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Before Maddux inked the deal to buy the house, concerned friends (and, she says, her own realtor) advised against the purchase. She found out later that this is a common hazard for people shopping for property in the historic neighborhood. It's dangerous, people say, and way too close to crime-riddled Independence Avenue, that fabled boulevard of hookers and handguns. But she did her homework. "I went to neighborhood meetings," she says. "I spoke with the beat cops. I couldn't find anything on my own as bad as I was being told."
Johnson believes that those who don't have preconceived ideas about the Northeast as a dangerous place — people like her, for instance, who aren't native Kansas Citians — are willing to take more chances. Johnson says she "stalked" her neighborhood (Fleischman uses the same word) for weeks, driving through it at all hours of the day. "One summer night, I watched kids riding their bicycles up and down the streets at 9 p.m.," she says. "You don't see that anymore. That's when I knew that I had to live in Pendleton Heights."
There really are some bad things about living in the old Northeast, says Michael Bushnell, publisher of Northeast News. He has covered the area's crimes and misdemeanors for 14 years, including running mug shots of the Northeast's "Most Wanted" and, for years, a weekly "Heap of the Week" feature that showcased photos of trash left behind by the latest tenant evictions.
"But things really are changing here," Bushnell says. "The first wave of young professionals was from 1988 to 1991. I really started seeing the artistic people move here around six or seven years ago. It started after the Crossroads became priced and taxed out of existence.
"The Urban Farming Guys have built a neighborhood farm in the Lykins neighborhood, which was once one of the roughest areas in the Northeast," he adds. "If they can succeed, there's hope for us all."
More optimistic still is Eric Bellamaganya, the former graphic designer who fell so hard for the historic district that he not only moved here but also built a business around his passion. He helps find homes in the Northeast for the young professionals suddenly discovering the big houses at low prices.
Bellamaganya says he and his wife were living in a spacious downtown loft when his building was sold. "We looked at different downtown lofts," he says, "but they looked like suburban apartments: charmless. We had several friends who were moving to the Northeast, so we went looking and fell in love with the first house we saw."
For many of the newer residents of Pendleton Heights (and the nearby Scarritt and Independence Plaza neighborhoods), settling in a suburb is the last stop in an urban odyssey. Johnson was living the beige life in southern Indiana before a St. Patrick's Day visit to Kansas City drew her toward an impulsive decision. "The downtown was so alive and vibrant, and the streets were filled with people," she says. "I liked the idea of living in an urban area, so I moved here three weeks later."
Fleischman was raised in Lee's Summit. Local actor and Independence Plaza homeowner Ron Megee grew up in Olathe. Like Johnson, they've outgrown their apartment years, their loft daydreams. But they still want to be close to the city center, not kept away by long highway commutes.
They and their neighbors can walk to the City Market on Saturday mornings or drive five minutes to shop at the Power & Light District's Cosentino's Market.