Past And Present: The Life of a Wichita Intersection

Apr 22, 2014

I recently had the privilege to lead two walking tours along Douglas Avenue. Many were amazed at how much the center of Wichita has changed.

A photograph of Douglas and Main from 1870 shows a few wood structures and tents in the middle of a grassy plain. Two years later, according to one recollection, the intersection “clanged with the noisy spurs of Texas cowboys and Mexican ranchmen” and “a brass band played from morning to far into the night on a two-story platform raised over the sidewalk.”

By the late 1800s, Leopold Hay’s two-story brick New York Store dominated the northeast corner. The northwest quadrant, once home to the notorious gambling house of “Keno Corner,” gave way to a more respectable set of banks, as did the southwest corner. The ornate Eagle Block anchored the southeast.

Henry Wallenstein and Charles Cohn began business in a store in the Eagle Block. In 1907, they tore down that structure to build their imposing Boston Store. By 1911, the site of the New York Store had become the 10-story Schweiter Block.

In 1922, the First National Bank of Wichita dedicated its massive building on the northwest corner. On the southwest, the Central Building was completed in 1929.

Since then, these spaces have undergone changes. The Boston Store became Hinkel’s department store. When that closed, the building underwent a complete facelift, although a Boston Store ghost sign still survives on an east-facing wall.

In 1968, the Central Building received a new name, Century Plaza, and new stucco skin. A similar plan for the Schweiter Building never materialized. Only Intrust Bank on the northwest corner hints at a once vibrant commercial and financial hub.