflected on Wichita’s boom and bust experience, having lived it as an insider and a deal maker. In corresponCONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE


THE COLLEGE HILL COMMONER ❚ OCTOBER 2009

HISTORY

13

HARD TIMES ON THE HILL

Left: 226 N. Roosevelt, built before the bust. Center: 1955 N. Market, an example of a home that was moved during the bust. Right: 4145 E. English, one of the neighborhood’s earliest surviving homes. Curious as to when your house was built? Go to www.sedgwickcounty.org, click on “Property Appraisal / Tax Information” and after a few more steps enter your specific address. The year it was built is listed and is generally accurate.

PHOTOS: JEFF ROTH

CONTINUED FROM PREVIOUS PAGE

dence with Woodman he described the bust period as one of “old clothes, liver and tax receipts.” He reminisced in Wichitanna how beef steak was considered a luxury, a new suit of clothes obtained only for one’s wedding or funeral. According to H. Craig Miner in his book Kansas, The History of the Sunflower State, 1854 – 2000, Wichita’s tax coffers suffered the loss of 50 percent of the assessed value of the property in town. In response to the declining tax revenue the mill levy was increased, worsening the downward spiral in values. Businesses slumped, workers were laid off, thousands left town…some on foot. Miner writes that Wichita lost a third of its population during the downturn. Exacerbating the population exodus from Wichita was the April 22, 1889 opening for settlement of Oklahoma’s “Unassigned Lands,” territory that had not yet been assigned to Indian tribes. The Great Land Rush of 1889 swept in many from Wichita who wanted to get a fresh start. Upon departing some would cover their household goods with fake “chattel mortgages” to thwart Sheriff Cone who would otherwise seize free and clear property for creditors. Unbelievably, some jacked their houses from their foundations and hauled them to Oklahoma. Kos Harris, in a 1920 article in The Wichita Eagle, recalled seeing an eight room house from College Hill that was hauled there. He also recognized a restaurant building that had originally been located on Douglas Avenue, but was hauled to Oklahoma during the downturn. House moving with horses, trucks (large dollies with wheels), jack screws, ropes, chains and pulleys became a thriving business. Home values had dropped so low that moving a repossessed house to a vacant lot made more sense than building new one. Homes sitting out “in the sticks” (as the speculative suburban developments began to be referred to), were being moved daily along the major thoroughfares into town, to areas “handy” to the business district. “Some elegant residences are being located on North Topeka Avenue, most of them being brought in from the outside additions,” The Eagle reported in the spring

of 1893. Some of the outlying additions were stripped bare of their homes. Some were hauled into the country to serve as farmhouses. Two and three story houses were moved, with trolley and telephone lines causing the teamsters the biggest nuisance. It was reported that in two years alone, 1,000 dwellings were moved to “inside” lots. A house in College Hill built before the year 1900 is a rarity, not just because the area’s first building boom had been nipped in the bud, but also due to the exodus of some of its homes back to the city. An inventory of College Hill’s earliest, surviving homes includes the Proudfoot and Bird homes adjacent to College Hill Park, the C.C. Fees farmhouse just south of Kellogg on Longview, and a lone surviving neighbor to the east at 4145 E. English. There had been a few farm houses in the area but nearly all of those are gone. There were also a few 19th century homes in the area of Douglas and Hillside and Douglas and Rutan but they were displaced by later commercial buildings—the Hillcrest Apartments and the Osteopathic Hospital, later the Wichita Clinic. North of Douglas holds a few survivors, notably on Roosevelt where one finds the substantially intact vernacular Queen Anne house at 226 N. Roosevelt, built by attorney I.P. Campbell in 1889 and the house at 230 N. Roosevelt built by a Mrs. Vanlandingham in 1900, subsequently modernized. Further north stands the S.W. Cooper house built in 1894 and later treated to a Colonial appearance. Finally there stands the Sen. Chester I. Long house at Second and Rutan, enlarged in stages from its original 1887 farmhouse status resulting in its Colonial design of today. Evidence is scant as to which College Hill homes may have been moved “in town,” but for a comparable example see the Queen Anne style house at 1955 N. Market, listed on the Wichita Register of Historic Places, known to have been moved in from Fairmount Street in 1900. The real estate market crash affected Wichita life beyond home ownership. Charities where hard hit by the economic collapse. The Faith Home, an institution on east Central for “fallen women” closed its doors in 1890, as did The Open Door, another institution nearby. The Wayside Home (for displaced workers)

