Preserve America Community:
The City of Wichita, Kansas (population 347,000) was incorporated in 1870 as a village and soon became the Sedgwick County seat. The community grew rapidly as the region’s principal agricultural distribution center for livestock, grain and milling. During a boom in the 1880s, moguls of industry built Queen Anne style mansions, office buildings, and more modest worker’s cottages. During the prosperity of the 1920s, Wichitans built homes in the suburbs and drove their new automobiles to Art Deco commercial buildings downtown.
The local aviation industry began in 1917 when Clyde Cessna, who taught himself to fly in a homemade airplane, arrived in Wichita and began building planes. It became big business by the 1920s, with the founding of the Stearman (later sold to Boing), Beech and Cessna aircraft companies, the “Big Three” aircraft companies that put Wichita prominently on the map. By 1928 Wichita declared itself the Air Capital of the World and proudly promoted itself as an ideal location – being conveniently in the center of the country, and having excellent level terrain and flying weather.
World War II brought thousands of workers to aircraft manufacturing jobs, with a resultant population and housing boom in the early 1940s. By mid-century, the entrepreneurial spirit in Wichita resulted in several other companies that rose to national prominence, including Mentholatum, Learjet, Coleman, Vornado, White Castle, Pizza Hut, and Koch Industries.
Each of these eras can still be seen in the city’s architectural heritage. Wichita has long been aware of the value of its historic resources; the City Council adopted the first preservation ordinance in Kansas in 1975 and the city has seven historic districts and 100 individual structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Downtown revitalization efforts include adaptively reusing historic commercial buildings as housing. Attractions include a Firefighters Museum in a historic Engine House and the Old Cowtown Museum, containing 26 restored historic buildings, costumed interpreters, and hands-on learning about frontier life in the 1870s.
Recently, Wichita’s Municipal Airport Administration Building, an Art Deco treasure built with New Deal funds and in dire need of repair, was renovated by a partnership including the city, federal support including a Transportation Enhancements grant, and the non-profit Kansas Aviation Museum. Now serving as home to the Museum, the rehabilitated facility has seen an increase in visitation, is being marketed as an event venue, and attracts national aviation heritage interest groups that bring tourist dollars to Wichita.
For more information
Wichita Historic Preservation: www.wichita.gov/CityOffices/Planning/Preservation
Old Town Wichita: www.oldtownwichita.com
National Register Travel Itinerary: www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/aviation
Posted April 21, 2009