Chalk Beeson Theater Then and Now

This is another building that makes me queasy to even consider. But I will tell you that every time someone wins hundreds of millions of dollars playing the lottery, like nearly everyone else, I think about what I would do if I were in their shoes. Some people waste it all on hookers and blow. I, on the other hand, would spend every last penny turning the Chalk Beeson Theater back into a theater. So basically, I would light all of the dollars on fire and have my heart ripped from my chest with a dull, rusty chisel. Same, same.

Photographer Unknown

First of all, it was “Theater,” not “Theatre.” Zoom in on the sign above. Check out the letterhead below. Merritt wasn’t known for being fancy. And it didn’t take long for the “The” to be eliminated.

“Ida was very worried about [Ote’s] lifestyle [as a professional musician] and convinced Merritt to help him settle down by building a theater and putting Ote in as manager.

Irene Beeson

The newspapers of the day gushed about the brothers’ desire to honor their legendary father but really, it was about trying to keep Uncle Ote in Dodge. I assume this story was Ida’s doing and can only imagine Ote’s face when he saw what they had planned for him.

I laugh every time I see this. Like, you think the Paige is a big deal? Wait til that brand-new Stutz Bulldog Special arrives on the rail in September!

The Dodge City Kansas Journal, February 25, 1915

I’m unsure if it was an assumption on the part of the reporter or a promise made to Merritt and Ida but there was no way Ote was staying in Dodge during construction! He was hired as manager of Thurlow Lieurance’s orchestra, which was engaged in a Santa Fe tour all the way to California in April of 1915 and he was gone for nearly a month. There was a motorcycle promotion tour in June, a trip to Denver, and several orchestra engagements in Kansas City, including an 11-day contract at Electric Park. In mid-October, he was joyriding around Kansas City in his new Stutz with Al Jolson.

The Dodge City Daily Globe, October 23, 1915

Managing the theater construction was all on Merritt. You may remember that Merritt had a sand pit and he made his own concrete blocks to build his house south of town. By April of 1915, 3,000 of the 17,000 blocks needed to construct the theater had been made. The building permit was issued in May and the wood frame structure (built by Henry Sturm) that had been on the site for about 30 years was torn down on May 28. The 1911 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows how the site looked prior to demolition.

Excavation began immediately. By July, the walls were going up and a gasoline engine was attached to a mechanism used to haul the concrete blocks up to the masons.

The concrete balcony was poured in August. I have no idea what happened to them but I remember looking at portrait-size photos of the balcony while it was under construction and it was incredible. The steel-reinforced beams were absolutely massive. Merritt built things to last. He and Ote (haha) hoped to have the theater opened by October and employed two shifts of workers but it was just too much work in such a tight timeframe. The concrete roof was completed on September 9, 1915. Work began on interior finishes in October. Sidewalks were poured by mid-November. Here’s how the building appeared on the 1918 Sanborn Map.

According to the newspapers, C. E. Smith was hired to be the first manager since Ote obviously wasn’t going to do it. This could be the same C. E. Smith who managed The Dodge City Abstract Co. and he pulled double duty for a while. But I was looking at box office receipts and I swear they say “E. E. Smith” so I’m not sure. “The Only Girl” was chosen for the theater’s opening and it was headlined by Dodge City’s own Elsie Baird. Elsie credited much of her success to encouragement she received from Chalk as a youngster.

The Dodge City Daily Globe, November 23, 1915

Ote was remarkably skilled at rounding up outstanding musicians to play at events and in military bands. He played with Arthur Pryor’s Band and was able to persuade another Pryor veteran, clarinetist Fred Joste (last name is misspelled in the article below) to play at the opening along with his friends from the Shubert Theater and Colorado Midland Band.

The turnout was excellent despite the crappy weather.

Dodge City Daily Globe, December 17, 1915

My family seriously scrapbooked everything.

Here’s an undated shot of the stage and I can only hope this was for a special production.

