South Dodge Entertainment Then and Now

My grandmother loved to dance and roller skate. There wasn’t much going on in the area around the Beeson House while Irene was growing up but she could enjoy two of her favorite activities right across the street.

“Jim McDowell opened a dance hall in a vacant garage (large) across the street from our house. 10 cents a dance with live bands, open Wednesday and Saturday nights. Some Saturdays, it would last ’til dawn…known as a Sunrise Dance. The parking lot would be covered with whiskey bottles. Some of the bottles were fancy. I met my first girl friend there. Girls came with their parents. One eve a good-looking young man asked me to dance but I was too shy. Wished later I had.”

Irene Beeson

Jim McDowell was the former Ford County Weed Supervisor who died in 1980. In 1930, he rented a room from my great-grandparents at the Beeson House. Jim’s occupation was listed on the 1930 Federal Census as manager of a public dance hall, working on his own account.

The vacant garage in question was Percy Orval Riley’s Sunnyside Garage, which may have previously occupied a location on South Second Avenue but I’m not completely sure about that. Irene’s best friend while she was in grade school was Florene Riley, who was Percy’s much-younger sister. Incidentally, Florene married Cecil Metcalf and was Barry’s mother, for those of you who are Dodge locals.

The Southwest News, October 29, 1925
The Southwest News, November 5, 1925

The first Sanborn Fire Insurance Map to include the northeast corner of what is now Beeson Road and Sunnyside Avenue was published in 1932. It’s a black and white PDF so I’ve included screenshots of Pages 1 and17 here.

This image from Page 17 is great until you start wondering what the heck Highway 45 was.

The map below kind of made me think it was actually showing McArtor Road (formerly Hwy 56) but it’s definitely what is now Beeson Road. All you have to do is look on a current map at where the railroad tracks cross 14th Street and it’s obvious. Plus, the 1930 Federal Census lists the Beeson House on “Township Highway.” Now we’ve all learned something.

In 1928, Riley Garage was listed on “Beeson Highway” but it moved to a new spot at 613 Sunnyside Avenue, which is where Poor Boy Kustomz is currently located. That building was dark green with white doors for many years, if I remember correctly. Percy and his wife, Alice, lived next door at 615 Sunnyside. The house which occupied that lot has been gone for several decades. His mother, Flora, lived on the other side of the building at 611 Sunnyside. Cecil and Florene (Riley) Metcalf lived a few houses south at 707 Sunnyside. At one point, the Riley family owned all of those lots.

Anyway, the dance hall became a roller skating rink while Irene was in high school (Class of 1940.) I’m not sure if it was ever opened as a public rink or if Irene and her friends just found a way inside and skated on the maple floor. I do remember her saying holes in the roof eventually allowed rain to ruin the floor and their fun. Here she is posing out front along Sunnyside and facing south.

Photographer Unknown

In the background, you can see the porch roof of the house that is still located at 708 Sunnyside Avenue. When I was a kid, I skated at the rink up on the bypass and it had concrete floors so I was amazed when she told me she skated on wood floors. It seemed so sketchy to me for some reason.

There was no business listing there by 1947 and it seems like it was torn down in the 1950s. The lot was really junky for a long time and then someone came in and cleaned it up maybe in the late 1980s or early ’90s. The satellite view on Google Maps still shows a clear outline of the foundation.

Here are a few photos I took recently:

Speaking of skates, I rolled around on these white ones throughout my childhood. Then I carried them around with me from state to state for decades until finally surrendering them to my cousin in their original box. Roller skates are serious business.

Photographer Unknown

Here’s some bonus content. I labeled this photo “skating rink” while Irene was still alive but I was studying the sign a couple days ago and thought I must have been mistaken. It looks like it’s a cafe so why would I think it was a skating rink? Well, if you look between the “CA” and “FOUNTAIN,” you will notice “PUNCH BROWN” in faded letters.

(L to R): Mary Jane Heft, Eleanor Sage, Irene Beeson – Photographer Unknown

That seems kind of weird unless you know that Punch Brown ran a skating rink! He had been undersheriff of Finney County circa 1917 and then relocated to Dodge City. In 1925, he opened a skating rink in the Merchants Pavilion on the west side of Second Avenue at Water Street.

The Southwest News, October 22, 1925

Not to be confused with the Hoover Pavilion, which was built in 1919, the Merchants Pavilion was constructed by the City of Dodge City in 1925 initially to house exhibitors’ booths at the Great Southwest Fair. When Punch Brown converted the building to a skating rink, he also added a separate dance floor. The idea was for the building to be used for dancing and skating during the winter and then booths could be brought back in for the fair each year. The 1926 Sanborn Map shows both pavilions as well as the surrounding structures.

The facility ended up hosting all sorts of events.

The Southwest News, March 25, 1926
The Hutchinson News, May 28, 1927

The City decided to sell the pavilion in 1929 to fund improvements at Wright Park and the fairgrounds. It’s unclear how exactly that transpired but Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Co. was located there in 1937. Mayrath Machinery Company was in this building in 1945.

Dodge City Daily Globe, October 20, 1945

I think Mayrath may have been there a touch earlier because Dodge flooded in 1942 and the Minneapolis Moline sign can be seen in this photo. Someone else will have to decide if that year jives with the cars. That is not my department!

Photo by Red Miller

The building appears to have been vacant by at least 1947. By 1957, the building was home to Nufer-Stremel Used Cars. Now this is how you sell cars!

Great Bend Daily Tribune, August 5, 1958

That business morphed into Nufer-Hutton Used Cars by 1961. I can’t remember ever seeing a building in that spot. It makes me wonder if it was a victim of the 1965 flood.

The Google Maps satellite view makes it easy to see where the building was situated just south of Overhead Door.

Unfortunately, I didn’t grab any photos of this location while I was in Dodge this last time because I had no idea where this post would take me. If anyone knows for sure how the Merchants Pavilion story ended, please leave a comment!

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