Midtown

By Pat O’Connor

Midtown was Wichita’s original neighborhood. In 1869, it held about a dozen buildings, all on Waco between Murdock and 9th Street, belonging to Darius S. Munger. Broadway was then Texas Street, and Market Street was Chisholm. Wichita Street and Waco were named in honor of the indigenous Native American tribes.

Things had obviously changed by the 1950s and ‘60s, the time period covered by the following interviews. They were conducted as part of the Old Wichita Neighborhood Project, in conjunction with Wichita State University library’s Special Collections section.

Pat Fretz

“906 N. Waco was our house. Dad was a cook in World War II. He wanted to get a restaurant going, but he couldn’t make it because everybody just wanted a nickel and dime cup of coffee. 

“I went to Park School from kindergarten to sixth, and I went to Central Intermediate. I had to walk a mile to Central, and that got pretty cold for a 12-year-old girl. I couldn’t wear pants back then. I like to froze to death at Park School. We had our patrol that would hold the signs [at the crosswalk] and at the end of the year we go to the Forum. You got prizes and candy bars. All three of us were in the safety patrol. The kids would go across Main Street right at the corner of the playground. There was a little candy place and an older couple owned it.”

 “On Waco where we lived, there were big houses with rolling porches. Down at Murdock and Waco, (former Park Board commissioner) O. J. Watson lived. There was a big rose garden behind his house you could see from across the river. We three kids, all steppingstones, worked for him. O.J. had a full-time nurse and I would help with the laundry which mostly was putting it away because they had the laundry done. I helped in the kitchen, and my brothers, they brought firewood. O.J. had a beautiful house with water fountains … It’s gone now — all that’s gone. He had the most beautiful blue carpet you ever saw; went up a winding staircase. He had a boathouse on the river.

“Urban renewal took the whole block, tore all those beautiful houses down with the big pillars and everything. It hurt a lot of people. Some of the people couldn’t afford to move and some people didn’t believe it would happen. They said ‘They are not going to come and get my house—I’m going to stay right here.’” 

“Down at the corner at 940 N. Waco, there was a Mobil gas station (that) had a red horse on the sign. Across the street was old lady Fay’s store. They lived above the store. There was a grocery store. A little ways from that was the barbershop and a shoe shine shop, and then on Ninth Street, there was a shoe repair shop with the liquor store in front of it.

“At 13th and Waco, used to be a drugstore and inside the drugstore there was a photo place. I had my picture taken there when I was 14 when I went into Rainbow Girls. My father was a Mason. It was a big building on Broadway and 18th. You had to climb about 40 steps to get to the hall and the Masons had their meeting there, too. Back on Waco, was that Lutheran Church. In back of the grocery store, there was a taxicab place. There was a cleaners on Murdock.

“There was a hardware store on Main—Neal Hardware. They had anything you wanted. When I walked down to Broadway, I went on Ninth Street past where black people used to live. There was a black-and-white church there where you could hear them sing. The minister lived behind us. There was a Safeway store there on Main (that) had wooden floors. We would go there once in a while.

Paul Babich

“I grew up in the 1300 block of North Emporia, right across the street from the Pratt-Campbell house. When I was a kid, it was a care home for men. They sold it and Gary Porter (Wichita mayor, 1975-75) and his family moved in.

“When it was a care home, one lazy Sunday afternoon, we heard this tremendous boom. One of the big red chimneys had collapsed on the Campbell house. So, they trimmed all the chimneys down. Another time, Gary Porter’s Jaguar fell into the cistern. Nobody knew it was there. The soil just weakened.

“There were four boys and four girls in my family. There was a boys’ bedroom and a girls’ bedroom. My father was a maintenance man at St. Francis Hospital for 40 years. He could walk to work.” 

Cathedral School was attended by many of the interviewees. Bishop Mark K. Carroll was the fifth Bishop of Wichita, 1947-1963. He received the Brotherhood Award from the Conference of Christians and Jews in 1951.

“A lot of kids went to Cathedral Grade School with us. We’d get together and play all kinds of games, play army, cowboy. Growing up in Midtown was great. We could ride our bikes anywhere. We were close to downtown, the Orpheum or Wichita Theaters; go to Innes’ and ride the escalator; Kress’s, Woolworth’s, Grant’s. 

“Bishop Carrol, we all loved him. He didn’t like it that the Catholics and Shriners were at odds with each other, and he made it a point to build the bridges between them. He would always buy a whole bunch of tickets to the Shriners circus, and come to the grade school and give them to the kids. I got to see the circus about every year at the Forum.”

“My grandfather was from Croatia. He saw enough of war and the bickering in the Balkans. He thought ‘We need to go to America.’ He came to America by himself in 1918, and was on his way to California on the train when he got sick. The people on the train didn’t want him on it, and when the train stopped in Wichita, they told him ‘Go up the street. There’s a hospital that the nuns have. They will take care of you.’ He was in the hospital for a week, got the bill for $8.00. He couldn’t pay it. ‘I’ll work it off.’ They said okay. They liked his work and they kept him for over 40 years. When he got up enough money, he brought our family over here—1924.”

Pat O’Connor hopes to conduct 100 interviews for the Wichita Old Neighborhood Project. He can be reached at wichitalitsoc@gmail.com or
(316)832-0309.

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