Devinki Real Estate moves to new offices at 97th and Wornall
By Tyler Schneider
For nearly 40 years, Devinki Real Estate has operated out of an office on the first floor of the Plaza Point Apartment building at 4901 Wornall Rd. By the end of this year, the business will make its third and final move to 9734 Wornall Rd, where a former bank building is being remodeled and expanded from 4,000 sq. ft to 12,000.
Owner Sam Devinki will warehouse a collection of antique cars in a build-on addition at the back of the building. He says the real estate investment company will operate out of the front.
Devinki Real Estate was founded by Sam’s mother, Malka “Maria” Devinki, in 1955.
The Devinki Story
Maria came to be known by some as “The First Lady of Real Estate” in Kansas City. But how she traveled from hiding in a bunker under a barn in Poland to acquiring and developing real estate in Kansas City is a fascinating one that Sam, age 74, is quite proud of.
Maria was born in Hanover, Germany, in 1920 and raised in Wodislaw, Poland. During WWII, she and her husband, Fred, had lost over 100 relatives in the Holocaust, surviving by hunkering down in a bunker beneath a barn for 27 months alongside Maria’s mother.
On at least two occasions, the barn was searched and prodded with the ends of bayonets by Gestapo forces. The group went undetected. Still, there was loss all around, with Maria Devinki’s father and two brothers falling victim to the German persecution of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. The war ended, and Sam was born inside a refugee camp as eastern Europe started to rebuild itself in the years that followed.
After the war, Maria and Fred stayed in Poland and operated a grocery store before heading to Germany to open a textile business. In 1950, they relocated once more — to the United States of America — and, after getting their feet back under them in the City of Fountains, opened Volume Dollar Market Grocery on the corner of 27th Street and Van Brunt Ave. in 1952. In 1954, the family picked up their operation and moved to 4th and Walnut to open a fruit stand.
Sam admires his mother, whom he describes as “the brightest person I ever knew.” “No matter how bright you are, you’ve gotta have a little luck in life,” he says.
With little-to-no experience with the language or business customs in 1950’s Kansas City, a pivotal stroke of luck may have come into play for Maria when she first set her eyes on entering the real estate market.
Devinki Real Estate
“I wanted to do something else,” she said in a 2005 video chronicling the company’s rise. “I see in the Sunday paper, a lot of ads, ads for real estate, real estate, real estate on every page.”
It didn’t take Maria — for whom English was “a fourth or fifth language” — long to begin to understand the market, and what traits made one a winner in evaluating property value and selling it to make the highest profit. Maria put her intuition to action, purchasing a three-story house at 31st and Broadway for $7,000 in 1954.
She did so after acquiring a $5,000 loan from Sam Schultz of Merchant’s Bank —with little understanding of the concept of “collateral” — and went on to pool that with some of her and Fred’s savings and a loan from a relative in New York. Once she had the property in hand, Maria began painting and furnishing it while Fred worked on plumbing and other such necessary tasks towards improving the home.
Many months later, Maria had an offer from the Kansas City Life Insurance Company: they wanted to pay her handsomely for the property so they could make massive expansions on their parking lot system.
They paid Maria and Fred $14,000 for the three-story house — doubling their investment in less than one year’s time.
Maria took that return and bought “The Colonies,” an apartment complex that would, within yet another single year, attract an offer from Union Life Insurance. From these two initial deals, Sam says, his mother’s ambitions would make way for the official formation of Devinki Real Estate.
By 1959, Maria’s real estate venture would collect over ten apartment complexes. That year, Maria purchased “The Ricardo,” a run-down hotel and apartment complex at 811 E. Armour. Following a trip to Washington, D.C., she secured what was known then as a 221 D3 Loan from the Housing and Urban Development Department and the Federal Housing Administration.
“The Ricardo” would soon be known as the “Homestead Project” as it was converted into government-subsidized housing for the elderly. Devinki Real Estate’s largest ever venture, the transformation of “The Ricardo” is the only such case in Kansas City where a company originated such a loan and kept the property for a full 30-years, until the loan was paid off in full.
The Devinki Empire
Maria quickly became known as someone “with a keen eye and a good sense for real estate,” in Kansas City, and was once listed by a local newspaper alongside J.C. Nichols as the CEO of one of only two KC real estate companies that had managed to avoid any property foreclosures.
Over the years, Maria led her company to snatch up buildings such as the James Russell Lowell and the Thomas Carlyle Apartment buildings in the Plaza. She also played a hand in the development of the Twin Trail Shopping Center in Olathe, the Walmart Center in Manhattan and South KC apartment complexes such as Raytown Village, Summerset Village and Coachlamp Corner.
Over the course of five-plus decades, Maria and Fred Devinki built a relative empire of Kansas City real estate and, most notably, achieved an American Dream. Maria passed away in 2011 in Leawood.
Maria and Fred Devinki’s marriage lasted 50 years. Photos courtesy Sam Devinki
“They were survivors,” Sam says of his parents. “Many in their situation had very little choice but to submit to the tyranny and meet their end, but my parents did all they possibly could to hold on for another day, for their family, and they made it further than anyone could have possibly imagined.”
For read more about Maria’s story of survival, go to https://mchekc.org/portfolio-posts/devinkimaria/.