How Indian Village became Santa Fe Hills
By Diane Euston
In the last issue of The Telegraph we learned about Emory J. Sweeney, who became one of the first expert auto mechanics and used his talents to train others by founding a vocational school.
His efforts met with great success and he built a 10-story school across from Union Station in 1917 that still stands today. He later added an aviation school and built a sprawling mansion at 5921 Ward Parkway.
He continued to invest in projects that interested him, and in 1922, WHB Radio was founded inside Sweeney’s school with his financial help. But perhaps his most visionary act was to purchase land once owned by the famous Daniel Boone family outside the city limits. He planned to build “a small city” in the middle of the country, a new community “for the man of moderate means–the man who wisely lives within his earning power–and to give to such economists an opportunity to have a real home.”
The auto mechanic morphed himself into a full-blown real estate developer, and part of his dream can still be seen today.
The Vision of an Aviation Field
When Sweeney picked up 180 acres south of 85th Street between Wornall and Holmes, he first planned to build an aviation field. He thought better of it, and instead expanded his aviation school in Wyandotte County just north of the downtown airport in 1925. In 1928 the airport was renamed to “Fairfax Airport.”
For whatever the reason, Sweeney saw opportunity when he looked harder at the investment he had made. The 180 acres of land acquired could have stayed a farm, but Sweeney envisioned something greater. Subdivisions were surfacing on the outskirts of the city, and he had an idea about how to profit from this trend.
Indian Village and Its Country Club
In 1923, Sweeney announced impressive plans for a new subdivision he coined “Indian Village.” He chose the name “because this district will be populated by real Americans.” Just to the east was Ivanhoe Country Club, which had been organized in 1921. The private par-three course bordered Sweeney’s land and had a steady stream of golfers coming in from the city.
Hoping to “make a beautiful home a possibility for the average wage earner,” Sweeney enlisted renowned landscape architects Hare & Hare (who had designed part of The Paseo) to design winding streets for 550 homes. Paying homage to Native American history and folklore, some of the street names chosen were Pocahontas, Minnehaha and Hiawatha. Other streets such as Daniel Boone Road and Sweeney Boulevard were named for the original owner of the land and its developer, while Virginia Lane was named after Sweeney’s second wife. Street signs were displayed on 18-feet-high painted ceramic totem poles imported from Mexico, and he commissioned 68 street lamps for their tops.
This wasn’t your typical subdivision; it was built to be a thriving, self-sufficient community in the country. At the main entrance for “motor cars” at 85th and Wornall, Sweeney built a large Dutch mill that housed the real estate office. The choice of a Dutch mill may seem strange, but Sweeney insisted it made sense because the Dutch first established trading posts with Native Americans.
Also at the entrance he placed a 100-foot tower with tubular chimes that sounded every 15 minutes to alert residents of the time.
The old farmhouse built by Boone and added onto by Nelson was to be the subdivision’s exclusive clubhouse. A peace pipe hung above the mantel and hickory furniture was accompanied by Navajo rugs on wooden floors. A restaurant and even a daycare would be offered in the clubhouse for residents of Indian Village. The dining room–part of the original Boone home–could be rented out to residents who wanted to host large parties.
Athletic amenities, including a football field, baseball diamond and running track, would be available to Indian Village residents directly behind Boone School. Just to the east of the clubhouse, Sweeney built a fire station and a playground. The grounds already included an old barn, so Sweeney repurposed it to be the town hall. Near the Dodson streetcar line on the northeast corner of the property and close to what was then called Ivanhoe Country Club was a lake dug and filled by the Boone family. It was to be concreted and used as a swimming pool along with an “open air theatre.” Electric lights for “color effects” would be installed on the stage so that plays and WHB concerts were possible.
Advertisements printed in the paper urged homebuyers, “Be a good Indian and give your children a chance.” It was clear that Sweeney had envisioned a paradise inside Indian Village.
Enticing the Homebuyer
The first house was built across the street from the country club (the old Boone-Nelson home) at 8734 Virginia Lane and was called “the Love Nest.” It was Spanish mission in style, a design quite new to the area and still, to this day, a bit out of place in the neighborhood. It was described at the time as having “exterior stucco in the cream, blue and orange coloring of the hacienda.” In front of the Love Nest and for a span of several homes, an ornate stone wall was built to give additional character. Today, the remnants of this wall can be seen.
A “demonstration house” furnished by the Jones Store was on the market for $6,000. Sweeney’s marketing was top-notch for his new neighborhood; he even had advertisements following the fictitious “Jack and Mary Jackson” as they went on their journey to find the perfect home. The actors chosen were Jones Store employees who worked with the developer to record short films as they pretended to find their dream home and establish themselves in Indian Village.
The recorded films were advertised in the newspaper and everyone was invited nightly to the clubhouse at 7:30 to view “Jack and Mary” on their journey to the perfect Americana lifestyle. The film was shown as the Sweeney Radio Orchestra from WHB played live music as a soundtrack.
Lots were sold from $1,800 to $4,000, and Sweeney sweetened the pot by offering zero-interest loans for 10 years to homebuyers. He even published a “census of Indian Village” in 1923 that proclaimed there were 374 married couples, two “eligible bachelors,” seven women (also “eligible”) and four widows.
