You can learn a lot about Wichita simply by reading the faded writing at the tops of many of the downtown buildings. Check out these 10 Wichita buildings then and now!
Old City Hall
You likely recognize this ornate downtown building that resembles a castle. The “Palace of the Plains” was formerly home to the Wichita City Hall! Originally built in 1892, the building was Wichita's pride and joy at the time of completion. The structure served as a symbol of the city's prosperity in the late 1800s and Wichitans were proud of their city hall.
The structure came with a $100,000 price tag, and because it was erected during an economic recession, the tower sat vacant for years. It was not until 1917 that the tower would receive its 1,000-pound bell. The building's construction bonds were not paid off until 1928.
According to the Historic Preservation Alliance, all city offices, including the police and fire departments and Wichita’s first public library, were housed in the building.
Though other offices relocated, City Hall remained in the building until the late 1970s.
Now: Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum
Now the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, this historic building stands as a monument to early life in Wichita and the surrounding area. The museum's premiere artifact is the building in which it resides, which is truly unique.
What started as a small collection of early Wichita memorabilia has grown to today's astounding collection of nearly 70,000 artifacts relating to the Wichita area from 1865 to today. Including business records, clothing, furniture, photographs and much more, the museum's collection vividly tells the story of our city!
Wichita Municipal Airport
Construction of the beautiful art-deco style Wichita Municipal Airport began in 1929 and was finished in 1934. The building’s control tower was added six years later.
Once a major stopover for planes, the Wichita Municipal Airport grew to become one of the country’s busiest airports during the 1940’s. By 1944, traffic at Wichita Municipal was so high that a takeoff or landing occurred every 90 seconds.
Also in the 1940’s, the airport expanded, gaining two new wings (no pun intended.) The tremendous increase in aviation that came as a result of World War II led to the relocation of Wichita's airport. The facility operated as the municipal airport until 1951, when Mid-Continent Airport was built in west Wichita. At this point, the building and the grounds on which it stood were sold to the federal government.
By 1954, all non-military airline traffic (including commercial traffic) had been moved to Mid-Continent Airport. The building was used both by the USAF and the Kansas Air National Guard for the next 30 years. When the building’s had served its purpose, its doors were locked in 1984.
Now: Kansas Aviation Museum
The Kansas Aviation Museum opened in the spring of 1991, after eleven years of work transforming the property. When the facility was left empty, the Wichita Aeronautical Historical Association was just beginning a search for the location of a soon-to-be Kansas Aviation museum. The former airport seemed like a perfect fit.
Today, the museum is open six days a week. The Kansas Aviation Museum boasts a world-class collection with more than two million artifacts related to aviation, even allowing guests to view a variety of historically significant and one-of-a-kind aircrafts and engines.
The Kansas Aviation Museum is also home to the Kansas Aviation Hall of Fame, which highlights tributes to individuals who have greatly impacted the aviation industry over the years.
The museum's Boeing: Science, Math and History Learning Center offers a hands-on experience, featuring a flight simulator, a mock control tower, cockpits to play in and more.
Built in 1909, the Mentholatum building was Wichita's finest reinforced concrete structure. Serving as headquarters for the Wichita product, Mentholatum, which was known as the world famous “Little Nurse for Little Ills", the building that we know as the Mentholatum building was actually the company's second home. It first resided in a three-story brick building at 1213 E. Douglas.
Mentholatum was a salve, made of menthol and petroleum, created by Albert Hyde. A business partner with the Yucca Company, Hyde bought out his partners in 1890.
The Mentholatum building we know today operated as such until about 1937. In the years since, it has operated as a variety of things, including a social welfare office, technical college, thrift store and retail location.
Now: The Spice Merchant
Wichita's Spice Merchant dates back to 1980, when it opened in the back of another storefront location. The Spice Merchant sold coffee, tea and of course, spices. Within six months, the company expanded into the front of the store and had added coffee and tea accessories to its list of products.