Photographer Unknown

In addition to traditional performances, the theater was used for parties, graduation ceremonies, and large meetings. Irene’s older sister, Betty, had her ninth birthday party there in May of 1916.

It’s my understanding that the Chalk Beeson Theater was the first in Kansas to have Pantages Vaudeville.

Dodge City Daily Globe, October 17, 1916

“The first thing I can remember was sitting on the marble ticket slab where Mama [Beth Beeson] sold tickets.”

Irene Beeson
Ida Beeson holding granddaughter Irene Beeson outside the theater in 1923

“That left Merritt with the theater to manage. He [Ote] never took an interest except to play in the orchestra pit now and then. Merritt came out a big loser. So much for trying to help others.”

Irene Beeson

I doubt the arrangement with C. E. (or E. E.) Smith to manage the theater was ever meant to be long-term so Merritt managed it until his retirement in 1923. Wolf Goldstein leased the theater and was one of my grandmother’s favorite people. I’m sure that was completely unrelated to him supplying her with Hershey’s Kisses.

The Dodge City Journal, August 30, 1923

You’ll note there is no mention of Uncle Ote! He transferred his musicians union membership to Los Angeles for more than six months and Ida accompanied him for the winter.

The Dodge City Journal, September 13, 1923

Thanksgiving 1923 (L-R) Knight Hallock, Irene Beeson, Wolf Goldstein, Merritt Beeson, Frank Locke

“Daddy had brought out a Jew from Kansas City to help manage the theater. His name was Wolf Goldstein. The citizens ran him out of town for being a Jew. He bought me my first candy. It was a sack of Hershey’s Kisses from a confectionery across the street from the theater.”

Irene Beeson

By “citizens,” my grandmother meant The Klan.

The Dodge City Journal, April 3, 1924

You think? The shit that was going on in and around Dodge at that time? He was smart not to tell “anyone” but I’m certain Frank and Merritt knew. And what exactly is this next headline referencing with “Among Missing?” Who else disappeared?

The Southwest News, April 4, 1924

What do I mean when I blame The Klan? This…is what I mean. How the H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks did a real-live newspaper accept money for and print this threatening garbage? If you pay attention to the tone of their reporting, it appears they were sympathetic at a minimum.

The Southwest News, June 5, 1924 – emphasis mine

A search through the archives of The Ford Progress also turned up numerous examples of favorable Klan coverage.

Anyway, Frank Locke managed the theater until it was leased to W. H. Harpole in August of 1924. I would say Locke’s management style was legit.

The Southwest News, June 5, 1924

At that point, the Crown, Cozy, and Beeson were all managed by Harpole. It was to be a long-term lease from August of 1924 until November of 1933.

“When I was about three years old, a road show came to town and during one of the performances I was in the back row with my mother listening to the orchestra. As they started to play a very catchy tune, I climbed down and danced down the aisle to the orchestra pit and back. I could not resist. I could hear the people snicker (at least the ones who could see my small body.) This was during intermission of the performance.”

Irene Beeson

Australian May Robson appeared at the Beeson a few times before she hit it big as a movie actress. I remember seeing an autographed photo she had given to Irene.

I believe it was Harpole who booked the 1923 Broadway play “White Cargo” in January of 1926 and it was apparently “not exactly suited to tastes.” That’s because this was one of the first (if not the first) Broadway plays to portray a white man married to a black woman. *Such scandal* The play was based on Ida Vera Simonton’s book, “Hell’s Playground” about an African rubber plantation.

The Southwest News, January 7, 1926

The Southwest News, January 14, 1926

Since Merritt wasn’t managing the theater at this time, I don’t have the box office receipts to see how it did but I found this next piece wildly amusing. Like, burlesque is TOTALLY FINE but an interracial relationship is DISGUSTING? Calm your tits, Ethel. You too, Leroy.

The Southwest News, January 21, 1926

So that’s that.

The theater hosted a ton of boxing matches from about 1924 into the early 1930s. A boxer actually hit his head on the ring construction and tragically died a few days after a match there in 1928.

