100 Military Avenue
This is a building I’ve never thought much about. Everyone knows it’s an old Montgomery Ward that was remodeled into commercial office space. I had no idea it’s actually two buildings, built five years apart, and veneered to look like a single structure.
The early history of this property is very confusing. The 1887 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows an empty lot at 101 Military and a large frame dwelling next door at 102, before the City standardized with odd and even addresses on opposite sides of the street. There are no notations about it being condemned.
The 1892 Sanborn also has an empty lot but now there’s a note that says “strip condemned from Railroad Avenue.” So weird! The empty lot still shows condemned on the 1899 Sanborn but then a house was built there! And it still said condemned for years! The frame dwelling at 101 seemed to be very large with a fancy rounded wall on the west. The same dwelling remained at 102.
So the 1905 Sanborn shows the whole lot condemned from Railroad/Central. The address was still 101 Military then and the same dwelling was next door at 102. The 1911 Sanborn shows a condemned strip along Railroad but it isn’t written over the house like the 1918 map. The block had been renumbered making the address 100 Military. It looks like a garage was added behind the house. The house next door is listed as 104…maybe because the lots were so big. There is no 102 on this map.
Why am I harping on this? The March 1914 obituary for Mrs. G. M. Hoover listed her address as 100 Military, which is impossible because it said the Hoovers had lived there for decades. It must have been the house next door? George then died in July of 1914 and all the articles listed 100 Military also. So bizarre. The household and personal effects were sold at public auction and the location was 100 Military. 104 was also advertised as a rooming house but I didn’t find a connection to the Hoover name. I don’t get it.
The 1918 Sanborn shows a condemned house at 100 Military and it looks like the one at 104 had been remodeled. But really, that lot had been marked as condemned for so long, who knows what kind of condition the house was really in at that time.
The county website says the current structure at 100 Military was built in 1925. I initially thought that could actually be correct! Except it says the *whole building* was constructed in 1925, which is obviously wrong. B.R. Royse (who held a patent for a lidless teapot) had the first piece built in the Spring of 1925.
Once they got started, things progressed very quickly.
The builder was J. N. Parham and his company also did the excavation. Concrete was all poured for the floors by September of 1925. The photo below appears to show the Royse Building under construction just to the left of the O’Neal Hotel.
The Superior Garage was up and running by December of 1925 and managed by B. R.’s son, Chester. Small town side note: In September of 1918, C. F. Royse bought out T. H. Traynor’s interest in City Garage (formerly Hale & Son). So then it was Fay & Royse.
Carl Fay (former manager at City Garage) and C. E. Williams (of the McCoy Garage) teamed up with an Overland dealership and garage that advertised 24-hour service! This was probably because it was also a storage facility. Fay & Williams moved into the Royse building in late December or early January of 1926.
The 1926 Sanborn shows one garage at 100 Military and the same old frame dwelling next door at 104. I can’t get over the shape! I totally understand maximizing your square footage but yikes with the geometry.
By 1929, the operation was the Carl Fay Motor Company.
Around 1930, the building appeared to have been occupied by Continental Oil Company. The 1932 Sanborn shows two garages covering both lots with the first floor of the new addition built in 1930.
By 1937, Schneider Super Service Company was located at 100 Military and Combs Automotive was in the adjoining building at 106. In 1939, the filling station was a Palmers Conoco. By 1947, Muncy-Snell Motor Company occupied the space at 100 Military, Combs Automotive was still at 106, and American Legion Post No. 47 was at 108. I read somewhere that Montgomery Ward leased 100 Military Avenue in 1947 but this is confusing, as there were other businesses still operating in that space through the early 1950s.
By 1953, Hart Oil Company was located at 100 Military but Montgomery Ward had taken over the west end of the building by 1955. The city directories are kind of confusing because they listed the spot as Montgomery Ward Warehouse and that was likely partially true but it was also their tire and auto shop. The main Montgomery Ward store remained at First and Walnut during this time.
The photo below was taken before the second story was added to Combs Automotive.
It looks like the second floor was added sometime between 1955 and 1961.
Imagine thinking this was a good idea. If anyone reading this actually used one of these or knows anyone who did, PLEASE (I’m begging you), leave me a comment. I need to know how it went.
B. R. Royse had died in 1950 at the age of 91 and his estate sold the building to Hubert and Frank Piland in 1965. I found a brief newspaper reference to the “new” Montgomery Ward store in July of 1965 so they must have moved everything from Walnut/Gunsmoke by that time.
By 1967, Combs Automotive had moved to 520 West Trail Street and Montgomery Ward (managed by Troy Compton) occupied both buildings. According to the Kansas Historical Society, the building was given an overall design change around 1970. In the aerial photo below, you can see two distinct roofs but a unified exterior appearance.
Montgomery Ward didn’t make it past the 1970s. I found a reference to the buildings being remodeled and rebranded as 100 Military Plaza around 1980 and I didn’t think that could possibly be correct. But then I saw this masterpiece: Ranch. Oak.
The photo below shows how I remember Military Plaza in my mind’s eye.
The parking structure was apparently added around 1987. Since the combined buildings became 100 Military Plaza, it has housed attorneys, accountants, brokers, nonprofits, government agencies, et cetera and so on.
The block was surveyed by A-Z Land Surveying in September of 2001 and the whole document package is available here. The shape of the building is so bizarre. I can only imagine what a nightmare it was for the people tasked with installing the current blonde brick veneer.
When you enter the building now, it’s impossible to detect its 1920s origins.
If you look at the satellite view from Google Maps, it’s pretty obvious from just looking at the roof that the structures weren’t built at the same time. And that the west end did not make a rectangle!
The Street View goes back to 2007 so you can take a trip around the block and see the Central and Spruce views as well.
All of this because I saw an old newspaper ad and was curious about what the heck building that could have been. I seriously just assumed my entire life that Montgomery Ward *built* Military Plaza when they outgrew the original store. Coming soon is a story about the evolution of early Dodge City auto dealers that includes some of the same names.
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