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Memorable Wichita Moments from the 1960s

These Wichita events from the ‘60s range from the tragic to the entertaining. 

Cotillion Ballroom Opening Night, December 7, 1960

Cotillion Ballroom Opening Nig

Photo by thecotillion.com.

Located on west Kellogg, The Cotillion opened in 1960 with the Ted Weems Orchestra, valet parking, and doormen in tuxedos. Other acts hosted during the 60s included Louie Armstrong (1964), Duke Ellington (1966), Fats Domino, Stan Kenton (1968). Today, The Cotillion is a popular venue for many events: concerts from local and national bands, dances, comedians, stage shows, and even roller derby.

The Cotillion is a circular building that can host 2,000 people for a concert under its 24-foot tall domed ceiling. It features an 11,000 square foot floating wood dance floor and a large stage with a band shell. The facility is also available to rent for special events such as wedding receptions, proms, banquets, and event trade shows.

Piatt Plane Crash, 1965

Piatt Memorial Park in northeast Wichita marks the site of the tragic accident that killed 30 people and injured many others. At 9:31 am that Saturday, a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Tanker loaded with 31,000 gallons of jet fuel crashed into a residential area near 20th and Piatt, destroying 15 homes and causing a massive fire. The Aviation Safety Network database indicates the tanker crashed shortly after takeoff, after experiencing control problems and attempting to return to McConnell Air Force Base.

Monuments at Piatt Memorial Park are inscribed with the names of the seven crew members and 23 civilians on the ground who died in the crash. A book about the event, Mayday Over Wichita, was published in 2013 by historian and former Airman D.W. Carter.

Jim Ryun breaks state high school record in 1 mile run, May 15, 1965

Jim Ryun breaks state high sch

Photo by runnersworld.com.

East High senior Jim Ryun ran the mile in a record 3:58.3 at the Kansas state high school track meet at Wichita State University in May of 1965.

A year earlier, on June 4, 1964, Ryun gained national attention when he became the first high school student to run a mile in under 4 minutes. That feat was accomplished at the Compton Invitational near Los Angeles, where the high school junior took 8th place, against older competitors, with a time of 3:59. At that time, the only people who had broken the 4-minute mile barrier were elite college runners or Olympians. To this day, only 5 other high school runners in the U.S. have gotten under 4 minutes. At 3:55.3, Ryun’s is the second-fastest high-school mile time, setting a national record that held for nearly 36 years.

As a college student at the University of Kansas, Jim Ryun broke the world record for the mile on July 17, 1966, with a time of 3:51.3. A year later, he broke his own record with a time of 3:51.1. That record stood for eight years. Ryun went on to become a 3-time Olympian, winning a silver medal at the 1968 games in Mexico City. He also set world records in the half mile and 1,500 meters, and later went on to become a Kansas congressman.

WSU Men’s Basketball first NCAA Final Four appearance, 1965

WSU Men’s Basketball first NCA

Photo by wsu.edu.

Despite having lost two top players, the Wichita State Shockers won their first Missouri Valley Conference championship in 1965. This earned them an automatic place in that year’s NCAA Tournament. The Shockers advanced to their first Final Four appearance, facing the defending national champion UCLA Bruins in Portland, Oregon. Wichita state lost the matchup 108-89, and the Bruins went on to win the championship. The Shockers didn’t make another Final Four appearance until 2013.

Koch Industries name change, new headquarters built, 1968

Fred C. Koch came to Wichita in 1925, and over the next 40 years he built a substantial presence in the oil industry. When he passed away on November 17, 1967, the family business was known as Rock Island Oil & Refining Company. In 1968, Fred’s sons Charles, Bill, David and Fred changed the company name to Koch Industries in his honor. That same year, the current Koch Industries headquarters was built on East 37th Street North in Wichita, between Oliver and Hillside.

Yingling Chevrolet fire, November 1, 1968

This fire resulted in the single largest loss of life for the Wichita Fire Department. Witnesses reported the fire was found at the Yingling Chevrolet Company, located at English and Topeka, around 8:30 pm. Employees tried to get cars out of the building before calling the fire department at about 9:10 pm. Six minutes after responding, several firefighters were trapped when the roof suddenly collapsed on top of them. Two firemen were found and rescued. They were treated for smoke inhalation and other injuries. Four men were killed: Fire Chief Tom McGaughey, who was celebrating his 36th wedding anniversary, Chief Inspector Merle Wells, Firefighter Dale Mishler, and Firefighter Jimmy Austin.

Century II Built, 1969

The Century II dome is an iconic part of the downtown Wichita skyline. It was built to replace The Forum, located at the same site. The Forum was Wichita’s main convention center, auditorium, and exposition hall between 1911 and 1965. The Forum and 128 other dilapidated structures were demolished to clear space for the Century II Performing Arts & Convention Center. The City of Wichita and the Urban Renewal Agency partnered to create a larger civic center.

Century II houses the Concert Hall, Exhibition Hall, Convention Hall, and a theater that became Mary Jane Teall Theater in 1989. In 1986, Bob Brown Expo Hall was built on the south side of Century II, and in 1997, the Hyatt Regency Wichita was also added next to it. The facility hosts concerts, stage productions, trade shows, conventions, and many other special events each year.


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