had to close its doors and its board members had to pay off its indebtedness out of their own pockets. Beacon October 24, 1894. The benevolent institutions saw their financial support dry up as the citizens struggled through the downturn. To keep the elementary schools operating salaries were slashed. The colleges, once symbols of prosperity and progress, began to fail. Construction of Garfield University’s Davis Hall was delayed due to lack of funding, sitting awkwardly unfinished, or in the haunting words of Rea Woodman: “Garfield University…an unfinished Gothic gesture in a stretch of alkali prairie, treeless, sun-baked, a desert place...” Fairmount Ladies’ College likewise had difficulty completing the construction of its first building, Fairmount Hall. The college couldn’t open its doors until 1892, then under the name Fairmount College. It carried on “feebly” for some time after that. Wichita University, uphill from Lincoln Street, having opened in 1886, struggled until it closed its doors in 1893. Litigation hounded the promoters of Wichita University. Those who platted University Addition at Lincoln Street, and courted the building of a college, had pledged $25,000 to the German Reformed Church to pay for the school’s construction. They were only able to raise however $10,344.85. A lawsuit for the balance was filed and litigated at trial, followed by an appeal, and a retrial. In a post-trial report contained in the minutes the church’s 1896 annual meeting an elder of the church complained that they had suffered a home town verdict in Sedgwick County District Court, where the apparent rule of law was that, “…all contracts made in the boom days should be null and void whenever there was a possibility to escape their fulfillment.” The group of elders recommended that the property be sold which it was, for $5,000, on December 1, 1899 to the Catholic Diocese for use as an orphanage. Lawsuit woes were not limited to the civil courts. George Strong was summoned to criminal court in DeVall’s Bluff, Arkansas where he had relocated and obtained work as a bank teller. While he was away in Little Rock, discrepancies were noted at the bank and a $10,000 shortage was discovered. The bank was placed into receivership and

Strong arrested for embezzlement. “Strong coolly admits using the bank’s funds and says that he thought he had [real estate] deals on the string whereby he would be able to replace all the funds of the bank,” The Beacon reported. Lawsuits hounded other prominent Wichita businessmen as loans from the boom times became delinquent. Civic boosters, who had enticed industries with cash and real estate to relocate their factories and packing houses to Wichita, often had done so by borrowing cash and pledging town lots as collateral for the loans. When the pledged properties depreciated in value, the collateral was viewed as nearly worthless. Personal guarantees were pursued. One of the oldest banks of the city, the Arkansas Valley Bank, established in 1870, became insolvent and closed February 5, 1891. Regarding the stigma of bankruptcy, Kos Harris observed, “Corporate and individual insolvency had, by reason of its universality, ceased to be any embarrassment or cause comment.” Other businesses actually benefited from the collapse, namely those trading on misfortunes. Rea Woodman observed: Second-hand stores were glutted with household goods. Pawnshops became popular again. Mortgages were foreclosed on. Humble little homes were handed over to the banks without comment. Wives of real estate boomers took in washing. Pupils quit high school to “help out.” Those who were able to keep their homes struggled. Kos Harris recalled: “Houses needed painting the worst way. Gates were sagging on their hinges. Fences were tumbledown. Wooden roofs showed black and ripply at the shingle edges. Front yards were unshaven; backyards, weed grown and unkempt.” Kos Harris had occasion to look back at Wichita’s 1880s Boom and Bust with the advantage of hindsight and summarized rather dramatically the effect a clear crystal ball might have had on the citizens of Wichita. “If on that day an absolutely true and correct horoscope of Wichita ten years hence could have been shown to us, the drugstores would have run short on arsenic, prussic acid, antimony, strychnine, hemlock, hellebore, nightshade, belladonna, aconite, laudanum and all kindred poisons.” There would eventually be a turnaround, coming by the end of the 1900s. Home building would resume on the hill. Many of today’s College Hill homes will be found to date from Wichita’s next decade. Even George C. Strong triumphantly returned to the city, following some unrecorded redemption of character. The newspaper headline read, “Pioneer Booster Here,” “George C. Strong comes back to Wichita, a conspicuous compliment of the old Wichita…He is a part of retrospect, a reminiscence.”


