Planeview: ‘We had a joint purpose’

Photo courtesy of Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum Barracks style housing in Plainview, created for defense workers and their families. Residents remember lots of kids to play with, being "poor together" and sleeping outside to beat the summer heat.

By Pat O’Connor
Planeview came into being during World War II as temporary housing for more than 20,000 defense workers. It was federally built and outside Wichita City limits until 1955. In these interviews, conducted for the Wichita Old Neighborhood Project, people who lived there in the 1940s-50s tell what it was like.
The community spirit and diversity spoken of in the interviews are a testament of the American experience. Planeview boasts an extremely diverse population to the present day.
DONALD MEAD
“We moved there in 1942 and lived in the two-story units for families at 31st and Oliver. It was fabulous — the first time I ever had electricity and modern conveniences. Dad taught at Haverhill and was principal and coach, (making) $500 a year. He doubled his salary at Boeing to $0.50 an hour just drilling holes.
“All of Planeview, they just scrubbed the ground. I don’t think it was a profitable field because there were cockleburs and sandburs. There was no grass anyplace. They did have concrete walks between the different buildings, and the main part ‘downtown’ was all concrete — we could ride our bikes on that and not get sandburs in our tires.
“We had to go down to the central business area to have access to a phone. There was a movie theater, had a bank, police department, two five-and-dime stores, Safeway and Dillons.”
RICHARD BROWN
“We moved to Plainview toward the end of World War II. My mother was divorced. She and two brothers worked at Boeing. I went to part of the first grade in one of the housing units, double-decker cracker boxes. Some were four and some were six units.
“My first school was in one of the barracks. They hadn’t built MacArthur School yet. I had better teachers than the city of Wichita. All the teachers were federal employees and were paid more. Lots of people complained about getting lost, because everything looked the same, no matter where you were. People would hang up colored towels behind their apartment so they could find their way home.
“My mother would send one of my older brothers to pick me up at the end of the school day. I thought, ‘I don’t need help getting home.’ I was told I went out a different door every day to avoid my brother, and I don’t ever recall getting lost. Almost everybody was friendly, because they were united for the war effort. We had a joint purpose.
“Airplanes took off and landed right over our house. The kids would run out in the field and wave at the crew, and the crew would wave back: B-17s, B-24s, B-25s. There were B-17s that were flown back from the European theater for repairs. I saw lots of B-17s land here with one engine feathered, and a number landed with two engines feathered — flying on two engines out of four. A lot of those airplanes were flown by women ferry pilots.”
TRUMAN WARE
“When I was born in 1937, the war was near and dad had gone to Chilocco (Chilocco Indian School, in Newkirk, Okla.) to learn metal working. A lot of Indians came to work at Boeing in World War II. I think Planeview ended up with 22,000 people in it. If you got a job at Boeing, that would enable you to get a place in Planeview. They said they were temporary houses, and that kind of backed a lot of people off. Where we came from in Oklahoma, we didn’t have indoor bathrooms, or running water, electricity; all we had was coal oil lamps.
“When we came up here and moved into Planeview, it was 1944. That’s when it was completed and that was a big chore. Then they had to do the Center down there where they could buy the groceries and see movies. Hardware store, gas stations, Walgreens was there. When the war is going to be over, nobody knows. You had people living in close quarters under government rules and regulations. It really wasn’t Wichita. There were blacks, Indians, Germans and Japanese possibly, and a lot of whites, but there was no discrimination. I graduated from Planeview High. There were three grade schools. The northwest section was where the blacks chose to live. I didn’t know any other Indians except my own family. I wasn’t old enough. I stayed close to mom and dad and my sisters.
“Boeing was working ’round the clock. My dad worked second shift. We got us a three-bedroom house and we brought in two of my uncles. They came here and got a job, and through this procedure, they were able to go downtown and sign up for a house; or they could sign up for a house at Boeing. So they would come up here, stay a month or two, and move to their house.”
PATRICK TUCKER
“My dad was working at Boeing from ‘39 to ’46. I was born in ’41. We lived in a one-story, on Cessna Drive. Planeview was a pretty good community, being a kid, growing up there. We were all poor, but we were all the same poor. We didn’t have any money. There were no race problems. Everybody worked at the same place; everybody went to the same place, same school. A lot of kids to play with; it was really enjoyable.
“I would go with some friends of mine on Saturday morning, ride the bus into Wichita to play basketball at the YMCA. It was in the basement of the old Scottish Rite building. We didn’t have teams — just came down and worked our way in. This was in 1951. You didn’t have to belong to the Y — you could just go in and play.
“My brother was two years older than me and we had a paper route. We threw papers twice a day, (a) pretty good size route. My brother did the collecting; therefore I didn’t get much money. He gave me enough to keep me happy, and I couldn’t do much about it anyway. Of course, there was no air-conditioning. The majority of people in summertime slept outside in the front yard. When you threw papers at five o’clock in the morning, you were walking in between the people sleeping on their cots. You can hand them the paper and say good morning a few dozen times.”
SHERRY SKILLWOMAN
“My parents moved to Planeview in 1947. They came there because my father was in World War II. With the G.I. Bill, he was enrolled for grad school at Wichita University. Grad students had the option of applying for housing in Planeview. They got a unit in a four-plex, two-story on Pershing. I was born later that year, and my early childhood was in Planeview. It was a great place to grow up. We always had other kids to play with because it was pretty dense population. It was safe. We played outdoors at night and nobody thought anything about it. And another thing: our family developed some lifelong friendships out there.
“The creeks out there were clean then. I can remember going out there with the next-door neighbor boy, hunting for crawdads. We were out there before they put in the Turnpike. Oliver wasn’t that busy, except for change of shifts. I was allowed to go across the street to this big open field. I loved going out there to look at all the different plants and animals. There was a pond with cattails and rushes. I can remember my mom gathered up the cattail roots and cooked them for us. I don’t know if it happened more than once, because it seemed like they tasted pretty bad.”

The author wishes to thank the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Society and the Mid-America All-Indian Center for their help with this article. If you have a story about your old neighborhood, contact Pat O’Connor at wichlitsoc@gmail.com or 316-832-0309.

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