Fifty-one years ago this week, Century II opened its doors, ahead of celebrating Wichita’s centennial and moving the city into its second century the following year in 1970.
Across the nation, cities were enthusiastically replacing their older neighborhoods, “blighted areas,” and fading business cores with new “civic centers” in an attempt to revitalize their downtowns. In many cases, these attempts proved limited at best and often ended up devastating downtowns rather than reviving them.
For Wichita, however, Century II was more than just a performance space. Wichita’s leaders had embraced the “Center City USA” slogan and promoted their community as a modern, livable place. Century II’s iconic roof was meant to be a symbol of a new Wichita, and the shallow dome featured prominently in promotional materials at the time. While the structure’s brutalist concrete has fallen out of architectural fashion, the shallow dome has become an enduring part of the city’s symbolism.
Wichita’s skyline lacks a large number of distinctive landmarks. Many of our tall buildings are not that different from those of other cities, and without buildings like Century II, it is often hard to tell if a downtown image is that of Wichita, Des Moines, Fargo, or another Great Plains city. There are many reasons to keep or replace a structure including use, cost, and maintenance. One factor to consider, among these, is distinctiveness — and like it or hate it, Century II has become pretty distinctive.