Keeper of the Plans

Then and now: See how Wichita has changed over the past century

Before and after photos of Wichita

Historical photos alongside new photos of Wichita buildings. Photos courtesy of the Wichita Sedgwick County Museum. (video by Jaime Green / The Wichita Eagle )
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Historical photos alongside new photos of Wichita buildings. Photos courtesy of the Wichita Sedgwick County Museum. (video by Jaime Green / The Wichita Eagle )

Drive through downtown Wichita today and you’ll see lots of new projects under construction, with yet more in the plans.

It’s a bustling place, with projects along Douglas Avenue drawing much of the revitalization efforts of the past decade or so.

Maybe someday it will look like it did 100 years ago.

With the aid of an online tool that allows users to juxtapose photos alongside each other, we’ve taken a look at five historical scenes in and around the downtown area from the last 100 years, as a way to celebrate a belated Kansas Day and see how much (or in some cases, how little) things have changed.

The comparisons are made possible by the Wichita Photo Archives, an online collaboration between the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, Wichita State University and the Wichita Public Library.

Have suggestions for future side-by-side comparisons? Let me know at mriedl@wichitaeagle.com and we may opt to create more of these historical juxtapositions in the future.

A Riverside boathouse

This view is looking east across the Little Arkansas River near Riverside Park. In the late 1890s, the Riverside Boat Company constructed what came to be known as the Riverside Boathouse near Murdock and Waco, which rented boats and small watercraft to the public. The boathouse was a popular destination until it was demolished during an “urban renewal” effort in 1968. The memory of the Riverside Boathouse lives on in Wichita, though it’s now adjacent to the Hyatt Regency Wichita. A 1920s-era boathouse was renovated in the 1990s to replicate the Riverside Boathouse, and today that building is a popular rental facility that also serves as the home of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.

The now-extinct Miller Theater

This photo, taken in 1966, shows airmen from McConnell Air Force Base attending a film at the Miller Theater, 121 N. Broadway, a site now occupied by a parking garage. The Miller Theater was a single-screen theater that opened in 1922. It closed in 1970 and was demolished in 1972 to make way for the then-Fourth National Bank parking garage and mini-bank that still exists on the site today.

East High School

It’s been nearly a century since Wichita East High School was constructed and little has changed about the facade of the building, though additions have been made over the years. The building, constructed from 1922-1924, was designed by architect Lorentz Schmidt, to replace the original Wichita High School at 324 N. Emporia — a building which is now an apartment complex, The Flats 324. Its architectural style is considered modified Collegiate Gothic.

Parade on Douglas

This view is looking east in the 300 block of Douglas Avenue, with the old photo being taken July 8, 1924. The group parading is identified as the “Rorabaugh Pioneers” (employees of Rorabaugh Dry Goods Company), who are celebrating the annual Rorabaugh Employees Company Picnic — which merited a parade on Douglas. Businesses along Douglas that are visible in the old photo include Innes Cosgrove Music, Midwest Insurance Company, Toy Land, Orr’s Book Store, Newark Shoe Store, J. W. Jenkins & Sons Music Company, Western Pacific Tea Company, Wichita Hotel, and Eaton Hotel — which still exists as an apartment complex today.

Kansas Gas & Electric

Some things downtown haven’t changed all that much. This building was originally constructed in 1954 as the headquarters for Kansas Gas & Electric (which later was merged into Westar Energy). The utility company operated out of the building until the 1990s. In the last decade, Mike Ramsey’s Bokeh Development underwent a major renovation of the building to create what’s now known as The Lux, a luxury apartment complex that opened in 2013. On the first floor, Candela at the Lux is a popular location for weddings and other event rentals.

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Matt Riedl covers arts and entertainment news for the Wichita Eagle and has done so since 2015. He maintains the Keeper of the Plans blog on Facebook, dedicated to keeping Wichitans abreast of all things fun.

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