Friday, August 22, 2014

Wichita....My Past

I have been feeling rather nostalgic of late. If you are a friend of mine on facebook, I am sure yesterdays numerous nostalgic posts made this quite evident. With all the changes I am trying to implement, perhaps I am looking for that one last hurrah with the past, so that I can move forward. Sometimes visiting the past is like a warm and fuzzy feeling on a cold night. You don't really want to be warm and fuzzy forever (at least I don't), but that walk down memory lane sure can be a nice vacation away from reality and the present.

So last night I saw a post about the 16 most missed landmarks of Denver....or something along those lines. At any rate, it got me to thinking about Wichita. Wichita is the city that I grew up closest to. Early on, I lived there and later on, it was the place where we shopped, I worked and for a few months, where I lived again. I played a lot in Wichita, from my late teens on and I have some truly fond memories of one of the smaller cities in America.

Wichita sits in the south central part of the state of Kansas and while it is not the capitol, it is the largest city in the state and the 49th largest city in the country. Wichita has an interesting past of wagon trains, cattle drives and shoot outs, all before it began taking the shape of what it has become today. One of my favorite places to visit in Wichita is the Old Cow Town Museum. It is an outdoor museum made up of some of the original buildings from Wichita's early days. During the summer they have actors take up daily residence there and act out a day in the life of early Wichitans, complete with long dresses, long sleeves and sometimes 100+ degree weather. It is actually an amazing place and if you like history like I do, then TOCTM is a must see if you are ever in these parts.

Growing up in Wichita pre-Michael Soles and pre-Otero murder/BTK, it was an amazing place. In the 1960's and early 70's, people still left their doors unlocked and their keys in their cars, even downtown. My mother would go once a week to the K-Mart on east Kellogg which was also a grocery store and buy a station wagon full of groceries for $50. We had family bbq's, kids played all over the neighborhood and we couldn't wait until school was out every year to take our final grade cards to Joyland Amusment Park and get free ride tickets for our A's and B's.

Joyland was a wonderful amusement park that left a mark on the memories of anyone growing up in the Wichita area between 1949 and 2006, with Louie, the organ playing clown, the Old Woman's Shoe and the pig trash can. There was also the Wacky Shack, where many a teen had their first kiss and the famous wooden roller coaster that was as dangerous as it was fun. Joyland opened Easter Sunday of every year and stayed open until Halloween. It was an exciting place for our little piece of the world and when it closed for good in 2006, due to a lack of funds and an increase in crime and gang activity in the area, it was as if a piece of our childhood had died. Now the park sits deserted, falling apart and according to some......haunted. In fact for years after it closed, many said they could hear Louie playing the old Wurlitzer late late at night. Hmmmm

The amusement park was not the only place we had fun though. As a kid, a huge treat was going to the drive-in. We would get dressed in our pajama's, Mom would make sandwiches and we would head out. We would back our station wagon into the stall, throw down pillows and blankets and we were set for the evening. The first drive-in movie I ever saw was The Jungle Book at the Meadowlark on east Harry St. I loved it! Wichita had it's fair share of drive-ins back in the day: The 54, Sunset, Meadowlark and the Landmark just to name a few, but sadly, only the Starlite currently remains. I am glad to say though, that during drive-in season, that place is still hoppin'!

Downtown Wichita used to be quite a place too. Long before the suburbs brought us Towne East and Towne West malls, we had downtown Wichita. It was an exciting bustling place where everyone did their shopping and you could see housewives in hats, gloves and heels, with a tight grip on their equally dressed up children frequenting places like the Innes Tea Room, The Model and Lewins. We had Macy's, Henry's and Brooks Brothers and of course my favorite place was Woolworth's. Not only did it seem like Woolworth's had absolutely everything, but the best part of all was the lunch counter with the soda fountain. A soda or a sandwich at Woolworth's was really quite the treat.

My all time favorite spot downtown though, was Macy's. Macy's was a multilevel building just like something out of an old black and white movie. You took an elevator to get to whatever department you wanted. As it has been many years since Macy's left Wichita, I don't remember what level was what, but I do remember absolutely loving that store. It still makes me sad to know that it is gone.

As Wichita began to spread out both east and west, keeping up with the times, one of  the first local malls came to be. On east Harry they knocked out another small amusement park called Kiddieland which was basically a Joyland for the 6 and under set and my beloved Meadowlark Drive-in was also sacrificed so that the Harry Street Mall could be built. Being the child of divorced parents, I spent a great many Saturday's and Sunday's at the HSM because my dad didn't know what else to do with us. I spent hours walking the oblong mall past McDonald's Department Store, Hickory Farms, Montgomery Wards, the pet store with puppies on display, Cricket Alley(the most amazing dress store ever) and of course....Orange Julius. HSM also boasted a movie theater where I was privileged to see at least the first two Star Wars movies and maybe even the third. I loved the HSM and it will forever hold a special place in my heart. Sadly, in the mid 1970's HSM began to see the beginning of the end as Towne East Square and soon after Towne West Square were built to anchor Kellogg and draw traffic to the suburbs.

