Saturday, February 7, 2015

Emil Peters (Part 2): Helped Build Wichita's "First" Sky-Scraper (#5 of 52 Ancestors)

"His main occupation was a carpenter and cabinet maker finisher. He went to carpenter school in Wichita KS and helped build the first sky-scraper, the Schweiter Building at Douglas and Main."
[Beulah (Peters) Brewer, daughter of Emil Wilhelm Peters, in her genealogy notes]

When I read those sentences, I wanted to learn more about this "first sky-scraper" in Wichita that my great grandfather helped to build. Emil must have been very proud of this building to have told this story to his daughter and for it to be one of the few things she wrote down about him. So, what could I learn about this sky-scraper? And, what could I learn about Emil's role in building it?

The Murdock Building, The Wichita Beacon, Wichita, Kansas, 26 Nov 1910,
page 14, column 4
, digital image newspapers.com, (http://newspapers.com), accessed 07 Feb 2015

Wichita actually had several 'sky-scrapers' before the Schweiter Building. The Wichita Beacon calls the Fletcher Building "the first 'skyscraper,', a relic of boom days." On the same page, it states that the Murdock building was "Wichita's pioneer skyscraper." The Murdock was started in 1907 and was the "first steel construction building in the city." It's height: seven stories. It's cost: $55,000.

The Beacon Building, The Wichita Beacon, Wichita, Kansas, 19 Dec 1911,
page 16, column 1
, digital image newspapers.com, (http://newspapers.com), accessed 07 Feb 2015

Another skyscraper was started and finished a little before the Schweiter. It was The Beacon Building, home of The Wichita Beacon among other businesses. It took less than 6 months and cost $400,000 to build.

The Schweiter Building, The Wichita Beacon, Wichita, Kansas, 19 Dec 1911,
page 16, column 1
, digital image newspapers.com, (http://newspapers.com), accessed 07 Feb 2015

So, the Schweiter might actually be considered the fourth skyscraper in Wichita. Like the Beacon Building, it stands ten-stories tall. It cost over one-half million dollars and was "one of the most modern, fire-proof and complete buildings of the Middle West."

The article goes on to describe the building to prospective tenants. It demonstrated how different things were 100 years ago! Each office contained:
  • Hot and Cold water.
  • Running filtered ice water. [How was it filtered?]
  • Perfect Electric Lighting with plugs in the baseboard for desk lights and desk fan. [No air conditioning, so you need fans!]
  • Solid Oak Coat and Toilet Cabinets.
  • Lavatories on Every Floor.
  • Solid Oak Woodwork Throughout.
  • Four High-Speed Elevators. [How fast were they?]
So, what did my great grandfather do to help "build" the Schweiter Skyscraper? Since he was primarily a carpenter and cabinet maker, he probably did some of the woodwork like the "solid oak coat and toilet cabinets" and the "solid oak woodwork throughout." Maybe photos can be found of some of this woodwork.

I'll end with one more quote by my grand aunt, Beulah (Peters) Brewer. She wrote, "He [Emil] was foremost, a carpenter by trade, and many of the buildings he built still stand in Sumner and Cowley Co, Kansas. He was well known for his good work and maintained that two nails are better than one. He was highly respected by his fellowmen for his integrity, as well as his acute workmanship as a carpenter."

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