Iola of yesteryear a hopping place


October 12, 2013 - 12:00 AM

A woman called the other night to ask about a bit of Iola history. She wondered if I knew the name of a hotel on South Washington, and not the Kelley.
After a second or two of thought, I blurted out the Portland.
Satisfied with my keen knowledge of local history, I launched into more information about some other downtown Iola features of the early to mid-1900s.
The next day I checked my hotel facts — which I should have at the start — and found it wasn’t the Portland that was across the street from the Kelley in the 200 block of South Washington. It was the Iola Hotel, just south of the old Iola Theatre. The Portland was at 121 E. Madison Ave., next door to the Portland Barber Shop, operated by Marion Green, according to my 1949 Iola City Directory.
Listed under the Iola Hotel in the directory were the names of 15 people, who were long-term residents. That wasn’t unusual; hotels often doubled as boarding houses.
Marie Reynolds, who taught music at Humboldt during the same era and was one of my favorite teachers, lived in Parsons, but stayed at a hotel in Humboldt during the week.
I thumbed through the directory and marveled at all the businesses we had in downtown Iola then, long before supermarkets and discounts houses such as Walmart — back when shopping and catching up with friends were coincidental.
Many of the businesses were mom and pops, and professional folks, such as doctors, dentists and attorneys, often occupied the second floors of buildings that had one, two or more merchants on the ground floor.
In the first block of South Washington were 30 businesses or offices, all on the west side of the street opposite the courthouse lawn, including two flagship men’s clothing stores, the Globe, owned by Louis Schlanger, and W.C. Perham’s.
In the half block south of Madison Avenue were another 13 stores and offices, including the Dutch Mill Lunch, at 107 S. Washington, just a handful of steps north of the Polly Ann Cafe. There were many places to get a bite to eat in downtown Iola in those days.
A couple of other restaurants were Hart’s Lunch, 13 S. Jefferson Ave., and the South Street Cafe, 203 South St. High school kids loved to gather at Hart’s.
By the time I arrived in Iola in 1964, my favorite was the White Grill at the intersection of State and West streets. For 50 cents you got a big burger smothered in grilled onions, enough Suzy-Qs to choke a horse and a Coke.

—Bob Johnson

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