The Wichita Eagle and The Wichita Beacon Sunday Magazine, April 23, 1967

I’ve mentioned before that E. M. (Ole) Olson was a close friend of Ote’s. In July of 1930, Ole led a concert at the Beeson Theater that was broadcast on the brand-spanking-new KGNO.

The Wichita Evening Eagle, July 1, 1930

But by this time, the building was showing its age. It had only been 15 years but movie technology had advanced rapidly and sound systems were expensive to install…especially after the market crashed in 1929. The Beeson had competition from the new Dodge Theater in the Million Dollar Block just across the street. The Dust Bowl also began in 1930 so things were on a downhill slide.

Since talkies were impossible to show at the Beeson, only live events were held for the next few years. The Little Theater Players of Dodge City presented the play, “Sick Abed” at the Beeson Theater on January 31, 1933 and I think it closed after that show. I believe it reopened under the management of George T. Goodwin in March of 1933 but I’ve seen conflicting dates.

An RCA sound system was installed and the theater reopened in February of 1934 with Goodwin still in as manager. Finally, the Beeson began showing first-run talking pictures. That arrangement was short-lived, though. I’m still unclear about exactly how events transpired but the theater closed again in April of 1934 and foreclosure proceedings were pending. I think Fox Theatres in Kansas City was involved with the lease and there was talk that they were responsible for things going sideways. Either way, Merritt sold the theater in February 1935 and Elmer C Rhoden of Fox Theatres began making plans to remodel the building for storefronts on the main floor with a ballroom on the balcony level.

The Ritz Ballroom opened in December of 1935. I have in my notes the first band was “The Oregonians” and 150 couples attended. The Ritz was also used for sound recording and radio broadcasting.

The Wichita Eagle (Evening), May 17, 1941

During WWII, the Ritz Ballroom was the Dodge City USO Club. Here are some undated photos taken by our friend, Frank Locke:

May Drug Company, Inc. was formed May 1, 1944. Clever! The drug store, which had a very unfortunate phone number, was in the corner spot on the main floor and the sporting goods store was right next door to the east.

Dodge City’s Diamond Jubilee Souvenir, 1947, published by the Dodge City Chamber of Commerce

In 1953, May Drug Co. and May Sporting Goods Co. were the only businesses listed at the old theater.

By 1960, the sporting goods store was vacant. That spot was later filled by Kansas Abstract & Investment Co along with Myers Agency (insurance and real estate) and then Harms Music Co. (owned by Lily E Harms) in 1967. In 1967, the ballroom was mainly used for recordings, and occasionally for local dramatics and musical offerings.

The ballroom was vacant off and on for several years. For a while, it housed the Demon’s Den. It was later turned into a nightclub and I assure you it takes more than a bit of arson to bring down a Merritt Beeson building. Although tampering with the hydrants was a nice touch.

The Wichita Eagle-Beacon, May 6, 1983

I’m not sure when the main floor was reconfigured to house three businesses but I do remember The Trophy Shop, George Voss, and Studio De Lari being there for a long time. As far as I know, no one tried to deal with the balcony after the arson fiasco.

The last time I was in the building was probably 20 years ago and I was so excited to arrange a tour with the former owner. But man, when I walked inside it was so insanely depressing that I couldn’t wait to leave. Shit brown carpeting and shit brown paneling and shit brown stucco. It was too much. Like, it was bad when I had my senior photos taken at Studio De Lari back in the…never mind when. But the building was neglected and then neglected some more. I didn’t even ask about the balcony area or the basement. I would have liked to see if it was obvious how the floor was installed to be a level surface. I’m not sure if the basement dressing rooms were removed. I assume so.

The good news is the building has a new owner who had it reroofed back in 2020 and it has also gotten a fresh coat of paint. Somewhere along the way, that rickety old fire escape was removed. You know the one that looked like it could fall and kill someone at any moment? Right. Anyway, here’s how it looks now:

If you haven’t already noticed, Google Maps often has glitches in the Street View which allow you to see before and after shots. Click here to see images from 2007 to 2012 mixed in with more recent shots. On the desktop version, you can actually click on the little slider to choose your view. And if you follow the Street View over to the First Avenue side, you can see the fire escape of death and remnants of the Ritz sign as well as the old lighted awning over the door next to the Osage Building.

