Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. The story will conclude next Wednesday.
Clovis’ biggest boom in housing projects started during the middle of World War II. An acute housing shortage in Clovis had been recognized by the federal government because of “increased war activity” in this area.
The Clovis Army Air Base began training bomber flight crews and Camp William C. Reed, near Brady and the Portales highway, began training soldiers to run railroad operations overseas. The Santa Fe Railroad also saw a great increase in military traffic over their tracks, hauling war material and troops to the West Coast. The increase of military and civilian personnel necessitated more housing.
There were at least six Clovis housing projects being constructed in 1943 and 1944, but the biggest one was the Santa Fe Heights at 14th and Thornton. A majority of the housing projects were privately financed by local institutions with the loans backed by federal insurance.
Federal funds had been made available for construction of at least 100 apartment-like living units for the Santa Fe Heights and a dormitory behind city hall, all for Santa Fe Railroad employees. Before construction ended, Santa Fe Heights had 180 family units.
The strangest part of this story is how the federal government acquired the 13 acres at 14th and Thornton to build the SF Heights. It was owned by William Fred “Dutch” Mueller, and he had a house and barns on that property. One night state police picked him up without an explanation and hauled him off to a detention camp at El Paso.
He was thought to have been a German spy, but there was no trial to prove his guilt or innocence. The federal government confiscated his land and rumors were that the Santa Fe Railroad paid half-a-million dollars to have SF Heights built.
When Mueller was finally freed, he said the state or city took over his property, paying him $75 a month for it. Mueller apparently never cashed any of the checks. Later, it was said, that 13 acres was sold by other parties for $50,000. You will not find any government records in regards to Mueller and his 13 acres. I have yet to find any records or deeds saying who really owned the Santa Fe Heights site.
The Clovis News Journal reported on May 7, 1944, that apartments were being built at the SF Heights. A photo showed a wood frame being built for one of the apartments.
I’ve worked researching the Santa Fe Heights for nearly a year, and the break in learning the facts was finding a list of renters and the manager at the SF Heights by simply reading the 1948 Clovis City Directory.
The directory listed Ian D. Mactavish as the manager. His son, Cameron Mactavish, was one of my classmates at Clovis High School in 1950. We got in touch and he looked in his dad’s old files and came up with a lot of facts.
Ian D. Mactavish was paid by the National Housing Agency, from the Federal Public Housing Authority in Fort Worth, Texas. His office assistant was Martha Bryant and two maintenance men were A. J. Starkey and Tom Trower. The Mactavish home was apartment No. 1. (Tom Pendergrass, Clovis’ first historian, had apartment No. 2.)
“The office was in a large building at the center of the project that included a maintenance shop, administrative offices and eventually a community room that included a kitchen,” Cameron Mactavish said.
Gene Echols of Clovis remembers going to a dance in that community room.
There were shared common grassed areas and no fences, Cameron said. An occupant could check out a push lawn mower — no gas mowers in those days — and watering hoses were provided. Water and electricity were hooked to the community sources and individual units were not metered. The rent, around $30, included water and electricity. One tenant said the floors were made of hardwood.
The project roads were paved, but in order to save on materials and expenses the rain water was guttered in a swale at the center of the roads. This proved to be a maintenance problem for the life of the project.
Construction was frame with sheetrock walls. The exterior walls were made of a double layer of sheetrock and the gable-ended pitched roofs were covered with roll roofing. A family could check out a complete set of furniture for use in the dwelling units.
Don McAlavy is a history buff who lives in Clovis.