Sweeney’s extensive advertising included a free, 32-page booklet to be sent to potential homeowners to sell Kansas Citians on the beauty of Indian Village. In truth, Sweeney went with what he knew; he had built his school with creative advertising throughout the nation and his gamble on Indian Village was gauged on his vision–he had to ensure it worked.
Sweeney proposed cutting off winding roads in Indian Village from traffic to further entice the middle class families to settle into his little subdivision. Anyone entering Indian Village to visit would be given a pass.
By the end of the 1920s, Sweeney had sold an impressive number of lots, but not many people had built houses yet.
The Financial Bust
Financial troubles began for Sweeney in 1928 when he was upside down in his various business interests. He opted to sell his 33-room home on Ward Parkway to lumberman Harry Dierks, and Sweeney “downgraded” to the Dierks’ 15-room home at 3727 Forest.
In March 1929 on the eve of the Depression, foreclosure proceedings on the south 99 acres of Indian Village had started due to default interest payments. Sweeney said the land was worth $1 million, but he owed $165,000.
“Big, aggressive, red-haired and robust,” Sweeney was not about to go down without a fight. The government took away his radio license and threatened to condemn his 10-story school building across from Union Station–a building he owned outright. Even though he had to liquidate his assets, Sweeney told the Kansas City Star, “I want you to tell the people who bought home sites from me in Indian Village that they won’t lose a dollar.”
Even with this promise, Sweeney was forced to sell Indian Village to an investment company financed by W.T. Kemper. By 1932, Sweeney was bankrupt and had personal assets of $775. He moved to Wichita to operate a branch of his automotive school and retired in 1951.
Indian Village to Santa Fe Hills
The new development company had to simplify Sweeney’s lofty plans for Indian Village. In 1935, the development announced that the “club format” of Indian Village, including private roads, had ended. There would be no private entries, exits or buildings within the subdivision. By 1938, Sweeney’s original vision faded further when the totem poles, windmill and the stone pillars were removed. The original lake, playground and athletic fields were eliminated and made into lots to be sold. The new developers scrapped the name “Indian Village” and renamed the community “Santa Fe Hills” as homage to the old Santa Fe Trail that crossed nearby. Ivanhoe Country Club followed suit in 1945 and renamed their 56-acre golf course “Santa Fe Country Club.” Even though the subdivision lost its original name, the street names within the community stayed intact.
The old clubhouse, the site of the Boone farmhouse and Nelson’s summer retreat, was rezoned to be sold as a private family home.
In the early 1940s, homes, “some cooled by refrigeration,” were advertised and enticed families to “live out in the country.” The housing boom after World War II helped fill most of the subdivision’s lots and ranch-style bungalows were built. Even though the “club” lifestyle was rejected, the new developers of Santa Fe Hills gave credit for the attractive street layout. Trees by then had matured and leant to the natural beauty of the subdivision platted in the middle of the country.
The subdivision wasn’t annexed to Kansas City until 1958.
History in the Middle of Suburbia
Sweeney lost almost everything in 1930, including his second wife Virginia. He remarried for a final time and moved to Wichita to continue his school there. In a final twist of fate, he left Wichita and opted to spend his final years as a resident of his old subdivision. He purchased the two-bedroom Spanish-style home he had coined “the Love Nest” years earlier at 8734 Virginia Lane–the very first house built in his master plan of suburban living.
That means his third wife lived on Virginia Lane–a street named after his second wife.
I had the pleasure of talking to his grandson, Emory “Jack” Sweeney III, on the phone, and he recalled some of those prized memories that one cannot find in newspaper clippings, booklets and official records kept in courthouses. Jack would ride his bicycle from their home at 75th and Walnut in order to visit his grandfather, back in the days where the only bounds you had were how fast you could peddle a bicycle or move your feet.
That Spanish-style house that was one of the bright, beautiful showcases of the subdivision was his home after he was forced to surrender his interest in Indian Village–yet he moved back to the neighborhood. Even his grandson is surprised he chose to go back to the place that cost him so much.
He lived there until his death in 1953, and the family owned the “Love Nest” until 1962. His occupation at time of death was not listed as “auto mechanic.” He was listed as a retired real estate broker.
Santa Fe Hills Today
The Daniel Boone-William Rockhill Nelson home-turned-clubhouse at 26 Porte Cimi Pas was used as a group home and was later sold. Today, part of the original Boone house has been removed from the structure and is a private residence.
The town hall Sweeney converted from an old barn was repurposed as a single-family home and stands today at 8702 Rainbow Lane. Santa Fe Hills Country Club to the east of the subdivision was sold in 1967 and the land was used to build apartments The pond that was part of the old golf course is still found behind the apartments.
Although Sweeney’s vision for an affordable, exclusive subdivision didn’t come to fruition, portions of his original plan can still be seen throughout the winding streets of Santa Fe Hills. Pre-Civil War history along the old Santa Fe Trail is part of the charm of this established neighborhood that was settled by the Boone family, improved by Nelson, and repurposed by entrepreneur E.J. Sweeney.
Traveling through Indian Village–or Santa Fe Hills–is a trip through thousands of architectural plans. There are no cookie-cutter homes in the subdivision, and this has to do with the strange yet interesting history that encapsulates its very existence.
If this ground could talk, it would have stories that include many layers of Kansas City history.
Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to http://www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com.