From Airplane Plant to Dance Club to Church
Information for this article comes from the annotated bibliography known as Tihen’s Notes and from Eric Cale, HPA board member and director of the Wichita Historical Museum.
While people today usually think "Boeing," "Cessna" or "Beech" when the aircraft industry is mentioned, one of the industry pioneers was another Wichita company, which quickly became known as the Swallow Airplane Manufacturing Company.
A May 1, 1970 article in the Wichita Eagle and Beacon commemorated "the start of Wichita’s golden air age 50 years ago this spring with the flight of the Laird ‘Swallow,’ manufactured by the E.M. Laird Airplane Company. The first flight on April 8, 1920 was at a field near 29th and North Hillside."
That plane was actually built in the Watkins Grain Building near William and Water, on what was then called "Tractor Row." However, by December 1921, the factory had moved to 27th and Hillside to avoid the necessity of re-assembling the planes after they were moved to the air field from the downtown factory.
By October 1923, Laird had sold out, and the new company was the Swallow Airplane Company. Walter Beech, an early pilot for Laird, soon became the Swallow manager.
The company went into a "friendly receivership" in 1927, and the capacity of the plant was increased by the addition of three new units, increasing floor space by 4000 square feet, adding a second shift of workers and doubling production from 10 planes every four weeks to 20.
Swallow, as well as its competitors Travel Air, Cessna and Stearman, was flying high until 1930. By that time, the top four airplane manufacturers had six other Wichita competitors, and the bottom was about to fall out of the economy.
The July 6, 1930 Beacon reported that in the previous 90 days Wichita factories had turned out approximately 140 airplanes "that have been placed in surplus."
Foreclosure judgment was granted against the Swallow Airplane Company in October 1932. The company was purchased by E. B. Christopher, owner of the Christopher Airplane Service, who promised to restore the business.
By 1940 Swallow had reopened at 917 E. Lincoln, and the building on North Hillside was a dance club.
The empty plant was the perfect place for the building’s new owner, Gage Brewer, whose successful Shadowland Dance Club burned down in March 1936.
Brewer had made a name for himself when he debuted the world’s first electric guitar on Halloween in 1932 at his club, two miles south of the John Mack bridge on South Broadway.
Brewer opened the new Shadowland in July 1936. That club "provided music for bobbysoxers to hippies to hip-hoppers under a variety of names until it became a Church of God in Christ headquarters."
The building seems vacant now, but its basic structure has never changed.