The French Fairytale Cottage Case Continues

 

closerdark

 

 

There are some people that you might come across who claim that humans begin to assume the look of their family pets. Others still who proclaim that couples most surely begin to look like one another, the longer they are together. Are our homes capable of that? If you are a gardener, I expect that might be the case. Or at least that is what I observe in our little 1940s cottage. Everywhere I look Mr. Cassette has brought the garden underfoot, always with a little soil on the floor (even in the dead of winter!), plants appearing out of every whisper of a wall or nook of a bookcase. If you are an artist, I am sure that is the case. For you can no more stop the paint or clay from walking, in spirit, into the home of an artist than you can stop the gorgeous flowers, loam and unending snippets sprouting in half watered Mason jars from flowing, in spirit, into the house of a horticulturist. Every corner surges with clues of the passion of its owner. Do we begin to look like our homes or are we drawn to the home that feel like us? Please don’t breathe a word about just stacking your things up in a drafty corner all willy-nilly, for I would like to imagine your abode would express something quite marvelous to this amateur detective…something of a personal countenance about your interests, if you were no longer with us. It is to be hoped that neither you nor I are ever likely to reach such a finite juncture.

 

 

 

front

 

This idea of people being matched to their homes really has me stirring lately. The manner of the china in the cabinet, the old smell of wood burning, long ago filtered into the walls, built-in chest of drawers filled to the edges with memories—Memories of the home, itself, steeped into the structure. Part of these thoughts of homes having their own memories is based on my journey with these investigations, my sense about various homes I have met and what others of you have experienced. Not long after writing about the French Fairytale Cottage, I soon found new clues and more information came flooding in from various sources. Stories I had never…imagined. Today I would like to begin to introduce these findings. I think it would really be better if we all sat down for a time. And I will tell you a story of a hopefully, unending story.

 

For those of you who have not tracked the clues of the French Fairytale Cottage up to this point, I truly believe that it would be a good idea to get caught up to the investigation before going any further. If the rest of the chorus could be heard, they would all assure you that what follows would be made clearer if you invest the time right now and get up to speed. Start with The Curious Case of the French Fairytale Cottage: Part One. I must warn you or delight you, dependent, with the news that there are three lengthy parts. The Curious Case of the French Fairytale Cottage: Part Two. And last but not least, do not forget The Curious Case of the French Fairytale Cottage: Part Three. They are best savored with a warm beverage of your choice, in a dark study, surrounded by snoring animals, if you are so lucky, in front of a crackling fire, in the middle of the night.

 

 

 

 

Rockbrook

 

Daniel Greene Cary

 

Days after putting out Part One of the French Cottage series, I heard from the lovely Joan Field of Omaha. She reached out to me about the real estate developers Shuler & Cary. As it turns out, Daniel Greene Cary was Joan’s maternal grandfather. Don’t you love it?

 

DanielCary

Photo from the Joan Field collection–a family genealogy book that her sister (?) has compiled.

 

 

Joan wrote, “In the 1920s he (Daniel Cary) developed parts of land east of Happy Hollow Blvd to about 50th & between Dodge & Howard that was called Lockwood. He built a home at 535 So 53rd St (where my mother grew up) to encourage people to ‘built west.’ I believe in the 1920s, with partner Irenaeus Shuler he also helped develop in Loveland and West Pacific Hills. Shuler built a palatial home facing Happy Hollow Club, I believe 105th St.” Joan elaborated that her Grandfather Cary, along with Shuler would go on to develop additions in Rockbrook, West Highlands and Southwest Village.

 

 

 

DanielCaryphotoDaniel Cary from Joan Field’s collection. Love this photo. Are those HushPuppies or slippers?

 

 

More Clues About Lee Brewer

 

Soon after I came across a bit more detail about the first owner of the French Cottage, Lee Brewer. In a 1933 meeting of the Omaha Chamber of Commerce meeting, Lee Brewer was named chairman of the retail ice cream dealers. He then represented Omaha in the National Retail Ice Cream Manufacturers’ Association. I found that Lee Brewer was owner of the Luzianne Ice Cream Company and was a native of Louisiana. In fact, he named his ice cream company after his home state.

 

 

 

Leebuildingpermit

Lee Brewer permit from March 13, 1935 OWH. By 1935 Brewer had attained a building permit to construct a retail shop in front of his home at 3515 N 24th Street.

 

 

 

 

 

LuzinanneAddition

The Luzianne Ice Cream Shop Addition was built in June 16, 1935. This great photo and article detail the “unique effects archived in the interior decoration” of the addition. Apparently the ice cream booths were circular, employing a blue and silver color scheme and the leaded glass windows were described as something special.

 

 

3515 N. 24th

This is Lee Brewer’s Luzianne Ice Cream Shop today. It is a hair salon-retail space, detailed in the original series. Mr. Brewer would continue to run this business out of his home (behind.) By the year 1937 there was a “Real Estate Transfer from Ruth R. Brewer and husband to Albert H. Glasscock pt of lot 8, block 42 of 3515 N. 24th St. for $4,425.”

 

 

 

 

Explosion

Omaha World Herald article of July 17, 1937. Reportedly Brewer was in the back yard cleaning the carburetor of his car with gasoline when a gas heater in the basement of the Brewer home exploded. Fumes from the explosion shot through the windows of the home, igniting Brewer’s gasoline-saturated arm. He lived and the house survived, as well. But could this horrific experience have led to the Brewers selling the property soon after?

 

 

 

Father of Irvin Svoboda

 

As you may remember, Irvin and Rose Svoboda were also inhabitants of the French Fairytale Cottage. Following their trail revealed the couple to having Superb Taste in Homes. Irvin Svoboda was well known in Omaha for his family run business, the Svoboda Monument Company. George, Irvin, Roy and Stanley, the Brothers Svoboda ran the company out of 1215-1229 South 13th Street. “Direct from Quarry to Consumer” was the Svoboda motto.

 

 

 

FrankSvoboda

One day when I was up to my ears in another investigation altogether I bumped into this early Svoboda advertisement, quite unexpectedly. I include it here as it offers a clue that the brothers’ father, Frank Svoboda started the company initially, after arriving from Czechoslovakia. If you notice the address is the same that the boys would later operate out of, down on 13th Street. I adore this stunning advertisement.

 

 

More Clues to Ernest and Gladys Streisinger

 

One of my favorite owners in the mystery were the Streisingers. Imagine my delight when I received an email from someone who had known the couple in the mid-60s. He was so kind to write and clarify some details. I consider these investigatory morsels, as should you.

 

 

 

 

streisinger

 

“In my youth, while attending Capitol Beauty School in 1965-66, I worked for Ernie & ‘Gladys’ at the Downtown Brandeis location, a well as the Crossroads store. I never heard her called by any name other than ‘Gladys’…and she was a pistol! The downtown floral location was towards the back of the store, the main level. The Crossroads Brandeis floral store was also on main level across from the Men’s Clothing Department. ‘Ernie’ was a very driven, BUSY guy. He was very kind to me, showing me how he liked things done. He worked early to late…work, work, work…. that’s how it was done in those days! I worked only part time since I was in school. He took an interest in me, as I had an aunt who ran a floral shop in Denver. I helped my aunt when I visited there, so I had to be well trained by Ernie when I went there…LOL.”

 

The reader alluded to “Ernie and Gladys” being too busy to be exactly what we’d call warm and fuzzy these days. The couple was obviously focused on their business. One additional observation he shared, which, by the way, Miss Cassette always appreciates fashion surveillance, was that the couple dressed like ordinary, hardworking, down to earth folks. Not particularly florist-y or artistic. Hard for me to fathom, as I had imagined Ernest in a sort of inventive, but masculine polka dotted man’s neck scarf. Oh well….

 

 

Reports from the Field

 

I was pleased to receive emails from a handful of people who had toured 2417 South 105th Avenue when it was most recently for sale. I heard things like “Absolutely gorgeous,” “unusual, like a designer home” and “very low, odd ceilings.”

 

 

frontdistance

 

 

I will include the words of one reader and her beautiful observations. “Each room had stained glass in it that was original and beautiful. The plaster on the walls in the living room had hidden flowers molded into it around the room. So many wonderful original details and hardware throughout! The addition was a two-story addition with the family room on the main floor and a master suite on the second floor with a fireplace, large master closet, and master bath. The addition was very well done and great care was taken to pay attention to having it blend right in with all original architecture. My favorite part of the house was the maid’s quarters or the “princess room” as they (the owners) called it. From one of the back hallways, there was a secret door that opened and a hidden back staircase–secret passageway that led to the maid’s quarters. It was like I had stepped into a magazine.”

 

 

Snoopy Farmhouse

Peanuts comic from 1966.

 

 

Other visitors to the house over the decades reported a mix of reviews. Some of the doorways of the French home are apparently “short” with low ceilings in parts, earning it the name “The Hobbit House.” Some found the home to have an unexplained “coldness.” But clearly everyone who wrote in spoke highly of the unique qualities of the home and let on that the cottage left them with a “feeling” or a memory that they would never forget. And this is where things got a lot more interesting…

 

 

 

Past Owner’s Dossier

 

 

Can you, dear reader, imagine the chilling pleasure of opening this next email? It came sometime last September, weeks after the series came out.

 

“Regarding the house, I can only give you my opinion as to why there have been so many owners. It is haunted. Hopefully, I didn’t lose you with that statement.”

 

The past owner, understandably, did not want to be identified. I will honestly tell you that this detective thought her leg might be getting pulled a bit until I received corroborating reports from other, unrelated, sources soon after. What follows is one owner’s family’s experiences from the French Cottage at 2415 South 105th Avenue.

 

 

 

Backside

Back yard, eastern view of the property.

 

 

“The house had latches on the doors, instead of door knobs. During the night, these latches would rattle as if someone was moving them up and down. There were metal floor grates in parts of the house, and it sounded like someone was dragging chains across them at night. We had a cat, and one night, the cat stood up on the bed in a very agitated fashion and was hissing and spitting at something that was invisible moving across the room. Floor rugs would inexplicably be rolled up in rooms and furniture would be moved. There was a back bedroom over the garage and large parties would be heard coming from that room at night.” This is the same room that the reader had mentioned having “very bad feelings in.”

 

 

Another family member reported, “An uncle told a story about an apparition of a man in a tuxedo walking down the stairs and into the living room to adjust paintings on the wall. This was late at night.” There was a report of a local worker viewing the chandelier in the living room “hanging off to the side, like an invisible hand was holding it.” That being said, the reader confided, “Whatever it was that was in the house, was not malevolent.”

 

 

Side Note Clues and Detective Machinations

 

An additional note shared was that the reader had been given information that the house on 105th Avenue, “Was brought over in pieces from France.” This did contradict my original three-piece investigation but fellow detectives, I want you to tuck this information away, under your hat. From what I’d researched previously of the other two French Hennig homes, Hennig, himself carved the wood and he did all of the ironwork from the cottage series.

 

Isn’t this really too much? I didn’t know what to make of it. I began to wonder, what if the land is haunted? I had only found one funeral that took place in the home and no deaths, that I could find. What if there was an opening under the home that energy was seeping in from? But if the land was haunted, why were tuxes and parties going on? I wondered if there was a magnetic field on the plot of land, which brought back images or spirits of the past? I know from all that I unearthed there must have been many social gatherings in the home over the years.

 

 

closeupofback

 

Clarification from the Past

 

Another past owner, willing to share experiences wrote, “These were not threatening experiences for me. It was almost as though someone or something was simply repeatedly trying to get my attention, in what might even be described as playful at times. The curiously muffled voices and noises in the guest room (which I recall was above the garage) sounded like someone was having a cocktail party — and a good one at that, with tinkling glass sounds — on more than one occasion. That was of a little more concern to me as you can imagine, as these were human socializing sounds to me, unlike the other noises and experiences. In any event, I spent little time in that room as it was away from the main part of the house. I still have fond memories of its special magic.”

 

 

Neighborhood Kids

 

 

I vowed to not share information with the people writing in as not to contaminate or lead their stories. Also, understandably, no one wanted his or her name included. I got some great messages from neighborhood children and friends of kids who grew up in the home, now adults. One wrote, “All I can remember clearly is the chandelier swinging. But there always was a strong energy around. It definitely swung on its own. I’m not sure if I really understood the feeling I would get when there, but for sure an energy, nothing scary, just as if you weren’t alone.” Another wrote in, “There was just a weird feeling there. We laughed about the moving light. Everyone knew but now I don’t know why we laughed. What was that? Why did it move?”

 

 

closeup

 

 

The Zaiga Moriarty Interview

 

 

Just over this last weekend I received an email from the wonderful Zaiga Jansons Moriarty, homeowner from the 1960s. To be clear, her name is Zaiga not Ziaga. Zaiga was not a My Omaha Obsession reader but very recently an acquaintance had informed her there was a whole investigation about her and her former house. Can you imagine being told that? Zaiga wanted to talk to me on the phone and was not afraid to go on the record with her account of the French Cottage. In about an hour-long interview I think my arm hairs stood on end about five times and I felt shudder-y. What follows are the essentials of the Moriarty family memories of the home. I did not tell her who had emailed me previously or what was said, as I wanted to see what Zaiga would reveal on her own. I was simply dying the whole time…

 

 

driveway2

 

“We called it the French Farmhouse but I prefer your name for the home.” Of course, I loved her instantly. “When we moved in we knew that Hennig had designed our home. We knew the story of the pilot contracting with Hennig to design and replicate the French farmhouse, which the pilot had recovered in. We had been given information and thought the pilot had lived in the home. We were told it was his home. We bought the house from Mrs. Caldwell on a land contract. My husband had newly started his orthodontist business. We fell in love immediately with the home.”

 

 

 

MrsCaldwelllivingrm

As it turns out, Mrs. Caldwell had well-camouflaged the “issues” of the home. It was beautiful on inspection. Zaiga did not realize the cottage had been for sale for so long until she read my investigation. “She had placed a tall plant in front of a large crack in the wall. There were rugs on the floor to cover what we came to believe was a troubled foundation.” The Moriartys discovered all of this “staging” when they actually moved in.

 

 

The couple set about to “re-lay the marble tiles in the floor” as the tiles soon revealed themselves to be “jiggly.” “We did a lot of work. We re-tiled and poured so much concrete down between the cracks and under the tiles. We had the library re-laid by a professional company. We re-did the kitchen. I painted fleur de lis on the cupboards.”

 

 

 

closeproximity

“We believed there were structural problems soon after”—a lack of a foundation, to put it bluntly. As the couple began to lift the marbled tiles they found “The foundation was not proper. The marble floor was in the dining room, kitchen, living room, library and hallway.” They began to pour concrete in the holes and around the tiles. The tiles would continue to break up again and “Become jiggly or loosen from the concrete even after we fixed it.”

 

“The furnace room was interesting—cave like but built into design so that you would not know what it was from the outside of the house. The house was very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter.”

 

 

The Moriarty Evidence

 

Then the conversation turned to the true lungs of the mystery.

 

“We think the home was haunted. My husband, Tom, believed that the ghost liked us because ‘He’ knew we were fixing up the house. We were told by the older neighbors ‘We understand there used to be a gardener here and he disappeared one night.’ Oh my word…. A gardener went missing? Zaiga stated that Tom, her husband, now deceased, believed that the ghost was a male and liked the Moriartys because they were trying to beautify and rehabilitate the home. “He” apparently liked their passion for the home. Was “He” the gardener? Or was “He” the fellow in the tuxedo?

 

 

She continued. “We were laying in bed and we could hear steps coming up the stairs. I said, ‘We need to lock the door.’ Tom questioned what good locking a door would do when there’s a ghost already in the home. The carpeted steps led from the main hallway up to the bedroom. The doors all had big bolts, massive bolts, no nails all tongue and groove but they also used keys. Zaiga remembers being very afraid that night.

 

 

 

nextdoor

Ranch to the south at 2507 S 105th Ave.

 

The Couple Moved

 

Thomas and Zaiga sold the French home in April of 1971. They moved one door south to 2507 S. 105th Ave. Zaiga emphasized they only moved because of the growing family. The ranch next door provided them with more functional space for children.

 

Early on, the new owners of the French cottage, John and Asenath Webster came over and directly asked, “Is there something strange about the house? Is there anything strange going on in that house?” Zaiga could not remember how her and her husband answered that early inquiry. She remembered that in time, both couples exchanged their hauntings freely. Tom could feel the presence of “He” in the library and in the tiny bathroom off of the library. Tom strongly believed in “He.” “I feel it, ” Tom would say. “He is happy we are working on this house.” As the couple continued to refurbish the French Cottage, Tom would occasionally mention different “sensations” he had. Zaiga remembered him saying, with regard to the varying renovation ideas and home projects, “I thought on it and thought on it and maybe ‘He’ helped me?” Implying that the ghost might be helping make their domestic decisions. Zaiga and Tom were comfortable with this arrangement.

 

A Later Visitation

 

“After Tom and I had moved next door (to the ranch), we went on vacation. The Rockbrook Security Company at the time would stop by to check on homes in the neighborhood.” When the Moriartys got back into town, the security guard said he had been checking on their home. He said all of sudden one night when up at their house, “The lights on his car flashed and his clipboard and other items came flying out of the car. When he ran to the car, no one was there. He said he went back up the house and walked into our son’s room and his child’s bed had moved to the middle of the room.” Gulp….

 

Tom came to believe that the ghost visited them at their next-door home because “He wants us to know he’s still here.” Tom felt assured that “He was with me” while living at 2417 S. 105th Ave but Tom never, personally, felt the presence of “He” again. When the family again moved to yet another neighborhood, Tom would continue to tell friends and even their grandchildren about his ghost memories of the French Farmhouse. Zaiga firmly believed Tom did not have any more visits once they moved from the home.

 

Other Home Details

 

Zaiga remembered fondly “The dining room had a very low ceiling with incredible woodwork. The master bedroom was all-original. (She corrected my previous conjecture about the master bedroom vs. the addition.) There were these amazing built-in dressers, marked by owners to past.” Zaiga even remembered old cigarette burns in the woodwork. “We bought a large Allan Tubach painting, ‘Leonardo’ and hung it in the hallway by the stairs.” The large walls and woodwork apparently made for a beautiful environ for artwork, a case later made by owner Roger Foltz in an OWH interview.

 

 

closeproximity

One can see how close the two homes are in this photo. The small wall by the French Cottage holds the black owl on closer inspection. Between the two homes is a taller white wall that looks like it covers something. Maybe trashcans, firewood or compost.

 

 

When they lived in the French cottage, Tom put an owl on the concrete stump near the entryway. Zaiga was happy to see from my photos that it was still there. She described a “Wall off to the south of the house, where something looked to have been broken off the wall. The couple asked a neighbor “What used to be on that wall?” A neighbor thought that what had been there previously had been a religious symbol, thought to be a Catholic icon or figure. The Moriartys wondered, in retrospect, if this sign was to ward off spirits or perceived negative energy.

 

 

block

Was this the wall that the Catholic symbol was affixed to?

 

The couple had heard a rumor early in their ownership of the cottage that there had been a safe built somewhere into the home. Tom thought it had to be in the crawl space. “There was an area in the original master bedroom on the south side that we thought it could have been.” Zaiga reported, “One of the past owners had a cat that could move through the registers of the home amongst the crawl spaces.” She said they never found that safe.

 

Zaiga’s Memories of the Websters

 

Zaiga also had strong memories of her new neighbors, the Websters. She had remembered a number of their stories. In one “Asenath and John had been lying in bed and something white was going over their bed while their cat was hissing.” Zaiga thought there was a frequent story of Asenath having “Placed flowers in the dining room in a vase and would come back to find flowers all over the table. This would happen over and over again” One story she remembers was of a “Built in bed in the maid’s room. One night the Websters had a party and a male friend stayed after the party. He left in the middle of the night, saying he would never go back there. I would sure like to know the details of what happened with that situation.” So Would I.

 

After Thoughts and Further Digging

 

So I am sure we are all beside ourselves with our own neuroses and or complete joy. I, for one, cannot breathe properly as I type, even now. This is what I have uncovered since writing the first three articles on the incredible French Cottage. From my further investigations into Hennig: Reinholdt Frederick Hennig was regarded as a self-taught architect. He preferred European styles and studied books about old-country architecture but had no formal training, according to his wife, Ruth Madden Hennig. Is this the truth?

 

Hennig

 

I did find an application of Reinholdt Frederick Hennig for Registration to Practice Professional Engineering and Architecture from the Nebraska State Board of Examiners for Professional Engineers and Architects from August 10, 1938. Eleven years after the first French Cottage was built. That is not to say that he wasn’t registered previously. If he was self taught and regarded an exploratory, inventive architect, it is plausible that he hadn’t yet learned how to build a stable foundation for a Nebraska home in 1927? That is one explanation.

 

But I have another…. what if the land is haunted and that is why there are such shifts in the home?

 

 

 

715 J. E. George Blvd

The first of the French Cottage series was built at 715 J. E. George Boulevard in 1927. I later found confirmation that this home was known to have an old ship’s decking with concrete beneath. I bring this up as proof that Hennig used architectural salvage and repurposed the materials to give his new homes a European feel. This contradicts stories I had read that Hennig fabricated his own materials for interiors. Could it be that his ironwork, wood beams, marble and other materials had had a previous life also, maybe from the other side of the pond? Could it be that the earlier homeowner’s rumored story of materials being shipped from France was true after all? If so, some would say that it is  possible that these salvaged elements carried or continue to carry energy or memory.

 

A pursing of the collective lips and raising of the eyebrows will undoubtedly follow for some readers. I am keenly interested. In fact, I am obsessed. Is any of this real? Who was this Rockbrook Security Guard? Who was this man in the tuxedo and why were there parties going on in the middle of the night? And what of this gardener gone missing? It is evidently time to begin a search in full. A real investigation. Which Miss Cassette will now proceed to do…

 

I want to express my gratitude to all of the fans, homeowners and visitors to the enchanting French Cottage who wrote in. I recognize that you did not have to make the effort and could have kept your valuable, treasured memories to yourself. For those of you who wanted to tell me your story but did not want to be included in this article, I understand and hope I have won your trust. I do appreciate you all and I rally your love of the 2415 So. 105th Avenue cottage. It is a shining Omaha jewel. If you happen to know more clues about this property, we would all like to hear from you and for the record, Zaiga and I would like a tour.

 

 

front

 

I welcome your feedback and comments on this home, its history of incredible owners and the Rockbrook area. To enable comments, please click on the header title. If you would like to correspond with me privately, please do so at myomahaobsession@yahoo.com. But I assure you, everyone would love to read what you have to say and it makes the conversation more fun. You can keep up with my latest investigations by “following” myomahaobsession. You will get sent email updates every time I have written a new article. Also join My Omaha Obsession on Facebook. Thank you Omaha friends.

 

© Miss Cassette and myomahaobsession, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Miss Cassette and myomahaobsession with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

My Omaha Obsession Celebrates One Year

colonialrevivalbdaycake

 

 

Before I came to the belated preoccupation of sharing my house sleuthing adventures, my life was largely one of hidden obsession. Left to my own imaginings and amateur stakeouts, I had about worn out the ears of closest companions regarding My Mystery Adventures. At other times I was quite content to deliciously absume in my imaginary window seat, wrapped with moss colored Toile de Jouy wall coverings, reclining on needlepoint pillows of old, favorite dogs I once knew, listening to music from World War II, and set about for an afternoon of architectural wool gathering. I am inventing this fabulous window seat as I type, but it could have happened and it may still, if I have my way. With a good book on my lap or say, a cup of hot chocolate, I might look up every now and then to spy from behind identical mossy Toile drapes, on the high gated Georgian home across the way. Maybe, just maybe, I would name the characters coming in and out of the dwelling and envision their lives as they plodded across that crushed granite. Mr. Cassette and I love this old name game. When you think about it, really, one could and should tear into song at the very thought of possessing such a cozy, moss colored window seat, let alone living within close proximity of a Georgian estate. If you know the intimacies of this toile retreat or this lordly view, know that the rest of us burst into dirges at the thought of such gloriousness. And please know I, Miss Cassette, am truly happy for you although sprinkled with a mossy tinge of envy.

 

 

 

myomahaobsessionhome

 

 

It pleases me to no end to alert you, dear friends, that today, March 2, 2017 My Omaha Obsession is celebrating a one-year birthday online. What started out as fairly quiet investigation into the Arms & Ammo building on 60th and Pacific has ballooned into a full time distraction. And yes, there is no need to point out that the investigations, that is, the stories, themselves, have grown and grown over time to be quite lengthy, because we have all noted that point.

 

 

myomahaobsessioncakehat

 

 

I can’t help but daydream about all of the Wonderful Things that have materialized in this past year and all of the Wonderful Things that did not materialize in this special year. For instance Miss Cassette was not approached with a formal position within Anyone’s Idea of a Pinkerton’s National Architectural Detective Agency. Additionally Miss Cassette received no proposals from the City of Omaha to open up a Much Needed My Omaha Obsession Sleuthing Department. Likewise no one offered this detective a career at the Omaha World Herald writing a monthly piece called My Omaha Obsession: The Column, presumably because they have a space or word limit. Alas the Obsession Continued regardless of those who never called. On the other hand, many other fortuitous offerings did present themselves for which I was most grateful.