HISTORY

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THE COLLEGE HILL COMMONER ❚ OCTOBER 2009

“The Highest Possible Courage,” by John Harris depicts Lt. Erwin Bleckley, downed by enemy fire in France during World War I. Bleckley Drive in Crown Heights was named for the Wichita native. This month in France and next month in College Hill, Bleckley’s heroic service will be recognized.

HONORING ONE OF OUR OWN BY BARRY OWENS rwin Bleckley was not the first man to enlist in the First Field Artilley unit of the Kansas National Guard on the day the unit was organized for World War I. He was the second. The 22-year-old bank teller with the 4th National Bank in Wichita was the second man in line to enlist on June 6, 1917. One month later he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in Field Artilley. By August, he reported for active duty in France. Bleckley had hoped to be an aviator, but his parents objected. Nevertheless, he volunteered for forward observation with the Air Service and was soon in the air. By all accounts, his service was brief but bold.

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On Oct. 6, 1918, Bleckley and the pilot he served with were shot down and killed during a mission to drop much needed supplies to the 77th Division, pinned down in the Argonne Forest by the Germans. It was their second mission of the day over the forest and they had been warned that the repeat attempt would be dangerous. Their plane had been shot up during an earlier pass, but they made repairs and were going back up. Bleckley is reported to have said that “they would make the ariel delivery or die in the attempt.” They flew low, just clearing the tree tops, with hopes of dropping bundles of chocolate, cigarettes and medical sup-

plies to U.S. forces. The pilot, Harold E. Goettler, was struck and killed by enemy fire while at the controls. The plane skidded out of control and crashed. Bleckley was ejected. Though recovered by the Allies, Bleckley died of his wounds before he could be evacuated to a hospital. He was buried nearby. If the name sounds familiar it is because Bleckley Drive in Crown Heights is named for him. He and his family were charter members of St. James Church. So it is that on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, the Episcopal Churchwoman of St. James, 3750 E. Douglas, are planning a noon luncheon in his honor. Officers from the Air National Guard Museum in Topeka will bring Bleckley’s military artifacts, including his personal journal,

and will share the story of his heroic service. The luncheon will also include a trip to the nearby V.A. Hospital, where a wreath will be placed at Bleckley’s memorial there. Meanwhile, over there, in France, Bleckley is to be honored this month with a permanent plaque at the American Meuse-Argonne Military Cemetery. Bleckley and Goettler were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1992. Only four such honors were awarded to World War 1 Air Service personnel. Bleckley got the second. Reservations are required for the Nov. 11 luncheon at St. James Church, 3750 E. Douglas. The cost is $12. RSVP by mailing a check ($12) to St. James ECW, Kay Hoffman, 102 S. Oakwood, Wichita, KS, 67218. Deadline for registration is Nov. 6. For more information: Jerry Malone, 6881590, or jmalone17@cox.net.


THE COLLEGE HILL COMMONER â?&#x161; OCTOBER 2009

Photos by BARRY OWENS and JASON LONERGAN

Run for Ross

About 700 runners, young and old, turned out last month for the 2nd annual Rosstoberfest Run through College Hill. The run is a benefit for Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, and named for College Hill resident Ross McFarland. Below: Ross crosses the finish line aided by sister Gabby.

JASON LONERGAN

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“We love it..

WaterWalk is

a great place to call home. It’s exciting to live in the middle of all the activities in the heart of the city —Music Theatre; Wichita Symphony; the Orpheum; all of the Old Town Development, and a short walk to Intrust Bank Arena. We believe a strong community core is essential to a healthy progressive city and WaterWalk is part of it.

GUS & MARY CAMPUZANO WATERWALK PLACE RESIDENCE OWNERS

The College Hill Commoner Oct. 09 issue  

The community newspaper for the Wichita, Kan. neighborhood of College Hill.

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