That was a lot. I may put together a post containing advertisements, contracts, and other promotional items from the theater but there’s just so much! I also have some questions from readers that I need to research. Thanks again to everyone who has donated. I hope you find all of this as interesting as I do!

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!

Donation

Your support keeps the caffeine flowing! Make a one-time donation. Your contribution is appreciated!

$5.00

Dodge City Then and Now: Part IV

It’s really hard to post a side-by-side of an old postcard and a recent photo and just move on to the next one. I end up going down a rabbit hole on each one and want to know everything about everything and then my dog wants to know why he hasn’t eaten yet.

It’s also depressing to look at all the interesting architecture that has been lost so I’m making a point of including buildings we’ve treated well and can still enjoy.

Carnegie Library Building

701 N Second Avenue

No disrespect to the Lora Locke, which I also love, but this is the prettiest building in Dodge. My grandmother, Irene Beeson, took me there several times when I was anywhere from four to nine years old and I remember thinking it was so small. Like, it’s a super cool building but it definitely isn’t large. I remember walking through when it was being renovated prior to opening as the Carnegie Center for the Arts and it just really looked like a lot of work.

That was nothing compared to the work that went into making a public library in Dodge City a thing.

The ladies of Dodge City started working on this *at least* as early as 1905. I would bet the idea was bounced around for quite a while before it became an organized effort.

The Globe-Republican, January 12, 1905

It wasn’t as simple as getting Andrew Carnegie to foot the bill for the building. Municipalities were also required to have a maintenance fund amounting to at least ten percent of the construction cost. That meant winning taxpayer support for a permanent levy. Nothing in the history of the world has changed. People were outraged that the library would be free to use for those who didn’t own property. The letters to the editor were just as intense as the crap you see today and the issue went before voters in 1905.

The Globe-Republican, March 23, 1905

Voters approved the levy and Carnegie agreed to provide $7,500 for construction of the new library, meaning Dodge City had to raise at least $750 for the maintenance fund. Between all the private fundraisers and tax receipts, they were able to raise $850 and Carnegie approved a total gift of $8,500.

The Library Board selected the site of the old “Public School” at the northwest corner of Second Avenue and Spruce Street. Here’s the 1905 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing the school.

Architect CW Squires delivered plans and the Library Board requested bids in August of 1905. My great-great grandfather, Chalk Beeson, was a Kansas Representative at the time and he was never shy about talking up the big things happening in Dodge.

The Journal-Democrat, September 29, 1905

Unfortunately, supply chains happen and construction was delayed several times due to long lead times for materials. The building was scheduled for completion in August of 1906 and then this happened.

The Globe-Republican, August 30, 1906

Even with all of the headaches, construction of the building was completed in September of 1906.

The Globe-Republican, September 27, 1906

That may have been a tiny bit premature. The building was finally turned over to the Library Board in October before electric fixtures were even installed. There was also some interior finishing that needed to be done and the whole thing had to be furnished. They hadn’t even selected a librarian at that time. By the end of November, they were still waiting for the bookshelves to be delivered.

The public was “expected” to attend the grand opening in February of 1907 and they were still waiting for the actual books to be delivered. People had donated hundreds of books but that wasn’t going to cut it.

The Journal-Democrat, January 25, 1907

The first librarian was Iva Nelson and her salary of $30 per month included janitorial services. Library hours were 9:00 am to 9:00 pm.

Here is the 1911 Sanborn map showing the library building. Information about Carnegie Center for the Arts can be found here.