 

 

myomahamarilyn

The Gifts

For a start you might be surprised to learn that a great deal of Omaha houses, to include ones that I have written about, are haunted. Yes, I am whispering “Haunted” to you in a very dramatic manner right now. Miss Cassette, who is nothing if not a ghost lover, was plainly shocked to learn of these spirited inhabitations. But what was and is even more peculiar was that I am forced to keep these pressing affairs under my hat. As it turns out, No One wants to buy a house that has been deemed Haunted. For the life of me, I don’t know why. Suffice it to say, I have received some unbelievably believable ghost-related emails and I have devoured every single one of them.

 

 

18thandst-marys

The Lessons

Moreover there were some Crimes and Complications within family histories when I got to digging, that I didn’t feel very happy about once discovered. Fascinating, really…. Some things stay in my mind and give shudders to this day. But some early lessons in unearthing of clues taught me to avoid hurting feelings at the risk of becoming My Omaha Tattler. (If I was a different kind of girl that might be fun for a day.) Part of this responsibility meant pledging to not write about the current owner of a home, a personal rule I took on.

 

 

myomahaobsessionjudy

The Surprises

For somebody who is as silly as I am on these matters, I will share my DELIGHT that some of my top stories were surprisingly about the old restaurants we loved or in my case, maybe have never been to. One of the most enduring articles was that of Bishop’s Buffet. For the Love of Bishop’s Buffet: Why, Oh Why, Did They Close?. “Good heavens!” I cried as email after email after comment poured in about Bishop’s and that life changing Chocolate Ambrosia Pie. As it turns out, none of us can forget that blessed concoction—the Midwestern response to this story alone has led me to believe to Bishop’s Buffet could make a solid comeback if anyone could track down those desirous recipes. Other big hits were the Hilltop House story I Wish I Could Have Gone To: Hilltop House and the Smashing Swartz’s Delicatessen article New Omaha: Swartz’s Delicatessen. I say smashing because they were everything I imagined they’d be and MORE. Just so you know, I’ve got a big restaurant investigation that I’ve been trailing for a while now but I’m saving it for a special upcoming event.

 

 

myomahaobsessiondancing

The Strange Successes

The other shockers for me were the reactions to the Mayberry Mansion story. See the Mysteries of Omaha: 5120 Mayberry Street comments section if you haven’t read through these. The Izard Street Castle article miraculously seemed to have found its own footing within hours of posting. Mysteries of Omaha: 4025 Izard Street. It quickly got up, proclaimed itself to international attention and walked away with a life of its own. I had nothing to do with it. I still don’t even know where that came from.

 

 

myomahaobsessionsparty

The Thank Yous

 

First and foremost: to all of my wonderful Omaha Enthusiasts. Finding people that understood my interest in Omaha, my wanderings, my imaginings, great buildings and detective journeys has really been the most gratifying thing. If you like to stray, then you already understand My Omaha Obsession. The fact that we have found each other—with our collective recreation invested in memories, architecture, Omaha history, fascinating people, photos of the past, ghosts, winding off-the-beaten-path brick paths and queer, little buildings long forgotten is important. We need to talk. For those of you who have taken the time to write me emails, sharing your family histories, photos of houses and loved ones and telling me your stories–This expression has meant the world to me.

 

 

16thstlookingsouth

.

 

I would like to thank Mr. Cassette for enduring all of my stakeouts and running to the computer in the middle of the night when something “clicks” and simply demands to be in a story. My furry friends for sitting on me as I type these lengthy missives. A big thanks you to Mother and Father of Miss Cassette for the customary Morning After Grammar and Punctuation Correction Emails After a Post.

 

Martha Miller of the Nebraska State Historical Society for her patience and help.

 

Tim McMahon of Lazy-I music fame http://lazy-i.com/ for his kind nod on his blog. I really appreciate it.

 

Trina Westman, City Planner – Urban Design Division, Planning Department at City of Omaha for her knowledge and generosity in sharing of the Planning Department archives.

 

 

clemenzas

 

 

Michelle Gullet of the Omaha World Herald for dealing with my annoying emails and phone calls.

 

Bill Gonzalez, Keeper of the Durham Museum Archives—someone whom I enjoy very much. Thank you for all of your help, support and laughs.

 

My contacts at the Omaha Police Department. You know who you are.

 

 

myomahaobsessionbette

 

Joe Knapp at the City of Omaha Planning Department for spending time to help me dig and dig further into my passion.

 

The tireless work of Lynn Meyer, now retired Omaha planner, photographer and preservation advocate. His work with the Omaha City Planning Department inspires me. His dark, seemingly direct, photographs speak to me–there is so much more there. Haunting, really.

 

All of the incredible foresight and collections of Omaha photographers, mostly deceased, who captured the breathtaking images that continue to draw us in. And thanks to the Durham Museum, we have these archives of the past.

 

 

myomahaobsessionmansion

 

My friends who encouraged me to branch out from my personal Facebook posts about Omaha and write a book. Chris Hill and Julie Mornin stand out to me.

 

My father and grandmother for teaching me about Old Omaha and giving me my love of story telling.

 

The incredible Omaha W. Dale Clark Downtown Public Library third floor staff: Martha, Lynn, Mark and others. I continue to learn from you. Long Live Public Libraries!!

 

 

hillhotel

 

 

Kristine Gerber of Restoration Exchange Omaha for her incredible books (a true gift to Omaha), knowledge and generosity.

 

 

Kris and Tom Bartel of https://travelpast50.com/ for their sound counsel and direction…and for standing the true family test: I would want to eat lunch at Buvette and run around South O with you two even if we weren’t blood relation.

 

 

Omaha staff at the Register of Deeds Office for tolerating my pesty, inquisitive ways.

 

 

My tax lady for informing me that this blog isn’t a side job but A Very Expensive Hobby.

 

 

Sarah Lorsung Tvrdik for introducing Bill Sitzmann to My Omaha Obsession, which in turn led to my first writing job with Omaha Magazine. Thank you.

 

 

1979omaha

 

 

Stephen Sheehan, Marq Manner and Amanda Lynch for early guidance regarding blogdom. Drs. Chris Harding Thornton and Maria Buszek for propping me up during a mini detective meltdown. Syd Reinarz for the much needed arcane advice. Jesse Hutmaker, Bruce Karlquist and Jim Hofmann for your encouragement and continued supportive words. Jeremy Eckhart for the mysterious photo tracking. Detective Mundt for ongoing investigations, wisdom and conspiring with my Need for Intrigue. Andrea and Michelle, my Book Club Girls turned Soul Confidantes.

 

All of the fantastic Omaha mom and pop shops out there that fight the neutral concrete slab franchise landscape. You give Omaha its flavor.

 

 

My friend, John Jordan, for his support, encouragement and for his introduction to Mike Kelly of the Omaha World Herald. Likewise Mike Kelly for his early nod in a brief mention in the OWH.

 

 

icecreambar

 

Renee Ratner Corcoran of the National Jewish Historical Society for helping me with my questions and turning me onto some great books.

 

 

Sherri Moore and the Joslyn Castle staff for the opportunity to investigate for hire. What fun I had.

 

 

The beautiful castles, country cottages and European apartment homes of architect Frederick A. Henninger. Yes, I have a crush.

 

 

townhousesouth

 

 

To all of the beautiful house owners who agreed to meet off the record to share the incredible stories of their homes. I treasure your time, your passion and your interest in preservation.

 

 

Side Note

 

shermanapts

 

 

I want to courier a formal courtesy to Mrs. Katherine “Rusty” Turner, long time owner of the glorious Sherman Apartments on Sixteenth Street. I was approached about writing a story on the Sherman on the auspicious occasion of Mrs. Turner very recently selling the property. I only refrained (dream story) because, as it turns out, the OWH will be doing a full article and I certainly don’t want to be perceived as riding on their coattails or swooping in. Erin Grace will do a fantastic job.

 

 

Dreams

 

For this next year I’ve got lots of fantastic dream plans. Thanks to Appsky Labs http://appskylabs.com/, at the end of this month, we will present an all new, easy to access My Omaha Obsession website. You will no longer need to be a detective in order to navigate the site. It’s been a long time coming and I am grateful to them. And then, my book. Yes, I am writing a book. Hopefully this VERY LONG tome (wink) will feature some of my favorite investigations combined with brand new mysteries not available online. This will mean taking a bit of a break from the website but I promise to pop in from time to time. Again, dreams…so who really knows for sure. What I do know is that this has been a great year and I have treasured all that you have shared with me. Thank You.

 

 

colonialrevivalbdaycake

I welcome your feedback and comments. To enable comments, please click on the header title. If you would like to correspond with me privately, please do so at myomahaobsession@yahoo.com. But I assure you, everyone would love to read what you have to say and it makes the conversation more fun. You can keep up with my latest investigations by “following” myomahaobsession. You will get sent email updates every time I have written a new article. Also join My Omaha Obsession on Facebook. Thank you Omaha friends.

 

 

© Miss Cassette and myomahaobsession, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Miss Cassette and myomahaobsession with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Magnificent Obsession: The New Garage at 3567 Howard Street

 

garage

 

I ask you, what could more beautiful than a home owner who hears the pleading calls of his home, who seeks to understand and studies the oft ignored architectural language, and furthermore, (the real biggie in my estimation), has the financial means to honor the request in a way that is structurally truthful? There are very few things more beautiful, I assure you. I am speaking of renovation and in most cases, stripping away flawed renovations. When home and owner see eye to eye in such a winsome manner, one simply must stop dead in their tracks and stare at the glory of what can be accomplished. Friends, there is a new garage being built at the corner of 36th and Howard that you must see.

 

 

 

It would have sounded altogether too unthinkably whimsical or even desperate to explain to Mr. Cassette late that afternoon, when we happened by construction zone—that is to say, that he absolutely needed to stop and turn around immediately so I could get a better gander at that fabulous garage. Instead he wheeled by uninterrupted as I chattered excitedly to practically no one, “I have just seen the Best Garage in a long time…the Stick Style?…A Stick Style garage!…Did you see it? Can you imagine the expense in this day and age? All that wood? Who was that crew? Oh my goodness…that craftsmanship!” Truthfully there are moments when we must stop, if for no other reason but to marvel. I was able to go back to that garage later and for that, I am grateful.  I also want you to know that I made two splendid videos of the site of affection, but I am not able to upload them tonight. Drats!

 

 

 

 

3567garage

Photo of 3567 Howard Street garage from the late fall. Douglas County Assessor site.

 

 

 

Let me backtrack a bit and say that we, in the older part of Omaha have, generally speaking, problematic single car garages. If you are lucky, I should add, because many homes have no garage at all. I, for one, am quite happy with our little 1941 garage as it suits our small Cassette Lifestyle but for those with large vehicles or multiple SUVs or Collections of Treasures that they might want to cram into a garage (read storage space), our Midtown garages can seem inadequate. And yes, anyone with sense desires an illustrious carriage house but we are not all that fortunate. In a general looky loo about Midtown, it would appear that most garages added after the fact regretfully adhere to function over form. Let’s be honest, we’ve got a few, large, slapped together, void of personality, 1990s barns around here. Oh dear, I often think, here is another one.

 

 

 

This hard truth makes the reality of 3567 Howard all the more transformative.

 

 

 

3567howard

3567 Howard in late fall. Work is being done on the rear of the house, meanwhile garage being constructed. Photo from the Douglas County Assessor site.

 

 

 

 

frontgarage

A home owner who is keenly interested in building a gorgeous garage that is both historically accurate, cohesive stylistically with his home, impressive in the use of high quality materials, and meticulous in craftsmanship deserves more than just a property tax increase, if I do say. Mr. Home Owner would be deserving of a Magnificent Obsession nod accompanied by a Miss Cassette Salute.

 

 

misscassette-salute

 

Needless to say…this whole corner has become quite intoxicating. And it is all so exhilarating that one wonders, not for the first time, why people do not take to and live in their garages? It would appear that there will, indeed, be an apartment or studio of sorts on the upper level.

 

 

 

 

windows

What was that copper treatment around the windows? Too beautiful. Windows of the Stick Style are typically double-hung with large panes of glass in a simple pattern of one over one or two over two. The window trim was kept simple so it would integrate with the overall applied wood “stick” ornamentation on the exterior walls. It will be interesting to see if and how copper is incorporated in other treatments on this garage.

 

 

 

Tiptoeing about in clicking, not such elusive detective, shoes, I was very interested to learn, from the most delightful garage to ever whisper, that this new carriage house style garage was built with an infallible aesthetic sense. She eagerly pointed out how she was best viewed from either Howard or 36th Street, the purest form of Stick Style with the steeply gabled roof, tall proportions, and decorative wood stick structural overlay. Large brackets supported the overhanging roofs, mimicking the only more glorious house. I only saw heaven upon closer inspection. What was good enough for that glorious garage was certainly good enough for me.

 

 

 

garagenorth

The garage viewed from Howard Street facing south. Note the extended rafters with brackets supporting the overhanging roofs of both house and garage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My question is who is this genius garage visionary—either architect and or builder? Who is the crew that I have seen toiling away at this painstaking labor? These people deserve a round of applause as well.

 

 

 

 

front

This block is really coming along nicely, if I do say. Mr. Cassette and I looked into buying the third house from the corner many moons ago. It is good to see the neighborhood being cared for in the manner to which it was previously accustomed. This photo displays the fantastic characteristics of 3567 Howard–the typical elements of the Stick Style: steeply gabled roofs, tall proportions, decorative overlay, and note the unusually large brackets that form curved diagonal braces along the porch. More of this, please.

 

 

 

 

western

View of 3567 Howard from 36th Street, facing east. The Stick Style house is known (and loved) for its applied wood trim, giving a paneled effect. Characterized by its vertical lines, at times, sharp angularity and as seen here, asymmetrical composition, the Stick Style was popular between the 1860s and 1890s. More on a neighboring Stick Style home can be found at Mysteries of Omaha: 3214 Center Street.

 

 

I say there are enough of the architectural uglies, devilish short cuts, and remuddling miseries in the world to distract one and break one’s heart, without deliberately building more. Even if it is just a garage. My Omaha Obsession salutes Mr. Homeowner at 3567 Howard Street for taking the time, effort and investing Who Knows How Much in the future to make your little corner of the world and Omaha all the more beautiful. You have inspired me. Thank You.

 

 

 

frontgarage

 

Magnificent Obsession is a new short-read series meant to briefly highlight incredible projects in Omaha and my most recent obsessions, apart from my lengthy historical pieces. Yes, it’s named after the Douglas Sirk film.

 

Thank you, thank you everyone for reading my articles and supporting me. It means so much to share this obsession with houses and their people with all of you. I welcome your feedback and comments on this incredible garage and the area. To enable comments, please click on the header title. If you would like to correspond with me privately, please do so at myomahaobsession@yahoo.com. But I assure you, everyone would love to read what you have to say and it makes the conversation more fun. You can keep up with my latest investigations without even leaving your inbox, by “following” myomahaobsession. You will get sent email updates every time I have written a new story.  Also please join My Omaha Obsession on Facebook. Thank you Omaha friends.

 

 

© Miss Cassette and myomahaobsession, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Miss Cassette and myomahaobsession with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

I Wish I Could Have Gone To: The Cave Under the Hill

My Omaha Obsession—as you may by now have gathered—is not really a blog at all; it is only a long walk round our Omaha streets, through the years. If it bores you to walk round Omaha’s streets, peer in the windows of glorious homes and mysterious buildings (even if just from your computer) and try to infer all of the whos and whats in the whodunit, you will long ago have chucked this whole bit aside. So Neither of Us needs worry, really.

 

 

noirgate

 

But the Rest of Us, I assure you, are in like-minded company, although so many gathered here no longer actually reside in Omaha. If this is your first visit to My Omaha Obsession and you would like to go on a stakeout with us, then this is the perfect moment to welcome you. Do you have a trench coat, perchance? Are you prone to wearing the collar up day or night? Do you like to lurk around puzzling brick buildings, searching for hidden ghost signs or do you have an obsession with delightful manhole covers, secret, overgrown gardens and their ivy-covered mansions? Oh, you say you’ve even got a dark fedora? Good…this is looking good. Magnifying glasses or Wayfarers are usually a must but today, today of all days, we’ll all need a good flashlight. Or maybe some antique carbide lamps are more our speed? Yes…we’re going on a little caving expedition. Now let’s all look over our shoulder before we continue because I’ve got a hunch many are going to want to follow us on this underground case.

 

 

tunnel

The Beginning

The very first time I had heard about an Omaha Cave was from my father and his friends. They were recalling the antics of the Peppermint Cave and, of course, my child ears perked up. Was it like a Willie Wonka Candyland, I wondered? It just sounded as delicious as it did mysterious. Doesn’t it, even now? Father of Miss Cassette had been one to frequent all of the hep joints in his day and would reminisce with fondness throughout my childhood.

 

 

Many years later I would hear of another Cave from long ago past —this one, a popular, gay bar, from a much older friend who spoke of it with a sort of rueful snort. I didn’t know where it was or what it was, really, other than a mythological downtown environ, hinting that the world might be a much more glamorous, complicated and decadent place than I had inkling of. I didn’t put two and two together for quite some time, just recently in fact, but before we go any further, let me tell you that this fantasy cavern is all one in the same.

 

 

peppermintcaveoriginalad

 

 

Years ago I happened upon this photo online when I first started writing about Omaha on Myspace. Maybe you have seen this early advertisement also? This was how I learned that the Peppermint Cave had been in the Hill Hotel. It may strike you as an odd pairing that at one time, one of the most well-appointed, towering hotels in Downtown Omaha had this very cave in its basement. For decades this underground haven was The Place to Be and now very little is spoken of it. Miss Cassette was more than intrigued. How had this club come to be, was it really a cave and why did it close? And this, fellow detectives, is where we swap out our sleek noir get-ups for our artful, spelunking attire.

 

 

The Investigation Begins

 

I fear I spoke too soon about the changing of clothes. We’ve got some evidence to sift through first but then we’ll get to the lanterns and the flashlights, I promise. After discovering that early Peppermint Cave advertisement and a bit of corroborating evidence found at the Omaha Public Library, I knew our investigation would begin on the southeast corner of Sixteenth and Howard, now the Kensington Apartments. I’ve written quite a bit about Sixteenth Street in my previous investigations to include The Case of the Curious Cricket Room and Burgess-Nash Company and  The Case of Napier’s Booterie and the Securities Building. (I hope in time, to take Joe Knapp up on his offer of GIS mapping My Omaha Obsession, so that we can all easily track the connection to these incredible buildings. Wouldn’t that be swell?) This investigation, however, we will focus on the blocks further south on Sixteenth, where once was a strip of hotels.

 

 

googlemap

Current photo from Google Map. The cross corners of Sixteenth and Howard are densely filled, north of Howard with parking garages and south of Howard with the Kensington Tower Apartments and Magnolia Hotel. The classy, southern, “near-end” of the old retail strip of Sixteenth, in my mind. Sixteenth Street thins out considerably past Howard. But it wasn’t always that way, as we will see later. To get a real feel for this corner, walk or drive west from 13th on Howard. It sends shivers.

 

 

The Current State of Sixteenth and Howard

kensingtontowerapt

The Kensington Tower Apartments are found on southeast corner at 505 South Sixteenth Street. This photo is from the apartment website.

 

 

streetnames

Street names still in use carved into the beautiful corner of the Kensington, a sad reminder that today’s signs cannot compare to craftsmanship of the past.

 

 

silverhammersurveillance

The Silver Hammer Surveillance business is found on the main level of the Kensington Tower Apartments. This particular window faces north. Their other window and door is actually on the Sixteenth Street side. Silver Hammer Surveillance is one of the coolest businesses in Omaha, second only to that 1940s private investigator’s agency that used to be on 51st and Leavenworth. When the gumshoe left his office, I about died. I continue to carry the torch for that elusive PI. Silver Hammer represents a business that I am afraid to walk into because I know, without a doubt, that my detective skills are not on the level…yet. They are a wealth of information. Have you seen this captivating shop of which I speak? http://www.silverhammersurveillance.com/index.html

 

 

aquilacourt

The dignified Aquila Court Building across the street at 1615 Howard Street now functions as the Magnolia Hotel. A favorite building of mine and someday I will return to do a proper investigation on this Lovely One.

 

 

unionplazaapt

Photo from Google Map facing south on Sixteenth Street, toward Jackson. The Magnolia Hotel and the Kensington Apartments are surrounded by parking lots and vague concrete slab buildings until about Jackson Street, where the Union Plaza Apartments and the closed (or is it open still?) Greyhound Bus Station is located. For this reason, I say that Sixteenth and Howard is the classy near end of the once retail, hotel and club strip. But how did it all begin and where did the Cave connection fit into the puzzle?

 

 

Peter Iler and the Iler Grand Hotel

 

All pointers led to one Peter Iler, early Omaha whiskey distiller, who built the first hotel on the southeast corner of Sixteenth and Howard. I say first, because there would be an annex in time and then another hotel altogether at that corner.

 

 

ilergrandopening

From the Omaha World Herald. February 9, 1899. Iler Grand Opening.

 

 

The earliest mention, I could track of the Iler Grand Hotel was from 1898. The Iler Grand, Peter Iler’s hotel, opened to the public on Friday, February 10, 1899. The Grand Opening was the very next day. Now mind you, according to the “National Register of Historic Places Registration Form,” a fascinating 1988 report prepared by Lynn Bjorkman, Omaha City Planner, previous to building the Grand Hotel, Iler had built a three-story building containing stores and flats on this very corner in 1887. Later this building was converted for use as an “annex” to the Iler Grand Hotel. The Grand, according to Bjorkman’s research, was erected on the south half of the lot in 1897.

 

 

ilergrand

Iler Grand Hotel postcard, 16th and Howard in 1916. From the Burnice Fiedler collection. Taken from the Greetings from Omaha Nebraska book compiled by (the fabulous) Kristine Gerber and Paula Steenson. This postcard further illuminates the smaller building originally settled on the actual corner, with the Iler Grand built just to the south.

 

 

The Iler Grand Baths

Some of you impatient types might be wondering what all of this has to do with the Cave and just when will we get to the Cave? Here, my anxious friends, is the connector piece–the evidence by which we begin our case in full. In late February of 1899 Peter Iler unveiled “The Iler Grand Baths.” These Grand Baths were in the basement of the hotel, a pattern of underground environs on this corner that we will soon add to our dossier. Trust me and tuck this bit of information under your fedora.

 

 

ilergrandbaths

From the Omaha World Herald. February 24, 1899. The concept of public bathing, cleansing and relaxation wouldn’t have been shocking to Omahans at this time, although, now that I ruminate on it, we’ve always been a rather modest bunch. I shudder to think. By in large the idea of taking steam or dry heat, followed by a plunge in a cold pool after the hot rooms was thought to ease ailments like rheumatism and arthritis. It was also a social gathering. Venturing to natural hot springs was also gaining popularity. Public bathing, (although the Iler wasn’t free) was offered in larger cities, at a time when rising concern over cleanliness conflicted with the average American’s ability to access a full bathroom.

 

 

L0011835 Heldey, Hydro-electric bath, 1892

Hydro electric bath 1892. Meanwhile electrotherapy was becoming a known alternative medical treatment. Using energy, this bath was charged with electricity or electrically charged water. Hydroelectric baths were used as a tonic. Apparently the combination of electrical current with baths enhances their tonic and sedative effects. The Iler Grand Bath boasted of Electro Therapeutic, Turko-Russian, Plunge, Needle and Shower, Plain, Sea Salt, Bidet and TURKISH BATHS. This array would have been seen as more of boutique spa of its day, rather than a bathhouse. “The above lists of baths can be obtained with us and at no other place.” Ladies’ Day was “under the personal supervision of a lady expert.”

 

 

The Iler Grand Hotel would become a leading Omaha hostelry in its early years, the Grand Dame surviving thirty-four years in the business. Other accounts say fifty years total, if you take into account the years of the smaller flats—although to me, not a real hotel. The Omaha City Directory listed the Iler Grand proper address at 507 South 16th Street. Also listed was a Grand Barber Shop. I am a hopeless devotee of formal hotel barbershops and cigar stores. Rome Miller, of the Hotel Rome, (incredible name) would go on to operate the Iler Grand for fifteen years.

 

 

hotelrome

Hotel Rome postcard. Sixteenth and Jackson, just south of where the Iler Grand used to stand.

 

 

According to the Omaha World Herald, Fred Castle and P. W. Mikesell were at the Iler Grand helm in 1918 but were not owners. Omaha: The Gate City and Douglas County, Volume Two by Arthur Cooper Wakeley offered a bit of conflicting information. According to his research, Fred A. Castle had leased the Iler Grand for five years, leaving to open the Castle Hotel in 1915. I have long been obsessed with the old Castle Hotel at 632 South Sixteenth and there is surely an investigation to come in the future. This hotel, like so many Omaha treasures was razed in the early 1970s. I have really gone down a rabbit hole and I do plan to right us. It would all be a bit too fatiguing if it wasn’t so engrossing. And I do hope you find it the latter.

 

 

Closing of the Iler

 

I found evidence that J. W. and L. H. Hill had been the actual owners of the Iler Grand Hotel for a number of years. In 1919 the pair also took over the hotel management, according the Omaha World Herald.

 

 

ilergrandcloses

April 29, 1920, the Omaha World Herald announced the closing of the Iler, “Preliminary to the opening of the new Hotel Hill, adjacent to it.” At that time the Iler Grand was to be extensively remodeled and refurnished for two months. “After which the five upper floors will be annexed to the Hotel Hill. The lobby floor will be converted into store rooms.”

