Beechwood neighborhood lives on, sort of

By The Active Age | December 1, 2022

Candace Small Gilbert found old Beechwood buildings converted into apartments by her father still standing, but in poor shape.

The Beechwood neighborhood, hastily built to house aircraft workers during World War II, survived longer than previously thought. Or at least some of its barracks-like housing units did.

Unlike Planeview and Hilltop Manor — Wichita’s two other “temporary” WWII neighborhoods that remain in existence today — Beechwood was cleared and the site along East Douglas is now occupied by an office building that once housed Pizza Hut’s headquarters.

But after former Beechwood resident Donald Willis’ article about the place ran in our September issue, another former resident, Candace Gilbert, got in touch to let us know that her father, Tom Small, had bought and moved several of the units to a neighborhood just northeast of the intersection of Central and Webb Road, visible from the old Beech plant. Another Active Age reader emailed Willis that some other Beechwood buildings were moved to the Sunview area south of MacArthur Road, where they survived until the 1970s.

Tom Small rented his three buildings out as apartments. Gilbert said her father sold them in 1995; she made a special card for him to mark the occasion. She and Willis took a drive to the area and discovered the units are still standing, although they appear to have been abandoned for some time.

Gilbert said her father worked for Beech Aircraft before joining the Navy. He served as an officer in World War II, then was called back as a member of the reserves when the Korean War broke out. Beech held his job for him, and he ended up working for the company for 42 years.

Gilbert said the apartments were kind of a family business. “My Saturdays were out there helping,” she said. Back then, she said, the nine two-story units were well maintained.

“A lot of my friends started out (living) there. A lot of my relatives, too.”

Today, the surrounding neighborhood of modest homes — some inhabited, some not — is known in some quarters as “Dogpatch,” and Gilbert wouldn’t mind seeing the apartments torn down. 

But if that happens, she hopes the four huge oak trees she planted in the front yard decades ago can be saved.

“They’re quite beautiful now,” she said. “I was hoping if they do tear it down, they could turn it into a park. But they won’t.”