Then and Now: Mentholatum Building
NOTE: On November 19, 2005, the Kansas Historic Sites Board of Review nominated the Mentholatum Company Building to the Kansas and National Register of Historic Places "for its architectural significance as a U. G. Charles design and for its association with A. A. Hyde, who founded the internationally known Mentholatum Company."
The Mentholatum Building was built at the corner of Douglas and Cleveland for the newly incorporated Mentholatum Company in 1909. It was Wichita’s first reinforced concrete building and was polychrome instead of the familiar white decorating it today. The structure served as the international headquarters and factory for the manufacture of the world famous “Little Nurse for Little Ills” — Mentholatum.” However this was not the first home for the Metholatum Company. It operated out of a three-story brick building at 1213 E. Douglas prior to the construction of the present building.
The owner, Albert A. Hyde, came to Wichita in 1872 as a banker and speculated in real estate. Like many another Wichita businessman, the crash of the Wichita real estate boom in 1887 left him in tough financial conditions. In order to support his family, he formed a partnership to manufacture soap from the yucca plant. In 1889, the partnership took the name of the Yucca Company, and in 1890 Hyde bought out his partners.
He also experimented with a salve, made from menthol and petrolatum, that he called Metholatum. It proved such a success that in 1906 he dissolved the Yucca Company and created the Metholatum Company. It made him a very wealthy man. In 1937, the company expanded worldwide and moved its headquarters to Buffalo, New York.
Since 1937, the Metholatum Building has served as a social welfare office, technical college, thrift store and is presently home to the Spice Merchant café. Although it maintains much of its original appearance and has suffered little alteration, it is on none of the historic registers.
The Yucca Company, at 1213 E. Douglas, is also still standing, but its appearance is much altered by the loss of its balcony. It also is not on any historic register.
Hyde died in 1935 after sharing his wealth with schools, colleges, churches, and youth camps not only in Wichita but also worldwide. Hyde School, Hyde Park and Camp Hyde were named in his honor.