201 West Chestnut Street/Wyatt Earp Boulevard
Dodge City had an opera house at least as early as July of 1878 when the frame building G. M. Hoover constructed for the Dodge City Varieties was remodeled by Ben Springer into a hall suitable for “first-class entertainers.” The popularity waxed and waned over the years and several locations boasted an “opera house,” although that description may have been somewhat exaggerated.
In July of 1879, Chalk Beeson’s orchestra played at the “Fireman’s Fourth” celebration in the New Opera House at the northwest corner of Front Street and First Avenue. Locals most often associate James Kelley with the Opera House, initially because the hall above Beatty and Kelley’s restaurant was used for performances. It opened and closed fairly regularly and Straeter’s Opera House reopened above the restaurant in December of 1881.
The 1884 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows a wood frame saloon and opera house at the northwest corner of First Avenue and Front Street. The address at that time was 223 Front Street. In those days, Chestnut Street hosted the back sides of the businesses.
Mysterious Dave (Dave Mathers) operated the saloon back then. For whatever reason, he shot and killed Marshal Thomas Nixon on July 21, 1884. Nixon had shot at Mysterious Dave the week before, but the cause of the dispute remains…a mystery.
Dr. T. L. McCarty planned a new opera house and skating rink on Second Avenue between Walnut and Spruce Streets in early 1885. That was a very good thing because the Beatty and Kelley building burned in November of 1885.
James Kelley hired Weston and Trost to design a beautiful new opera house that would take up the entire parcel with frontage on First Avenue. The door to the upstairs opera house was at the west end of the building on Chestnut Street.
Weston and Trost also designed the Union Block just to the west.
The 1887 Sanborn Map shows a brick opera house taking up the entire west side of First Avenue between Front and Chestnut streets with the stage and scenery at the south end of the second floor. The main floor housed five storefronts from 705 to 709 First Avenue. This was before staggered odd and even street numbers. There were also businesses in the basement rooms.
W. J. Fitzgerald bought the opera house in July of 1898 but it turned out to be a quick flip.
The following month, Fitzgerald sold the building to former Dodge City Mayor, Adolphus Gluck for a modest profit.
Here’s a photo my great-grandmother had in the Beeson Museum collection:
Although the ordinance passed years before, the block was finally renumbered in April of 1909 and the storefronts were found at 401 to 409 First Avenue. The 1911 Sanborn shows both the old and new street numbers.
In February of 1912, Gluck hired an architect to make some design changes which included plans for a new roof. Before those plans could be finalized, the building burned to the ground. An explosion occurred in the early morning hours of March 10, 1912 and witnesses reported seeing the roof of the building blown several feet in the air.
Gluck hired architect Reuel A Curtis to design the new building that summer. Kansas building codes had changed and new opera houses were prohibited above the ground floor. Gluck believed that Dodge could no longer support a dedicated opera house so he instructed Curtis to design a commercial building instead.
However, Gluck abandoned his original plans in October of 1912 when it was determined that the west wall of the building, which was the only one remaining, couldn’t handle the load of the new structure in addition to supporting Carrie Bainbridge’s building next door to the west. Gluck immediately put up For Sale signs on the lot.
Ultimately, the opera house replacement was designed to rest on a steel framework rather than on the walls and the For Sale signs were removed.
L. L. Taylor leased the northeast corner for his offices in September of 1913. This was the same spot he occupied prior to the fire. Hiram T Burr and Walter L Bullock followed in October.
The Santa Fe Railroad offices moved to Gluck’s building in March 1914 and occupied 15 rooms on the second floor.
The Bedell and Son Jewelry store moved to the spot at 203 West Chestnut Street in April of 1914.
H. W. O’Neal opened the Past-Time Barber Shop and Confectionery at 403 First Avenue in June of 1914.
Ross King and Jack Thomas opened the King-Thomas Tailoring Company at 201 West Chestnut Street the same month.
