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100 Walnut (Gunsmoke) Street
Believe it or not (shut up), I’m old enough to remember when the Lora-Locke Hotel was a hotel. My most memorable experience at the Lora-Locke was when my mom (and one of her friends?) took me there for lunch and I was tricked into ordering a Reuben sandwich. Why tricked, you might ask. Because my mother knew I hated sauerkraut but she thought I was just doing one of those stubborn kid things because it sounded weird or whatever. I kept asking what was on it and she just kept saying she thought I would like it. I gave up and ordered the Reuben and knew the moment I bit into it that something was terribly wrong. I asked if it had sauerkraut on it and she burst out laughing. She had purposely ordered something she knew I would like just in case I really did hate it. And I did…so we traded.
That memory was made possible by Mike Burkhart, among others. Mike, especially, poured a lot of love and a helluva lot of money into the Lora-Locke, literally saving her from disaster.
A lot of this you may already know. The Lora-Locke Hotel opened for business in 1928. It was named after Lora Howell and Hattie (Locke) Theis, wives of George Howell and Otto Theis.
Howell and Theis formed Citizens Hotel Company in May of 1927. The site they selected is at the corner of Central Avenue and Walnut Street, which was the northwest boundary of the Fort Dodge Military Reservation.
The 1926 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows only dwellings on the entire block.
Howell and Theis intended to build a five-story hotel for about $300,000 and hired Wichita architect Ellis Charles to draw up the plans. It was to be built by Eastergard & Bullard.
Cost estimates clearly varied, perhaps along with degrees of accuracy.
The Lora-Locke was scheduled to open on or around March 1, 1928 and was to be managed by Mr. and Mrs. W. M. Brown. Ten shops on the ground floor were already rented by February 16, 1928. According to The Daily National Hotel Reporter, the actual construction costs amounted to $350,000.
Some people mocked the name, saying it sounded like a “beauty parlor or millinery shop.” The Dodge City Chamber of Commerce moved into its rooms at the hotel in March of 1928.
I wonder if tear sheets were a thing in the newspaper advertising biz in 1928.
From the very beginning, the Lora-Locke hosted guests attending all sorts of large events.
The Wichita Eagle, April 7, 1928
The Lora-Locke’s manager was fired not long after the hotel opened, causing several employees to walk off the job.
The Hutchinson News, April 17, 1928
Hal Minton was hired to replace Mr. Brown in June of 1928. I have no idea where he came from but he must have been thrilled to see his new hotel make the national news.
Rupert Hughes – The San Francisco Examiner, December 2, 1928
While most of us remember nothing but a tight housing market in Dodge, contrast this article with a later quote from Mike Burkhart in which he indicated there were too many hotel rooms in town.
The Wichita Eagle, October 12, 1929
I admit I am somewhat curious about what kind of hustle these ladies were running.
The block along Walnut Street where the Lora-Locke sits next door to another Howell building (and another building Mike Burkhart tried to save) was nicknamed “The Million Dollar Block.”
Honestly, I’m not sure this recipe is worth trying but it ran in newspapers throughout the country.
Hal Minton resigned as Manager in November of 1932 to head West and was replaced by Mike Biggs.
Otto Theis died after falling off a horse at his ranch near Englewood in May of 1934.
The movie Dodge City premiered at the Dodge Theater in Dodge City in April of 1939. Less than six months later, the Lora-Locke was sold.
This is where I get a bit confused. I’ve read numerous articles and historical accounts which state the Lora-Locke was owned by the Theis family (after buying out George Howell’s widow in the 1940s) continuously until it closed the first time in 1978. At some point, there was a Howell-Theis Hotel Company in play and maybe that’s the entity which bought it back from American Hotels Co.? Maybe it was a DBA? Down below, you will see articles showing the Theis family (Theis Co.) again as owners of the hotel as of the early 1960s. The sequence of events is unclear to me so I would appreciate comments from anyone who knows the complete story.
During the Dust Bowl, each room had adhesive tape and when the wind started blowing hard, the desk clerk would call all the rooms and tell the guests, “Duster coming.” The guests would then plaster the windows and doors with the tape to keep out the dust. And then a wayward towel found its way home.
So here’s where I found mention of the Theis family owning the hotel again.
This article incorrectly stated the theater was in the lower level of the hotel.
And then…a shock.
Wichita Beacon, March 21, 1978
Bob Stith, Myron Wheaton, and George Voss bought the building in July of 1983 and began working to reopen the Lora-Locke Hotel. Dodge City authorized the sale of $1.2 million in industrial revenue bonds to finance the purchase of the building and equipment and for renovations. Work was expected to be completed in December of 1983 but after a brief delay, she reopened on February 26, 1984 with a restaurant, club, 19 suites, and 35 guest rooms. Work was to continue on additional guest and resident spaces as funds allowed.
But then a reprieve.
Renovations were about 70% complete when Burkhart stepped in and paid off creditors. Some apartments were occupied and the hotel had some overnight guests but utilities hadn’t even been paid and the gas had been shut off. Burkhart also got the Lora-Locke added to the National Register of Historic Places. He also bought the old Montgomery Ward building next door and said the Million Dollar Block was closer to the Four Million Dollar Block back in 1986.
And then Miss Kitty came to town and stayed in the same room Errol Flynn had used during the premiere of Dodge City.
I had to read this one a few times to understand what in the wide world of sports they were thinking.
Unfortunately, nostalgia is extremely expensive and love doesn’t pay the bills.
Parsons Sun, August 5, 1987
The Wichita Eagle-Beacon, November 16, 1988
I vaguely recall the debates and delays taking place when I was in junior high and high school. My attention was on other things but the arguments were hard to miss.
I’m sure you’ve been waiting for my take on all of this. Eyebrows may have been raised in 1991 but the building was saved. I was in grade school when the Lora-Locke reopened so I don’t know how viable Stith, Wheaton, Voss, and ultimately, Burkhart really found the project. I’ve heard rumors that Burkhart, at least, just pumped enough money into the building so she would make an attractive option for Ford County. Maybe. Maybe he was a true believer and thought she could continue as a hotel. I don’t know and I don’t care. The Lora-Locke was saved. The county obviously had to make layout changes for functionality and systems changes in accordance with building codes but they managed to leave the Lora-Locke’s beauty intact. Some floors have been modified to the point where it’s difficult to tell you’re in a beautiful old building. All you have to do is wander around the place a bit, though, and you’ll see why she was worth saving.
A while back, I found this blog post from a guy who stayed at the Lora-Locke with his parents in the 1980s.
I remember hearing someone who worked at the hotel complaining about pheasant season. Hunters had filled all of the rooms in Dodge and several stayed at the Lora-Locke. They had apparently been born in barns and determined the hotel bathrooms were appropriate venues for cleaning birds. Imagine!
Anyway, the Lora-Locke is a real gem and the local community should be grateful to the people who took a chance on her. The next time you’re renewing your tags or researching a deed, take a look around. Sit on the mezzanine and just enjoy.
This is the last one in the series…at least for now. I’ll probably write about the Chalk Beeson Theater at some point but I really need to focus on my Otero Beeson research. Until then, you can check out Parts I through VI below:
Part I – First National Bank Building
Part II – First Baptist Church, Walnut Street, Masonic Temple, First Avenue, and O’Neal Hotel
Part III – Merritt Beeson House
Part IV – Carnegie Library Building, Dodge City Milling and Elevator Company, First Presbyterian Church, and Post Office
Part V – Dodge City High School (1000 North Second Avenue)
Part VI – Dodge City Senior High School (1601 First Avenue)
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