In 1984, the company moved to a new location closer to downtown Wichita. Occupying a 3,000-square-foot former upholstery shop, the Spice Merchant continued to grow. Within 10 years, it was time to expand once again. The Spice Merchant purchased the adjacent building that was the former Mentholatum building in 1994. The new facility offered 10,000-square-feet. Today, the Spice Merchant has been in this location for more than 20 years.
Opening in 1977, the Kansas Coliseum served as Wichita's primary destination for concerts and sporting events for more than 30 years. Made up of four pavilions, an RV Park and the Britt Brown Arena, the Coliseum Complex offered Wichita a wide variety of entertainment to the area, the Kansas Coliseum was a staple in Wichita's culture for decades.
The Britt Brown Arena, named for former Wichita Eagle owner Harry Britton (Britt) Brown Jr., had 9,686 seats but capacity could be configured up to 12,000.
The Coliseum hosted at least 220 concerts, 23 wrestling events, two Monster Jams and more. Home to several local sports teams including the former Wichita Wings indoor soccer team and to Wichita's indoor and arena football teams, the Aviators, Stealth and Wild; the Wichita Thunder; and, for a time, the WSU Basketball teams, it also hosted countless sporting events.
Now: WSU's National Institute of Aviation Research
Courtesy of Wichita.edu.
Two years after closing in 2010, the property was purchased by Johnny Stevens, an aviation research developer, for just under $1.5 million.
Reopening as Wichita State University's National Institute of Aviation Research facility, the former Coliseum would be called the Aircraft Structural Test & Evaluation Center, (ASTEC).
The Arena would serve as the primary location for Aging Aircraft, Ballistic and Impact Dynamics Research Lab, Composites & Advanced Material and Full-Scale Structural Test, according to WSU.
Dockum Drug Store
Wichita's former Dockum Drug Store shared the Union National Bank building with the bank for which it was named. The bank purchased the late 1800s wood-framed Hoyt Building and demolished it eight years later. Another eight months after that, the bank opened a brand new, 15 story building. The Dockum Drug Store occupied part of the building's first floor. The building remained this way for decades.
By 1958, Wichita was a very segregated community. That year, the Dockum Drug Store's whites-only lunch counter would famously serve as the site of a sit-in protest by African-American students. For three long weeks, the protest continued. When the store owner gave up his former policy, Wichita was forever changed, playing an instrumental role in ending segregation nationwide.
The Union National Bank building later housed offices well into the 1990s before sitting vacant for many years.
Now: Ambassador Hotel
Just five years ago, a company by the name of Coury Hospitality had the vision to preserve part of Wichita's history. Purchasing the building, Coury Hospitality turned the Union National Bank building into the third boutique location in its Ambassador Hotel Collection. Part of the Marriott's Autograph collection, the Wichita Ambassador Hotel has three sister locations in Kansas City, Oklahoma City, and Tulsa.
Since opening in 2012, the Ambassador has been very successful, earning a Four Diamond award from AAA, an Award of Excellence from TripAdvisor, Best Hotel in Kansas distinction from MSN and many more outstanding accolades.
The Ambassador Hotel is located in the heart of Wichita's downtown at the southeast corner of Douglas and Broadway.
In the 1950s, the plot of land at 545 N. Hillside was home to popular local hamburger joint, Brown's Grill.
As advertised on its exterior, the restaurant served breakfast, lunch and dinner. Little information is available about Brown's, though it has since closed.
This photo of the restaurant came from an advertisement placed in the 1950 University of Wichita yearbook.
While most of these then-and-now glimpses of Wichita are cool and interesting, this one's a little bit sad. It's hard to see a local business be overtaken by a corporate giant, but unfortunately, it does happen.
The site where Brown's Grill once stood, at 545 N. Hillside, is now a McDonald's. The original building has been razed and a newly constructed franchise of the fast food giant stands in its place. Apparently a prime location to grab a bite to eat, this site has managed to remain a burger joint.
