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Past & Present: Park Villa


Last week, the faculty at the History Department had a social gathering at Park Villa. The rough stone structure with its red tile roof and wide, surrounding porch has welcomed Wichita groups for more than a century, many of whom probably don’t realize they owe their visit to the efforts of a colorful woman named Laura Buckwalter.

Following an unsuccessful campaign for the city commission in 1911, Buckwalter advocated for a “rest room” in Riverside, the term at the time meaning “lounge” rather than “toilet.” The city agreed to the cost of labor, as long as she provided materials. That effort fell through. Buckwalter persisted, and the city created a committee to work with her on the project.

The city called for bids and she came in lowest. Local architect U.G. Charles donated the designs for free but did not have provisions for a foreman. So Buckwalter served as foreman. Two masons and two assistants worked for reduced wages to support the project. For building materials, she obtained salvaged street cobblestones.

Cost overruns and Buckwalter’s squabbles with the city resulted in the city taking over and the workers walking off the job soon after. But before long, Buckwalter was back in charge and had arranged for prisoners from the jail to finish construction. She even climbed a ladder to shout orders from the roof. Work continued into the next year, while Buckwalter launched yet another campaign to city commission. She lost this election but could at least find comfort in dedicating Park Villa on June 2, 1913. Her perseverance had paid off.

Jay M. Price is chair of the department of history at Wichita State University, where he also directs the public history program.