While Towne East meant the slow and steady demise of my beloved HSM, I grew very enamored with TE very quickly. Perhaps it was it's multi-levels, it's shiny new surfaces or maybe it was the fact that I was now of the Mall Rat age and I just loved hanging out in the food court. Whatever the case though, TE won me over and I have been a dedicated fan ever since.

Wichita holds other dear memories for me such as skating on Saturday nights. All us Mulvane kids would load into someones parents car (often my mothers) and we would head out to Joyland Skate, Skate South or Skate East and make the rounds of the rink to the likes of the Bee Gee's and Donna Summer. We ALL ate Italian at Angelo's and the Colonial had the best ice cream soda's around.

When I was old enough to drive (and maybe even a little before), there was Douglas street dragging. Douglas was two or so miles of midtown street where every Friday and Saturday night, kids and car aficionado's from all over the area met and made the round over and over again. On a busy night, it might take two hours to go the two miles. The cars were amazing, the kids were from all over and the music was blaring from car speakers up and down the strip. It was the cheapest and some of the best spent moments of my teen's and early 20's. But like everything else, it only takes a few bad apples to spoil it for everyone. Gangs became a bigger presence in the area and since the decline of the downtown shopping area with the mall boom, the city decided they wanted to renovate the area and thus ended dragging on Douglas in the early 1990's.

Wichita was an amazing place back in the recesses of my mind. There were pony rides at Watson park and the "original" zoo at Riverside Park. We ate at places like Angelo's, Portobella Road, the Lazy R, Howard Johnson's, The Old Weigh Station and Shakey's Pizza. We partied at Pogo's, Backstage, Bubba Rocks, Johnny Rockets, The Rattlesnake Club, the Fireside and the Cowboy. We shopped at Macy's, Lewin's, Henry's, the Model and my all time favorite....Cricket Alley. We watched football at Cessna Stadium and went to the Coliseum for everything. We had the Twin Lakes Mall and the Harry Street Mall, drive-in's galore and bowling alley's all over town. We were the Air Capitol of the world with Cessna, Beech, Boeing and Learjet. We had Wichita State University for higher education and with Century II and the Wichita Art Association we kept up with the culture and refinement of the times. To those from the St. Louis's, Oklahoma City's and other big cities, Wichita might not have seemed like much in it's growing years, but to the locals, it was bursting with activities, shops and it's own little midwestern culture and I hold it fondly in my heart.

So there you have nostalgic stroll down memory lane into a time, mostly forgotten and yet it still holds a special place inside me. Now I will carefully take these wonderful places and times and fold them neatly and tuck them away until another day when a wave of nostalgia hits. Until then though, I move forward knowing that each and everyone of these memories, made me who I am today.


Anonymous said...

I <3 Wichita!

bardellisgirl said...

My mom was born there and moved to california when she was 13 in 1967. I really love reading about it. My mom is in heaven now and this gives me a window to where she was from. Her entire side of the family is from that area as well.

Dave R said...

I managed The Mall on Harry St back in '74 -75. That list of store names brought back many fond memories. It was an exciting place to be in those days

julie.k said...

Great memories! Many the same as mine..i love the facebook group "wichita History from my perspective" great stuff!

Kelly Sprague said...

I am from Hutchinson and we would always go (and still do ) to Wichita for shopping and dining. Early 70's it was Twin Lakes, Harry Street Mall , Kmart . Then later Towne East. Went to Joyland with report cards for rides.My husband went to Pogo's for his bachelor party. Didn't go downtown much, but did go to Woolworth's and Macy's.Never got to shop at Sgt. Peppers Parlor or Jeans Unlimited.Still go to the Starlite occasionally. Loved Cricket Alley ! There was also the ice cream parlor in Towne East , and our dad would take us to Mr. Dunebakers Deli for hot dogs. Tiffany's and Orange Julius in Harry Mall. Rocky Horror at Pawnee Plaza Mall(Now a huge Walmart) They are now working on east Kellogg by Webb. I think it has been under construction my whole life! Enjoyed your post.

Linda Kallai said...

Thank-you, i enjoyed your very well written description of Wichita. I grew up at the heart of Olver and Douglass. Wichita will always has a special place in my heart.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this. I also enjoyed all the memories that came rushing back about Wichita.