 

 

John and Alan McDonald

 

“National Register of Historic Places Registration Form” stated that Omaha businessmen John W. and Lem H. Hill began construction of the Hill Hotel in the fall of 1919. The pair had hired the architectural firm of John and Alan McDonald. The McDonalds’ practice spanned a total of 70 years, with many residential and commercial commissions from upper-crust Omaha—the First Unitarian Church, Joslyn Art Museum, Beth El Synagogue, to name but a few of their more prominent designs. The hiring of the well-regarded McDonalds signifies that the Hills wanted a beautiful, prosperous architectural composition—formally leaving World War I behind, a beacon to the well heeled. I might be making that part up.

 

 

hill-hotel-detail

So gorgeous. Detail of the Hill Hotel. Photo from the Kensington Apartments website.

 

 

The Hill Hotel

 

From an Inventory of Historic Omaha Buildings prepared by Landmarks Inc. in 1980, 501 S. Sixteenth Street began life as the Hotel Hill as was the trend in those years. (The name would be found interchangeably through the investigation.) It is dated10-10-1919, although not opened until a year later. At a cost of $250,000, the Hill Hotel was in the Neo-Classical Revival (popular from 1880-1920) style. The “National Register of Historic Places Registration Form” further describes the hotel using terms Colonial Revival and Georgian Revival architectural styles.

 

 

tallshot

I would love to get inside this building and onto the roof.

 

 

hillhoteltoopen

Omaha World Herald Sept 2, 1920: “The Hill Hotel, the new fourteen story $800,000 edifice” opened for business. The building was begun in July of 1919 by the Vaughn Construction Company and was “held up four times by strikes.” At the time of the opening, the Hill Hotel had 75 of the 200 rooms completed. Within ten days the lobby, the mezzanine floor and the basement were to be finished. C.E. Griffith, manager, formally of Castle Hotel, was quoted as saying it would be weeks before the dining rooms and cafes were ready.

 

 

Hints at Omaha in 1920

 

From Omaha: A Guide to the City and Environs, compiled and written by the Federal Writers’ Project of the WPA from 1935 through 1939, I located that the population of Omaha had grown to 191,605 by 1920. “A building boom was in progress, with more buildings erected in 1919 and the early years of the twenties than at any previous time.” The striking feature of the boom was the increase in apartment houses and hotels–to include the Conant, Castle, Blackstone, Sanford and Hill. By the time the book was written the Hill Hotel remained one the tallest building on the Omaha skyline, along with the Fontenelle and Paxton Hotels, the Union Pacific Building, the Medical Arts Building and the Woodmen of the World Building. The Aquila Court building, across the street, would be erected in 1923.

 

 

hillandaquila

The Hill Hotel and Aquila Court Building, as they look today. Sixteenth Street facing south.

 

 

hotelhill1925

Hotel Hill postcard from 1925. From the Burnice Fiedler collection. Taken from the Greetings from Omaha Nebraska book compiled by (the fabulous) Kristine Gerber and Paula Steenson. More photos later but just to give you an early idea of the Hotel Hill.

 

 

Hotel Hill Turkish Baths

 

I was delighted to find the new basement of the Hotel Hill used as a bath and spa like the Iler baths before. The Omaha City Directory of 1920 lent the clue, vaguely describing the: “Hotel Hill basement: Hotel Hill Turkish Baths.” I was not entirely sure if these Turkish Baths were in the newly erected hotel basement or the annexed area to the south, which had been the Iler Grand Baths. One might like to assume that the Hill Turkish Baths were in the annexed area, as they had already been established. Maybe you should jot that down in your little leather-bound pocket notepad. We’ll be turning over this theory later.

 

 

The Jack and Jill Coffee Shop

 

 

jack-and-jill-diner

Jack and Jill Coffee Shop. The Quaintest Place in Town to Dine.  Get it? Jack and Jill went up the hill. In October 7, 1928 the new Jack and Jill Coffee Shop was announced in the Omaha World Herald. They were to open in the Hill Hotel the very next day under the management of Horace Humphreys. Love the name. The futurist wall decorations (?) were designed and painted by Bernard Szold, the director of the Omaha Community Playhouse. There was “brightly colored broken-tile floor and wrought-iron light fixtures.”

 

 

jackandjill

The current look of where I believe the Jack and Jill stood. This bay faces north on the Howard Street side of the building.

 

 

howardstreetside

The Jack and Jill Coffee Shop, occupied the bay just east of what is now Silver Hammer Surveillance.

 

 

jackandjillcoffeeshop

Jack and Jill matches, as shown for sale on Ebay. As if all of that wasn’t enough, one of the novelties of the Jack and Jill Coffee Shop was an old-fashioned well and an oaken bucket, which served as the ice water tap. Waitresses would stand there and draw the bucket up and down into the ice water, filling drinking glasses with the water therein. Hmmmm…sounds kind of delightfully…dirty. Well I suppose it was all very in keeping with that childhood rhyme.

 

 

alwaysabreeze

July 28, 1929. Always a Breeze ad. This is maybe my favorite advertisement of all time or of this week. “Hot Nights—the good old Nebraska ‘corn weather’—have no terrors for our guests.” What? So disturbing. By 1929 Samuel Josephson had taken over the management of the Hill Hotel. A long time hotelier, Josephson also operated the Westgate Hotel of Kansas City. The Hill Hotel advertisements improved greatly in that year.

 

 

Side Note and Apologies about My Wanderings

 

If my lips were given to setting in a grim line when things went awry, this might be that dismal occasion. Even as I type, I am quite heartbroken to deliver this news… but I must. You have been so kind to allow me to do my obsessing and fuss around and dragging things about till I am quite happy. But as usual, we have run on much too far ahead or rather, I have gone to deeply. We must leave the Hill Hotel descriptions, though I do adore them, with a promise that I will complete a full investigation on the hotel– because I have truly fallen in love. For the sake of brevity, a quality, which I normally do not support, and my sudden trepidation that we will never reach the Cave, let us advance to the business at hand. (You cannot believe how torturing this grown up brevity can be.) One clue always leads to another….

 

 

The New News on Sixteenth Street

 

If you have not donned your spelunking gear yet, you could just stay in your trench coat if you are more comfortable but you’ll probably want some sensible shoes from this point on. I am generally opposed to those things. At some point on the trail, I spied a brief building permit, from the Omaha World Herald dated December of 1937.

 

 

buildingpermit

Building permit to alter room for $250. About $4,225.00 by today’s standards. Could this have been the origin of the Cave club? Not long after, on December 26, 1937, the New Marine Bar opened in the Hill Hotel. I am not sure if this bar was in the basement or on the main floor.

 

 

1937night

December 15, 1937. Fantastic photo from this time period facing south down Sixteenth Street with Farnam being the cross street. This gives a real feel of this time period showing the Christmas decorations and how active Downtown Omaha used to be. Even at night. Photo from Streetcars of Omaha and Council Bluffs by Richard Orr. In the upper left hand side one can spot the partially obscured Hill Hotel sign high in the sky. States the overnight rate and Hotel Hill. I want to walk into this photo and live for a night, indulging in the glorious signs of old Omaha, when people understood quality extended to font.

 

 

The Cave Under the Hill

 

The first mention I uncovered of the Cave was from the Omaha World Herald, dated January 21, 1938. The advertisement proclaimed, “Opening Saturday. Omaha’s Newest and Most Unique Spot! The Cave Under the Hill.” I instantly loved the name. It really conjured a whole look and feel, so unlike the minimalist bar names of today. This detective wondered if the Cave Under the Hill was just a good play on the Hill Hotel or if the name had a significant cultural meaning at the time. From what I could turn up, the old Brownies books and stories made mention of a cave under the hill. This might be a stretch.

 

 

1921cave2

Meanwhile I’d stumbled across these spectacular shots from Swildon’s Hole, Priddy, Mendip Hills, Somerset.1921. Images from the British Association for the Advancement of Science photograph collection held at the British Geological Survey. Photographs were taken by J.Harry Savory. Which only serve to prove that we humans have been obsessed with caves since the beginning of time.

 

 

1921cave1

Breathtaking cave. Swildon’s Hole, Priddy, Mendip Hills, Somerset.1921. Images from the British Association for the Advancement of Science photograph collection held at the British Geological Survey. Photographs were taken by J.Harry Savory.

 

 

goesdoublefeature

January 21, 1938. The Hotel Hill Goes Double Feature. I realized later the Cave Under the Hill had its name dropped but briefly in the terrifically odd book, The Face of the Naked Lady: An Omaha Family Mystery by Michael Rips. Now doesn’t that sound just like something you might like? It is so interesting. My galpal, Amanda Lynch, of Jackson Street Booksellers’ fame, gave it to me as a birthday gift one year.

 

 

The Cave Under the Hill became The Spot for live music and dancing from its inception in 1938. At that time the club was entered through the main Hill Hotel front doors facing Sixteenth Street. I imagine the clientele traipsed through the lobby nightly and went through another doorway where the music-loving clientele descended the stairs to a low-ceilinged basement. It would appear from photos that there were many different areas in the club–more on that in a bit.

 

 

The Music and the Time

 

The Four Dons played the Cave frequently in 1938 and by April, had been renamed The Cave Cut-Ups. The 3 Giants of Swing playing at the Marine Bar were a southern swing band off of the Decca label. They were later featured in early African American movies. Big band jazz and swing music was very popular at this time. Think Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. “Jazz combos” were growing in number and primarily African American– the combos just barely starting to mix racially mix due to segregation. There were many popular radio singers like the Andrews Sisters and Bing Crosby, some incorporating a humor into their acts like an old variety show. (Because of my grandmother’s tutelage, my all-time favorite from this period is Miss Billie Holiday.) Couples’ dancing was Very Big in the late 30s and there were a number of great dances taking their influence from African Americans culture. Think the Lindy Hop, later the Jitterbug, the Foxtrot and the Big Apple. Meanwhile the hillbilly music of the 1920s was being re-marketed as “country and western.” It would appear that this genre of live music was not offered at the Cave Under the Hill. The Great Depression was nearing its end and Prohibition was over in the States. The most likely all white Omaha patrons loved to gather for that live music and the now legal giggle water.

 

 

reitz1938

In January of 1938 Reitz Sales and Service business, at 1818 Douglas Street, had their annual company party at the Cave Under the Hill in the Hill Hotel. Here the company are seen drinking and having a good time. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive). This looked like a basement to me, albeit, a nice one for the 1930s, but I wasn’t yet picking up the Cave Under the Hill feel.

 

 

whoopla

From 1938: Omaha’s Glamour Spot ad. Cocktail dancing from 2 to 5:30. “WHOOPLA.”

 

 

Other Clues to the Cave

 

Omaha: A Guide to the City and Environs But what really caught these WPA writers’ eye was the Cave Under the Hill. “The Cave Under the Hill is open from 4 pm to 1 am. The Cave is one of the most popular downtown nightclubs. Drinks of all types are served. Music is furnished by a small orchestra.” Other “most frequented clubs” in this corridor were the White Horse Inn in the Regis Hotel on 16th and Harney and the Rome Bar in the Rome Hotel on 16th and Jackson.

 

 

marinecaveswizzle-stick

Marine Room–The Cave Glass Swizzle Stick from the Hill Hotel as found on Ebay. The flip side read Grand MacNish Scotch.

 

 

stalagmites

More from the Reitz Sales and Service Annual company party at the Cave Under the Hill. Now this was starting to look more like a cave.  I was so excited to find this photo. Look at those stalactites hanging from the ceiling of the cave. Just amazing. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).

 

 

fourads

Advertisements for four great Omaha business that I had to include because they’re all so cool. Dixon’s and Peony Park. Desirous. I need to point out that the Marine Bar had “Community Singing,” which Miss Cassette favors immensely.

 

 

1938emptybar

The Cave Under the Hill basement bar. Overhead crest reads, “VIN-FEMMES-CHANT” which translates to “Wine, Women and Song”. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive). February 25, 1938. The scroll cuts around the bar remind me of the 1941 Cassette kitchen cabinets in our house. The wrought iron lanterns, the crests, the English feel and faux stone work over the rounded doorways struck me as being a bit thrown together. After weeks of mulling, this detective began to believe that the Cave Under the Hill was in a Hobbit-fantasy novel-J. R. R. Tolkien theme. When I found The Hobbit was published in 1937, I speculated that this was where the Cave Under the Hill gathered its early decor.

 

 

linoleumfloor

I adore the linoleum floor and the great bar stools. Very similar to our basement floor. I have a thing for original linoleum tiles and flooring.

 

 

stage

The Cave Under the Hill, view of the bar and several small tables with chairs. In the back corner is a small stage for a live band. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive). February 25, 1938. The Cave Under the Hill was mentioned frequently in the Dance Spot News column of the Omaha World Herald.

 

 

stagedetail

A closer look at that stage, scroll work and painted Hobbit door. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).

 

 

1938mcm

Now this photo of the Cave Under the Hill is also dated 1938 but it is so very modern. I was confused. Was this the other side of the bar? Was this perhaps taken in the late 1940s through the 1950s instead? I think the date was a mistake. These must have been very contemporary digs for the time. I would very much enjoy spending time here. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).

 

 

The Concept of Cave as Club

 

There is a bit of inherent mystery about the Cave Under the Hill. The name is genius, really. This detective had a hunch that there must have been other cave clubs popping up in the States during this time period based on my discoveries of the Forrest Glen clubs and woodland themed clubs I came across in my The Curse of the Clover Leaf Club  article. Miss Cassette loves a good theme for a restaurant, tearoom or cocktail lounge, especially during the 30s through the 60s and I, obviously, am not alone in that. As I could have guessed because caves have always fascinated people, the cave nightclub concept lent itself nicely to an intimate, party atmosphere. It’s all about the mystique.

 

 

1897masons

One of the earliest, coolest gathering spots I found was this Masonic Grand Lodge of Arizona meeting in the cave in the mine of the Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Co. at Bisbee, Arizona, Nov. 12th 1897. Photo by A. Miller. Yes, I said Masons. Check out this link for more about the potential Mason—Cave connection. http://thatoregonlife.com/2016/06/malheur-cave-easily-creepiest-cave-oregon/

 

 

I discovered an absolutely immortal looking environ from old Washington, D.C. The Club Crystal Caverns was an African American built and owned nightclub. First established as the Night Club Bohemia, the hot spot was soon patronized by black Washington’s elite. From the 1920s through the 1940s, they reigned as the Club Crystal Caverns. I wish I could have gotten a look for myself.

 

 

crystalcavernsscurlock

Washington, D.C. The Club Crystal Caverns. Just take it all in. Those headdresses, the ceiling, those shoes and the man who could be from 2017. Heaven.

 

 

bohemiancrystalcaverns

Bohemian Crystal Caverns in Washington, D.C. This is the coolest thing you will look at all day.  Imagine the acoustics? I just noticed the pirate faces in the cave walls.

 

 

It wouldn’t take long to locate Canadian leads on the same trend. The Cave Supper Club originated as a Western Canadian chain of nightclubs in 1935. The Vancouver location survived four decades and successfully dished out drinking and live entertainment.

 

 

1930scanadiancavenightclub

The Canadian Supper Club Night Cave performers. Just look at that glorious site. Now that’s a cave club.

 

 

1940scanadiancaveclub

The Cave was decorated with stalactites fashioned out of burlap and plaster, and the walls were made similarly cave-like.

 

 

earlehill-his-cavemen-at-cave-club-1937

Earle Hill and his Cavemen. In the early days, it was a supper club with floorshows and an orchestra. Are those huge mushrooms? This is what I call a stage.

 

 

cave1944

Other Cave Delights and Inspiration

 

cavenymphgrunewaldhotel

Cave nymph statue in the Grunewald Cave of the Grunewald Hotel in Louisiana. Lovely postcard.

 

 

madonnainnroom137cavemansanluisobispoca

The Madonna hotel room 137 in San Luis Obispo, California. Great postcard. Much later, of course, but would you get a look at that?

 

 

cavetour

1950s, early 1960s cave tour. A favorite post card of a fantasy land.

 

 

1940s at the Cave Under the Hill

 

You know how I like to wonder off…well let’s get back on track. In 1940 all clues point to the Cave Under the Hill having expanded due to popularity. Look at this risqué caveman ad which I believe set the new tone.

 

 

cavemanad

January 12, 1940. “New Beauty New Comfort.”

 

 

therondvooad

Also inthe 1940s the Hill Hotel began advertising for their newest bar, the Ron-D-Voo. The Hill Ron-D-Voo was on the first floor and had windows on both the Howard and Sixteenth Street side. The Ron-D-Voo was located in the bay that the Silver Hammer Surveillance is in now. Bands also played this bar nightly. Does it look like this man is displaying the overbite while dancing? I thought so too.

 

 

doubleexposure

I love double exposures and this one is truly top drawer. Party time from this period.

 

 

mariedupre

Deb Lyons and His Cubs featuring Marie Dupree, “the Glamour Girl” played steadily from 1939 through the early 40s. Also popular at the Cave Under the Hill in the 1940s were the Four Esquires and Don Decker and his “fashions in song.” The Cavaliers, George Devron, Sid Pritikin as well as open Amateur Nights were big hits.

 

 

ralphkirk

Ralph Kirk. I am just going to say it. He is so cute. He looks like an early 60s jazz musician. There was another popular act in town during the 1940s—Queenie, the trained cow with her trainer, Ralph Kirk, a rodeo clown. I only wish I had a photo of Queenie. Can you imagine what their show entailed?

 

 

Cave Under the Hill Gains an Entrance

 

 

In early March of 1943 the Cave Under the Hill started fire one Saturday morning due to faulty wiring in the Cave’s ceiling. The Fire Commissioner issues a no-dancing order at the Cave until “a new exit to the street has been completed.” The Cave was closed until later that April.

 

 

newexit

Omaha World Herald. April 21, 1943 “New Exit Permits Dancing at Cave” article. This unfortunate event led to the Cave gaining its very own entrance on Sixteenth Street, right next to the official front doors of the Hill Hotel. There will be photos of this entrance later in the article.

 

 

More Music

 

In 1944 Billboard Magazine gave the Cave a nod when listed in their Music Year Book under their Small Bands and Cocktail Attractions. It was so fun to read the names of these haunts state by state. Here’s the totality of the Nebraska list. Lincoln: Cornhusker Hotel and Lincoln Hotel. Omaha: Beachcomber’s Night Club, Blackstone Hotel, Cave-Under-the-Hill, Hill Hotel and Stork Club.

 

 

billboardmusic

1944 Billboard Music Year Book

 

 

eltonworth

1945 Elton Worth, pianist at the Cave Under the Hill. This is such a great photo. “As the hands on the clock near 12 midnight.”

 

 

wendallhall

The Hall Quints led by Wendall Hall brought jive and rhumba to the Cave. They played for several years at the Cave Under the Hill under Hall’s lead. Hall was known for playing a console steel guitar that he had designed and built himself, the first of four steel guitars he would make. Hall had infamously played with the Lawrence Welk Band in the 1920s and 1930s. Yes, that Lawrence Welk. I located one fantastic article interviewing Wendall Hall. Hall reported to have just come back to the Cave bandstand after a break and “found two men shooting pictures of my instrument and taking measurements. I found out they were from the Gibson Company (maker of stringed instruments). About eight months later Gibson came out with a console steel guitar that was a copy of mine.” Holy smokes.

 

 

The Cave Under the Hill Gets Classy

 

 

1940s16thandhoward

Magnificent photo of an Omaha streetcar from the 40s-very early 50s. Corner of Sixteenth and Howard, looking south. Women are seen in front of the Hill Hotel on the left. Hotel Rome is seen further down the street. Aquila Court Building is across. Hotel Castle is on the west side of Sixteenth. One can see from this photo that Sixteenth was quite dense all the way past Leavenworth Street. Photo from the incredible book Omaha Streetcars Revisited by Richard Orr.

 

 

1940ssupperclub

Omahan Michael Anania’s book The Red Menace, described his 1950s Omaha upbringing. Anania wrote of eavesdropping on his parents and their friends, in the shadow of World War II, “Listening to them on Sunday evenings made it seem like a great round of dancing nights at the Cave Under the Hill, dance bands at the Paxton Hotel or the Fontenelle, parties at the Trocadero and the Colony Club.” The importance of dancing and socializing in those postwar years cannot be downplayed. A great hint at the Cave Under the Hill’s folklore was an interview with Ken Boxley from the paper. Boxley was in a U. S. Navy officer-training program during World War II where his glimmer of hope was the rare weekend pass “to visit the Cave Under the Hill lounge in Omaha.”

 

 

1949-1950ad

1949-1950 edition of Hotel Hill advertisement. I love this time period when marketing really hit the polish. Sam Josephson was quoted as saying he wanted to make the Cave Under the Hill a “top fun center” which included putting in a much larger floorshow.

 

 

band

Chuck McDaniel with an orchestra at the Cave Under the Hill. Notice the stalactites and the treatment on the ceiling as well as the whole new feel of the Cave. Not exactly a Bilbo Baggins situation anymore.  John Savage collection owned by the OWH, lent with permission by the Durham Museum. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).

 

 

paula

Paula Lombardo was Big at the Hill. Lombardo was described as “Gorgeous Paula Lombardo. Dynamic Singing Star of Stage and Radio.” John Savage collection owned by the OWH, lent with permission by the Durham Museum. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).

 

 

Cave Under the Hill in the 1950s

 

Evidence points to the Cave Under the Hill intending to make the 1950s Bigger and Better. “Everybody Goes to the Air Conditioned Cave!” read the advertisements of the time. Under Josephson’s management the clientele in the 50s dressed to the nines under the new policy: the Cave was to be opened Sundays and there would be dancing and full entertainment every night. I dream of 50s jazz, the real thing. Was “Salt Peanuts!” ever exclaimed from the stage? Things I need to know.

 

 

dancetonight

The Cave wasn’t just cool to adults. In 1951 the Hill Hotel faced a 21- day liquor license suspension for selling beer to a minor in the Cave Under the Hill. Josephson’s attorney called this unjustly drastic at a loss of about fifteen thousand dollars to the hotel. His belief was that only the Cave Under the Hill should have their license suspended, not the whole hotel. By the various ads I found looking for cocktail waitresses, a Mr. Dixon was running the Cave Under the Hill in the early 1950s.

 

 

Hill Hotel Omaha, NE

The best 1940s-1950s Hill Hotel postcard shows the Jack & Jill Coffee Shop on the north side. Ron-D-Voo entrance on the west. Great Hill Hotel marquee and Cave door just obscured to the south.

 

 

josephson

Mr. Samuel Josephson continued to manage the Hill Hotel. I found him featured in this photo from 1953. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).

 

 

1954citydirectory

Omaha City Directory of 1954 shows the businesses involved in the Hill Hotel as well as the other ventures down the block.

 

 

mid-fifties-rondvoo

Mid fifties photo of a Mercury in front of the Ron-D-Voo. Thanks to good friend Syd Reinarz for his help in estimating the time period and for his love of cars. This photo adds a nice description to the above postcard.

 

 

thecavematches

Divine Cave Under the Hill matches (found on Ebay) promised “dancing and cocktails to the Rhythm of famous bands nitely.”

 

 

The Cave Under the Hill Mysteriously Closes and Re-Opens

 

I dug and I dug and I dug but I could not unearth the date of the closing of the Cave Under the Hill. I am also not altogether sure why they closed. Much later in my investigation would I find that G & G Investment Company took ownership of the Hill Hotel back at the end of 1957. That would explain the closing and reopening of the Cave under new management. Originally the only breadcrumbs I came across were the remnants of its reopening in the form of ads for new staff.

 

 

February 1958: “MANAGER. We’re reopening the Cave Under the Hill and we will be needing a capable man by March 1 to assume its management either as an assistant manager of the hotel or as a manager-bartender.” And this from February 18, 1958 “Neat, attractive young lady with pleasing personality for the check room of the Cave Under the Hill. Opening soon. Evening hours. No Sundays. Apply to Manager. HILL HOTEL.”

 

 

seeburgstereo

In March of 1959, the Cave Under the Hill had installed The Sensational Two-Channel Seeburg Stereo System. Boasting of the True Realism of Stereo. I had to investigate further. This was very cutting edge, as it turns out.

 

 

1959seeburgstereo

1959 famous two channel Seeburg Jukebox Stereo Model 222. The phonographs used the old Pickering “Red-head” stereo cartridge.

 

 

The Cave Under the Hill was changing its tune and the Seeburg Stereo speakers weren’t the only difference. I found ads for the Flairs.

 

 

theflairs

In Person: the Flairs. May 5, 1960. Also the comedy and antics of the Chuck Sutton Trio. This case was starting to look Rock ‘n Roll! Look at how they held those guitars. what sort of invasion was taking over the Cave? (Also take note of that tasty Rose Lodge ad. I have been working on that investigation for four months.)

 

 

harrypaul

But the biggest trace was this 1961 ad for Harry Paul and the Saints featuring Curly Stengel “Rock ‘n Roll.” Rock ‘n Roll! It wouldn’t be long until I discovered the Cave was reinvented for another set of music lovers.

 

 

The Peppermint Cave Comes Alive!

 

I surmise that Don Hammond took the club manager’s job in 1958 when the Cave re-opened. I do not have proof of that, only that I knew he was confirmed manager in the later years. The theme of the Cave changed shortly after the hiring in 1958, leading me to believe that Hammond was involved. Don Hammond was a well- known Omaha club manager, having successfully guided the Seven Seas, among others from what I gathered. In his obituary of February 1996, Hammond was said to have operated the Peppermint Cave and many hotels and clubs in town. A tastemaker, Hammond just seemed to understand what the kids liked.

 

 

thingshavechanged

New Peppermint Cave revealed in February of 1962. I wonder what the “New Look” was?

