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.

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