Jeana Poertner's dining table is ready for company: meatballs from Garozzo's, Roma bread, cheese, an array of sweets. The two dozen or so people she has invited will juggle small plates with their wineglasses as they wander through Poertner's three-story home or gather on the front porch for cigarettes.
On this cool March evening, they've come together for a reason. Yes, there's something of a sales pitch in play, but not for culinary gadgets or plastic containers or Jesus. Poertner is pushing her neighborhood.
Pendleton Heights was Kansas City's first real suburb, a once-exclusive neighborhood that has, over the past 100 years, seen more highs and lows than the Prowler at Worlds of Fun. The gossip and news shared by a couple of people sitting in rocking chairs on Poertner's front porch fit somehow into this century-long timeline, informed by history. Have you heard? they ask. One of the three Heim mansions on Benton Boulevard — once home to the beer-brewing Heim brothers, who built Electric Park, at 46th Street and the Paseo, in 1907 — has been sold.
"It's one of the prettiest mansions in the Northeast," answers Linda Fleischman, the flame-tressed massage therapist and former concert promoter. She's an unofficial cheerleader for the Northeast, an area bounded roughly by Truman Road and Cliff Drive, from the Paseo to Blue River. She loves this neighborhood in particular, and she's thrilled when she sees new faces.
Seeing new faces is the point of these monthly cocktail parties, which Fleischman organizes with other residents of Pendleton Heights. "The parties started as a way for neighbors just to get together and talk, but it's sort of evolved into a way of introducing people to this part of Kansas City," says Kristen Johnson, a marketing manager at H&R Block. "You would be surprised by the number of Kansas City natives who have never even heard of the Historic Northeast."
That was true of Christy Maddux, a 30-something audiologist who grew up in the south Kansas City suburbs and had rarely ventured this far north in the metro. "I didn't even know that neighborhoods like this even existed," she says. Tonight, the young doctor is on Poertner's porch, one of the converted, still learning about her adopted neighborhood.
A few minutes later, Maddux gives four of the party guests a tour of the home, a few doors down from Poertner's, that she bought in December 2010. In the dark, the 127-year-old house looks a little like the Bates home in Psycho. And once Maddux unlocks the heavy front doors, things don't get much better. The Queen Anne, which sat empty for two years before Maddux purchased it, has been gutted to its 19th-century brick walls. It's a dusty mess, but through it you can see the structure's spectacular bones.
Maddux and her boyfriend, Adam Lopez, saw the possibilities right away.
"I think it's the most beautiful house I've ever seen," she says, pointing out the distinctive, hand-laid tiles surrounding the fireplaces, the 12-foot ceilings, and the intact butler's pantry. A sunflower motif runs through the house: on a stained-glass window, carved into the frames surrounding the pocket doors, in a few of those handsome fireplace tiles, on the woodwork leading to the second floor.
During the building boom of the 1880s, someone (the name is lost to history) spent a lot of cash building this house in the 500 block of Garfield. Maddux's house isn't nearly as extravagant as R.A. Long's million-dollar Corinthian Hall — built several blocks east and 27 years later — but it's one of the few homes left in this area with the original porte cochere still standing. Maddux heard from neighbors that a mechanism buried in her backyard once lifted up buggies and turned them around.