 

 

cocktailwaitresseswanted

My first indication that Don Hammond was operating the Peppermint Cave was this cocktail waitress ad from 1962. I later found a lead from 1964: “Dancers Wanted—Girls for chorus line. Will train if interested. Must be 21 or over. Steady employment. See Mr. Hammond.” I am not sure exactly what all this line of work entailed but my father has assured me that girls dancing in a nightclub did not always mean what it means today. And for the record, I think Hammond meant go go girls, not really a chorus line but that was probably a more proper advertisement for the day. I could be inferring to much. The Peppermint Cave might have had a chorus line for all I know.

 

 

60swaitress

Early 1960s cocktail waitress.

 

 

twisting

June 21, 1962: From The Rumor Department column in the Omaha World Herald: “They say business at the Peppermint Cave have fallen off since the Denver baseball team came to town. Twist addicts are in the grandstand getting pointers from Lou Skizas in the batter’s box.” Later in 1962 there was a bust at the Peppermint Cave for serving to a minor.

 

 

Bands of the Peppermint Cave

 

The Hot Spots for bands to play in the early 60s were at Mickey’s A-Go-Go and the Peppermint Cave. The Rogues, The Esquires, The Eccentrics were very popular. I’m sure there were more bands and I hope to hear from readers who went to these shows back in the day. Sadly I could not find any videos from the Peppermint Cave but I was able to find these out-of-hand, amazing videos from this time period in Omaha.

 

 

Check out the Rogues, performing “Anything You Say.”

 

 

Another band from this Peppermint Cave time period was the Wonders. This is their hit single, “I’m Not Willin.’”

 

 

Stones Studio Group #1

The Rolling Stones from 1964.

 

 

According to an Omaha World Herald article, David Trupp, of the Eccentrics, was a twenty-one year old when he met the Rolling Stones in June of 1964. David was drummer of the band, the Eccentrics. The owner of the club (I am assuming Don Hammond) apparently asked Trupp and his band if they would “Hang out with an English rock group that’s in town, show them around before their concert at the Civic (Auditorium).” Can you imagine? Apparently the Rolling Stones never got that grand Omaha tour, instead the two bands “Hung out in the hotel room at the old Indian Hills Inn near 84th and West Dodge Road” for a couple of hours. The fantastic but brief article mentions that Trupp spent most of the visit talking music with Brian Jones, who would die only five years later. Everyone who knows me, understands that I about fainted when I discovered this.

 

 

eccentricsbandphoto

Eccentrics band photo from 1964. Too Cool.

 

 

thedrifters

November 2, 1964: The Peppermint Cave presents the Drifters. A new addition: calling for reservations. As if that wasn’t enough, there was indication that in October of 1964: “Native dancer, Andre, from Tahiti, is the special attraction this week at the Peppermint Cave. The Fabulous Esquires, three guitars and drums, provide the music.” Now that must have been something to see.

 

 

Here is an amazing video of people dancing in 1964 at the Whisky A Go Go. This gives an excellent feel for the time.

 

 

eccentricsposter

The Eccentrics ad from August of 1965. The name, the look…just perfect.

 

 

gogodancers

PHOTO: Go Go Dancers from 1965. This is a great example of a basement club from the period and the look of go go dancers that my father has described. The Peppermint Cave was mentioned in an OWH article from 1965: “On hand are two a-go-go dancers and the Green Dandys, the group that appears nightly at the Peppermint Cave.” The Green Dandys. Fab name.

 

 

A Pre-Conscious Space

 

All of this 1960s Omaha garage music, drinking, dancing and cave fetishism has reminded me of a brilliant time in Omaha not that long ago. If you were around for this spectacle, then you remember fondly Sean Ward’s Pre-Conscious Space. Check out Sean’s work at: http://www.seanrward.org/ A Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts architectural installation by artist Sean R. Ward, A Pre-Conscious Space or “The Cave,” as it was affectionately called, was a multi-functional art space built within the Okada sculpture facility, directly to the east of the Bemis Center. http://www.bemiscenter.org/art/past_section/cave_art.html Like something from the town of Bedrock, Ward created a cave environ, (premiered on July 24, 2009 during Mutual of Omaha’s Wild About Omaha celebration) which was supposed to continue on as an installation-venue for up to 18 months past the opening. The Bemis held a number of events there and it was the talk of the art and music community.

 

 

seanwardscave

Words cannot describe the experience of having been in the cooling-warming glow of the Cave, listening to live music there and celebrating, as humans have done for years, in a contemporary Cave of our own. The Cave was nothing short of magical.

 

 

derekhiggins

The acoustics were divine…there were no parallel surfaces in the Cave, creating a recording studio sound environment. Absolutely no echo—an enchanting, intimate feeling that I will never forget. Here is dear friend, Dereck Higgins performing on the glassy Cave stage. https://dereckhiggins.bandcamp.com/ Primordial memories.

 

 

seanwardcave1

Mr. Cassette and I even contemplated getting married there. I was planning a garage music event there to mimic the Peppermint Cave days. Sadly it was mysteriously discontinued after roughly seven short months by the Bemis board of directors.

 

 

seanwardcave

These photos barely touch the experience.

 

 

I was able to find this video of the Cave from 2009 by Gilda Snowden. I love her commentary.

 

 

The Peppermint Cave Becomes a Teen Club

 

An Omaha World Herald article of June 24, 1966 announced: “Don Hammond, manager of the former Peppermint Cave bar in Hill Hotel (it’ll reopen soon as a teenage night club) plans on opening a bar soon near Fifteenth and Howard Street. Don said he plans on decorating it ‘in a theme that will be compatible with Nebraska’s Centennial.’” I was surprised as the Peppermint Cave, by all accounts, had been quite the spot for the drinking aged crowd of music lovers. I began to wonder if the Vietnam War had anything to do with it, seeing as so many in this age group came from Omaha and western Iowa.

 

 

1967bugaloo

1967 Kids the Bugaloo. Not the Cave but appropriate in year and look.

 

 

lazyleopardlounge

The Lazy Leopard Lounge 1960s. Terrific photo lent by good friend, Dave Roszelle. Omaha World Herald article of October 6, 1967 read: “Mr. Tyrell has been replaced at the New Tower by Don Hammond and Charles Roubicek. Mr. Hammond is handling the night shift operations of the New Tower’s Lazy Leopard and the Bird Cage Bar. Mr. Hammond, who also owns the Peppermint Cave Teenage Club in the Hill Hotel at Sixteenth and Howard plans to keep the club there.” I found out later that Hammond also owned the Wild Cherry too.

 

 

mickeys

I located an interesting article from June of 1971, actually about strip clubs in Omaha. Mr. Sparano, who had owned a number of clubs in the day, talked about trying to class up Mickey’s after encouragement from his family. He had switched Mickey’s risque look to a quiet piano bar, “And I was the only one in there singing.” He was quoted as saying, “That was about the time the twist came in and the Peppermint Cave opened. I’d go over there and waiting in line, everybody would pat me on the back and say what a nice place I had now, but my customers were all over at the Peppermint Cave.” Meaning that no one in Omaha was too interested in Sparano’s cleaned up club. Sparano would go on to be the first club owner to introduce go-go girls. This advertisement for Mickey’s from the late 60s-early 70s was clear evidence that Sparano went back to his tried and true nite club method. Of course, Miss Cassette must investigate this in full at a later date.

 

 

The Peppermint Cave for Teens Fizzles Out

 

The 1973 Omaha City Directory was the last time that I would find the Peppermint Cave listed. I had no solid evidence to offer proof of the teen Peppermint Cave closing other than no longer finding it listed. Why did it close? I did find a number of great photos from the Hill Hotel of the 1970s, thanks to the generosity of Trina Westman at the Omaha City Planning Department.

 

 

70shill

Facing north. This photo shows the old part of the Iler annex, still on the south side of the Hill Hotel. Photo from the Omaha City Planning Department.

 

 

jackandjill70s

Photo facing south, shows the Jack & Jill Coffee shop in the middle bay. Photo from the Omaha City Planning Department.

 

 

1977omhacityarch

In 1977 Landmarks, Inc. and the Junior League of Omaha put out a fantastic book called Omaha City Architecture. The photograph above, by Lynn Meyer of the Omaha City Planning Department, shows the Cave sign still above the door. The book stated that the Hill is presently owned by the G &G Investment Company and “still in use.”

 

 

The Cave Club

 

As I had alluded to earlier, when I was much younger, a close friend had told me of fabulous gay club in the late 1970s. I knew it had “Cave” in the name but as to where it was and what it was, I had no idea. This friend has since passed away and so I was unable to ever put those pieces together. But I am pretty sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the club he described was our little Cave.

 

 

nove201978

Finally an up close and personal view of that Cave street entrance. From OWH file clippings at the Omaha Public Library: November 30, 1978 “Hill to Become Second Hilton.” Note the Cave Under the Hill Cave sign. Above the Cave sign is another  sign saying “Sales Display Rooms Available.”It wasn’t until I saw this photo and later did a search for old gay clubs in Omaha, did I find this gem of a site: https://omahagayhistory.wikispaces.com/Local+and+Regional+Gay+Bars

 

 

I will quote from this article, if you promise you will take the time to read this whole memoir on Omaha Gay History. It is the only glimpse into the real Cave Club during this period, as they surely were not covering this scene in the Omaha World Herald or in Omaha books. According to Omaha Gay History, the Cave Club flourished in the late 1970s through very early 1980s. “It was the most popular gay bar in Omaha. To enter the establishment, one descended a wide-open stairway down into the basement of the hotel, into a simple large room. A long bar was along one wall. Air-conditioning was poor… no doubt to increase beer sales. It was always said that the beer was watered down to increase profits. The favorite beer at that time was Schlitz. The ceilings were low and consisted of 12×12 inch dirty acoustic tiles of the day with multiple tiny holes to control the acoustics. The floors were simply dark asbestos tiles. A simple Formica-topped restaurant table served as the DJ booth with a single turntable for the music.”

 

 

detail-of-1978photo

I guess I zeroed into this detail hoping I could see something extra or maybe enter the photo in some way. The writer of Omaha Gay History believed the Cave Club experienced some “violent activities including a stabbing I believe, which understandably kept away business. Also the violent activities caused problems with the establishment’s liquor license.” He estimated that the entrance was boarded up in the early 1980s. This detective did track a robbery at the Cave from 1977. The Bartender was held up for $50 but that was all I could unearth. What had happened to the Cave Club?

 

 

The Mysterious Cave Closing

 

The Omaha City Directory of 1979 still listed the Hill Hotel, The Cave and Ron-D-Voo. By 1980 the Hill Hotel was now called the Hill Town Inn (at 341-9332), if you like to make weird phone calls like me. The Ron-D-Voo Tavern was still present. I felt a little melancholy when I discovered for the first time there was no Cave listing at all. I need to know more.

 

 

applying-new-front

According to the Omaha World Herald article dated October 12, 1979, Fred Winkelmann bought the Hill Hotel in November of 1978 for $350,000. He renamed it the Hill Town Inn, renovated the whole building to include the façade. His ownership and restoration of the Aquila Court Building (now Magnolia Hotel) was thought to be a model of downtown restoration. He also had intention of renovating the Flat Iron Hotel. Well he certainly had good taste. More on Fred Winkelmann in my Hill Hotel story. Fascinating!  Winkelmann had envisioned plans to turn the old Ron-D-Voo bar into the Hill Town Collectors’ Inn, a gathering place for stamp collectors. He wanted to replace “the now closed Jack & Jill restaurant and Cave Under the Hill basement bar” with a new restaurant and European-type nightspot. Oh my…

 

 

The Town Square Restaurant and Lounge

 

 

In August of 1980, Fred Winkelmann opened the Town Square Restaurant and Lounge, which occupied most of the main floor of the Hill Town. The Town Square was to be open seven days a week. The journalist wrote “the downstairs Cave Under the Hill is all gone.”

 

 

1981citydirectory

PHOTO of 1981 Omaha City Directory: Cave is now gone. Hill Town Inn, Ron-D-Voo, Towne Square Restaurant. Note the Diamond Bar was now at 712 S. 16th St, another historic Omaha gay club.

 

 

s_16_st_029

West façade looking southeast. Photo by Lyn Meyer. 1983. Omaha City Planning Department photo. Note the sign that says Towne Square and also the extended entry with awning on the north side of the building. Winkelmann must have taken out the old west Hill Hotel entrance and made an addition to the west side–perhaps the European bar?

 

 

Additional Mysteries Solved

 

 

From the “National Register of Historic Places Registration Form” filed in 1988, I learned what happened to the southern most wall of the Hill Hotel—the pinkish part that looks like a building has been taken out—as though she had omitted some essential article of clothing. Yes, why does it look it look that way?

 

 

hillhotellongshot

“On the south, the Hill was constructed to share a party wall with a five story masonry building, the Iler Block, which served as an annex to the hotel. In 1980, the Iler Block was reduced to one story and remodeled extensively both on the exterior and the interior; virtually none of the original building’s historical fabric remains. The parapet of the Iler building extended approximately up to the seventh floor level of the Hill. Below that area, wall openings have been bricked in, leaving the imprint of the earlier construction.”

 

 

nove201978

 

 

kensingtontowerfront

From these photos, one can see that the Cave Under the Hill was in the original bowels of the Grand Iler. I deduce that the Cave was where the original Grand Iler Baths and later the Hill Hotel Turkish Baths were. Any remnants of the Cave are most likely gone as virtually none of the original building remains. But I think we need to get in that basement to be sure. ***Update: according to fellow detective Kevin Tierney, although one would enter the door to right of the main door of the hotel, the club was under the Hill not to the right under the annex. He added “at the far end (probably under the Howard St Jack and Jill Space) was another staircase that was closed off at the top as far as I could tell.” So that blows my theory. I am now wondering if the Hill Hotel Turkish Baths were on the newer Hill side or on the Iler side. Mysteries abound!

 

 

Kensington Tower Apartments

 

 

 

1996jtphoto

The Hill Hotel–Hill Towne Inn was converted into the Kensington Tower Apartments in 1994.  My good friend, J.T. Phillips, took this photo at Sixteenth and Jackson, facing north, in 1996.

 

 

16thandjacksona

Oddly I took the same shot a couple of weeks ago.

 

 

The Cave Mystery Continues

 

There were so many specifics about the Cave Under the Hill, the Peppermint Cave, the teen Peppermint Cave and the Cave Club that I was not able to unravel. I do hope that some of my readers will come forward with some of these details.

 

 

QuincyPhillips.jpg

Why is it that these fabulous Cave Clubs have all died away? We must never forget that all these beautiful things cannot be relied upon to look after themselves. Here is Quincy Phillips setting up the drums for one last live jazz performance at the Bohemian Cavern March 2016 in Washington DC.

 

 

My Cave Club Dream

 

Why, oh why can’t Omaha have a Cave of its own? A place to admire stalactites and and listen to some good music? I know just what I’d wear for the opening of a Cave Club if one should suddenly appear when I awake. Leopard and black crepe ala Gloria Swanson in this Sunset Boulevard scene. Everything. Even the jewelry.

 

 

gloriaswansonsunsetboulevard

 

 

diorclutch

And I would carry this divine new Dior astrology clutch. It only makes sense. On off nights I might wear my hair in a large gristly bone or wear bone earrings. Wouldn’t that be fetching?

 

 

There are only a very few occasions when I am inclined, for a fleeing moment, to regret what I have done or not done and this is one of those rare instances. I do wish I could have darkened the doorstep of that historic Cave Under the Hill.

 

 

1977omhacityarch

Thank you everyone for reading my articles and supporting me. It means so much to share this obsession with buildings and their people with all of you. I welcome your feedback and comments on the Cave Under the Hill, its history, and the area. I also welcome your kind corrections. We do know more together. To enable comments, please click on the header title. You can keep up with my latest investigations without even leaving your inbox, by “following” myomahaobsession. You will get sent email updates every time I have written a new story. Also join My Omaha Obsession on Facebook. Thank you, Omaha friends.

 

© Miss Cassette and myomahaobsession, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Miss Cassette and myomahaobsession with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mysteries of Omaha: The Log Cabin and the Jones Street Bridge Part Two

 

Honestly, it is all rather dismal around here with no snow in sight. I do love a good snow. Mr. Cassette has said it will possibly never snow again, which bothers me greatly, and to give up my Snow Pining. He trails off, knowing not to be too harsh, because I am sentimental and I dream of it–especially cocooning away under a warm blanket with the happy knowledge that I am not needed out there in the world. No need to rush for anything, except to while away my hours with my magnifying glass and my books, investigating buildings, architects, the old city streets and their people…. the captivating spirits of Omaha Past. And the Sound of Snow blowing against these old 1940s windows…it’s really pretty breathtaking. I did try to avoid it, but here we seem to have drifted into a lengthy discussion about my winter or lack thereof. And I may become a bore on this subject….but really, when does a girl detective have time for amateur sleuthing when there is no snow impeding the wheels of commerce?

 

 

linda-mason-pulling-up-to-holiday-inn-in-carriage

I’ve watched Holiday Inn one too many times this negligent winter. That deceivingly glorious house!

 

Let us move onto what may, perhaps, be discerned as the Rays of Hope—the reason we have all gathered here: to collectively dream of another time and to uncover clues of great Omaha buildings and their distractingly, charming people. As I remember, we seem to have a bit of unfinished business with our log cabin case. This story received so many delightful emails and anecdotes. This incredible home, short Jones Street block and Jones Street Bridge were true touchstones for many, many people. I can’t wait to share these additional clues with you. If you did not follow this mystery with us the first time through, you have a good amount of spellbinding leads to uncover. Please take the time to get caught up now Mysteries of Omaha: The Log Cabin and the Jones Street Bridge and join us later when you can.

 

absolutefront5803

 

 

A Little Bit About American Log Cabins

 

I had received two reader emails voicing concern and question about the history of log cabins in the United States. These were really very interesting conversations. I had originally quoted from The Visual Dictionary of American Domestic Architecture by Rachel Carley, “The Swedes were the first settlers to build log structures in America, the major tradition of log building here originated independently in the late 1600s to the early 1700s with German speaking settlers in the mid-Atlantic region.” (Another account said the Swedes introduced the log cabin in 1638, definitively.) Later in my original article, I wrote about the Scot-Irish and English settlers also employing the technique. A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia Savage McAlester and American Homes: The Landmark Illustrated Encyclopedia of Domestic Architecture by Lester Walker seem to side with this history as well. Of course, all of these sources could be citing incorrect information or one another, for all I know. I am certainly no expert in this field, but it would appear that the Swedes introduced the log cabin to America. According to Walker, “By the Revolution, the log cabin had become the standard frontier dwelling, inhabited by all nationalities, as well as by the American Indians.” There is certainly proof in Phaidon’s desirous compilation, The House Book, that log cabins sprung up around the globe, wherever there were woods, by many varying cultures, in all times. Check out this very cool article, speculating that one of the oldest standing log cabins in America is thought have Finnish origins. http://www.nj.com/gloucester-county/index.ssf/2014/10/six_things_you_might_not_know_about_the_oldest_log_cabin_in_the_united_states_new_jersey

The business about “chinking” and joints being “chinked” with mud plaster or covered with narrow split boards seems to vary by locale as well as the wooden logs being used. Chinking will come up later in this article when a previous owner shares information about the McClung method.

 

002955

Because I grew up in the 70s, I am obligated to leave this image right here.

 

 

More Clues to Dr. James Taliaferro Maxwell

 

 

I knew in the original article that James T. Maxwell was born in either 1882 or 1887. I found differing accounts through genealogy sites and in articles about him. I was perplexed, as this would have made Maxwell very young at the time of his land purchase from Snyder. I later assumed that that there must have been a Maxwell Sr. in the picture and that Senior Maxwell and his wife must have bought the land from Snyder.

 

03970a005bd27894ffc495caa3a0911c

Miss Cassette’s chosen architectural sleuthing suit and general attitude when typing about log cabins.

 

 

But the more I dug for hints, the more I believed that James Taliaferro Maxwell bought the land from Snyder himself. And There Was No Mrs….ever. If he were truly born in 1887, Maxwell would have been 23 at the time of purchase in 1910. Plausible. However in 1912, J. T. Maxwell was living at 2235 Howard Street, some point in the year of his graduation. His name would come up later in my most recent investigation Mysteries of Omaha: 2226 Howard Street.

 

 

dca-front-view

Photo of 5803 Jones Street from the Douglas Country Assessor site.

 

 

The U.S. Census of 1930 revealed Dr. Maxwell living at the log cabin, then age 43 (census estimated year of birth at 1887.) He was a “Doctor of Medicine.” He was listed at 5803 Jones Street as “head of household” but the census taker also denoted“R” for renter. His monthly rent was “25.” Dr. Maxwell was born in Nebraska. His father, Samuel Maxwell, (not James Maxwell, Sr.) was from Pennsylvania. His mother, Mary V. Maxwell, was originally from Virginia. He had a sister, Elizabeth. Dr. Maxwell was single and had no dependents. He lived alone in the log cabin.

 

 

1940uscensus

 

The U. S. Census of 1940 again gave proof of James Taliaferro Maxwell living at 5803 Jones Street. However in that census they recorded him as being born in 1882, then at 58 years of age. He was listed as a physician in private practice, who worked 52 weeks a year. J. T. Maxwell may have fooled the census taker, but we already know, by his own admission, that he did not work the whole year through. He was drawn to High Adventure!

 

The Kempers

 

Everett Kemper and his wife were known to be very close friend of Dr. Maxwell’s. In fact this couple is really the only reason that Omaha knows of James Taliaferro Maxwell’s life. Their engrossing interviews shed light on this Big Personality Meets Deeply Private Person.

 

maxwellfounddead

OWH March 22, 1964. We now know from the previous pointer, that his “sister living in California” was Elizabeth Maxwell.

 

 

mrs-everette-kemper

OWH January 13, 1961. I had included in the earlier article a photo of Mrs. Kemper in Dr. Maxwell’s front room but this is a nice closeup of her. And I’ve always admired a woman who can wear butterflies that close to her face. I must point out that Mrs. Kemper was re-elected as three year board member along with Mrs. Thomas W. Caldwell, Jr.—our old friend from The Curious Case of the French Fairytale Cottage: Part One.

 

 

 

mxwellreading

OWH photo of Dr. Maxwell reading in his log cabin. A mix of the divine, the exotic and the rustic. I wonder what it smelled like? Heaven, no doubt. Printed in 1964.

 

 

A Past Homeowner’s Detailed Memories

 

One of my favorite comments was from prior log cabin owner, Nancy D. on Facebook. She allowed me to share this information about the cabin with you all. “My husband Marvin and I were married on the front porch. Marv had been running through the park and happened upon the property, which was for sale at the time. When we bought the cabin, the basement walls were painted red, which was scary, so we repainted. A back room in the basement had a dirt floor and stayed cool, which made a great wine storage room. We had some of the cement floor replaced in that area and since it happened to be Valentines Day, I wrote ‘Nancy loves Marv’ in the wet cement. I’d love to know if that is still there. We moved to Florida in the early 80’s and sold the home. We also found old newspapers stuffed between the logs…part of the new chinking I suspect. It was a magical property. When we moved in there was a large red fire alarm mounted on the living room wall, which we removed, from the cabin’s school days I’m sure. I was told the living room log walls had been painted bright colors during this time also but someone before us had painted them brown to look more like they had been originally. There was (is?) a rectangular pool in the yard several feet deep that must have been for decoration only. We put in fish and water lilies. And directly across the street from the driveway was a natural pond filled with very large goldfish, all pretty well hidden by heavy brush.”

 

 

 

treesofelmwood

This detective was dying to know if those ponds are still there? I wonder if the newest addition to the log cabin, on the east side, was perhaps built over the pond on the property? Could the formation of a “natural pond” be found if, say, a nosy detective sniffed around the “heavy brush” across Jones, looking for remnants?

 

 

 

The Neighborhood Kids, the Bridge and the Green Lake

 

Some of the most entertaining emails and comments were from the old neighborhood gang of kids, now adults. The kids unanimously called the water beneath the Jones Street Bridge, Green Lake. Because the water is stagnant and has a good, thick coating of algae growing in it, the water is green to this day. Back in the 50s, 60s and 70s, and probably still, the neighborhood children would play on and around the bridge, creating many games, incorporating this incredibly adaptive environment into their imaginings. Back then, children were free to roam the streets and public parks uninhibited but for the occasional lackadaisical cautionary tale seemingly told with a sort of wink. Remember that?

 

greenlake

Green Lake just this past summer on a nice hot day.

 

The ravine or Green Lake area is owned, like all of Elmwood Park, by the City of Omaha. But this small area appeared to have really been governed by the local children who lived in the nearby homes. There were tales of forts and clubs. Some kids used the under trusses as monkey bars and in the winter, children would ice skate on the Green Lake. There might have even been a fire or two for the warming of mittened hands. As kids got older, they’d sneak there to smoke cigarettes or get away from their folks. Who knows how many generations of kids learned to cuss there or do wheelies on their bikes?

 

ironworkofjoneswalkbridge

 

 

They wrote of graffiti in the 80s and of carving foot paths in the steep soil hills. A reader wrote, “One of my older siblings had a big, clunky bike stolen from our backyard and we discovered it had been tossed over the bridge.” Another reader wrote in about the games he and friends came up with, involving throwing rocks and sticks, sometimes sisters’ dolls into the Green Lake. I had to laugh when these stories were shared, because when Mr. Cassette and I were at the bridge taking photos last summer, we witnessed a father and his sons launching things over the ravine’s edge, into the water. All biodegradable matter, I might ad. But it leads to other questions and a mystery, perhaps, bigger than any of us— what treasures have been amassed at the bottom of Green Lake throughout the decades?

