Remembering the Allis Hotel 20 Years Later
On the morning of Dec. 23, 1996, Wichita said goodbye to one of its most iconic buildings: The Allis Hotel. Wichitans lined the streets, the balconies, the windows and even the rooftops of downtown to watch as the building was imploded. A video of the implosion is available below (skip to 02:29).
The Allis Hotel
Wichita’s Allis Hotel was built in 1930. At a whopping 17 stories high, it was the tallest building in the state of Kansas. It had 350 rooms each with a tub and shower. The facility also boasted circulating ice water and radio.
Featuring an art deco style that was intended to imitate that of New York’s Waldorf Astoria, the Allis was by far the grandest hotel in the state. Many well-known musicians, celebrities and political figures stayed in the Allis while visiting Wichita. Elvis, John F. Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Dick Clark, Bob Hope, Joan Crawford, Lou Costello, Gene Autry and Jimmy Durante were among those who stayed in the hotel, according to Elisephoto.com. Nat King Cole also stayed in the Allis, though this was kept under wraps due to the color of his skin.
The Allis Closes
The Hotel was a jewel in Wichita for many years. When it finally closed in 1984, it remained empty for years. It had been exposed to the elements which caused rapid deterioration. In the basement, the floor, columns and beams in the northeast corner had all failed. Because the floor had collapsed, it caused further structural damage to the floors above. In addition, vandals stripped the building of much if its remaining value. There was much dispute over whether or not to save the once-spectacular hotel, with strong advocates on both sides of the issue. In one camp were those who saw the Allis as an eyesore and called it “Kansas’s Largest Pigeon Coop.” In the other were the preservationists, who knew the Allis as “The Grand Old Lady of Broadway.” The Historic Preservation Alliance was among the latter and fought hard for the Allis. According to the HPA website, editorials were written, fundraisers were organized, lawsuits were filed and rallies were held, these efforts were futile.
Saving The Allis
Several investors had shown interest in revitalizing the property, but the cost to save the building (which was reported to well-exceed $14 million by one potential investor at the time) was too great, and each time, the interest faded. The historic building was designed in such a way that compliance with modern ADA standards simply wasn't an option without a serious redesign of the building, and the expense was simply too great. By the mid 1990’s, the building was empty, save for the pigeons who had taken residence in what was left of its ceilings and a few squatters who inhabited the building’s main level.
Allis to be Demolished
In September of 1996, a divided vote by City Council decided the fate of the Allis Hotel: Implosion.
“The public was appalled. We were very hesitant to put our name on it because the public was so up in arms about it,” said Robyn wells, wife of Dave Wells, owner of Key Construction, who was the contractor for the implosion.
“People had theses grandeur visions of what it used to be; it was nothing like that inside. The ceiling inside was probably decayed through the top six floors of the building,” Wells said.
“We would have loved to have saved that historic building, but it just wasn’t to be,” she added.
Dec. 22, 1996: The Allis is Imploded
Implosion was chosen largely due to the sheer size of the building. Because the Allis was such a tall building, and because it was in such poor shape, it needed to come down all at once.
Demolition Dynamics, a Tennessee-based company did the job. The process began by thoroughly digging out the basement. The building was stripped to the studs and dynamite was strapped in various places around the building. Tarps were put up, standing about two stories high, around the buildings perimeter in order to keep debris from flying out and damaging other buildings in the area.
The whole city knew when the implosion would take place, and citizens flocked to the surrounding area, lining up as close as they were safely allowed to be to watch the Allis meet its end. There was a big countdown, and then a series of thunderous booms. In just six seconds, the Allis Hotel was no more.
“you could see it falling and you could see birds flying out of it. It was crazy,” Wells said.
The implosion was methodical, detonating different sections at different times to ensure the best possible outcome.
“As the contractor, we were thinking ‘Please God let it happen the way it’s supposed to happen and nobody get hurt and no other buildings be destroyed’ so when it fell over the way it was supposed to, it was really a relief,” Wells said.
Wells remembers getting as close to the site as she was allowed to, and being overcome by clouds of black dust.
“And then the dust started coming at you. And when it came at you, it was black. I brought blankets because it was cold, and thank God I did, because we took those blankets and put the over our heads as we saw that big dust cloud coming. It was just black for minutes,” she said.
When the damage was done, a pile of debris stood nearly two-stories high. The remains of the building were taken to a dump where a specific area was assigned for what was formerly the Allis. This allowed for careful disposal of potentially hazardous elements like lead paints. The disposal of the building took about two months in total.
Fast forward 20 years, and the space where the building once stood is now a parking lot at the southeast corner of Broadway and William, showing no sign of the hotel’s existence.
The Allis Lives On
Robyn, a creative collector of unique items she can repurpose, went into the Allis just before it was demolished to recover a few remaining hotel features.
Though little was left in the Allis, Robyn was able to recover five of the large lights that had been mounted to the building’s exterior and a few pieces of tile.
“So much of what was cool about the building was already gone. So many people had stolen all the door handles and so many other custom things. People had gone in and just taken anything of value at all,” Robyn Wells said. “The only reason it was left is because nobody could get to it,” Wells said of the exterior lights.
Robyn has saved the pieces of the Allis She recovered to this day and even had four of the lights welded together into a massive and beautiful chandelier that hangs in her home.
“We have the lights upside-down. I wanted the decorative part on the bottom because I felt like people, as they walked up could see them better,” Wells said. “Those are ‘A’’s. They Go on the top. That’s an ‘A’ for ‘Allis.’”