William "Dutch Bill" Greiffenstein, circa 1878.
History of Century II
Home of William Greiffenstein (1871-1910)
In 1871, William "Dutch Bill" Greiffenstein built his 2-story home on south Water Street, at the site where Century II Performing Arts & Convention Center now stands. For many years it was the largest house in Wichita.
Dutch Bill was an Indian trader and established his first trading post in 1865 along the Cowskin Creek. (The site is now Eberly Farms at 13111 W. 21st.)
Dutch Bill earned the title "Father of Wichita" and as one of the founders, he was instrumental in financing the development of Douglas Avenue as Wichita's commercial center. He had stiff competition from Darius Munger, who built Wichita’s first residence at 9th and Waco. In 1870, they agreed to combine their plats to create a single township.
Dutch Bill gave away alternate plots on Main Street to stimulate retail growth toward Douglas Avenue. He also financed the Douglas Avenue bridge which allowed easy access to Douglas Avenue making it the major business thoroughfare.
Greiffenstein served as mayor from 1878 to 1884 and William Street is named in his honor.
When the real estate boom of the 1880s ended, so did his fortune. He died at the home of his in-laws in Indian Territory in 1899.
The house was probably destroyed around 1910 to make room for the Forum. In 1993, the Wichita Historic Preservation Board placed a bronze plaque at the former location. The plaque is located near the Bob Brown Expo Hall entrance.
Greiffenstein's home on south Water Street.
Bronze plaque in front of Bob Brown Expo Hall marking location of former site.
The Forum (1911-1965)
Located at 231 S. Water between William and English, The Forum operated as Wichita’s primary auditorium, convention center, performance arena, and exposition hall from 1911 to 1965.
The Forum officially opened in 1911 with only the first section completed on the south end. By 1918, the Exposition Hall and Arcadia Theater on the north end had been completed. At the time the Forum was built, other proposed names for the facility included Hippodrome, Wigwam, and Wichitorium.
The Forum hosted a range of public events from the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova and the Polish pianist and composer Ignacy Paderewski to circuses and auto shows.
In the height of the 1960s, it was decided that the Forum no longer served its purpose as a civic center. The Forum, along with other 128 unattractive business and industry structures filling the area south of Douglas and between Main and the river, was razed to make room for the new Century II Convention Center.
Looking northwest at intersection of Water & English, circa 1950.
Interior showing banquet setting, circa 1913.
Equestrian competition, circa 1932.
Century II (1969-present)
Completed in 1969 despite the untimely death of its architect John Hickman, Century II Performing Arts & Convention Center was built to commemorate Wichita’s 1970 centennial. The Center was constructed by the city of Wichita with funding help from the Urban Renewal Agency to provide a large and attractive civic center. The Center replaced the old Forum and other deteriorated business structures along the riverfront.
Century II opened its doors for business on January 11, 1969. At the time of its inception, the Center housed Concert Hall, Convention Hall, Exhibition Hall and a theater (which would later be dedicated as Mary Jane Teall Theater on June 29, 1989.) Bob Brown Expo Hall would later be built in 1986. In 1997, the Hyatt Regency Wichita was built and attached to the south end of Century II.
There would be other structures and parks developed to complement Century II such as the Garvey Center north of the Center; and to the east, Finlay Ross Park; and to the west, A. Price Woodard Park.
Named after Wichita’s first black mayor, A. Price Woodard Park would improve the riverbank site of the former William Greiffenstein homestead where Indians had camped in the 1870s when meeting with “Dutch Bill”. The park provides an urban haven of waterfalls and walkways with a view of James Rosati’s freeform sculpture “Wichita Tripodal”.
Century II under construction, 1968.
Bob Brown Expo Hall under construction, 1985.
Finlay Ross Park.