 

 

 

elmwoodbridgepostcard

Here is a fantastic post card from the Burnice Fiedler collection that I meant to include in the original story. Elmwood Bridge and Spring in 1910. By the way, Omahan Pat L. wrote in and has a fabulous looking Elmwood Park postcard collection that he is offering to share for my Elmwood Park Mystery series. I look forward to seeing those postcards and doing some serious digging.

 

 

lichenonjoneswalk

Beautiful lichen growing on the now called Jones Walk.

 

One reader wrote so beautifully about her personal experience of living by the Jones Street Bridge, when it was still used by automobiles. “A fair number of cars turned off of Happy Hollow and drove across the bridge– Jones Street residents but more likely UNO students, frantically looking for a parking spot. Even before it became a footbridge it still was a wood plank bridge. The boards were screwed or anchored down, I’m sure, but many of them did wobble and give. I can still hear that distinctive loud rumbling sound the bridge made when cars drove over it. I would finally fall asleep (at night), but still hearing that distinctive loud rumble the old bridge (pre-footbridge days) made when cars drove over its old planks.”

Just perfect.

 

 

 

The New School

 

On the original detective’s trail, I had tracked a period in the early 1970s when Thomas L. Davis took ownership of the log cabin. Davis was part of a group with aspirations of starting an alternative elementary school called the New School. Formally called the New School Association, Alvin Ross was president. Ross, a partner in an Omaha insurance firm, had been a frequent critic of the Omaha Public Schools. The New School proposed to be an alternative to OPS. Taking students from kindergarten to sixth grade, the curriculum was based on “open education.” Mrs. Joan Amland was featured in the OWH article of 1972. As it turns out, a family friend was well acquainted with Ms. Amland and spoke of her over the holidays. So Omaha. These were additional photos from another article in the World Herald in 1973. I couldn’t find any more information about the school past 1974. I have friends in town who have said they knew students who attended the New School but I have not been contacted by any of these attendees.

 

 

learningatthenew

OWH article from April of 1973.

 

 

 

circletime

OWH article from April 1973.

 

 

notice

OWH New School notice from September of 1973. I would be interested to know more about this notice. My family did not live in Omaha then but I think that bussing had started. I am not sure if this was a reaction to racial problems at other private schools or if this was a preemptive action to what was to come in public schools.

 

More about the Elmwood Park Residents

 

 

I found a great article entitled Residents Oppose New Road From Elmwood Park in the World Herald, dated April 30, 1978. The story outlines local residents’ upset about the “city cutting them off at the pass” regarding the closing of the Jones Street Bridge. “City of Omaha Bridge No. 433 on a dead-end span of Jones Street from Happy Hollow Boulevard into Elmwood Park is being closed to cars because of structural weaknesses.” Apparently there was early city talk of “dry-gulching” Green Lake with fill-in. Can you imagine? In addition to tearing down the bridge, there were no plans to keep a footbridge connecting little Jones Street in the park to the rest of Emile. Understandably No One With Any Sense liked the city’s plan. Barbara Wright and other residents demanded to see the city’s plans in writing.

 

 

margiejohnson

Favorite photo of Margie Johnson walking her dog across the old Jones Street Bridge previous, still wide enough for cars. I just love this shot of her! OWH April 30, 1978

 

Lucia Grove Scoles and her mother, Lucia Grove were interviewed in the World Herald in 1978. Along with Mr. Harold Grove, the mother and daughter were reasonably Not Happy about the proposed routing of a road through their Elmwood Park “sanctuary” when the city did away with the Jones Street Bridge. The family lived at 5919 Jones. The Groves and many neighbors stood up to advocate on their behalf in light of the new city planners attempts to pave a road from the Happy Hollow straight through to 60th Street.

 

elmwoodarea

OWH article of August 28, 1978.

 

 

5919jones

5919 Jones Street as it looks today. The Groves lived in a (then) “37 year old house tucked away on a small, wooded hill just above the park. The park boundary is a rock wall just beyond the Groves’ front porch.” I believe the World Herald article was referring to my absolute favorite obsession rock wall fence that I drooled about in my first article.

 

 

 

2016dogismap

DOGIS aerial map of 2016.

 

Elmwood Park Drive connects with Elmwood Park Road in a very odd way but, thankfully, does not cut directly in front of that great home at 5919 Jones. From the small map in the 70s article, the early plan was to connect Happy Hollow Boulevard with 60th Street. One can see from this 2016 map how detrimental that might have been to this mystery park enclave. By the evidence, it looks like active neighbors were behind these quirky, diverting Elmwood roads. And you know how much we love our eccentricities around My Omaha Obsession. Let’s keep looking for clues and see what else we stumble across. Until next time, detectives.

 

absolutefront5803

 

Thank you, thank you everyone for reading my articles and supporting me. It means so much to share this obsession with houses and their people with all of you. I welcome your feedback and comments on this little part of Elmwood Park. I also welcome your kind corrections. We know more together. To enable comments, please click on the header title. If you would like to correspond with me privately, please do so at myomahaobsession@yahoo.com. But I assure you, everyone would love to read what you have to say and it makes the conversation more fun. You can keep up with my latest investigations without even leaving your inbox, by “following” My Omaha Obsession. You will get sent email updates every time I have written a new mystery article. There are lots of fun comments to be read on My Omaha Obsession Facebook page, so stop by there too. Thank you Omaha friends.

 

© Miss Cassette and myomahaobsession, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Miss Cassette and myomahaobsession with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

Mysteries of Omaha: 2226 Howard Street

 

 

 

 

movieset

 

If I told you there was a small neighborhood in Downtown Omaha that had the look and feel of a 1920s or 1930s movie set, would you catch a dimbox over there as quickly as you could just to get a gander? Because there is such a strange, thrilling stretch of architecture right in our midst and I’m goofy for it. The Historic Howard Street Apartment District is simply transportive. Go have a look-see between 22nd and 24th on Howard on some dark, foggy night. You should plan to arrive unexpectedly. You’re a Walk-In, after all. I’d like to think they’ll never see you coming, but you may want to wear a big coat with a smart collar or maybe a nondescript hat. Trust me–weave your way along the sidewalk, taking note, stroll by the innumerable apartment windows, and remember to stare like a Fearless Out-Of-Towner if approached. Take it all in. Finally, clasp your hands together and see if you don’t unexpectedly exclaim: “This IS a movie set!” You’re a natural. And let’s be honest about those of us gathered here together, we’ve got an eye for these old buildings that take shape around us.

 

 

In our last mystery adventure, we were following the trail of the The Case of the Curious Cricket Room and Burgess-Nash Company . Today we’ll be tracking the Historic Howard Street Apartment District but not the apartment buildings per se. Did you happen to catch it? In the middle of that entire movie set smoke and mirrors there is a lone, incredible mansion just tucked away, waiting to be discovered. And that, dear Omaha friends, is the focus of our investigation today, which I will leisurely unfold (over the next five hours.) Have you got some time to wander around this property with me? Tell your family you’ll be back later. I’ll cover for you.

 

 

southwestangle

 

 

The Tip Off

 

The architectural infatuation of focus is 2226 Howard Street. Back on May 15, 2016 a My Omaha Obsession reader, Christine H., wrote in and brilliantly suggested an investigation into the house. I thought the home sounded familiar from my late 90s YMCA days and proceeded to do a quick drive-by to steady my hunch. What I found in 2226 Howard was far better than I had remembered from 18 years ago. She was a fantastic mansion of the Old Omaha Elite, resplendent in her quiet way.

 

 

 

bigedieporch

 

There was an unpretentious air to 2226, for anyone In The Know already Knows the charms of the Shingle Style. But for all that imagined modesty, she had the distinct bearing of someone who comes from good origins. I couldn’t help but begin to ideate Omaha’s own Grey Gardens House complete with Big and Little Edie Bouvier Beale. 2226 Howard Street: I was mad for her.

 

 

littleedie2

If only!

 

Off With a Obsessive Start

 

As many of you might have noticed, I’ve got a real Shingle Style Problem and I’m not quite sure when it began. Maybe it developed during another issue from my youth—my Mansion Obsession. Of course what passes for a mansion around here is quite modest compared to other parts of the country. I realize Omaha did not have the Quasi-Aristocratic, Thurston Howell IIIs, Old Money of the New England variety but I contend that our Old Guard Society of the past would have most likely rather lined the bank vault than pour money into a rambling, extravagant estate. We are through and through, a practical lot. But I’ve strayed the course. The point is I Know a Good Shingle Style home when I see one.

 

 

The Beginning of the Search

 

The Howard Street Apartment District, as it is now called, is lined with incredible apartments, row houses and double houses, with the center strip being Howard. There is a short block to the north on Dewey Street, almost like a back alley. From the “National Register of Historic Places Registration Form”I learned that “originally the area was filled with mansions and large single-family homes on the western most part of the Central Business District of Downtown Omaha. These apartments later replaced the original mansions.” (I plan to write more about the Howard Street Apartment District in the future.) “The only original home in these few blocks is at 2226 Howard.”

 

 

boundarymap

Boundary map from “National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.”

 

 

2236wentry

The only other original mansion, although built later, is the gorgeous Thomas Kimball home at 2236 St. Mary’s Avenue. Yes, I will be back to write about this one at some point. Adore.

 

 

frontview

 

According to the incredible “National Register of Historic Places Registration Form” filed in 1996 by Stacy Pilgrim, Planner Specialist with the Omaha City Planning Department, “Currently the district retains only one of the original mansions, the 1885 house at 2226 Howard.” Later in the report, Ms. Pilgrim says, “This single family dwelling constructed in the shingle style, was built around 1890.” This was just the beginning of the confusion. “By the late 1920’s it had been converted into a rooming house, but is currently a single family residence. The two and half story house is covered in narrow clapboard and decorative scale shingles, common during the late 1800’s. The entire house has been painted green. Double hung sash windows are found on all facades and some decorative lead glass windows are found on the first floor. The main façade is the southern façade and the main entrance is through an enclosed porch. The roof is low pitched and hipped with cross gables. Within each of the cross gables is small window at the attic level. Very few alterations have been made to the exterior of the house and it retains a very high degree of integrity.” Thought to be “predominantly representative of the types of single family houses found in the area.”

 

 

 

History of the Shingle Style

 

From Shingle Style: Innovation and Tradition in American Architecture 1874-1982, by Morgan and Roth, I learned that It All Began with a photograph of Whitehall, the Bishop George Berkeley house in Middletown, Rhode Island. This home was built between 1728-29—lovingly covered entirely in wooden shingles. This photo appeared in the Jan 1874 inaugural issue of The New York Sketchbook of Architecture, a publication aimed at architects–promoting new approach to design inspired by America.

 

 

whitehall

Whitehall. From Shingle Style: Innovation and Tradition in American Architecture 1874-1982, by Morgan and Roth. This photo and the influence it had, represented a shift away from contemporary design and high style, instead focusing on architecture of the Founding Fathers. “The four years following the appearance of this photograph, there would emerge a new approach to domestic architecture that capitalized on the lightness and flexibility of wood.” From 1880s-1890s, Shingle Style would expand across America, leaving the New England countryside and seaboard, where the style was popular with the upper crust. McKim, of McKim, Mead & White is credited with having published the original Whitehall photo. McKim, Mead & White would go on to become a prestigious New York architectural firm, known for their gorgeous Shingle Style designs.

 

 

 

greygardenshouse

 

Original Grey Gardens home of my dream. The shingle-style home was designed by Arts and Crafts architect Joseph Greenleaf Thorpe in 1897. A Princeton graduate, Thorpe designed many of the summer cottages in East Hampton during the late 19th Century. “The Shingle Style emerged, called into being by the leisured classes, who desired an architecture that spoke of easy and carefree pastimes, an architecture that was not pretentious or boastful, that connected with an ancestral past but was not held in check by it. From 1879 to 1916, the Shingle Style flourished.”

 

 

stonehurst

Interior of the vast living hall of a Shingle Style home. Desirous woodwork. From Shingle Style: Innovation and Tradition in American Architecture 1874-1982, by Morgan and Roth. Photograph taken by Bret Morgan. I would later find Stonehurst in Massachusetts. I can dream, right? From The Visual Dictionary of American Domestic Architecture by Rachel Carley, “Like the Queen Anne style, the Shingle Style was influenced by the work of the architect Richard Norman Shaw (1836-86). On the exterior—stripped of excess decoration—shingles form a continuous covering, stretched smooth over roof lines and around corners in a kind of contoured envelope.” Henry Hobson Richardson is credited with developing the style.

 

 

southeastside

East side of 2226 Howard

 

From A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia Savage McAlester, “The Shingle Style does not emphasize decorative detailing at doors, windows, cornices, porches, or on wall surfaces. Instead it aims for the effect of a complex shape enclosed with a smooth surface (the shingled exterior) which unifies the irregular outline of the house.” Decorative detailing is used sparingly. “It is the first style that begins to emphasize the volumetric spaces within the house more than exterior surface details.” Towers are found in about one-third of Shingle houses. A simple porch would have been common. Window surrounds are simple; bay windows are common. It never gained as wide popularity of its contemporary, the Queen Anne style.

 

I was putting together that the Shingle Style was a combination of three architectural styles. It has roots in the Queen Anne with its shingled surfaces and asymmetrical forms. It borrowed the gambreled roof from Colonial Revival movement and from the Richardsonian Romanesque it borrowed irregular, sculpted shapes and stone lower stories. “It was an unusually free-form and variable style; without the ubiquitous shingle cladding it would be difficult to relate many of its different expressions. One reason for this great range of variation is that it remained primarily a high fashion architect’s style, rather than becoming widely adapted to mass vernacular housing.”

 

 

frontwindow

2226 Howard leaded glass windows–each distinct.

 

This Omaha home made a clear statement about its owner. The Shingle Style wasn’t about indulging in the obvious fuss and the extravagance. This was the Insiders’ Wink. The Old Guard mastery of nonchalance. Twas far more privileged to have a taste for Roughing It. And those aging shingles, regardless of locale, would only continue to demonstrate that point of casualness as the decades rolled by, weathering to perfection, as if right near the Southampton seaside…. but it was right here in Omaha. How did it end up downtown? I would soon find 2226 Howard Street had the most strange and varied history of any investigation I had ever been on. Quite frankly, this beauty deserves a book all her own.

 

2226 Howard: The Shingle Style

 

In studying this home, I instantly thought that the stone front was added later. Somehow it did not look like the rubble rock of other Shingle Styles’ foundations. It would have been typical of the Shingle Style to have a more prominent porch. Had this stone-enclosed room off to the right been added later or was it originally a part of the porch? According to the Douglas County Assessor site there is an “Add-on of natural stone/moss rock.”

 

imageservlet

Photo from the Douglas County Assessor site. Its proper name is 2226 Howard. Lot 1 of City Block 0 in the Jefferson Place Addition.

 

 

floorplan

Floor plans from the Douglas County Assessor site. The site reported the home to be 3697.0 sq ft.

 

 

 

dscn0379

Although this house has a side-gabled roof, the dominant front-facing gambrel places it in the “gambrel subtype” or sometimes called a gambreled, cross-gabled roof.

 

 

frontdoorblkandwhite

Four leaded glass windows with Queen Anne spindle work upstairs. This very top rounded window reminds one a classic New England summer home.

 

 

 

 

 

eastdetail

Three floors—or just a secret attic view? Another round window is visible. Eight lights over one sash windows seen throughout the house. Lovely.

 

 

southivy

Virginia Creeper vine enshrouding the back of the house. Thank you. Don’t mind if I do.

 

 

driveway

Two Catalpa trees are in the front yard. What looks to be an old gravel driveway runs part way on the east side of the property. No longer used. There is no garage and no carriage house behind the lot.

 

 

 

backivywithdoor

Gabled dormer window in the rear of house. North side.

 

 

cornertower

Two story bay windows in the tower—common of the Shingle Style. In this photo one can see the green painted shingles that were mentioned in the historic form earlier. This is my favorite photo of the house. I want to know what that lowest level, brick portion is like on the inside. Dying.

 

 

frontgambrel

Spindle work of the Queen Anne commonly incorporated into the Shingle Style look.

 

 

 

alley

Asymmetrical forms frequently seen in the Shingle Style. This is a great little footpath on the west side of the home. It leads to the Dewey Avenue homes. Don’t forget to peek back here on your visit. Fascinating.

 

 

basementwindow

 

Rusticated stone foundation on lower story common. 2226 Howard displays brick. Photo taken of the western side of property. I love the twisted ironwork on the basement windows. Can you imagine the details inside? I’d die a hundred deaths to step into this home. But we are not dead yet. Are you still following with me? This will certainly be a long braintwister of a story and I’m getting chills.

 

 

Early History of the Area

 

 

From American Guide Series Omaha: A Guide to the City and Environs written and compiled by the Federal Writers’ Project Works Progress Administration State of Nebraska information gathered from 1935-1939. Nineteenth Street on Howard was “Once of the finest residential streets of Omaha. Here lived such prominent citizens as George Hoagland, James Woolworth, Charles Turner and Herman Kountze. The site of St. Mary’s Cemetery was on the corner of 24th and Howard Streets, now covered by apartment houses and small shops. St. Mary’s was the first Catholic burial ground in Omaha. It was part of a ten-acre tract of land purchased by Rt. Rev. James M. O’Gorman, vicariate of Nebraska Territory in 1863. It had a natural growth of timber and along its east boundary ran Otoe Creek. The cemetery was abandoned in 1873 due to the encroachment of the city and the bodies were re-interred in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery on Leavenworth.”

 

 

holy-sepulchre-sign

Holy Sepulchre Cemetery sign. In 1885 when Harney Street was graded, all trace of the cemetery disappeared. Photo from the Holy Sepulchre site.

 

Through Larsen and Cottrell’s dense, fascinating book The Gate City: A History of Omaha, I learned that by 1870 the Omaha western-most city limits extended to present-day 36th Street. By 1880, along with the Union Pacific Railroad, Omaha was served by seven other rail lines and its population had quadrupled. Richard Orr’s book Streetcars of Omaha and Council Bluffs, mentions that by 1889 there was a streetcar route and horse care line along St. Mary’s Street. It would make sense that wealthy business owners would want to build on the western most edge of the city, as that has traditionally been the pattern in this town. Move west. Yes, you’re beginning to understand how one would come to live on Howard Street. This high point was truly the high-end of the street. A plateau of sorts of which to look down upon the rest of Downtown Omaha.

 

 

Early Blunders

 

I was thrown a curve ball early in my investigation when I learned from the City Planning records that 2226 Howard Street was built in 1913 by architect Hodd Peterson of Peterson and Dodd. I was ecstatic! The client was Dr. Slabaugh. I hungrily gathered my clues and found he was famous Omaha dentist, turned latent real estate mogul: Slabaugh Realty. How did I get this fortuitous break so early on? But also this was all a misstep in their recording of data. It turns out Dr. Slabaugh owned Lot 7, 2227 Howard, the Bartlett Apartments. Later I found the 2217 Bosworth Apartments credited to Dr. Slabaugh. Oh my…this was the way things were unfolding. Not tidily.

 

 

bosworth

 

The Bosworth Apartments at 2217 Howard on the left and the Bartlett Apartments at 2227 Howard on the right. These fine apartments are on the south side of the street, across from 2226 Howard. Through An Inventory of Historic Omaha Buildings prepared by Landmarks Inc in 1980, I found 2226 Howard remained a mystery, including their architectural style labeling of “Queen Anne.” There was no information on original owner, builder, architect or cost. I would have to continue on my search.

 

 

 

Howard Street

 

From the Streets of Omaha: Their Origins and Changes compiled by H. Ben Brick, I learned more about lengthy, east-west Howard Street. Howard Street was named “In honor of Colonel Howard, father in law of Henry Farnam or possibly named for Robert A Howard, one the Omaha’s first attorneys or possibly also took its name from General Tilman A. Howard of Rockville, Indiana, a prominent lawyer, special envoy from the United States to the ‘Lone Star republic.’ It was mainly the good offices of General Howard that brought the great state of Texas into the Union. Its name changed from Capitol View Street between East Grove Street (now 33rd St) and Isaacs Street (36th Street) in Isaac’s and Selden’s Addition, and from Hurford Avenue between 20th Street and 21st Street in Oak Knoll Addition. There were at least four other Howard Streets running north-south and east-west at different times, now have all changed their names.”

 

 

 

historicregister

Photo from the Reconnaissance Survey of Downtown and Columbus Park Omaha report by Gredler, Long and Pettis: Howard Street Apartment District Boundary Map.

 

 

Harrison Johnson and My Trials at the Deeds Office

 

Let me tip you off to this, if you’ve never been to the Register of Deeds office. Any deed, pre-dating 1910, is in their database–not in the lovely handwritten ledgers that I adore so. The computer files are pretty insane to navigate and I groan a bit when this is part of an investigation. I am not blaming the Deeds office. They are so friendly and generous with their time. It is a fright for even the most skilled of amateur sleuths. So with that tucked away in the back of your mind, I offer up my findings, although these should be taken with a grain of salt—meaning, this is but a Guessing Game of the general area of Jefferson Place, previous to formal platting.

 

I believe that the land near or encompassing 2226 Howard was owned by Harrison Johnson, previous to 1857. Sarah A. Johnson owned the property by July 1861. Through some deep digging, I found out later that Ms. Johnson was Harrison Johnson’s mother. An employee at the Register of Deeds office said that this area (around 22nd to 24th and Howard) appeared to be broken into many lots (most likely farmland) and sold at different times over the years. I won’t take you down that rabbit hole list of names, as we have enough information to cover just sticking to the facts, but believe me—it was a hideous mess to trek through in search of leads. And I loved every minute of it.

 

 

harrisonjohnson

Harrison Johnson grave site in Brown County Nebraska. Photo from the Find a Grave website.

 

The U.S. Census of 1860 (thanks to the familysearch.org site) showed Harrison Johnson at age 37, a farmer. His wife Minervia 34, and their seven children, all under the age of 15 lived in the home. My word. In addition there were four farm laborers living with the family. Also living in the house was Sarah Johnson, age 60, Harrison’s mother. Harrison Johnson’s 1885 Omaha World Herald obituary referred to him as “A well known citizen. A man of scholarly tastes and is best known as the author of a history of Nebraska.” Our kind of guy. (I just want to point out that his obituary was from 1885 but his headstone says his death was in 1886.) Nearby neighbors shown in the 1860 census were the Poppletons, Clarks and Frengels. Many months later I would learn from the American Guide Series Omaha: A Guide to the City and Environs that Harrison Johnson, called “an early settler” apparently carved the trail, later a country road to downtown. As the city grew, additions were platted along the road and it became a St. Mary’s Avenue. Interesting side note: St. Mary’s Avenue hill was very steep in the early years; passengers of the horse drawn streetcars frequently had to get off and walk until the cars reached the summit. The hill was graded and cut down in the late 1880’s. I would find out later that the same steep hill on Howard Street would be graded between 1920-1940.

 

The trail through the deeds was a muddy mess, much like old St. Mary’s must have been but one clear pathway that seemed to make the most sense was that of the Guy C. Barton connection. “Sarah M. Kitchen and Sr.” sold to Guy C. Barton in November of 1890, a name I knew I recognized.

 

 

The Barton Family

 

 

Guy C. Barton acquired the land that 2226 Howard would later inhabit on November of 1890. Guy C. Barton “and wife” then put the deed in their married daughter’s name the very same month.But I didn’t know she was daughter just yet.  Jessie Rollins became the owner of 2226 Howard in November of 1890. This wet behind the ears gumshoe wanted to know more.

 

 

guyc-barton

Guy Barton photo from the Find a Grave website.

 

Now…. according to the 1880 U.S. Census, Guy C. Barton, (45) and wife, Saphia (have also found it spelled Sophia) Dewolf Barton (42) lived with their daughter, Jessie, (21) and son, King Charles “K.C.” (19). They had another daughter, Frances, who wasn’t living at home at the time.

 

 

 

sophiahepzibahdewolf

Sophia or Saphia Dewolf Barton. An exotic beauty with fabulous taste in clothing, jewelry and hairstyles–I am assuming from this faint-worthy photograph. The detailing on this dress is AMAZING. That collarpiece, buttons and satin ribbon design…

 

 

 

8b14180v

Omaha and Grant Smelting and Refining Company photo from the Library of Congress website. I have written this company previously in The Secret of Burt Street. I had heard the name Guy C. Barton many times through my Omaha investigations and had always hoped “Guy” was pronounced the French way. Guy Conger Barton was a remarkable man. President of the Omaha and Grant Smelting and Refining Company, as well as vice president of Omaha Horse Railway Company, Barton is mentioned often in Omaha history books. Savage and Bell’s History of the City of Omaha Nebraska wax unapologetically about Guy’s outstanding painting collection, of all things. He was also a one-time newspaperman, a rancher, a banker and enjoyed a stint in politics as speaker of the house.

 

 

 

youngjessie

The Barton’s daughter, Young Jessie.

