605 First Avenue
I can’t believe I’ve never noticed something that is so fascinating about this otherwise boring building. Everyone says it dates back to the 1950s but I recently saw something much older hiding in plain sight. To show you how I got there, let’s go back to the beginning.
The original Dodge City Telephone Company was formed on January 16, 1886. The City granted a franchise in June but that didn’t mean it would be operational any time soon. In fact, the business registration expired. In February of 1888, Ford County Republican reported “The Dodge City Telephone Company will soon be ready for business.” There were many false starts and at least one motivated citizen took matters into his own hands, building his own poles and a local line.
The same “soon” story was repeated in December of 1899 but this time it was real.
The original telephone exchange in Dodge City was located inside the Bee Hive at Second Avenue and Chestnut Street.
The phone company was sold to Dr. Sharp of Larned in July of 1902. He relocated the exchange over Tiefenbach Jewelry at 213 West Chestnut Street. L. J. Pettijohn then bought the exchange in October of 1904. Pettijohn sold the company in February of 1906 and the new Dodge City Telephone Company was officially formed on March 5, 1906. Pettijohn retained stock in the new company and remained on the board.
Arkansas Valley Telephone Company bought the Dodge City Telephone Company in February of 1912.
Plans were immediately underway to build a new exchange and office building. Initially, the new structure was to occupy the lot directly west of the Masonic Temple on the south side of Walnut Street. Ark Valley actually purchased that lot in March of 1912 for $2,500. The plan quickly changed, however, and Ark Valley bought the lots along First Avenue on the north side of Walnut Street.
The house located just north of the monument works was used as housing for exchange operators. It was assumed this arrangement would be very temporary but the phone company told Dodge City they would have to raise rates to cover the new building and equipment. The City told Ark Valley they could provide adequate services with the current setup and no new building was required.
In other drama, my great-grandmother and some of her coworkers went on strike in March of 1913. No one likes a tattle-tale.
Management decided they only wanted to hire local Dodge City girls as replacements!
Beth and Merritt were married that month so I doubt she gave Miss McBee another thought. Especially since Miss Daisy was driven back to her home in Independence later that year. Local girls, indeed!
Anyway, about that new exchange building. Ark Valley continued negotiations with the City for several months. It was learned in October of 1913 that the Dodge City operations were controlled by a Bell subsidiary in Missouri. The Missouri-Kansas Telephone Company owned approximately 17/30ths of Ark Valley stock.
An agreement was finally reached in November of 1913 and Ark Valley immediately ordered materials for the line improvements. They were trying to get the underground lines installed before the ground froze. Architect W. C. Davis finalized the building plans in March of 1914 and construction began in April.
This article goes into the intricacies of the old and new telephone systems, if you’re interested in that sort of thing. They lost me at “magneto.”
This is how the new building appeared in 1914 before the window awnings were added.
The new building with its modern exchange system was formally opened on December 2, 1914. The following spring, Ark Valley created a park with ornamental landscaping at the northwest corner of First Avenue and Walnut Street. Dodge City’s first school had once occupied this corner.
I find it wildly amusing that “Hello” was considered an obsolete greeting in 1917. Personally, I think we should have stuck with Alexander Graham Bell’s “Ahoy!”
The 1918 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows the fireproof Arkansas Valley Telephone Company at what was then 609 First Avenue. You will note this map (and each subsequent Sanborn) incorrectly shows 1913 as the year of construction.
Southwestern Bell Telephone Company took over the Dodge City exchange on August 1, 1918.
The Dodge City property was formally transferred to Southwestern Bell Telephone Company in November of 1920.
This photo of Ida Beeson holding my grandmother was taken around 1925 outside the Chalk Beeson Theater and you can see the Southwestern Bell Building in the background.
A bell-shaped granite marker was placed in the park in 1927 to commemorate Dodge City’s first school. The park was apparently quite lovely.
A building permit was issued on May 9, 1929 for a $14,000 building expansion.
This photo which was published in 1931 appears to have been taken prior to the expansion…and prior to the window awnings. It’s very dark but you can make out a bit of the park to the left.
The 1932 Sanborn shows the new addition at the west end of the building. You will notice the map says the addition was built in 1927 but this appears to have been a penmanship issue.
Another building permit application was approved on August 26, 1952 for the construction of a two-story addition on the south end of the original building all the way to the corner of First and Walnut.
This excavation photo facing northwest shows the 1929 addition to the back of the Southwestern Bell Building.
Construction was well underway by the Spring of 1953.
This photo was taken from the front door of the original building looking south.
The plaque which had been affixed to the bell-shaped granite schoolhouse marker was attached to the new addition and can still be seen on the south wall at First and Gunsmoke.
Remember what I said about the assertion that this building only dates back to the 1950s?
A building permit application was approved on August 10, 1954 to remodel the front of the original building to match the new addition. They planned to “remodel front of old building with yellow brick to match new building. Going to take door out completely on east side and put in small windows. Will remove step. Will build partitions for new bathrooms & lounge. Will put in a tile floor.”
This article is just dead wrong. There is nothing pleasing to the eye on the west side of this block. Nothing.
So there! Remember Marisa Tomei’s testimony in “My Cousin Vinny?” That’s basically me right now. Totally vindicated! Many thanks to the City of Dodge City for finding those permits.
Southwestern Bell expanded their building again in 1974, this time to the west. I covered the life and death of the Crown Theatre in this post.
The construction of the new addition was one thing but the installation of the equipment was quite another! It was an extremely lengthy process and the open house was finally held in January of 1976.
Southwestern Bell Company acquired AT&T in 2005 and the company’s name was changed to AT&T, Inc.
Most of the windows in the 1950s addition were updated to match those installed in the 1970s but they skipped the original building. If you walk by, you can still easily spot the windows from the 1950s remodel, when the original building was modified. And you can still see the red brick addition to the west, hiding in plain sight.
My discovery in photos:
I’ve gone past this building a fragillion times and never once noticed what was right there for anyone to see. Get out and explore your hometown. I promise you it’s full of surprises.
UPDATE: Here’s a photo I received showing a bit of the park located at First and Walnut. If anyone knows who took it, please let me know and I’ll give them proper credit.
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