Dodge City Milling and Elevator Company

300 Second Avenue

You’ll note in the photo I took a couple weeks ago, the most recent retaining wall and ramp are still there. Yes, I’m old enough to remember when things were happening there and being a passenger in a truck driving up that ramp seemed like the scariest thing in the world. I’m not sure if I was even in kindergarten yet and it just seemed really narrow and steep. Looking at it now makes me laugh.

Construction began in 1907 on a facility that expanded and contracted operations many times over the decades.

The Journal-Democrat, March 8, 1907
The Globe-Republican, March 12, 1908
The Journal-Democrat, August 14, 1908

Here’s the 1911 Sanborn map showing the mill with its rail siding, forge, oil tank, engine, scales, dust collector, etc.

The 1918 Sanborn map is very colorful! Dodge City Flour Mills had expanded quite a bit and was pretty damn high tech.

It’s strange to me that they had a phone number listed in their 1908 advertisement but not in the county or city directories. Even into the 1960s, I never saw a phone number for them listed in a directory.

Etrick’s 1924 Ford County Directory

By 1926, the layout hadn’t changed much but the Sanborn map shows more detail.

It should be no surprise that fire was an ongoing concern due to the dust generated by handling grain and milling flour.

The Hutchinson News-Herald, April 4, 1949

The Wichita Eagle, April 5, 1949
The Northwestern Miller, April 5, 1949

So that last one pretty much said it. They had no plans to rebuild the mill. One thing I found interesting was a report that firefighters were delayed by a freight train. So I guess that means the fire station south of the bridge either wasn’t open yet or wasn’t enough due to the size of the blaze.

I don’t remember why we went there when I was a kid. The door at the top of the ramp was open and people were there doing things. I guess the undamaged buildings were used for warehousing? Not sure if the elevators were used after the fire. It was always just a big behemoth sitting there along the tracks…until it wasn’t.

First Presbyterian Church

803 Central Avenue

My great-great grandmother, Ida Beeson, taught Sunday School here and was instrumental in the building’s construction in 1924. I believe Chalk even taught a class or two at the previous site, which must have been interesting. After Chalk died, Ida bought a house at 705 Central Avenue, which is now part of the Landmark National Bank parking lot. Super convenient for Sundays!

Post Office 

700 Central Avenue

This is another example of a slow process. It’s obvious by looking at the design that this building is relatively new. Construction was completed in 1931 and I still roll my eyes every time I see the name of a Treasury Secretary etched onto a cornerstone. Like, come ON.

But the process began all the way back in 1926, which was a completely different world. At least financially.

The Southwest News, December 30, 1926

In addition to run-on sentences of epic proportions, that last paragraph is a sight to behold. Anyhoo, this gem from 1930 is extremely confusing.

The Dodge City Journal, December 18, 1930

Rather than try to determine how the sausage was made, here are a couple postcards showing the old Weather Bureau building, which was demolished to build the new Post Office.

If you look at the 1926 Sanborn map for the site, you’ll have a better understanding of what all was in play. The jail was next to the Weather Bureau and the new building wouldn’t fit without tearing down the jail as well.

Also, here’s the 1926 Sanborn map showing the Post Office building at 612 Second Avenue which was in use while this debate was taking place.

Prior to that location, the 1911 Sanborn map shows a “PO” at Second Avenue and Walnut (Gunsmoke) Street. I believe that would be the building below.

They finally got the show on the road in March of 1931.

The Morning Chronicle (Manhattan, Kansas), March 7, 1931

I would say this stylish beauty was worth the wait.

Speaking of wait…a minute…please don’t tell me this “modernization” project had anything to do with the soul-crushing paneling that was hung in the box alcove and behind the counter. Gross.

The Salina Journal, May 26, 1964

Next time, I’ll take a look at a couple Dodge City schools. Until then, you can check out Parts I through III below:

Part I – First National Bank Building

Part II – First Baptist Church, Walnut Street, Masonic Temple, First Avenue, and O’Neal Hotel

Part III – Merritt Beeson House

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!

Dodge City Then and Now: Part V

When will this series end? When I say it ends.

