Gwinner’s Cafe Then and Now

504 N Second Avenue

Gwinner’s Cafe was a Dodge City institution for decades. You may notice the Gwinner Building on Second Avenue south of Fidelity State Bank displays the year 1951 on its parapet. That seems kind of odd given the ages of the surrounding structures. So what was the deal? Amazingly, the county website shows this building was constructed in 1920. I don’t mean to be a jerk but…and there’s always a but…how?

This particular lot was slow to be developed. The block consisted of frame dwellings in 1884 and by 1887, the lot was empty. And that’s how it sat for about two decades. The first commercial structure to appear at 504 Second Avenue on a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map was a confectionery in 1911.

It turns out John Felkel and Ira Beck started the Palace of Sweets in the “new” Hoover Building just north of the Bee Hive in the Fall of 1907. Felkel had worked at the City Bakery for several years prior to this.

The Globe-Republican, November 7, 1907

The Hoover Building also had a north room at 506 Second Avenue, which housed a drug store started by R. C. Mershon of Stafford the same month. Because of the way the block appears now, it’s hard to visualize the two sharing more than a common wall. By August of 1909, the drug store had been purchased by George D Cochran.

Ira Beck exited the partnership by April of 1910 leaving John Felkel as the sole proprietor. It seems a little odd to advertise oysters with candies and ice cream but the US hadn’t completely recovered from its oyster obsession in 1910.

The Hutchinson Daily Gazette, April 14, 1910

Although it wasn’t heavily advertised as a dining establishment, The Palace of Sweets served lunch “at all hours.”

The Dodge City Globe, April 30, 1914

Martin M Gwinner built a bakery on Fourth Avenue in the Summer of 1888 when he was 25 years old. The City Bakery was located just north of J. H. Crawford’s grocery store. He later moved the business to Chestnut Street. So remember, John Felkel got his start working for Mr. Gwinner at City Bakery. This copy is a hot mess but it explains how the business became Gwinner’s Palace of Sweets.

The Dodge City Daily Globe, October 2, 1914

The article failed to explain that the bakery side of the operation was sold to the Sturgeon brothers and the confectionery portion was sold to Harry Grose.

It’s really difficult to find good depictions of the building as it appeared during that time but this ad helps. It’s absolutely bonkers to compare this image to the current view.

Dodge City Daily Globe, March 14, 1917

Anyway, Gwinner’s Palace of Sweets did steady business for a good long while.

The Dodge City Journal, December 9, 1920

Martin’s son, Donald, worked at the Palace of Sweets after college. Donald was a talented clarinetist, who played with the Dodge City Cowboy Band for a time. Around 1924, the shop began advertising as simply Gwinner’s with a new logo.

The Southwest News, April 18, 1924

The 1926 Sanborn is kind of interesting because it added 504 1/2 Second Avenue. I believe the second floor of the south end housed the Unique barber shop and beauty parlor, which was purchased by Edward Craig and Jack Cahoon (both formerly of the Pioneer Barber Shop) in 1926. The previous owner was C. O. Grounds. So maybe a building permit was issued in 1920, which is what the county is going by. At any rate, the Perfect Bakery occupied the north end of the building at that time.

I really like this postcard because in addition to the Gwinner sign, it also includes the First National Bank Building before the appearance of their first painted sign where the Stan Herd mural is now.

Photographer Unknown

This photo of the Cochran Building shows just a tiny bit of the original Gwinner Building to the left. It had a lot more detail than the current utilitarian structure.

Photographer Unknown

Before restaurants started ordering everything premade from Sysco and US Foods, they actually cooked stuff!

The Ford Progress, July 4, 1930

Sweetbriar Shops, Inc. was founded in Colorado in 1931 by Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Barron and they began with three stores. The chain incorporated in each of the various states in which they operated and they formed The Sweetbriar Shops, Inc. in Kansas on February 6, 1935. The Dodge City store occupied the north end of the building at 506 N Second Avenue for several years.

This photo from 1939 shows the bank on the corner, Sweetbriar one door south, and Gwinner’s to the far right. I’m not sure when it happened but it’s clear that the building was split into separate parcels with different owners. I believe Martin Gwinner only bought the south end.

Photographer Unknown

This photo from just a little later, shows the Gwinner sign out front as well as the first painted sign at First National Bank. You can also see the Hiram T Burr advertisement on the old Post Office, which has been covered up for several decades by a Texaco sign.

Photo by Frank Locke

It’s unclear when Martin finally retired for real but the Gwinner-Aten Cafe, Inc. was formed on March 8, 1944. Donald’s sister, Grace, was married to Clarence Aten and I’m not sure which of them was Donald’s partner…maybe both.

