Dodge City Then and Now: Part II

My hometown leaned ALL the way in to Urban Renewal and basically ruined the most historic parts of the town. Trends are slow to arrive in Dodge City and by the time our “leaders” started demolishing history, most of the country had already realized this is a piss-poor approach. It’s like sidewalks in Dodge…the people who need to use them don’t and they just assume no one else does either. But thanks for trying to run over the dog and me…really.

This little gem doesn’t go into a lot of detail but sums the situation up quite well. Most questions about Dodge City that begin with “Why” are answered with “Urban Renewal.” Fortunately, lessons have been learned and there is now an appreciation for not only property rights but also history other than the Old West. One day, we’ll talk about Ford County property taxes ruining people’s lives but today is not that day.

Today’s photos are a mix of the good and the bad.

First Baptist Church

This building isn’t particularly old but I grew up looking at it every day of every summer for most of my childhood in jail at Kiddie Corner (with another K?). Anyway, I’m a fan. The postcard colorization on the left is pretty intense. I don’t think grass has ever been that green here.

Walnut Street Looking West from Central Avenue

I’ve entered all of the Dodge City street name changes in Excel because it’s impossible to remember them all. Walnut became Gunsmoke, Chestnut became Wyatt Earp, North and South Front Streets were demolished and now something called Front Street runs through parking lots, etc. and so on. So the postcard on the left is from the 1960s and I took the photo on the right a couple weeks ago. It looks basically the same but the gigantic Masonic Temple on the left wayyyy down the block is long gone. You can still see the old Chalk Beeson Theater (MUCH more on that later) at the end of the block on the left side of *Walnut*. The marquee is missing from the Dodge Theater on the right side of the street but the buildings are otherwise intact until you get to First Avenue.

Masonic Temple

Construction on this marvel began in 1907 and was completed in 1908. There were so many bricks lined up along the street that one of the newspapers ran a piece joking that visitors from out of town asked if they were building the Great Wall of China.

The Journal-Democrat, October 25, 1907

I think the initial cost estimate was around $26,000 but it ended up in the neighborhood of $36,000 and I can only imagine the grandeur of the third floor. They had a special carpet sewn in Kansas City that cost about $4.00 per yard and the room was enormous. The building had no trouble attracting commercial tenants and was in use for several decades.

Etrick’s Directory of Ford County 1920

Here’s the 1926 Sanborn Fire Insurance map. It was a beast!

Why is it no longer there? Urban Renewal! It didn’t survive the 1960s and the land was later donated by former Dodge City Daily Globe publisher (and daughter of Jess Denious) Martha Elizabeth “Betty” Muncy for Eisenhower Park, which was established in 1976.

First Avenue Looking South

Standing in the middle of First Avenue is not an option so it’s difficult to recreate the perspective of the postcard on the left without a drone. That’s clearly the Masonic Temple across First Avenue from the Chalk Beeson Theater and the old flour mill in the postcard background. You can also make out what looks like the old Western Union building behind the theater. Here’s the 1918 Sanborn map for reference.

O’Neal Hotel

Central and what??? Exactly. The parking lot north of the depot looks like a road runs through it because a road used to run through it…all the way east to Avenue B, where it met up with that weird little Chestnut Street jog. Take a look at the 1926 Sanborn map.

The O’Neal Hotel opened in December of 1912 and I can’t think of a better location for the time.

The Dodge City Daily Globe, December 9, 1912

Over time, several buildings were added and can you imagine renting a house of any size for $8.50 per month?

The Dodge City Daily Globe, February 16, 1915

The O’Neal Hotel operated in that spot forever and a day until it, too, was a victim of Urban Renewal. Hotels circle the drain pretty quickly when things start getting seedy and this one was no exception. I’m calling this one a victory, though, because parking in this area would be a nightmare without the City lot.

Next time, I’ll share a real heartbreaker. Until then, you can take a look at Part I.

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