Last time, I promised a school post. As a former wearer of the “Proud to be in 443!” merch, I have strong opinions about Dodge City schools. I attended the same elementary school as my mom and my grandmother…Go Bobcats! I even had the same fifth grade teacher as my mom and boy was she surprised by my interest in, well, school.

I’m not getting into all of the historic school buildings because nobody has time for that. Dodge has done a terrific job with some of them. If you contrast the updates/additions at Central Elementary with the tragedy of Lincoln Elementary, it kind of makes your head swim. I don’t want to speculate about motivations but certain areas of town get the good stuff, if you know what I mean.

My intention was to simply admire the architecture but as I started digging into the details, I found the process was very similar to how things work (or don’t) today. We tend to romanticize the past and assume our dysfunction is a modern invention. I don’t know if it will make you feel better or worse but everything was as big of a soup sandwich then as it is now. Get comfortable; this will take a minute.

Dodge City High School

1000 (North) Second Avenue

I understand why this building had to come down but I’m not happy about it. The original high school structure was built in 1914. The 1918 Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows a pretty basic footprint with steam heat and electric lights. I mention this because in 1918, the East Side School (later renamed First Ward School) at Avenue G and East Vine Street still operated with stoves for heat and no lights according to Sanborn.

The 1911 Sanborn map shows dwellings in the 1000 block of Second Avenue.

The 1926 Sanborn map shows a 1916 addition at the back of the lot that didn’t appear on the map in 1918 as well as a large addition on the north end of the building in 1923. That 1923 addition is the reason for the drastically different appearances in the postcard photos above. It wasn’t just a matter of camera angles!

Prior to the 1886-87 school year, all grades were taught in the same school on Boot Hill. That all changed with the new school on the “east side” of town. The article below references Bridge Street as the dividing line, which was later renamed Second Avenue. So when you look at Dodge now, it’s pretty damned central but back then, not so much.

The Globe Live Stock Journal, September 7, 1886

This change meant that all high school students were instructed at the Second Ward School, which was located at Railroad (Central) Avenue and Division Street as shown on the 1887 Sanborn map. The first commencement of Dodge City High School was held June 10, 1887 at McCarty’s Opera House for a graduating class of three students.

Dodge City schools have pretty much always been overcrowded. So two years after sending high school students to the new building, Superintendent Webb announced they would be instructed at the corner of Second Avenue and Cedar Street.

Ford County Republican, August 29, 1888

*record skips* Where? The 1887 Sanborn map shows dwellings and a vacant building at that corner, as does the 1892 Sanborn. The “school room” must have been that vacant building? There were 25 students enrolled in high school for the 1888-89 school year.

The 1889-90 school year was a trip. The original Third Ward School opened in 1880 at the top of Boot Hill was condemned, leaving a bunch of students displaced. So the high schoolers were pushed out of the vacant building and into rooms above Mrs. Beadle’s store.

Ford County Republican, August 28, 1889

According to Robert Marr Wright, the original school cost $6,300 to build and the roof was already leaking a year after completion. After five years, it was braced by rods. High school students were back at the new Third Ward School for the 1890-91 school year.

By the 1898-99 school year, the high school room was packed with 67 students. The idea of forming a county high school had been discussed periodically over the years and my great-great grandfather introduced a bill in the Kansas Legislature in 1903.

The Globe-Republican, February 12, 1903

If any of you remember the ongoing debates in Dodge for decades about building what ended up being that godforsaken abomination they call a high school on Ross Boulevard, then you can imagine the drama leading up to this special election. Side note: I’m still amazed that the brain trust lowered the speed limit on North 14th Avenue to 35 because a new school on that street was a foregone conclusion.

The Bucklin Banner, May 8, 1903

The proposition was defeated and the entire county continued arguing about it until the school board accepted plans for a new building in 1912.

Voters approved the $44,000 bond issue in November of 1912 after finally being convinced the district was losing students to towns like Bucklin and Spearville, which both had dedicated high school buildings with adequate space. The vote tally was 730 for and 214 against. Residents immediately began arguing over the location, naturally. The architect couldn’t create final plans until they decided on a site and needed 60 days lead time to deliver. Meanwhile, the expectation was to have the new building ready for the next school year in September of 1913. Hilarious.