Opening in July of 1913, the Pacific hotel preceded the Broadview hotel by nine years. It was the second Pacific Hotel in Wichita, earning the name the "New Pacific Hotel."
The structure is a prime example of Wichita's beautiful, historic architecture. Located at 225-227 West Douglas Avenue, the hotel also featured the Pacific Coffee Shop, located just to the left of the hotel entrance.
The regal hotel stood four stories tall, had 60 rooms and came with a $50,000 price tag.
The hotel changed hands an impressive number of times before the 1960s, when it was razed to make room for the building that would soon stand in its place.
Now: Century II
On the site now stands Wichita's Century II Performing Arts and Convention Center, built in 1969. For nearly 50 years, Century II has served as an entertainment hub for Wichita, hosting live music and theatre events as well as a wide variety of conventions and tradeshows like the Women's Fair, Outdoor Living and Landscape Show and more.
Century II boasts a total of five separate performance and convention spaces. Three of these spaces can even be combined to offer a total of almost 200,000-square-feet of display space. The Mary Jane Teall Theatre seats nearly 700 patrons and the concert hall seats nearly 2,200.
Yes, if you weren't already aware, Wichita once had a downtown Macy's. And, if we're being completely honest, we're still pretty bummed that it closed.
The 200,000-square-foot Finney State Office building that housed the national retailer has two addresses, occupying both 230 E. William St. and 130 S. Market St.
The property was often used as a retail location. It operated as Wichita's former Innes Department Store prior to serving as the site of our one and only Macy's. It also housed Dillard's for a time after Macy's closed. The building was later used as an office building, housing a variety of different Kansas State offices from 1992 until 2015.
Shortly after the state offices relocated, the City of Wichita sought to update the building, issuing a request for developer qualifications (RFQ) in early 2016.
Plans to renovate the property fell through, however, and further plans for the structure have yet to be determined.
Today, the site is vacant, but hopefully, the building, located in the heart of downtown, will be put to good use once again.
Via Historic Preservation Alliance.
Wichita's original Riverside Boathouse was located near the intersection of Murdock and Waco. Opening in the late 1890s, it offered a variety of aquatic entertainment options, like boat rentals and swimming, to decades of early Wichitans.
Thriving for so long, the Riverside Boathouse brought lots of fun and many memories to the Wichita community. The Boathouse remained in operation for more than 50 years and continued to be a popular local hangout until the 1960s. When interest in the Boathouse had tapered off, a 1968 urban renewal project demolished the building.
Now: The (New) Wichita Boathouse
The current boathouse, located at the corner of McLean and Maple, was built in the 1920s for the then Marland Oil Company.
Remodeled in the 1990s, the building received new veranda-style porches that replicated those of the original Riverside Boathouse.
In 1992, after an America's Cup Victory, Bill Koch donated the Jayhawk, his qualifying yacht, which now sits on permanent display outside the boathouse.
Today, the Wichita Boathouse operates as an event venue on one level and houses the Kansas Sports Museum and Sports Hall of Fame on the other.
More than 100 years ago, Wonderland Park sat on Ackerman Island in the Arkansas River. Housing an amusement park, a theater, a swimming pool, a bowling alley, a roller rink and a bandstand, it was filled with things to do! Closing 97 years ago, the island (well, sandbar, really) that the park stood on doesn’t even exist anymore.
Built in 1905 on a strip that ran from the Douglas Street bridge north past Second Street, Wonderland Park remained open until 1918. Flooding in the 1930's resulted in the complete removal of the sandbar/island.
Now: Exploration Place
Opening in 2000, Exploration Place sits on the former Ackerman Island site. Kansas's premiere hands-on science center for all ages, Exploration Place offers a variety of exhibits and educational programs focusing on science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics, aviation and much more. A three-story castle allows children to climb, play, and learn about medieval life.
Home to the largest domed theater in the state, Exploration place sends guests on unforgettable adventures during these state-of-the-art, digitally-produced shows in the Boeing Dome Theater and planetarium.