Telephone building title

Telephone Building is Art Deco masterpiece

Goodland gets a new telephone building, an Art Deco masterpiece

Goodland’s United Telephone Building, an Art Deco masterpiece, was built in 1931 at 1003 Main. The Kansas Sampler Foundation said it’s one of the state’s most colorful buildings.

When the 1930s began, Goodland’s exchange had more than 1,000 telephones. The system was overloaded. Goodland officials asked the United Telephone Company for up-to-date equipment. In February 1931, the company promised a new building, cable expansion, new customer equipment, and a new dial-exchange central office. Goodland would be the state’s fourth dial exchange. Previously, all calls had to pass through a central operator.

The company chose to build on the corner of 10th and Main. Their engineers had determined that location would be closest to the “wire center“. The wire center is where the most economical wire network should start. The company installed a Stowger No. 30 dial exchange machine. (Almon Stowger of El Dorado, Kan., had invented the first dial telephone.)

Telephone building uses Aztec decorative motifs

Telephone pole halves in telephone building interior
The telephone company cut ordinary telephone poles in half, decorated them, and installed them on the lobby ceiling.

Because Goodland sits on the Western plains, Colby Hamilton of United Telephone chose to use a Native American motif in the building.

The designer patterned the terra cotta panels and borders after Aztec artwork. The glazed red, yellow, and blue tiles outline all the windows, doors, and rooflines.

Inside, the linoleum floor’s border has a zigzag design. The company’s in-house publication, The Voice, said, “… The exterior of the Telephone Building [has] all been taken from Aztec tribal artwork.” The ceiling was “heavily beamed with rough [telephone] poles stenciled with [red, blue, and yellow] Indian patterns.” Hand-carved totem poles supported the counter. Each pole told a story. The two telephone booths were also decorated in the Aztec theme. These booths included a chair and table. They were “acoustically perfect with all the convenience of a private office.”

New phone system starts

Oct. 13, 1931, was Goodland’s last day using magneto crank phones. The telephone building opened and the dial system came online Oct. 14. The company celebrated an open house on Nov. 21, 1931.

Progress opens building to new uses

Progress brought the building to Goodland, but progress also has a price. United Telephone merged with Southwestern Bell in 1937. When Goodland’s operators moved to Colby in 1957, the equipment went, too. Bell moved next door in 1991. Sherman County acquired the building for storage in 1994. In 2017, the county gave it to the Sherman County Historical Society in 2017.

Telephone Building named to Kansas, national historic registers

In August 2017, the Kansas Historic Sites Board of Review unanimously added the building to the Register of Historic Kansas Places. A week later, the Kansas State Historic Preservation Office nominated the building for the National Register of Historic Places. Loughlin said the telephone building “is an excellent example of Art Deco design.” Loughlin believed the Telephone Building “should be a pretty big shoo-in.” She was right. The Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places added the building to the national register in October 2017.

telephone building restoration
With funding from the Kansas Heritage Trust Fund, Schamber Historic Preservation repaired the telephone building’s windows.

Historical society restores the building

Through grants and volunteer work, the society has been restoring the building since 2017. The telephone building will become a historical research center.

The society has successfully applied for Kansas Heritage Trust Fund grants.

More to explore

Learn more about things to do in Goodland and on Land and Sky Scenic Byway. The post office and its Cubist mural “Rural Free Delivery” are behind the telephone building to the southeast.

Enjoy more of Northwest Kansas. Learn more about destinations in the Midwest, and particularly in Kansas.

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