Remember my snark about the speed limit on 14th? The School Board got out over their skis in 1912 and paid $2,000 for a lot at Sixth Avenue and Division Street (Trinity Hospital site) before anything had been formalized. Initially, two sites were under consideration: A lot at Fifth Avenue and Oak Street and the Second Ward School site where Central Elementary is today. As the debate continued, some people wanted the school to be on Boot Hill. In December, the citizens’ committee (because there always is one) suggested a list of eight to ten properties and most of them were on “upper” Second Avenue. By this time, the lot owners had started raising the prices so the City started talking about condemning the properties. Then the board began arguing amongst themselves and people questioned the legality of the Sixth Avenue purchase. See? Nothing has changed!

At their January 22 meeting, the School Board voted to use the lot they purchased on Sixth Avenue and then there was an injunction a couple days later. By March, the Kansas Legislature was determining whether Dodge could vote (again) to build a $60,000 building rather than the $44,000 that initially passed because the architect told them they would have to scale back their plans for the lower amount. There were questions about the legality of the original bond election so all the records went to an auditor in Topeka. The election was declared illegal based on a technicality. By the end of May, the School Board was all about a site at Second Avenue and Vine Street. The special election was scheduled for July 1 and voters were asked to approve $58,000 ($8,000 for land and $50,000 for the school). The location was the W 1/2 of Block 55, in the original townsite of the City and Lot G in Shinn’s Addition. Sigh…FINALLY. Block 55 is the property at Second Avenue and Elm Street.

The Dodge City Daily Globe, June 17, 1913

Clowns! If you think this is a tedious read, imagine being me right now. Voters, clearly having their shit more together than their local representation, approved the new school…again. Site condemnation was completed on October 21 and it was appraised at $9,600…$1,600 more than voters approved for the land purchase. John and Effie Cord owned one of the lots at the site that included a six-room dwelling and they hired an attorney to protest the $2,300 they were offered. They must have worked it out because I never found any evidence this went to court. Bids were requested for people to buy all buildings on the lots and have them removed. On December 11, 1913, bids were requested to finally build the damn thing.

And THEN everyone learned all this fiddlefucking around was making everything more expensive.

These absolute dolts couldn’t find their asses with both hands.

The Dodge City Globe, February 14, 1914

The Board’s expectations are pretty rich considering how long they played grab-ass with this project.

The Dodge City Kansas Journal, March 13, 1914

Because the plans had to be altered to avoid going over budget, the School Board immediately went back to the well asking for more money to build the gym and auditorium. They insisted “a two mill levy for three or four years would supply the necessary fund for completion of the splendid building.” – The Dodge City Daily Globe, March 17, 1914

The election was scheduled for April 7, 1914. The turnout was very light and the proposition passed. Voters must have been as tired of thinking about it as I am. The contractor insisted the building would be complete enough for use in January of 1915.

Students were given an extra week off for Christmas break so they could start the new year in their new school but they were forced to wait yet again. And again. Finally, the four high school grades plus seventh and eighth graders moved in to their new digs in March of 1915.

The Dodge City Daily Globe, March 26, 1915

It’s cool how that $44,000 building voters were promised turned into $85,000. They always get you in the drive-thru.

THE SOU’WESTER, Volume Two, Nineteen Fifteen

The new high school building served Dodge City well as a school and as the headquarters for our school district. Even as its configurations changed over time, it still felt very grand inside. Paneling and small framed-in windows could never completely diminish its impressive architecture.

Next time, I’ll dig into the next Dodge City (Senior) High School. Until then, you can check out Parts I through IV below:

Part I – First National Bank Building

Part II – First Baptist Church, Walnut Street, Masonic Temple, First Avenue, and O’Neal Hotel

Part III – Merritt Beeson House

Part IV – Carnegie Library Building, Dodge City Milling and Elevator Company, First Presbyterian Church, Post Office

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!