 

 

In 1886 the family residence was at 2103 California. Miss Jessie Barton was living with her parents. In time I would find Jessie Barton Rollins featured in Omaha’s Society Pages (leading me to believe she was married) brushing shoulders with the likes of the Patricks, the Poppletons, the Gallaghers, the Millards, and the Woolworths. But her closest girlpals all appeared to be single: Miss Dewey, Miss Yost, Miss Hoagland and Miss Millard. (And we already know we like Miss Bertha Yost.) This was The Omaha Clique. One party in particular, “Jessie Rollins was attired in a pink silk costume, very elaborate” where she “did the honors at the chocolate urn.” Yes, they said chocolate urn. I could go on and on about this group of girls and their antics. In one hilarious article, the journalist was detailing a fun girl day out and about in town in one of the girl’s Peerless automobiles. While driving, Miss Jessie Millard “got stuck in a bit of gumbo.” It went on and on about their adventure. Brilliant writing.

 

 

 

1886dress

A dress from the later 1880s.

 

And there was a clue to yet another marriage for our Jessie from 1897: “The announcement of the approaching marriage of Mrs. Jessie Rollins, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Guy C. Barton, to Mr. George Christiancy, formerly of Omaha.” I thought this was unusual for that time and assumed maybe Mr. Rollins had passed away at a young age. Elsewhere along the way I found listings for Mrs. Jessie Barton Christiancy living in New York. These were all just fragments of evidence that would not make sense for a long time.

 

The J. H. Millard Clue and Development of Jefferson Place

 

 

1890sanborndetail

 

1890 map of the downtown area. Thank you to Trina Westman of the Omaha City Planning Department for sharing this.

Through the Register of Deeds paper work I found the cryptogram“J. H. Millard to the public 1890 plat.” What exactly did that mean? I had heard the name Millard, of course. Joseph “Joe” Hopkins Millard was the wealthy president of the Omaha National Bank. Another exceptional Omahan and close friend of Barton’s, Millard helped to organize the South Omaha Bank, as well as going on to be Mayor of Omaha and a U. S. Senator from Nebraska. Does anyone else wonder how these pioneers found the time to have a hand in so many operations?

 

 

millard

 

Joseph Hopkins Millard. Photo from Find a Grave site.

 

I was not entirely sure if J. H. Millard had actually owned the 22nd and Howard property, or if he was involved in creating the original public land survey plats for the official legal record? I discovered through many articles that Barton and Millard were friends, (as were their whole families), business partners and big names in early Omaha.

 

 

1890southomaha

 

South Omaha Bank ad, Omaha World Herald from Feb. 20, 1890, listing directors Millard and Barton.

 

From the U.S. Census of 1880, the Millard family lived at 1616 Farnam Street. J. H. Millard was a 43-year-old banker. Born in 1837 in Canada. His wife was Caroline Barrows Millard, age 42. Their son, Willard (18). Yes, that’s right: Willard Millard. Hmmmm. I think I had better throw in that I would later discover that Willard Millard married Jessie Barton’s sister, Frances. Jessie Millard (16). Mary Higgins (21), their English servant. Maggie Henderson (23), Scottish servant. I had assumed that Millard had presented the land as an officiary of some sort until months later I found a brief mention in the Omaha World Herald from October 24, 1890. “J. H. Millard et al to public, dedication of Jefferson Place.” This meant that Joseph Millard, the landowner, offered his land for public use, the offer was then accepted for the sale of lots to be developed into Jefferson Place. In the end 2226 Howard was in Guy Barton’s daughter’s name: Jessie Rollins.

 

 

Not Quite the Right Fit

 

2226 Howard is on the Douglas County Assessor’s site as having been built in 1885. Likewise the Register of Deeds Office showed that 2226 Howard was filed by legal description in 1885. It showed up in 1889 under “historical index” but at least a portion of the land was replatted in October of 1890. What did all of that mean? Who designed the home and for whom was it built? All I had come up with was a bunch of dates but no real color, no storyline. The Bartons, to include Jessie lived at 2103 California in 1886. Did they build 2226 Howard as a gift for Jessie’s marriage to the mysterious Mr. Rollins? Miss Cassette had found these extravagant types of matrimonial gifts in these mysteries before. The truth in all of this was puzzling.

 

Sanborn Maps: Tips to the Past

 

Trina Westman of the Omaha Planning Department generously sent me over the Sanborn Map of 1890 (and many other years as you will soon see.) Sanborn Maps are so very cool and I’m pretty obsessed with them. The maps are large-scale documents of changes to the built environment, originally produced for fire insurance liability purposes. Every major city has Sanborn maps on file. Of note: by the late 1950’s a young Warren Buffet began buying shares of the company.

 

1890sanborn

1890 Sanborn Map showing 2226 Howard was present on site but is shown as a part of Lot 6. Howard Street was not a through street at that time. In order to enter the neighborhood, one would have to head north on 22nd Street from St. Mary’s Avenue. Although labeled incorrectly as Lot 6 (did it change or was it a mistake?), you can see that the dimensions of 2226 were depicted as they are today in this early Sanborn drawing. Also you can see that there were other large homes next door and across the street–for instance a home with almost the same dimensions directly to the east, what would have been 2224, now an empty lot. The incredible Kimball home, previously shown on St. Mary’s Avenue is not yet built.

 

Breakthrough Clues of the Kitchen Family

 

 

Eight months later into my investigation, I found the clue that cracked the case wide open.

 

 

1890

November 16, 1890 Omaha World Herald small article stating that Guy C. Barton had bought the Kitchen home for daughter, Jessie and “H. S. Rollins.” My Veronica Mars Mind was exploding and the puzzle could now be put together in the final hour.

 

I would learn that J. B. Kitchen Sr arrived in Omaha in 1881, representing the Kitchen Brothers firm. The name of Charles Kitchen came up later, presumably the brother, I thought. The Kitchen Company was in closing negotiations for the lot and building of the Grand Central Hotel. According to the OWH article of April 8, 1881,“The Kitchen Bros. are to build a good hotel, with no less than eighty rooms.” This was to be a first class hotel to replace the old Grand Central, which reportedly burned down in 1878.

 

paxton

The original Paxton Hotel at the same location at 14th and Farnam. Brothers C.W., W.T. and J.B. Kitchen built the original Paxton Hotel in 1882 to replace the Grand Central Hotel. The Kitchen Brothers famously ran a number of hotels throughout America. After moving to Omaha, Sarah M. Kitchen, J. B.’s wife, began buying up properties in Omaha, while her husband’s company continued to build. In 1885 the Kitchen Brothers made headlines with a proposal to build a 60 feet high bridge from the Paxton Hotel across the alley to connect with Mr. J. B. Kitchen’s new building on Harney Street. By 1888, J. B. Kitchen was proprietor of the “new” Paxton Hotel. In 1928 the Paxton was replaced with the even newer art deco Paxton Hotel that we all know and love. If you want some more great details on the Paxton, check this out. http://www.thepaxton.com/about/history.php

 

 

 

1889

I was able to back up and re-exam the remnants, digging into the early Sarah M. Kitchen lead. A pretty important pointer that I had missed in all those months was this permit from December 15, 1889. Sarah M. Kitchen’s building permit for 2226 Howard; the home was to be $10,000. $10,000 would have the buying power of roughly $271,000 by today’s standards. It would be a logical assumption that the Kitchen Brothers designed and built the Shingle Style home at 2226. Or did the Kitchens have an architect that they favored?

 

 

 

 

The Jessie Barton Rollins Dossier

 

I stumbled across evidence that pointed to Harry and Jessie Rollins living at 2018 Howard very early in their marriage. The couple was married in November of 1885. The Rollinses must have liked the Jefferson Place area well as this is just east of the Howard Street hill plateau. March 26, 1887 found Mrs. Harry Rollins “Looking for a girl who must be a good cook” for the couple’s home. The couple moved up the street to the Kitchen’s Shingle Style home in 1890 when Jessie’s parents bought them the property.

 

 

 

1892

The saddest of the saddest articles from September 10, 1892. (Sorry, the article had been cropped too close by the online site but I hope you can make out the gist.) Apparently Jessie and Harry Rollins had a son, named “Little Guy,” after Jessie’s father. While Jessie and her brother, K. C., were away in Europe, she was notified of Little Guy taking ill. Jessie was not able to sail home in time and Little Guy died in her absence. I cannot be sure if he died at the family home. Not only that, but the family had the funeral without Jessie due to her not being able to get on a ship in time. I cannot imagine this young mother’s pain–the whole family’s pain.

 

 

 

jessie-bartonchristiancy

 

Jessie Barton Christiancy photo from Find a Grave site. Such a splendid combination of her parents.

 

 

By 1893, not long after the death of Little Guy, the Omaha World Herald briefly mentioned, “Mrs. Jessie Rollins left for Washington where she spends the winter with relatives.” She notably left town alone. As we already know, her marriage to George Christiancy was announced in 1897. She would go on to live with George Armstrong Custer Christiancy in New York. From what I could find, Jessie never had any other children, understandably. I found her first husband, Harry Rollins selling off various properties around Omaha in 1899. I really felt for the couple’s loss.

 

The W. R. Kelly Lead

 

My very first Omaha World Herald clue about 2226 Howard was this notice from June 2, 1895, found within the “In Society” page. “Miss Ura Kelly charmingly entertained a house party of young people from Lincoln at her home 2226 Howard Street this Thursday.”

 

urakelly-party

Again, this was the first thing I had found and I mistakenly believed this was teh first family to have lived at 2226 Howard. Who was young Ura Kelly?

Soon after, I discovered this….

 

 

lost

From the Omaha World Herald Lost ads, September 27, 1895: “Lost Tuesday evening, between 19th and 24th, on Dodge, or between Dodge and Harney on 24th, a cape of wide black silk ribbon, with black satin ties. Finder will be rewarded on sending same to W. R. Kelly. 2226 Howard.”

 

 

 

montgomerywardcape

Breadcrumbs on the side trail: I just had to know what a cape looked like from 1895. Catalogue and Buyers’ Guide 1895 – Montgomery Ward. This cape sounded quite glorious to me. Miss Cassette has always loved a good cape. Although I prefer the grey Persian lambswool variety, I love these illustrated satin ribbons and embellishments.

 

I began to backtrack by looking in the Omaha City Directory but unfortunately, as you may remember from past mysteries, 1912 is the first year the Omaha City Directory began incorporating street address listings. Knowing the surname Kelly, I went through the city directory with fervor. According the Omaha World Herald article of January 21, 1888, William R. Kelly of Lincoln, was the long time trial attorney for Union Pacific Railroad to the state courts outside of Douglas County. Soon after he succeeded John M. Thurston as the UP assistant attorney for Nebraska when Thurston stepped into Poppleton’s position.

 

 

 

unionpacific

Union Pacific Railroad illustration of 1870-1911. “Omaha home of UP at corner of Ninth and Farnam.” Later headquarters moved to 15th and Dodge. Thank you to the W. Dale Clark Downtown Library for letting me peruse their file of news clipping, where I found this.

 

 

I knew I was dealing with A Real Someone when James Woodruff Savage and John Thomas Bell referred to William Kelly as “The physical heavy weight of the Omaha bar” in their book History of the City of Omaha, Nebraska. The Kelly family would continue to live in Lincoln, until about 1894 when Mr. Kelly lived solo in Omaha hotels for a number of years. I could not pin the Kelly name to the 2226 address until 1896. This would be roughly one year before Jessie Barton Rollins married George Christiancy. The Kelly family would be reunited at 2226 Howard, but according to the Register of Deeds, William Kelly was not the true owner. I believe the Kellys must have been renting from Jessie Barton Rollins. Little did I know this would become a complicated pattern of double-duty tracking with the Shingle Style mansion at 2226 Howard.

 

 

 

1900uscensus

From the  1900 U. S. Census (courtesy of familysearch.org), I gained more tips. Kelley would be spelled with “ey” or “y” off and on throughout the hunt. In 1900 William Kelley was 51,  born in Ohio. Wife Sarah E. Kelley was 50, also from Ohio. Ura L. Kelley, daughter was 25 years. Catherine Lucas, servant, was 30. Curtis Taylor, servant, was 25. Did I mention that in 1897, William R. Kelly and Charles Offutt were pallbearers at a mutual friend’s funeral? I do hope you remember Charles from Bertha Yost Offutt story. Check it out, if you haven’t already. Bertha Yost Offutt and the Mysterious Gold Coast Mansion Further proof that in time, all of these Omaha mystery characters will be connected.

 

1901 Sanborn Map

 

 

1901sanborn

Thanks to Trina Westman of the Omaha City Planning Department for providing me with this map. By 1901 the Sanborn Map depicts 2226 correctly labeled on Lot 1. There is also the addition of a large garage, which was not present in the 1890 Sanborn. There is a large porch addition running the length of the front of the home that likewise was not present in the previous map. The properties to the west are now labeled as lots 2, 3 and 4. The house directly to the east, 2224 Howard, is now Lot 6.

 

 

Reported in the Reconnaissance Survey of Downtown and Columbus Park Omaha, the homes on the short Howard Street block were all mansions and large, single family homes. The 1900 census showed a listing of neighbors. 2222 Howard housed William Wyman, wife Mabel and sons Tucker and Clifford. 2224 Howard was home to George Patterson, wife Ella and sons Roland and Kenneth. 2243 Howard: William Bennett and Louise. 2241 Howard: Stephen Bangs and Jane.

 

June 4, 1902 the Omaha Bee announced the repaving and curbing of Howard Street from east line of 22nd Street to 24th street, amounting to the sum of $4,220.97, including the cost of two private driveways.” Lot 1, our 2226 Howard focus, cost $211.31.

 

Pieces of Vague Evidence

 

Sarah Kelly’s sister, visiting from Chicago, would get married at 2226 Howard in 1901. The Kellys would run many ads looking for servants over the years until the Omaha City Directory of 1906 revealed that the family had moved on. I could not even find them living in Omaha nor is the family buried here, from what I could find. Who moved into 2226 Howard and what became of it? Mind you, the Omaha City Directory did not start listing addresses until 1912 so I had nothing to go on. I did know for certain that Jessie Barton Christiancy continued to own the property. I would continue to find ads looking for servants for a “family of eight.” One would guess that 2226 Howard continued to serve her comfortable halls to the well to do. By October 7, 1908 the occupants were “Selling a bookcase, two feather beds, a good sewing machine.”

 

 

The Mansion Becomes a Rooming House

 

 

“Jessie B. Christiancy and husband” sold to John J. McClellan on May 13, 1910. From then on I located numerous ads for “Furnished rooms for rent 2226 Howard” and “Beautiful rooms for rent, with or without board: shade. 2226 Howard.” I imagined shade being a selling point in those days. I was sad…. and why was that? I remember being disappointed even as a little girl to discover a mansion was no longer a mansion but had been converted to apartments. As an adult, of course, I am just happy that these large rambling homes haven’t been torn down and can recognize the tremendous expense of keeping up a glorious home. But still…the fantasy tends to diminish when one spies a rickety fire escape winding out of Queen Anne tower or sees a large metal post office box affixed to a once impressive entryway, multiple apartment numbers stenciled to the outside. I know you understand this sad state of affairs.

 

 

 

may141910

May 14, 1910 J. B. Christiancy and husband sold to J. J. MacLellain

 

I will admit to you, dear reader, that I was unable to dig up anything on John J. McClellan. I found a John J. who had been in the Civil War and a few others from here and there but nothing tying a John J. McClellan to Omaha. There was always a chance his name was spelled wrong on the deed. Later I found the announcement of the sale in the OWH where his name was spelled J. J. MacLellain, which produced even more insufficient results. Seeing as he had used the home as a money making venture in the form of rooming house, McClellan might have lived in another state altogether. The possibilities of which made me even sadder.

 

 

The Ethel Mick File, Horses, a Hospital and Frat Boys

 

Almost two years later in August of 1912, McClellan sold to Ethel Mick. According to the U.S. Census of 1920, Ethel West Mick was then 36 years of age and married to Captain William H. Mick, age 41. This union brought two daughters, Ethel (14) and Ruth (11). I could not find evidence that the Micks lived at 2226 Howard. It is my belief that they too made a living from the rooming house concept.

 

Years later, the younger Ethel Mick would make national news for developing a “Junior Red Cross” after working as a youth fund raiser during a membership drive. Her brilliant little big idea spread across the country and was developed into a form of volunteerism for children during World War I.

 

 

ethelmick

Here is Little Ethel Mick in 1917. One year later there was another article in the paper calling her “The Little Mother” of the Junior Red Cross society because of her hard work in the national organization. She was on the talk circuit, inspiring other school children through her speeches to be active in their communities. Her father, Captain William H. Mick, was stationed in Europe, where he was placed in charge of the X-ray department of a U. S. Army Evacuation Hospital.

 

 

 

1912citydirectory

Omaha City Directory list of 1912 shows that Mrs. Anna Russell was running the boarding house of 2226 Howard Street. At this time 2100 Howard had a new business: The Bishop Clarkson Memorial Hospital. The Howard Apartments were on the block but none of the other apartment buildings that now inhabit Howard Street were there yet. Meanwhile some of the mansions were being converted to rooming houses but still quite a few single family homes were intact on the block. Did anyone else catch the name J. T. Maxwell at 2235 Howard Street? YES, that is our favorite James Taliaferro Maxwell of Log Cabin fame. Check out Mysteries of Omaha: The Log Cabin and the Jones Street Bridge if you are not up to speed on this. I love when this happens! Omaha is such a big small town.

 

2213 was now Mrs. S. S. Majors furnished rooms. 2215 was Anna Brady furnished rooms. 2222 was Mrs. Florence Sprague furnished rooms. From an obituary of June 2, 1927, I later learned that Anna Russell, died at age 69, back east in Pennsylvania. She was mother of William Russell, local manager of the Omaha Ford Plant. She ran a couple of rooming houses while in Omaha.

 

 

There were a number of odd events, which coalesced in some fashion in 1913. I say in some fashion because I am not sure of the fine details in this perplexing mix. There were many ads selling horses out of 2226 Howard. One advertisement offered “Our entire outfit of horse, consisting of 13 head of horses and mares. Myers Construction Company. rear, 2226 Howard.” That would explain that large additional structure in the back of the house seen in the Sanborn maps. Later there was an ad stating “For rent barn—suitable for ten cars.” Did this mean that the Myers Construction Company was operating out 2226 Howard or was an owner living in the rooming house?

 

prospectivehorsebuyers

Another horse ad this time with manager McCauly Transfer Co.

 

 

The Micks remained the owners of 2226 Howard, according to the deed but the Omaha City Directory now listed the property as the “Emoh Club.” This conundrum caused some Detective Road Blockages, as I could not find any other mention of this club name from my usual sources. I began to find evidence that the Emoh Club was a national men’s organization from the late 1800s rather than a local drinking club.

 

 

frathouse

I finally chanced on an article from 1913 about Donald Burke, a Creighton University fraternity member having returned from a national law fraternities meeting in Chicago. This meeting joined three law fraternities into one thirty-five-chapter entity. The local chapter of Delta Theta Phi Law fraternity would be housed at 2226 Howard Street.

 

 

 

frathouse1913
Fraternity room from 1913, just to give a feel for the time. I searched so hard for a Creighton Delta Theta Phi Law fraternity photo but turned up nothing. I know someone out there must have one.

 

Oh my stars. Can you imagine what the neighbors thought? Had there been two different clubs or were they one in the same? Maybe 1913 fellowship was not as raucous in those days but we can envision how that many young men living in a huge house might have worked out. During this time period American cities found quite a few of their mansions being rented out or bought by fraternities. Due to changes in the economy and a shift in styles, the well to do began to move into smaller homes that were easier to maintain. Our city still has a number of these sprawling frat houses sprinkled about town.

 

 

 

1913bishopclarksonmemhos

June 12, 1913.  The exterior of Clarkson Hospital at 2100 Howard Street down the street. Approximately where the NRG Energy Center building now stands was the impressive Bishop Clarkson Memorial Hospital. Previous to this Howard Street move, the hospital was originally at 1716 Dodge Street. The 2100 Howard Street location was later razed around 1966. Notice the stable type barn in the background. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).

 

The Torrisons and a Series of Furnished Rooms

 

 

For a little perspective into our Omaha characters’ lives, World War I had started in 1914. Adelina Patti, a well liked Spanish opera singer in America, gave her last public performance for a Red Cross concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

 

 

adelina_patti

The Great Adelina Patti

 

 

keepthehomefiresburning1914

Songs such as “Keep the Home Fires Burning (‘til the Boys Come Home)” and “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” would become the new popular music of the time as America and its allies bound together in somber, patriotic themes.

 

Months after the war began, “J. C. Torrison and wife” bought 2226 Howard on October 13, 1914. The 1910 U.S. census shows Mattie Torrison (43) was born in Norway and was married to Terges C. Torrison (44) of Wisconsin. Terges’ parents had each emigrated from Norway. The couple had three children Oscar (15), Mildred (10) and Eldred (6). Terges was listed as a real estate agent by profession in 1910. The Torrison family rented 2226 Howard out as a means of income. I could find no record of them living in the house. All three censuses showed them living around 25th and 28th streets.

 

The Omaha City Directory of 1914 and 1915 listed George Brenner and T. J. Delaney as tenants-apartment managers. They were actively selling “Second-hand lumber, all kinds of bldg materials” throughout 1914. Also from May 19, 1915: “Moved to city, forced to sell my big team of mares, 7 and 8 years old weight, 2,7000 lbs. Also wagon. 2226 Howard.” One of the men was running some kind of club at the house or was it at another location? Was the Zenda Club another fraternity? I couldn’t track any additional information about the club from my usual sources other than these ads. From Nov 4, 1915: “Wanted a good second girl at the Zenda Club. 2226 Howard.” From Nov 24, 1915: “Good German or Bohemian girl to work at the Zenda Club.” Interesting preference.

 

 

In 1916 George Brenner had moved to Irvington, NE and Thomas J. Delaney moved to Syracuse, NY. “Mrs. Florence Sprague Furnished Rooms” had hung up her shingle on the Shingle Style house. Her husband, Clark Sprague, had died very recently and she was now a widow. 2226 Howard was then listed under “C. A. Flynn Furnished Rooms” by 1918. One of my favorite worded ads from September of 1918: “On account of the draft, we have several excellent vacancies for room and board per week.” I just loved when people used to say “On account of…”in old movies. Charles A. Flynn and wife, Florence, began offering home cooked meals in the 1920s in addition to rooming. “Home cooking served family style 3 meals a day, per week $6 and 2 meals $5. Rooms $3 per week.” Later it would become the Mrs. Florence Flynn Furnished Rooms.

 

 

sewtheseeds

In the late teens, Americans had been taught to conserve food for the service members of World War I. Food was kept and donated to the military in order to feed American troops and our allies. During the teens, many Americans collectively lived by “Meatless Mondays” or “Wheatless Wednesdays.” When the war was over in 1918 there was common rejoice, I’m guessing, for innumerable reasons, one being the variety of food.

 

 

 

campbells1923

Fantastic Campbell’s Soup ad from 1923. Although Prohibition had entered the picture in 1920, a family could hope to have a Sunday dinner of baked ham with less concern of conservation and possibly a sip of illegal alcohol (although I’ve read this was not all that forbidden in one’s home.) People also began to eat at restaurants and clubs again with more of ease.

 

1925 brought Mrs. Anna Piller Furnished Rooms to 2226 Howard. Anna managed the renting and cooking. Her son Robert, was a salesman. Daughter Sophia Piller was student.

 

 

robertpiller

Omaha World Herald article of August 30, 1927.So the story goes, Anna’s son, Robert took his girlfriend, Miss Evelyn Peterson and two fellas out on a joy ride in his car. Robert went in for gas with one friend at a 24th and F Street garage around 1 am (can you imagine 1 am in 1927?!) and when he returned his girlfriend, guy friend and car were gone. Robert reported the incident to the police. His car, his gal and his pal were later found over at Miss Peterson’s home. A follow up article quoted Robert saying, “I laughed it off. I’m going to forget it.” He apparently had “Been wrong on the ‘best girl’ angle.”

 

 

All the while 2226 was owned by the Torrisons. In July of 1927, the home was transferred from Terges’s name to his wife’s name, Mattie Torrison. I believe Terges must have died because there was no mention of him again in census records. An Omaha World Herald real estate transfer from November 1927 shows the home was again transferred into another Torrison name—this time from mother Mattie Torrison to daughter Mildred C. Torrison Warrington.

 

 

The Warringtons

 

 

In January of 1929 my Shingle Style obsession went into W. W. Warrington’s name according to Register of Deeds Office. An Omaha World Herald article from June of 1927 announced that in a whirlwind, W. W. Warrington, Jr. had married Miss Mildred Torrison. “This marriage came as a surprise to relative and friends alike.” By the pattern established with this house, I would surmise that Mother Mattie gave the newlyweds the house as a wedding gift.

 

 

2568amesave

2568 Ames Avenue. I located the 1930 U. S. Census. At that time William W. Warrington (29) was married to Mildred Torrison Warrington (29) and mother-in-law, Mattie Torrison, (63) lived with the couple at this attractive house at 2568 Ames Avenue, a corner lot. According to the Douglas County assessor site, this home was built in 1910—although sometimes the years can be off. If this detail is correct, the Warrington-Torrison family did, indeed, live in this very house.

 

 

The March of the Apartments

 

 

By the late 1920s all of the apartment buildings, four plexes and duplexes on Howard Street and Dewey Avenue had been built. The Howard Street Apartment District had arrived but it was not yet called that. It must have felt like such a different neighborhood compared to when it was an enclave of mansions. Here is a listing of what once stood on that block. As I have mentioned, I plan to write another article revealing more of the history of these incredible apartment buildings. For now  here are some photos of the historic apartments still standing that  I snapped on a nice spring day last year.