Martin died in November of 1945 at the age of 82 and his widow, Carrie Blackburn Gwinner, retained ownership of the building. The cafe continued until disaster struck in 1950.

Anyone who knows anything about Dodge City knows full well that this was not, in fact, the worst outbreak of fires in the town’s history but it is probably the worst example of arson here. As of September 21, there was “no trace” of the arsonist. Sweetbriar was moved into a temporary space at Hutton Electric at 505 First Avenue while their store was rebuilt. There were no plans for the continuation of Gwinner’s Cafe in Dodge City.

The Hutchinson News-Herald, February 18, 1951

Construction of the new building was underway by April of 1951. Meanwhile, the Sweetbriar chain was expanding in Kansas with the Great Bend store opening in 1953.

Great Bend Daily Tribune, August 22, 1953

Carrie Gwinner died in September of 1953 at the age of 89 and is buried next to Martin at Maple Grove Cemetery in Dodge. Donald moved to Colorado but his sister and her husband stayed in Dodge.

The image below shows Fidelity State Bank on the corner with the new expansion in the former Sweetbriar spot. I was so excited to find this one because it hasn’t looked like this in my lifetime.

Dodge City Daily Globe, Kansas Centennial Special Edition, July 1961

And here is how the new Sweetbriar store looked at that time.

Dodge City Daily Globe, Kansas Centennial Special Edition, July 1961

In the mid-1970s, the Sweetbriar chain headquartered in Denver consisted of 65 stores in roughly 14 western states. I believe the Hutchinson store opened in February of 1970. They even had their own branded store charge card as early as 1972.

The Hutchinson News, July 24, 1973

This photo shows the southward expansion of Fidelity and Sweetbriar’s new home in the old Palace of Sweets location. You will notice the windows had been removed from the new Fidelity building by the time it was taken.

Photo by Troy Robinson

I only have vague memories of Sweetbriar and that’s apparently because they went out of business in 1984 or 1985, with their last annual report being filed in Kansas for the year ending December 31, 1984. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong but I believe Sweetbriar moved to Village Square Mall a few years before the store closed.

There have been many, many establishments in the old Gwinner Cafe since Sweetbriar moved. The Street View on Google Maps will take you back to 2007. The building currently looks much better than it did from 2007 to 2018!

It is currently occupied by my studio and their website has quite a few interior photos. The studio is located upstairs in the big room and the exposed brick is amazing.

I’m not sure if the arsonist was ever caught but now we know why there’s such a young building on that old block.

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Graf-Essen Grille Then and Now

103 West Chestnut Street / Wyatt Earp Boulevard

I received a question from a reader a while back regarding a restaurant his father had owned on Chestnut Street sometime in the 1940s. He was wondering if I knew anything about it. I did not! His father, James Graff, had been the head chef at the Lora-Locke Hotel prior to opening his own restaurant. It’s taken me a while but here’s what I found…

Dodge City Times, March 31, 1877

The 1884 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows the original Dodge House on Front Street along what was then Railroad Avenue. By 1887, the hotel had expanded quite a bit and the Front Street side was mostly dedicated to storefronts.

The 1892 Sanborn shows a completely altered appearance. By 1899, it was an empty lot and it stayed that way for quite a while. In those years, the area near the Santa Fe Depot had a livery stable, some houses, and a lot of empty space. This was all wrapped up in the failure of the Merchants State Bank, which was a five-alarm dumpster fire that ruined a lot of people. Former mayor, Adolphus Gluck, purchased this lot from the County in November of 1899 for $1,450 with the intention of building a hotel.

The 1918 Sanborn finally showed another structure on the lot which had been renumbered 103 West Chestnut Street. After years of failed negotiations with hotel developers and the Phenix Industrial Club, Gluck hired prolific Dodge City builder J. N. Parham to construct a large building with retail and office space in the spring of 1917. This is not to be confused with the other Gluck building at First and Chestnut.

I believe the first tenant was the Auto Supply Company, which opened on May 14, 1917.

Dodge City Daily Globe, May 14, 1917

Ernest Hendricks moved his Edison Cafe into the space at the corner of Front Street and Central Avenue in August of 1917.

Dodge City Daily Journal, September 23, 1917

William Kliesen sold large volumes of produce in the west room facing Front Street.