Frank Bangs bought the Bedell jewelry store in January of 1915. His brother, Ross, moved to Dodge to manage the store.
Bangs and Company went on to operate several locations in Kansas.
In October of 1915, the King-Thomas Tailoring Company became The Fashion Shop. Frank Finklestein took Ross King’s place in the partnership.
The Fashion Shop was sold in July of 1916 and it became the Sample Clothing Company.
Jack Thomas continued his tailoring and dry cleaning business in another location. Sample Clothing Company was owned by J. B. Fractman and managed by W. B. Appell. The new store opened on July 22, 1916.
The barber shop changed hands a couple times and expanded to include a smoke shop with billiards and snacks.
William Warshaw of Kansas City arrived in Dodge in March of 1917 when he purchased the Sample Clothing Company. Appell continued managing the store, which reopened under new management on March 17, 1917.
The 1918 Sanborn is the earliest available online to show the new fireproof building.
Around May of 1919, Sample Clothing Company became Warshaw’s Clothing Store.
Taylor and Millikan had moved to the Cochran Building at Central and Chestnut by 1920. The smoke/barber shop continued its revolving door of owners and was refinished in white enamel in 1920.
The Amy Supply Store moved to the corner space at 401 First Avenue in 1923.
The 1926 Sanborn shows an added street address of 202 Front Street. In the post card below it looks like there’s a door at the west end along Front Street which could possibly coincide with that number.
Warshaw’s moved to the corner of Second Avenue and Walnut Street in October of 1930. Dodge City Music Company moved into their old space at 201 West Chestnut Street.
The 1932 Sanborn shows a couple awnings had been added along First Avenue and Front Street.
By 1937, the spot at 201 West Chestnut was occupied by the Lore China Shop but I was unable to find any additional details. At some point, the second floor was remodeled into apartments.
In this post card from around 1938, you can see the building hadn’t changed much.
Argus Natural Gas Company occupied the spot at 201 W Chestnut by 1942. At that time, it appeared the storefronts on First Avenue were both vacant.
By 1947, Farm Electric Supply Corporation was located at 401 First Avenue and the Club Bar was next door at 403. Argus Natural Gas had become People’s Natural Gas.
Ross Bangs died in 1951 followed by Frank in 1952. Frank’s son was Frank Simrall Bangs and he continued the family business.
By 1953, Howard and Bessie Sanders had opened Sanders Liquor Store at 401 First Avenue. 201 West Chestnut became home to Securities Acceptance Corporation and that’s where my grandmother, Ann (Hemphill) Holladay, worked in 1954.
The apartments upstairs were occupied into the mid-1950s. By 1955, Earl Kay had bought the liquor store and renamed it Kay’s Liquor Store.
Bangs and Co. closed sometime between 1957 and 1959 after operating more than 40 years in the same location.
Remember that little door on the Front Street side? That space was also turned into an apartment and a residential listing popped up in 1959. John J Cox bought the liquor store around 1960 and it became known as Cox Retail Liquor Store.
The former Bangs location was vacant until George King, Jr. opened King’s Boys Wear around 1961. By that time, the upstairs apartments and the apartment on the Front Street side were vacant.
The neighborhood was becoming very seedy and by 1967, the King’s Boys Wear location at what was then 203 West Wyatt Earp Boulevard was vacant, as was the former liquor store spot at 401 First Avenue. The Club Bar Tavern was still holding on, however. The name of the loan company had changed to Associates Finance Company and it was still operating at 201 West Wyatt Earp.
You know what happened next…progress.
The photos below were taken just prior to demolition. The doorway in the middle of First Avenue still looked like something special, even with the building in such a sorry state.
This is how the opera house lot looks today from what would have been the Chestnut Street view:
Pretty much everyone from Dodge hates what happened to downtown during Urban Renewal. The good news is we seem to have learned from our mistakes. I’ve been walking around downtown a lot lately and there aren’t very many vacant storefronts. Remember when your grandparents told you to take care of what you have if you want it to last? It appears the message has finally been received.
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