 

2103 Howard: the Packard (earlier the Howard) Apartments: Razed

2205-07 Howard: the Hawthorne Apartments: Razed

 

2211forrestglen

2211 Forrest Apartments (FAVORITE: also called Forrest Glen Apartments. Said to have been built in 1927. Designed by Frederick A. Henninger, my secret architect love, as you know.)

 

 

2215longfellow

2215 Longfellow Apartments (1922)

 

 

2217bosworth

2217-19 Bosworth Apartments (1913)

 

 

2222mayfair

2222 Mayfair Apartments (1915 or 1916)

 

 

 

 

2227bartlett

2227 Bartlett Apartments (supposedly built in 1929)

 

 

 

2301-2303deweyave

The Dewey Avenue row houses-duplexes, down a side job actually behind 2226 Howard. You can see how very close these buildings are to our Shingle Style mansion. 2301-2303 Dewey Avenue.

 

 

2303-2305dewey

The continued duplexes down Dewey Avenue on the south side. The best. A true movie set.

 

 

 

2304-2302deweyave

The north side of Dewey Avenue. There were also (and continue to be, thankfully) duplexes and fourplexes just to the west of 2226 Howard but I am not including their photos here as this is getting a bit exhaustive. This is just a taste. Yes, you must go look for yourself or wait for my followup on the Howard Street Apartment District.

 

The Bryon G. Burbank File

 

The corresponding newspaper articles and Register of Deeds Office list revealed Byron G. Burbank took ownership of 2226 Howard on November 4, 1929. I turned up the Burbank name earlier in my investigation when I had noted him buying up multiple lots in Shinn’s Addition back in 1897. Burbank bought more in the Park Place Addition in 1908. It turns out Byron Burbank was a well-known Omaha attorney. And he had a son named, Forrest Burbank, which immediately caught my attention–a name befitting of celebrity or poshness on some level. It was also the name of my favorite apartment building on Howard Street. Coincidence? Later I would track down the announcement of his acceptance to Harvard Law School.

 

 

 

3845california

 

3845 California. Photo from the Douglas County Assessor site. This is my idea of a Gorgeous House. Holysmokes. The 1930 U.S. Census confirmed Byron G. Burbank (69) was married to Jane B. Burbank (46), and their son Forrest (20) also lived in the home. Byron was listed as an “Apartment Owner” by profession. The family lived in this fabulous home at 3845 California. The Douglas County assessor site said this property was built in 1918. Later I would find Mr. Burbank was a larger property owner than I had imagined, owning several large apartment structures. As it turns out, Burbank had the Longfellow Apartments at 2215 Howard and the Forrest Apartments at 2211 Howard built. The Forrest Apartments were no doubt named for his only son.

 

 

A Curious List of 1930s Grocers

 

 

As was the pattern of ownership, the Burbank family did not actually live at 2226 Howard. They continued to rent it out, possibly with an apartment or rooming house manager handling the day-to-day affairs. In following the Omaha City Directory listings I began to notice a series of managers, changing over almost yearly, who were all notated as being “grocers.” I even joked, early on to Mr. Cassette, that it was as if 2226 Howard was a rehab for grocers. I could not fathom what that meant until much later…

 

byronburbank

Byron G. Burbank is remodeling. This short mention from the OWH in March of 1930 was yet another clue. You might recognize the Minkin name as the building of the curious grocery-liquor store from Mysteries of Omaha: 2561 Douglas Street. I would come to believe the work Burbank had Minkin complete actually turned the porch of 2226 Howard into a small, neighborhood grocery store.

 

 

 

storeadded2017

Current photo from 2017, show how this box-like addition to the home, possibly could have been a little neighborhood grocery store. It also explained my early questions about the stone facade on that portion of the house. This photo also shows that 2224 Howard is now, unfortunately, a fenced in lot.

 

 

 

grocerydoor

Was this possibly the door to the neighborhood grocery story? It is found to the right of the proper front door.

 

During this time period the neighborhood grocery store was very popular. Some Americans had small Mom and Pops in their homes, an extension of the European history of a shopkeep living above or behind his store. This was also a way to cut down on expenses. I wrote quite a bit about this phenomenon in Brothers Lounge and the Case of the Vanishing Mom and Pop.

 

 

 

weinsteinsistersgrocery

Here is an example of very tiny corner shop added to the front of a house.

 

 

neighborhoodgrocer

Another example of a small neighborhood store built on the front of someone’s house. When I was growing up in Benson, these house stores or neighborhood shops were not uncommon to see further in North Omaha. You could purchase candy, soda and chips from a neighborhood person, usually through a front window.

 

 

davidfrank

 

 

I love this article from April 2, 1930 about David Frank, yet another grocer, who curiously lived at 2226 Howard but ran another neighborhood grocery store right down the street at 2101 Howard. Apparently David was held up on his fourth day after opening his brand new grocery store. David Frank would go on to become an Omaha legend; a successful entrepreneur owning the Peter Pan Furniture store and the Dundee Theater (!) through the 70s and early 80s.  Frank also raced the many thoroughbred horses he owned at Ak Sar Ben. I found the ad from 1931 where Frank was selling off his grocery store at 2101 Howard. It would later become Parrot’s Beauty Salon.

 

 

 

The City Directory of 1931 displayed Frank Meier, grocer and wife Sarah Meier now moving into 2226 Howard. An Omaha World Herald ad from March 1, 1931 lent a further confirmational clue: “10 room rooming house with or without small store. 2226 Howard. Inquire at 2211 Howard.” 2211 Howard is the Forrest Apartments, by the way. By 1932 John Pardoe, “grocer” and wife, Bettina were running the store and rooming house. In 1933 Charles Cavanaugh, “grocer” and wife, Flora ran 2226 Howard.

 

 

sanborn1934

 

A colored Sanford Map detail, sometime post 1940s. (Thanks to Trina Westman of the Omaha Planning Department). I include it here, out of chronological order to show the coding. I would later put two and two together after viewing this map. See 2226 show as “Apts” with an “S” code for store. Note that the Sanborn map has been altered-covering the previously drafted 2224 Howard with a white paper—signifying that 2224 has been razed. Additional information gained from this map, but cropped out—three larger homes at 2208 and 2206 are now parking lots, presumably for the Clarkson Hospital.

 

 

 

1934sanborn

 

 

The 1934 Sanford Map shows that Howard Street finally ran all the way through to 20th Street. You can see the numerous houses still standing on the north side of Howard, east of 2226. (2224 would later become Marr’s Convalescent Home in 1951.) In 1934 Elmer Luxford, his wife, Margaret and brother, George Luxford, a “grocer” had moved in to the property. 1935 indicated Cyril Hedderly was now the grocer along with his wife, Mabel. Love those names. Frank Reischling, Earl McKinley, and Wayne Strickett were listed as tenants. Under Cyril Hedderly’s management, 2226 Howard would swell to 18 plus tenants in addition to running the grocery store.

 

 

 

 

 

1936streetscene

 

October 10, 1936. The row houses as they looked just west of our Shingle Style mansion at 2226 Howard. Photographer was standing at about 24th and Howard. This fantastic street scene faces east, giving a perfect view of Howard. The first apartment on the right is the Bartlett Apartments at 2227 Howard Street. This photo shows how dense the apartments used to be all the way down Howard. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).

 

 

 

24thandhowardstreetscene2017

Here is the same view but from 2017. Notice the row houses in the foreground (what would have been 2314 Howard, with the lovely tile roofing, is now gone.) The southern side of the street is still standing intact, showing the Bartlett, Bosworth, Longfellow and Forrest apartments still standing.The landscape abruptly drops off after the Forrest, unlike the previous photo.

 

The 1940s Case History

 

 

Byron G. Burbank maintained ownership of 2226 Howard with Cyril J. and Mabel Hedderly running the store and rooming house. But by May 9, 1940 I found someone trying to unload this property: “A Real Money Maker. Cash grocery, meats, apartments. Gross income $4,000 yearly. Operating expenses less than $125 month. Rent $60. $600 handles.” According to the inflation calculator, $4,000 in 1940 was equal to about $68,000 in current dollars. I remembered that World War II had started just months before.

 

 

 

 

mrs-c-j-hedderley

Ad from March 25, 1941. “Triple Service.” Mrs. C. J. Hedderly rented three duplex houses with one single want ad! This advertisement confirmed a hunch that the Hedderlys were property managers for a few of Mr. Burbank’s investments.

 

 

 

 

1943bishopclarkson

1943 Bishop Clarkson Memorial Hospital. This photo gives light to the lowering of Howard Street and regrade. The old Clarkson Hospital building stands as the Public Works Administration Building at 2100 Howard Street. Clarkson Memorial Hospital would later have a groundbreaking ceremony in 1957 at their new location at 44th and Dewey. By 1959 the building was complete. Other accounts say that the newer Clarkson was opened in 1955. The building at 2100 Howard later became apartments and was eventually torn down (1966) and replaced by the power plant that is there currently. A visit to the incredible DOGIS site shows that between the 1962 and 1973 aerial shots, the NRG Energy Center power plant building appeared.  -Note the homes to the west of this hospital. Another photo of these is coming up. I reached out to a good friend and antique everything expert, Syd, who estimated that this was a just post WWII photo, judging from the mix of cars. Bill at the Durham said it was from 1943. Great Image! (John Savage Collection owned by the Omaha World Herald. Lent with permission, courtesy of The Durham Museum Photo Archive).

 

 

 

nrg

How 2100 Howard (general area) looks today. NRG Energy Center 2152 Howard. Yes, that giant steam-making building. Downtown Omaha’s heating and cooling machine. According to the NRG website, “NRG Energy Center Omaha provides energy-efficient and environmentally sound district heating and cooling for the business district of downtown Omaha, including Woodman Tower, Creighton University, the Joslyn Art Museum, Creighton University Medical Center and more than 70 percent of all other public and commercial buildings in the downtown area.”

 

 

 

childrensmus

 

In 1946 the well-known John Latenser & Sons Company designed the new McFayden Ford dealership building at 20th and Howard Street. This would become the Omaha Children Museum on the southeast corner of 20th and Howard. Omaha Children’s Museum, how it looks today at 500 S. 20th Street. http://www.ocm.org/

 

 

 

 

 

littleedie1

I am only leaving Little Edie Bouvier Beale here to brighten up this spot. This beautiful creature is who I imagine could have, should have been living at 2226 Howard all along.

 

 

 

littleedie

 

 

Family Ownership and More Neighborhood Clues

 

According to the Register of Deeds, in April of 1946 yet another owner bought the home from Mr. Burbank. It just so happens that the subsequent owners have all been family members of this 1946 buyer. Out of respect for the current owner’s privacy, I will not reveal anything about the owners from 1946 on. What I can tell you is, it would appear that the grocery store—furnished rooms arrangement continued on into the early 1950s, perhaps longer. Our lovely Shingle Style mansion continued on in an apartment style rather than rented rooms into the 1980s, from what I have been able to gather.

 

 

 

harrys-market

Harry’s Market advertisement placed the grocery exactly at 2226 Howard.

 

 

2202howardst

March 5, 1954. Large house at 2202 Howard Street. This would have been directly to the west of the Clarkson Memorial. Now an empty lot.  Notice the large fine brick home to the west—this would have been 2204 Howard, now an empty lot. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).

 

 

 

landoncourtgrocery

I happened upon this 1948 Landon Court Grocery ad for 22nd and Howard. I believe this was David Frank’s little corner grocery that was held up. The address had been 2110 Howard.

 

 

 

1954howardstreet

March of 1954. South side of Howard Street, almost at 22nd and Howard. A small corner grocery store is seen with the sign “Meats” on said corner. (I believe this was the site of David Frank’s original grocery store.) To the store’s west is a small white house, already converted to into apartments, judging from its sidewinding stairwell. To the west of that is a large apartment building with two entrances. All three of these buildings have been razed. To the west of the double entrance apartment is the Forrest Apartments, still standing. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive). Love these shots and of course these cars. Take me back in time but only if I can have the best dresses and fitted sweaters.

 

 

 

22ndandhoward2017

The view of 22nd and Howard in 2017 photo of 22nd and Howard. Notice the Forrest Apartments are the last apartments standing on the eastern most side. Next to the Forrest is the Longfellow. The missing apartments on the eastern corner have allowed the new developers to build decks and parking for new tenants. Trying to look for the positives.

 

 

The 1960s

 

2226 Howard in the 60s was still being rented out as furnished rooms but its owners also lived in the large home. An ad from 1961 marketed: “Basement for rent. Ideal for pensioners. No Drinkers. Men only.” As with the times, in the late 1960s the home went from being called furnished rooms to apartments. I wondered how much work was done inside the home to reconfigure it to proper apartments, instead of having a shared bathroom down the hall? Or was there a shared bathroom down the hall? I would love to have seen photos of this great home through the years.

 

You can imagine, over this many years, how many people came and went from our Shingle Style mansion. A large number of tenants living at 2226 Howard were involved with the law, mentioned in stories of accidents and sweet anecdotal tales. There were marble tournament winners; Moral Raid busts involving arrests and hooch seizures; There were a surprising number of tenants struck by cars over the years, sometimes resulting in death. At one point a worker fixing the roof fell from atop our mansion, ultimately ending his life. To conjure the people who have passed through her doors. I cannot imagine the energy in her floorboards and within her halls. Truly breathtaking to dream on the stories she could whisper to you…

 

 

permit-to-wreck

From December 13, 1963–the document from the City Planning Department (Thanks to my dear friend, Joe Knapp.) Permit to Wreck Building, the large frame detached garage that had stored so many horses and cars over the years. I covered the owner’s name for privacy reasons. Do you love historical handwritten notes and forms as much as I? I could sit at the Register of Deeds Office and pore over their large, handwritten ledgers All Day Long.

 

 

 

ymca

In 1968 the YMCA building groundbreaking was begun northwest corner of 20th and Howard. 430 South 20th Street. The YMCA moved from 17th and Harney where it had been for decades. Two years earlier in 1966 the Bishop Clarkson Memorial Hospital at 2100 Howard was razed. It had already moved to its current location in the UNMC area.

 

 

ymca1910

Here is a postcard of the interior of the old YMCA at 17th and Harney. It doesn’t look like it smells of old gym socks and a pile of handball towels. In fact, it is quite magnificent.

 

1980

 

In July of 1980, 2226 Howard transferred into the current owner’s name, a relative in a short list of familial owners. Again I will not print their name to protect their privacy. All accounts say that this is a privately owned home and it is no longer a multi-rental apartment building. Just short of going right up to the door, which I would not want intrude or make someone feel uncomfortable, it certainly looks lived in and yard is well maintained. On the numerous days that I have wandered past, I have seen various people coming and going. But never a light and never a peep from inside. Are there renters living in the home or is it truly a single family home? I am sure one of you knows.

 

The following are some great photos that Trina Westman of the Omaha City Planning Department sent to me from the 1980 Landmarks Survey of this area. I treasure these, my only glimpse of 2226 Howard from the past.

 

 

2226-howard1980

Front view of the home from 1980 Landmarks Survey. There was an overhang on the porch with a stone support column. From this photo it is easier to see the stone work on the front of the home. I believe the door on the second floor, allowing one to go out on the addition’s roof, was added by Burbank as well.

 

 

frontview

Early June 2016. With the front porch removed. I do believe the house is more gorgeous, more mysterious now.

 

 

 

 

 

2226-howard21980

East view of the home from 1980 Landmarks Survey. You can see the driveway was still used then.

 

 

eastview

East side of 2226 Howard from early June 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2226-howard41980

Western view of the home from the 1980 Landmarks Survey.

 

 

southwestangle

Western angle from early June 2016.

 

 

 

2226-howard31980

The fire escape in the rear doesn’t have exit doors. 1980 Landmarks Survey

 

 

backivywithdoor

Early June 2016.

 

 

 

 

backyard

The large backyard.

 

 

 

westviewoffrontdoor

Beautiful roses greet you at the door. And that window…

 

 

 

 

eastsideentrance

The eastern most side of the house and what appears to be another entrance. Such scrumptious details. According to the city, there have been 7 building permits filed for 2226 Howard in the last 21 years.

 

 

Stretch of Howard Street Apartments District

 

Starting in 1981 there had been renewed interest in returning the Howard Street Apartments to its once glory. A private investor had bought three apartments in the area. I am not sure whatever became of his plans. By 1994 there was a halfway house at 22nd and Howard, leading to the paper calling the area and other downtown squats by the name Tramp Camp.

 

 

 

morebricks

The brick street of Howard still visible in between the YMCA and the Children’s Museum.

 

In the late 1990s I began a membership at the Downtown YMCA. This is when I first became aware of this puzzling area. I would often park up on Howard Street and walk down the hill to the Y, just to feel the enchanting experience. As beautiful as it was, it did not appear as it does today, although all architectural elements were still present. It seemed barren almost…abandoned. Some of the apartments looked run down and rough. There was a sporadic amount of increased criminal activity in those years, according to the newspapers but I wasn’t with things like that at the time. I always loved the mysterious feel of the abandoned movie set, a strange blending of dense apartments minus the tenants, a lone mansion from yesteryear, many empty lots, a huge steam machine and the Children’s Museum–YMCA corner. Was that a tumble weed prop rolling down the hill?

 

 

eastfacingstreetview

From what I could find, 2015 brought Arch Icon and TFL development firms to the neighborhood and thanks to their eye for restoration and historic tax credits, this incredible block is looking better than ever. All of the apartments seem to be filled and a stroll down the sidewalk on a good day will put you face to face with all sorts of energized, young people. The street is clearly reinvigorated with the elements that brought downtown workers to this neighborhood in the 1920s.

 

 

 

 

ggmovieposter

 

As for 2226 Howard, I long to go inside this treasured Omaha home. I imagine her Gloriously Dark interior. How I would love to bask in a book-lined library or revel in one of those long tower windows while having a good morning stretch. I would like to think that house and I could have a good, long chat. And Mr. Cassette could design the garden with a variety of pale colored flowers including climbing rose, lavender, phlox, and delphinium. Maybe a small, partially shingled teahouse of the 1930s could be established in a corner of the back yard…. where we could sit with friends and look out on our nice Grey Gardens.

 

 

 

southwestangle

 

 

I welcome your feedback and comments on this incredible home, its history of owners and the Howard Street Apartment District. To enable comments or to read others’ comments, please click on the header title. If you would like to correspond with me privately, please do so at myomahaobsession@yahoo.com. But I assure you, everyone would love to read what you have to say and it makes the conversation more fun. You can keep up with my latest investigations without even leaving your inbox, by “following” myomahaobsession. You will get sent email updates every time I have written a new article. Also join My Omaha Obsession on Facebook where you will find even more fun comments from readers. Thank you Omaha friends.

 

© Miss Cassette and myomahaobsession, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Miss Cassette and myomahaobsession with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

The Case of the Curious Cricket Room and Burgess-Nash Company

valvesillustration

There was never an afternoon that I didn’t look forward to a trip to Downtown Omaha with my grandmother. I felt like I was going back in time. She would get dressed up and expected that I would dress up as well. It seemed that all of the older women observed that rule. Even as I child I had the awareness of the ghostlike, bustling, bygone era of a thriving downtown that I had just missed by decades. Maybe it was because my grandmother and parents told me such great stories of the past, and were generous and vivid with their descriptions of the shops, the varied customers and the workers that made up downtown. Questions were always encouraged. I have found out since, that I was very lucky to have had a family such as this.

 

 

 

toywindowdisplay

This photo is not from Downtown Omaha. I only use it to illustrate how I remember window displays looked in my childhood.

I am constantly being reminded of enchanting things, which have been forgotten. I can still feel the uncertain excitement of visits to Santaland at the downtown Brandeis Department Store, or the contentment I experienced at the chance to meander the slow-moving sidewalks with her, although Grandmother would inform me with a sort of sniff, the sidewalks used to be much busier before.

 

 

omahawalking

The crowded streets of Downtown Omaha. Please tell me we didn’t always walk around and stare at the ground back then. We’ve always been a humble lot, I suppose. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).

 

 

My grandmother made sure there was time for tea and little cakes in the Ladies’ Tearooms of numerous department stores. There was a grace and decorum in a ladies’ tearoom of the time that I would need to learn quickly, after all, I must confess, I was The Terrible Child who infamously played on the floor beneath the dinner table at Bohemian Café to the chagrin of my grandparents. And maybe all of Omaha. It’s a wonder she took me anywhere after that! Not too long before, women had stopped wearing gloves to downtown tea, although I do remember having to wear them for a few Easters of my youth. If I think on it hard enough, I can envision Omaha women wearing gloves to tea, but that might be a fancy, due to a heavy indoctrination of fabulous Bette Davis movies.

 

 

skyroom1961

The Sky Room at Dayton’s, Nicollet Avenue and 7th Street, Minneapolis, 1960. Much before my time but this is how I remember department store cafeterias and tearooms looking when I was a little girl.

 

 

Going to a department store, especially in Downtown Omaha, entailed a service that felt altogether ceremonious. Every precious, little sandwich and cold pat of sweet butter, which I labored to spread on heavenly bread tasted like something special and exotic. The older servers in their uniforms naturally made each table feel welcome and as a child I knew each and every time was a Special Event. If by some strange chance, you should happen to be the sort of eccentric who might like these very things, then you will understand. The experience only feeds the imagination.

 

 

mannequins

Not Omaha but still dreamy. This foggy reminder takes me back to my early imaginings of the hidden lives of mannequins in the thriving Downtown Omaha scene of the 1920s and 1930s.

 

 

All of these ladies’ tea memories have me daydreaming quite regularly about the art of teatime and the lost department stores of my early youth….Do you linger there as well? I guess I had always thought the first time that I wrote about a tearoom it, surely, would be one that I had actually dilly-dallied in, but that is not how these mysteries work. Not too long ago I came across an advertisement from the 1900s, which arose to the status of A Curious Situation in my detective’s mind. You see, I was doing research on another case altogether when the name the “Cricket Room” and all of the juicy, picturesque details that only that name can conjure, smacked me across the face. You might know me well enough by now to gather that I wanted to drop everything and chase headlong after this Cricket Room lead. But I did not. I was painfully mature and very focused on that particular day. But yes, indeed, I committed a dossier to the Cricket Room, knowing I would return one day. And This, friends, is That day. Consider the name the Cricket Room. I am sure you, like I, will find it far to enticing to pass up.

 

 

tick%20tock

Tick Tock Tea Room from Los Angeles Public Library site.

 

 

Side Note to Readers, Only if You like Side Notes. If you do not like being blathered to, please move on to the true beginning of the story.

 

 

A few things to know before we head to Downtown Omaha and then, I promise, we will head downtown straightaway. This article was intended to focus on the Cricket Room only but it grew and grew and grew. It is well documented that these architectonic tangents often thwart me. I’d like to think all of the puzzle pieces have importance in the bigger mystery picture. I’m going to attempt to focus my detecting and fix in on the subject at hand—in fact I have cut gobs of clues from this puzzle. Mr. Cassette has said my meanderings are a product of my true obsession and the way I look at architectural and cultural sleuthing. I’d like to think you understand that it just gets BIGGER the more I dig for clues. And of course there’s that fortuitous bit about not having an editor. So, without further ado…

 

 

The True Beginning of the Mystery

 

 

My discovery of the Cricket Room began when I was following clues of the Burgess-Nash Company. If you will recall, this was the fabulous department store in Downtown Omaha started by a well-heeled railroad man turned prominent business owner from an earlier mystery, Louis Charles Nash. If you did not happen to track this thriller with us originally, please do take time to get caught up on the case history: The Secret of Burt Street. It is quite extensive but I would like to think it gives a good framework for the Cricket Room article. My first line of investigation was to detect exactly where the Burgess-Nash Company was located. Through an indistinct search I soon uncovered Burgess-Nash was roughly on Sixteenth or Seventeenth and Harney, (I wasn’t entirely sure due to differing accounts), which led to further tempting fragments (confusion) about the Boyd Theatre and the Boyd Opera House. Finally from the Omaha City Directory at the downtown library, I found the exact address: 402 S. 16th Street. This address, as with some of these addresses, changed over time.

 

 

The Lay of the Land

 

 

From the Register of Deeds office I learned that the property in question was officially Block 146 of Omaha, comprised of numerous lots. Since 1981 this property has been owned by Omaha Public Power District. Yes, that O.P.P.D. It currently carries the address of 444 S. 16th St. Energy Plaza. What were previously 8 lots are now reconfigured as one structure (or two buildings connected?) with a large parking garage attached. It is across the street, to the west of the lovely Orpheum Theater. To learn more about the retail wonders of Sixteenth Street, please read The Case of Napier’s Booterie and the Securities Building. Sixteenth Street is a very important part of our Omaha history.

 

 

Plat.JPG

 

 

Old city plat map “Original City of Omaha,” shared by the incredible Mayor of Benson, a familiar face at the Register of Deeds Office. I thank you, sir. Please note the lower right hand corner depicting Block 146.

 

 

googlemap2016

Current 2016 Google Map image. The OPPD building is squarely between 16th, Howard, 17th and Harney Streets. Harney Street runs east-west on the north most side of the structure. From the Streets of Omaha: Their Origins and Changes compiled by H. Ben Brick, I learned Harney Street “was named in honor of General Harney, in command of western troops when Omaha was born in 1854.”

 

 

 

16thandfarnam2016

Southwest corner of 16th and Harney, as it looks today. There is a glass walkway over the street, leading to the Orpheum side. The old Regis Hotel is seen on the northwest corner. 2016.

 

 

 

Boyd’s Opera House

From the American Guide Series Omaha: A Guide to the City and Environs written in the 1930s, I turned up what was originally on that corner. The New Boyd’s Opera House, erected on the southwest corner of 17th and Harney was opened in September of 1891.” According to this book the Boyd’s Opera House was the city’s most popular theater until 1915. Put this date in your cap.

