Wichita’s Delano district will be featured on The Travel Channel Friday and we decided to take a closer look at the historic neighborhood that had a reputation for hosting some of Wichtia’s wilder establishments.
Delano was an independent township when it first developed in 1872. Cowboys from the Chisholm Trail drove cattle to the railroads in Wichita and business sprung up to cater to the young cowboys.
“This was out on the plains, you didn’t have as much laws and order,” says Jay Price, the Director of the Public History Program at Wichita State University. “Your standard cowboy is going to be in his teens and twenties. Picture someone of the frat boy age. They have been working hard. Give them a little bit of money, give them lots of alcohol, stuff’s gonna happen.”
Delano was the scene of prostitution, gambling and saloons. While Delano didn’t belong to Wichita, the city was happy to issue fines on the activities.
“You’re not supposed to have it but we’ll tax it, we’ll turn a blind eye to it because it brings money in,” says Price.
But the golden days in Delano came to an abrupt end four years later, in 1876, when a quarantine line was issued because of a disease that was affecting cattle. The line was moved back to Dodge City and driving cattle east of Dodge wasn’t allowed unless they were moved by train.
As the cowboys dwindled, Delano settled back to its agricultural roots and became part of Wichita in 1880 according to Scott Knebel, the Downtown Revitalization Manager for the city of Wichita. He says some people began to refer to the area as West Wichita. Additionally, a statewide law prohibiting alcohol in 1881 wiped out saloons.
New buildings began to spring up in the area and Delano became the home of Garfield University, what is now known as Friends University.
“Garfield is sort of the anchor of that neighborhood of the 1880’s and that speculative development boom,” says Price.
Another developing force was the settlement of the Lebanese community in Delano. Price says N.F. Farha came to area in the late 1890’s. By the 1930’s many Lebanese became merchants, opening grocery stores in the area.
By the 1950’s businesses began to leave Delano. Many Lebanese moved their businesses further to the west and across the river.
In 1958, the city was rezoned and made much of Delano an industrial and multiple family housing district even though the area had been almost all single family homes for decades, according to Knebel.
“It was problematic because you can see that much of the Delano district was originally single family neighborhood,” said Dave Barber from the Wichita Metropolitan Planning Department. “People were having a hard time selling their property, getting loans and mortgages.”
In the 1990’s, a group of residents and clergy in the Delano district asked the city to consider revitalizing the neighborhood.
The city developed a plan and has completed several of the steps, including improving neighborhood overlay district and design guidelines. The area was also rezoned to reflect the existing and future use of the neighborhoods.
Knebel says there are still a number of plans for the Delano district, including adding University Avenue historic streetscape enhancements and park and recreation (bike trail) enhancements.
He says one of the biggest challenges remaining is developing an urban village for Delano. The goal is create a distinct neighborhood for locals that has a unique culture.
James Gates, a Delano resident since 2000, says Delano is moving in the right direction.
“I’ve always been a little bit more urban-centric,” says Gates. “I’ve always liked the idea of living in the downtown area and this is just right across the river from it. Plus Delano is one of the neighborhoods in town that is on its way up.”
The Travel Channel will will air an episode of "The Dead Files" featuring a home in the Delano district tonight at 9 p.m. on cable channel 68.