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In the years following the Civil War, neighborhoods like Pendleton Heights were developed to be as far away from the heart of the city as possible. By the 1880s, the exclusive enclave — appropriately named Quality Hill — on bluffs overlooking the West Bottoms was choked by fumes and foul odors rising from the stockyards and the fast-growing, noisy metropolis. So the well-heeled moved east, building elaborate mansions on Independence Avenue and bourgeois Victorians in the adjacent neighborhoods. It remained a solidly upper-middle-class quarter of the city until World War I.
"When the power elite started moving to Hyde Park and even further south," Bushnell says, "it became an exodus. That's where the money went. And when the Blue River Valley and the East Bottoms became more industrialized, this area quickly transitioned into a working-class neighborhood. There were suddenly steel mills, breweries, grain elevators. Factory workers could walk to work or grab a streetcar."
For decades, the population of the Northeast was made up of Irish, Italian and Jewish immigrants. It's still multicultural, with an ethnic palette that includes Mexicans, Sudanese, Ethiopians, Vietnamese and Central Americans.
There also are immigrants here from KC's gay and arts communities — a couple of overlapping groups among the Northeast's creative-class transplants.
Megee and his partner, costume designer Jon Fulton Adams, live in an 1884 Italianate house with a prominent turret. They're the social leaders of their neighborhood. After a couple of their fellow Northeasters — the artists Hector Casanova Cinderhouse and Renée Laferriere Cinderhouse — were married, Megee and Adams hosted a reception for them at their three-story home, which they call Chestnut House.
"We've never experienced any anti-gay hostility from any of our neighbors," Adams says. "It's been a very welcoming experience. And because of that, many of our friends have also moved into the Northeast." Adams and Megee convinced fellow local-theater brand names Kimberly Queen and Cody Wyoming to move close by. (A short roll call of other Northeast creatives includes restaurateur Patrick Ryan, photographer Nicole Cawlfield, and married artists Bryan Clark and Jenn Johnson-Clark. There's sculptor David Daleo and artist Jill Daleo, another couple. There's the fiber artist Taylor Triano.)
In 1976, another gay couple — Jim Miller and Joe Cecil — purchased a Pendleton Heights duplex. At the time, Miller worked the night desk at one of the hotels on the Paseo. (When a man wielding a lead pipe tried to rob Miller on the job, the petite, boyish-looking clerk shot the would-be robber, hitting him in the ass as he fled.)
"Everything was fine for the first five years," recalls Miller, who now lives in Texas. "Then, in 1980, we rented the second floor to a young African-American. He worked four blocks away and wanted to walk to work. What we didn't know — couldn't know — is that at the time, there was an unwritten rule that blacks were not supposed to live north of Independence Avenue.
"I lived in old Northeast back in the 1970s," says Judy Ancel, director of the University of Missouri–Kansas City's Institute for Labor Studies, "and I finally had to get out of there. There was no diversity in those days. It was all white. I had African-American friends who wouldn't come and visit me. The neighborhood scared them."
"After our tenant moved in, the hostility kicked in," Miller continues. "The young man didn't even stay a month. We had eggs and rotten meat thrown at our house, car tires slit, rocks thrown through our front window, the windshield smashed in our car. And then the angry phone calls started. It started as a racial thing, and it morphed into an anti-gay attack. The harassment continued for a year until it finally wore us down. We sold the house and moved to Brookside."