Dodge City Daily Globe, September 24, 1917

I briefly mentioned The Hub here. The first Hub Clothing Store in Dodge City opened in July of 1887 but this one is totally unrelated. The new Hub was a branch of The Hub Clothing Company in Salina and they sent A. G. Triplett to manage the store, which was just to the west of the auto parts store.

Dodge City Daily Globe, September 28, 1917

The Hub moved to what we all think of as the Goddard’s building in the summer of 1918. Their old location was leased by the Ford County Democrats to use as party headquarters right after it was vacated. The Popular Cafe, owned by brothers Harry and Jesse Holmes, leased the spot in February of 1919.

The Dodge City Journal, February 27, 1919

The second floor office spaces were leased by a variety of tenants over the years: Gwinn Title and Investment Co., Millikan Realty Co., Francis McAdams Real Estate Investment Co., Vinson Laboratory, Throm School of Dancing…you get the idea.

The photo below from 1925 shows the Front Street side looking pretty normal.

Photographer Unknown

The Popular Cafe moved to the new Cochran Building in the mid-1920s and was replaced by the Hollywood Cafe in the 1930s. On the Front Street side, there was a taxi company at 100 Front Street.

The Ford Progress, July 3, 1931

A pool hall operated under various names at 102 Front Street until at least 1937.

The Dodge City Journal, January 24, 1924

Sometime between 1937 and 1947, the second floor was renovated and opened as the Ernest Hotel. Finally, Adolphus Gluck’s vision for a hotel at that location was realized.

By the mid-1940s, the spot at 103 West Chestnut was home to the Graf-Essen Grille.

1947 City Directory and Business and Professional Guide for Dodge City, Kansas

Meanwhile, the building was sold in 1951

The Hutchinson News-Herald, April 17, 1951

James Graff”s restaurant occupied the location at 103 West Chestnut Street until the mid 1950s when it was replaced by Eldon’s Lunch. Eldon Baird moved his lunch restaurant down the block to 119 West Wyatt Earp Boulevard (name change alert!) at the end of 1959 or the beginning of 1960.

The hotel was also renamed in late 1957 or early 1958 to capitalize on the Old West legend. They apparently forgot to remit their sales tax to Topeka.

The Evening Eagle (Wichita, Kansas) August 15, 1958

This was not a popular area of Dodge for photography. Most photos I’ve seen of this block along Chestnut are of the Ham Bell building on the north side of the street. The south side was just not well documented. I’m sure that’s partly because of the lighting and partly because things get seedy near bus stations and train depots.

The photo below is so close! It’s the correct building but one door too far to the west. The spot at 103 1/2 West Wyatt Earp is pictured here with “Party Room” on the window. It had previously been La Vieas Retail Liquor Store. DeLuxe Beauty Shop was located at 105 West Wyatt Earp.

Photo by Don Miller

You can just barely make out the “Lunch” sign down the block in the photo below. At this time, it was called Town Lunch.

Photo by Don Miller

In this one, the “Lunch” is behind the one-way street sign on the left but you can make out “Town” in the vertical section of the sign behind the light pole. The Wyatt Earp Hotel survived until at least 1967 with Carole Kincaid as Manager.

Photo by Hoover Cott

Sometime in the 1960s, the restaurant name changed to Brice’s Lunch and I believe it was owned by William McVey at least part of the time before the music stopped.

The Front Street side of things was bleak. At one point, the entire 100 block was bar after tavern after pool hall. I’m sure there was some connection between the Brice’s Cafe which was located at 100 Front Street in the 1940s through 1953 and the later Brice’s Lunch referenced above. At that time, the business next door at 102 Front Street was the Wagon Wheel Tavern and it survived until the late 1950s. The spot was vacant from that point on. After Brice’s moved, El Cap[itan?] Snooker was located at 100 Front Street followed by the Supper Club around 1957. That establishment lasted until the mid-1960s.

Photo by Russel Lupton

By 1967, there were no business listings in the 100 block of Front Street…for obvious reasons.

You already know what happened next.

Garden City Telegram, September 11, 1969

Thanks to Urban Renewal, here’s how the corner looks now:

There’s clearly not much to see but the area looks a lot better than it did over the couple decades after demolition. The City has done a good job of smoothing out all those rough edges.

I was hoping to find a menu, a postcard, or even a matchbook cover from the Graf-Essen Grille but had zero luck. If anyone has anything that may be of interest to the Graff family, please send me a message via the Contact page and I’ll pass along the information.

If you like what you see, be sure to subscribe (way at the bottom of the post on mobile devices) to receive an email each time a new post is published and share on social media. You can also buy me a cup of coffee using the donation form. Thanks for reading!


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