Dodge City Then and Now: Part II

My hometown leaned ALL the way in to Urban Renewal and basically ruined the most historic parts of the town. Trends are slow to arrive in Dodge City and by the time our “leaders” started demolishing history, most of the country had already realized this is a piss-poor approach. It’s like sidewalks in Dodge…the people who need to use them don’t and they just assume no one else does either. But thanks for trying to run over the dog and me…really.

This little gem doesn’t go into a lot of detail but sums the situation up quite well. Most questions about Dodge City that begin with “Why” are answered with “Urban Renewal.” Fortunately, lessons have been learned and there is now an appreciation for not only property rights but also history other than the Old West. One day, we’ll talk about Ford County property taxes ruining people’s lives but today is not that day.

Today’s photos are a mix of the good and the bad.

First Baptist Church

This building isn’t particularly old but I grew up looking at it every day of every summer for most of my childhood in jail at Kiddie Corner (with another K?). Anyway, I’m a fan. The postcard colorization on the left is pretty intense. I don’t think grass has ever been that green here.

Walnut Street Looking West from Central Avenue

I’ve entered all of the Dodge City street name changes in Excel because it’s impossible to remember them all. Walnut became Gunsmoke, Chestnut became Wyatt Earp, North and South Front Streets were demolished and now something called Front Street runs through parking lots, etc. and so on. So the postcard on the left is from the 1960s and I took the photo on the right a couple weeks ago. It looks basically the same but the gigantic Masonic Temple on the left wayyyy down the block is long gone. You can still see the old Chalk Beeson Theater (MUCH more on that later) at the end of the block on the left side of *Walnut*. The marquee is missing from the Dodge Theater on the right side of the street but the buildings are otherwise intact until you get to First Avenue.

Masonic Temple

Construction on this marvel began in 1907 and was completed in 1908. There were so many bricks lined up along the street that one of the newspapers ran a piece joking that visitors from out of town asked if they were building the Great Wall of China.

The Journal-Democrat, October 25, 1907

I think the initial cost estimate was around $26,000 but it ended up in the neighborhood of $36,000 and I can only imagine the grandeur of the third floor. They had a special carpet sewn in Kansas City that cost about $4.00 per yard and the room was enormous. The building had no trouble attracting commercial tenants and was in use for several decades.

Etrick’s Directory of Ford County 1920

Here’s the 1926 Sanborn Fire Insurance map. It was a beast!

Why is it no longer there? Urban Renewal! It didn’t survive the 1960s and the land was later donated by former Dodge City Daily Globe publisher (and daughter of Jess Denious) Martha Elizabeth “Betty” Muncy for Eisenhower Park, which was established in 1976.

First Avenue Looking South

Standing in the middle of First Avenue is not an option so it’s difficult to recreate the perspective of the postcard on the left without a drone. That’s clearly the Masonic Temple across First Avenue from the Chalk Beeson Theater and the old flour mill in the postcard background. You can also make out what looks like the old Western Union building behind the theater. Here’s the 1918 Sanborn map for reference.

O’Neal Hotel

Central and what??? Exactly. The parking lot north of the depot looks like a road runs through it because a road used to run through it…all the way east to Avenue B, where it met up with that weird little Chestnut Street jog. Take a look at the 1926 Sanborn map.

The O’Neal Hotel opened in December of 1912 and I can’t think of a better location for the time.

The Dodge City Daily Globe, December 9, 1912

Over time, several buildings were added and can you imagine renting a house of any size for $8.50 per month?

The Dodge City Daily Globe, February 16, 1915

The O’Neal Hotel operated in that spot forever and a day until it, too, was a victim of Urban Renewal. Hotels circle the drain pretty quickly when things start getting seedy and this one was no exception. I’m calling this one a victory, though, because parking in this area would be a nightmare without the City lot.

Next time, I’ll share a real heartbreaker. Until then, you can take a look at Part I.

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