 

 

boyd-theatre

New Boyd’s Theatre 17th and Harney St. about 1906. Note the Bennett Company right next door.

 

 

boyds15thandfar

Boyd’s Opera House 1889 illustration. As with most of these untidy mysteries of mine, the Boyd’s Opera House actually began its long life on Fifteenth and Farnam in 1881. It later moved, to 17th and Harney becoming the “New” Boyd Theater. It would appear from numerous accounts that it was confusingly called the opera house or theater interchangeably throughout its existence. According to Alfred Sorenson’s book History of Omaha: From the Pioneer Days to the Present Time, James E. Boyd was a “self-made man.” Born in Tyrone, Ireland, Boyd had come to America by age ten. When the Union Pacific railroad was completed to Kearney, Boyd began contracting as a grader and followed the road through to its completion. He famously built the last section of grade, which united the Union Pacific with the Central Pacific. He later purchased a controlling interest in the Omaha gas works. In the winter of 1869 he organized the Omaha and Northwestern railroad and was elected its first president. Through my genealogy investigations I uncovered that James E. Boyd was married to Anna H. Boyd. The couple had two daughters, Margarette and Elnora.

 

 

The Bennett Company

At some point in the evidence gathering, I came across the name of the Bennett Company–truly the first retail store in a short list of pointers in our trek to the Cricket Room. The Bennett Company was next door to the New Boyd Theater, on 16th Street.

 

 

bennettpost

The Bennett Company 16th and Harney 1904 postcard. Unless I’m all turned around this photo was taken from the south east corner of 16th and Howard. The tall building to the north of Bennett’s was the Boyd Theatre. You can see “Boyd’s” painted near the roof. This would mean that the Bennett Co. had a Howard Street entrance and Sixteenth Street entrance.

 

 

Register of Deeds Office Cryptograms

According to the Register of Deeds Office files, Dyer O. Clark sold a portion of the 146 block to Anna H. Boyd in November of 1907. Anna H. Boyd, as you will remember, was wife of James E. Boyd of the Boyd Theatre. The western 1/3 and strip adjacent was sold. By 1910 “James E. Baum and wife” sold the eastern 2/3 of block 146 to Bennett Company in July 1910.The Deeds Office also revealed, in June of 1912 the Bennett Company leased the eastern 2/3 lot to the Orkin Brothers Company. This news was further backed up by an Omaha World Herald announcement on June 17, 1912.

 

 

Bennett Company to Orkin Brothers

 

bennettco

OWH June 17, 1912 The Bennett Company Orkin Brothers Co, successors “Closing out the Bennett.”

 

 

orkinbros

This Orkin Bros illustration could have been sketched by my favorite, Edward Gorey. I love the darkness and font.

 

 

orkinoutofbus

On Dec 20, 1913 the Orkin Brothers announced“Our going out of the clothing business sale.” The short-lived Orkin Brothers Company packed up their business about a year and a half after opening. Earlier, on May 1913 Anna Boyd sold “W 1/3 and strip adjacent to a Jesse Rogers.” Anna Boyd continued to lease parts of the lots. Remember to remember the name Jesse Rogers.

 

The Burgess-Nash Company Emerges

The evidence led me to the Omaha World Herald’s headline of January 15, 1914: “Burgess-Nash Company Succeeds Orkin Bros.” Ward Burgess and Louis Nash apparently purchased controlling interest in company. “Mr. Burgess will be associated in the active management of the company only to such extent as Mr. Nash desires his aid. He will remain active in the M. E. Smith Company, but Mr. Nash will sever his connections with the Omaha & Council Bluffs Street Railway Company of which he is secretary.” An additional advertisement from this day announced, “Next Monday morning at eight o’clock the new house of Burgess-Nash Co. will take over the business of Orkin Brothers and from that hour will start with the determination to develop a business which shall be a credit to itself and to the city of Omaha.”

 

 

windowdisplay

Department store window. Location unknown. Between 1910 and 1926. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

 

 

Ward M. Burgess

This nosy Nancy Drew-er wanted to know a bit more about this Burgess character. An article from the Omaha Bee mentioned him in an article about prominent Omaha jobbers. Considered a “Leading Business Man” by the Omaha Chamber of Commerce newsletter of this time, he was known by his “Omaha, Let’s Do It” reputation. Can this, please, become our state license plate motto? Just mull it over and we’ll discuss later.

 

 

wardburgessphoto

Ward M. Burgess photo from the Find a Grave site.

 

 

m-e-smithco

M.E. Smith Company. Ninth and Farnam. This building is still standing. Go have a peek. Burgess started in the mercantile business in St. Joseph, Missouri. He moved to Omaha and began working for the M. E. Smith Company, a wholesale dry goods business. Later Burgess was placed in charge of that large company after the death of Mr. Smith. He also spent time at Hamilton & Co. as an investment broker. Through a bit of shameless digging, I could see that Mr. and Mrs. Burgess were quite well connected. There was a senior Burgess who was part owner of the Boyd Theatre at one point. A relative? It was easy to find the Burgess name in the “Omaha Social Affairs” section. There were many prominent Omaha names, to include W. H. Wheeler, W. S. Poppleton, Joseph Barker, Luther Kountze, Moshier Colpetzer and Samuel Burns. But the friendship I was most interested to find was that of George Prinz and Ward Burgess. Yes, please file that away as well.

 

 

An Early Tip-off

The Register of Deeds Office filings allowed me to see Jesse Rogers had sold a large portion of the property to the C. B. Nash Company in May 1914. As you might remember from the The Secret of Burt Street story, the Catherine B. Nash Company was buying large swathes of downtown property in these years. Catherine Nash was also Louis Nash’s mother. From the Omaha Daily Bee from May 17, 1914 “The largest single real estate transaction since January 1 was closed last week when a syndicate represented by George & Co. sold to the C. B. Nash Company, the Boyd Theater property at the southeast corner of Seventeenth and Harney streets for $245,000.” The theatre was to be torn down and an extension built on the existing store.

 

 

boydtheatrephonebook

Omaha City Directory of 1914 showing the Boyd Theatre Bldg at 1621 Harney–just to give you an idea of the many professionals involved in the Boyd Theatre. Boyd-Brandies School of Expression. Fabulous. Was that a misspelling of Brandeis? Dehner & Dennis, artificial limbs?

 

 

Changes to Come

By the pronouncement in the Omaha World Herald, the Burgess-Nash Company bought out the Boyd with intentions of expanding the smaller store, previously occupied by the Orkin Brothers.The Burgess-Nash Company was often compared to New York City’s Lord & Taylor Department Store. Considered the oldest luxury department store in the United States, founded in 1826, Lord & Taylor moved into its famous Fifth Avenue in 1914 in the same year Burgess-Nash started.

 

 

lord-taylor-cut-flower-shop-april-1914

The Lord & Taylor Cut Flower Department in April 1914. The walls, ceiling and floor were clad in Rookwood Pottery’s architectural faience. Since it was difficult to find interiors of Burgess-Nash Company, I have included a few Lord & Taylor interiors.

 

 

ladiesneckwear

Ladies Neckwear and Handkerchief Section postcard from 1915. I was so pleased with myself to locate delicious descriptions of the Burgess-Nash Company in Mary Patricia Killian’s book Born Rich: A Historical Book of Omaha. “Almost everything on the first floor was displayed in beveled glass cases with glass counter tops through which customers could view scarves, gloves, handkerchiefs, ribbons, collars and cuff sets, purses, jewelry and novelties. Customers wishing to examine articles were shown them on velvet or brocade runners placed on the glass counter tops.” This was considered deluxe treatment in those days.

 

 

Cultural Side Notes about 1915

I love music from the teens. I add this tidbit because you might just love this music too or not know that you do yet. Check out the Phonographic Yearbook series by Archeophone. The entire series of songs from 1906-1922 are outstanding. Archeophone did an incredibly, difficult job of reconstructing these old original songs from 78s and cylinders. The 1915 record is called They’d Sooner Sleep on Thistles. The recordings from these times are ghost-like transmissions. So vivid. Also the album Music of the Lost Generation: 1910s-1930s is pretty fabulous. I believe that listening to music of other eras can really bring these times and imagery back to life. The popular themes and mode of expression give important clues.

 

 

1915outfits

The Royal Pattern Company, USA. 1915. Downtown women’s fashions of April 1915. Of course I am always interested in vintage clothing although not my particular favorite time period for fashion.

 

In 1915 Woodrow Wilson was president, we were in the first year of World War I, submarine warfare was new, the House of Representatives had rejected the proposal to give women the right to vote, Babe Ruth hit his first home run, the Rocky Mountain National Park was established, the second Ku Klux Klan group was established in Georgia and the sinking of the RMS Lusitania were the big news stories—for some perspective on the American collective consciousness.

 

 

Dawn of the Cricket Room

I received confirmation at last when I came across an Omaha World Herald article from July 3, 1915 announcing the origins of the Cricket Room. “The Burgess-Nash Co. opens its Cricket Room today. The name Cricket Room was chosen from over 5,000 suggestions from all over the United States for the attractive refreshment station on the first floor and adjoining Boyd Theatre. Miss Hallie Eichelberger of 4402 Prairie Avenue, Chicago, suggested the odd name and wins the $5 prize offered for the best title.”

 

 

mullanead1apr1921enq-e1464283916694

Mullane’s famous Cincinnati candy. Their motto: The candy made with loving care. “The Cricket Room is under the management of the McVittie Candy Company, which will serve high-class beverages and sweets and sell Martha Washington, Zeus, Mullane and other candies. The room holds 100 at two and four chair tables.”

 

 

martha_washington_candies_buffalo_1922

Martha Washington candy ad from 1922. Their ads infamously boasted, “Old Time Home Made.” There was also a stand alone Martha Washington Candy store further in Downtown Omaha.

 

 

J. T. McVittie, Candy Man

 

 

jtmcvittie

The name J. T. McVittie would come up over and over again in the research of the Cricket Room. Lo and behold, McVittie was a downtown fixture having operated J. T. McVittie Cigars and Candy Specialties on Fifteenth and Harney Streets for years. He also later made a business in the Orpheum Theater Candy Shop.

 

 

confectionery

Confectioner’s photo of what candies looked like in 1914. I tracked McVittie’s name to the 1900 United States Census. James T. McVittie was 37 in that year and lived with his sister, Katherine McVittie who was 30. Born in Iowa, James McVittie had worked as a bookkeeper in 1900. He never married or had children that I could find evidence of. The cigar and candy shops of Downtown Omaha would go on to play host to many a colorful character during the Prohibition era. Please check out my story The Curse of the Clover Leaf Club for more details.

 

 

The Early Cricket Room

 

 

A great write up from July 21, 1915 encouraged visitors new to Omaha to visit the Cricket Room among other Burgess-Nash favorites like the “Piano and Talking Machine section” with its informal recitals as well as the “Scenographic reproduction of the Panama-Pacific Exposition in miniature on the Fourth Floor.”

 

 

panamapacific

In February of 1915, San Francisco, California opened up the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. This is a souvenir booklet from that Expo.

 

 

meetmeinthecricket

“Meet Me in the Cricket Room.” OWH Aug 1915. Like a private men’s club, women had their tearoom. The tearoom was customary in a fine department store. I also learned that the ladies’ tearoom served as an important community-gathering place over the years for the suffragette movement.

 

 

everybodys-store

Omaha Daily Bee from September 19, 1915. Burgess-Nash “Everybody’s Store” ad for Cricket Room grand opening. Formal opening of the Cricket Room. Proclaiming a state of completion and perfected service. The Cricket Room is a restful retreat where you are served with dainty Light Lunches and purest confections, featuring exclusively La Zeus Ice Cream and Martha Washington Candies.

 

 

burgessnashstore

Exterior of Burgess Nash Company at 16th & Harney Streets. November 16, 1915. This photo was taken from the south east corner of 16th and Howard. It reveals both the large southern Howard Street entrance and the smaller 16th side. Note the partial “BO” of the Boyd Theatre marquee on the right side. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).

 

 

1916

 

 

specialvalentinelunch

OWH Feb 13, 1916 “Special St. Valentine Luncheon.” I love that they had live music playing in the Cricket Room.

 

 

May 6, 1916 in OWH I found an article about a water pipe bursting in the Boyd Theatre engine room. “A city water pipe on Seventeenth, between Harney and Howard Streets, burst in the street late last evening, flooding the engine room of Boyd’s Theater to the depth of a foot and a half and seeped through to the Cricket Room on the first floor of the Burgess-Nash Company to the depth of two inches before the flow was shut off.”

 

 

A review that I particularly love from OWH December 17, 1916: “The Burgess-Nash Cricket Room is one of those cozy, comfortable and cheerful places where you get waited on by quickly moving and pleasant young women, and where the cooking is wholesome, dainty and inexpensive. Dishes that are supposed to be served hot are served hot, and those that are supposed to be served cold are served cold. You can get anything to eat that can be gotten in any other luncheon room and a number of others that can’t be found, for they have on the list some of their very own special. Noonday luncheons are served from 11 o’clock to 2 o’clock.” But what did it look like? I was dying to hear what it looked like and was having a hard time finding any interior shots.

 

 

parkwaytheater

Was it like the Parkway Theater Tea Room in Baltimore, Maryland? 1916

 

 

trellistea

Did the Cricket Room look like the garden themed Trellis Tea Room at the Colony Club in NYC?  1916

 

 

More Clues and a Cricket Room for Teens

 

 

After an exhaustive search, I found that the Cricket Room became something of a teen dream hangout around this time. There’s a beautiful description in Margaret Patricia Killian’s fantastic book, Born Rich: A Historical Book of Omaha. Please savor these words: “Burgess and Nash Department Store, which occupied the entire half block on the southwest corner of 16th and Harney Streets, had a lovely lunchroom and after-school area called the Cricket Room. The beautiful divided stairway that ascended from the first floor to the mezzanine space was approached through a wide aisle in the center of the store. At the base of the stairway one was impressed but as the customer neared the top, the chirping of crickets would be heard from the thick foliage encircling a fountain. It was simulated sound, of course, that continued intermittently all day.” Oh my word…..thick foliage around a fountain….with crickets chirping? Too much for the imagination.

 

 

staircase

A split staircase with the staff of Anderson and McAuley’s department store in Belfast–only used to illustrate the concept. Various society children were in the newspapers, announcing their birthday parties at the Cricket Room. Affluent women would entertain large groups of friends there as well.

 

 

sandwiches-330

 

 

“The room, itself, was spacious and tastefully furnished in fashionable ice cream parlor style. The Cricket was always filled with high school students as soon as classes were over.” She described the delightful sandwiches prepared on white bread with delectable fillings spread “at least three quarters of an inch thick.” A sandwich cost ten or fifteen cents and an ice cream soda was a nickel. I found an advertisement from this period announcing that a whole special luncheon in the Cricket Room was 35 cents a plate.

 

 

girlfrom1915

Although I said that I didn’t really prefer clothing from this time period, I think this young woman looks exceptionally smart and stylish in her late teens attire.

 

 

1919

 

 

From the Nebraska State Historical Society records of 1919, I chanced upon a bit of publicity for Burgess-Nash based off of the new popularity of the Curtiss-Canadian airplanes. “The Omaha company realized the opportunity here and took the agency and actually stocked the machine. Three aeroplanes were received ten days ago, and all of these were sold. The Burgess-Nash Company of Omaha, the big department store, bought one plane. While this is largely an advertising ‘stunt,’ nevertheless the company declares that in some cases it will use the plane for delivering.” The curious could see one of the new Curtiss-Canadian planes on exhibition in the salesroom of the Stewart Motor Company. With a wingspread of forty-seven feet, it could accommodate two passengers and was capable of a speed of seventy-five miles per hour.”

 

 

lost

This missing mink fur cape ad did not escape this vintage clotheshorse detective. A real sign that the Cricket Room had arrived was this “Lost” ad placed in the Omaha World Herald in May of 1919.

 

 

On July 8, 1919 the World Herald announced the Burgess-Nash Company would be renting three floors of the Nash building across Harney for workrooms on the Boyd Theater. “The Cricket Room and lunch room now in the Boyd Theater, will be moved temporarily to the fourth floor of the Burgess-Nash store after razing of the theater begins.” The article mentioned a recent trip that Louis Nash and “Architect Prinz” had made to the coast to look into a change of pillar design and other structural features. It wouldn’t be long until the Boyd Theater was razed.

 

 

1920

 

 

lastprofessionalcast

Last Professional Cast Ends at Old Boyd Theater. A very sad story, indeed, from February 1, 1920 reported that the Boyd Theater would meet the wrecking ball the very next Monday at midnight. Midnight? Harry Cockrell, treasurer of the Boyd Theater, was quoted as saying, “There’s no sentiment in this world, absolutely none.” The story went on to reminisce the last twenty-nine years of the Boyd playhouse.

 

 

Some very important changes were to come. C. B. Nash Company sold to Burgess-Nash Company in April 1920. If you recall, this reshuffling of affairs was discussed in The Secret of Burt Street.

 

 

marylouisetr1928bestfoodsadv2200w7th

By 1920 the Cricket Room was advertising their infamous “dainty lunch.” From Lord & Taylor ads and other American tearooms of this same time period, I could see that the dainty lunch was a thing. A very big thing. “Have a dainty lunch or a cool drink in our Cricket Room Fourth Floor. Try one of our delicious Ice Cream Sodas.”

 

 

The Ward Burgess Clues

 

 

At this time Ward Burgess became president of Burgess-Nash Company. In the United States Census of 1920, Ward Burgess (age 49) and his wife, Margaret (47), were living in Omaha with all of their children. Charles, their eldest, was then 22. Their son, Louis was 20 and daughter Margaret was 11. Also living in the home were domestic help: Lenona Temples, 24-year-old governess from Switzerland who spoke French. Margaret Aarbjerg (that’s a whole lotta Margarets) age 30 was a maid from Denmark who spoke Danish. Augusta Madverin was a 49-year-old widowed cook from Switzerland who spoke German. This could have been interesting an interesting mix.  George Coleman was a 62-year-old “janitor” from New York.

 

 

wardburgesshome

Ward Burgess house located on the corner of 22nd street and Capitol Avenue in Omaha Nebraska. Large home and side yard surrounded by iron fence. Just look at that…and think what is at 22nd and Capitol now. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).

 

 

wardburgesssnowyhome

Here is yet another one because everything looks prettier covered in snow. I later learned that the exact address was 122 North 22nd Street. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).

 

 

The Louis Nash Clues

 

 

louisc-nash

Louis C. Nash photo taken from the incredible book Omaha: The Gate City and Douglas County Nebraska Vol. II by Arthur Cooper Wakeley. In 1920 Louis Nash was Vice-President of the Burgess-Nash Company. He was son to the prominent Nash family. The United States Census of 1920 showed Louis C. Nash then age 39, married to Janet Eunice Rogers Nash (age 37). I began to wonder if Jesse Rogers, who initially sold the property to Burgess-Nash, was a relative of Janet’s. Miss Cassette would be willing to wager this was family. Their children were Edward Watrous Nash (obviously named for his grandfather, Louis’ father) was age 14. Louis was 12 and Ellen was 9. Elizabeth, the youngest was 8. Also living in the home was the Nashes’ domestic servants: Hilda Holm (19), Alma Reiser (18) and Alice Mantle (52.)

 

 

louisnashhome

The Louis Nash snowy home at 3807 Burt Street. Still standing beautifully. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).

 

 

Mystery Photo

 

 

bankboardofdirectors

I also found this photo labeled “Omaha National Bank directors and four senators” from 1920. Louis Nash is seen in the back far left and Ward Burgess is shown in the back second to the right. Also shown are Senators Norris Brown, Gilbert W. Hitchcock, Frances Warren (of Wyoming – father in law of General Pershing), and  Joseph H. Millard. Arthur C. Smith,  Judge E.E. Good (Associate Justice State Supreme Court), George A. Day, William F. Gurley, and Walter W. Head. February 3, 1920.(Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive). I began to wonder if Burgess and Nash were also on the board of directors of the Omaha National Bank?

 

 

The George Prinz Clues

 

 

prinz_1937

George Bernhard Prinz was hired as architect for the new addition to Burgess-Nash Company. Prinz originally worked for architect Thomas Rogers Kimball but in 1909 set off on his own. A friend to both Burgess and Nash, Prinz had already successfully designed Louis Nash’s gorgeous home at 3807 Burt St in 1906. Prinz in 1937 (Photo from the Nebraska State Historical Society.)

 

 

omahanationalbank

I tracked George Prinz’ office at that time to the historic Omaha National Bank Building at 1650 Farnam Street. One of my favorite buildings in Omaha, this structure was originally known as the New York Life Insurance Building. A number of characters in my articles called this building their office over the years.

 

 

New Design for the Burgess-Nash Company

 

 

With the addition of the George Prinz building, the Burgess-Nash Company was officially on the moneyed map. The Company was looked upon as a well-appointed, posh department store, adopting “the most up-to-date ideas” and amenities available at the time. Their 1920s million-dollar department store would roughly be a $12,515,000.00 department store by 2016 standards. And we can bet the 1920s building materials and interiors were of the highest quality.

 

 

I know this is a bit long, but I find these descriptions fascinating.

 

“First Floor, which is connected directly with the older part of the building, a men’s department has been added. A Mezzanine floor with a barbershop and smoker’s department are features that will interest men. The second floor will be known as the ‘piece goods department.’ The feature of the third floor is the women’s ready to wear department. The decorations on this floor are attractive and elaborate. There are black and white rooms and many new and convenient arrangements that will please the public.”

 

 

prinzfacade

The front of the building, facing Harney Street. The new addition was in the place of the Boyd Theatre on the Harney side. George Prinz’ original plans. Thanks to Trina Westman of the Omaha Planning Department for getting me these gems.

 

 

“The fourth floor will furnish a surprise and delight for people who appreciate artistic decorations, particularly in the home. The Burgess-Nash Company has given Mr. W. G. Colling, their decorator, full and complete authority to build and arrange on this floor a series of rooms and apartments which will be known as ‘galleries’ devoted exclusively to decorative art as applies to the home. The reception room connected with these galleries will be a dream in old Venetian. The entrance, the walls, the floors, and the lighting fixtures—everything will be harmonious and artistic to the last degree. The fifth floor will be the home of the music department.”

 

 

 

auditorium

“A large piano room, also a victrola room, connected with a neat and commodious auditorium with a complete stage, characterize the main feature of this floor.” The auditorium described as seen in George Prinz’ original plans. Thanks to Trina Westman of the Omaha Planning Department.

 

 

planapproved

Plans approved by the city in 1920. George Prinz’ original plans. Thanks to Trina Westman of the Omaha Planning Department.

 

 

“On the sixth floor are the offices of the company, admirably arranged and furnished. The seventh floor will be one particularly interesting to the public. Here we find the women’s tearoom or dining room—a large, airy, attractive and beautifully furnished. The department will be in charge of Miss Stephania, who has had years of experience, in conducting dining rooms in connection with commercial establishments. The feature of the eighth floor is the fur repairing department and the large fur storage room. In this storage room the temperature is kept at 32 degrees. The room is strictly fireproof and very large, capable of storing a half million dollars worth of furs.

 

 

The ninth floor is unique and practical for the reason that it is devoted entirely to the employees of the establishment. There are rest and recreation rooms on this floor for both men and women. There is an emergency hospital, which will be completely equipped with a doctor and a nurse in attendance. There are lockers, baths, lavatories—everything necessary for the comfort and convenience of the employees.”

 

 

lordtayloremployeecafeteria

“On this floor there is a large and well-equipped dining room and the employees will be served with hot meals direct from the kitchen. Along the north side of this dining room is a large roof garden overlooking Harney Street, which can be used as an outdoor dining room in warm weather. The entire arrangement is admirable and indicates that the Burgess-Nash Company gives serious thought to the welfare of their employees.” Photo is of the Lord & Taylor employee dining area from this time period.

 

 

Press from 1920

 

 

Another ad from November 1920, made mention of the Rest Room appointed with “Comfortable chairs, rockers and lounges, where you may rest or meet your friends. A free telephone booth with free service to all parts of the city.”Miss Cassette would have liked this as a teenager. “A writing desk with stationery, where you can pen your letter.”

 

 

morriepalmer

1920 “A Children’s Market, Too,” by Arthur H. Little from Business Vol. 2 magazine. The story concerns Miss Mary Marston, advertising manager of the Burgess-Nash Company, an Omaha department store concern, and the children of Omaha…The article mentions “For the first time the handsome new store building of the Burgess-Nash Company, adjoining the old store and then not quite ready for occupancy, was thrown open for public assembly—for that extra special Christmas party to the little unfortunates.” 1920 photo of Omahan Morrie Palmer playing with airplanes in toy department.

 

 

omahachamber-of-commerce

Illustration of Burgess-Nash Company with plane flying by from Omaha Chamber of Commerce Journal, Volumes 9-10, Published 1920 the New York Public Library. Note the plane flying above in the illustration. Now I have a better understanding of why that plane was shown! “One of the most progressive and important transformation in the retail district of Omaha in recent years is that which has taken place during the past eighteen months at Seventeenth and Harney Streets. Where the Boyd Theatre stood two years ago, there now stands a palatial nine-story department store, know as the new Burgess-Nash building. The new structure is strictly fireproof of reinforced concrete and brick construction. The new building adjoins the Burgess-Nash store fronting on Sixteenth and Harney Streets and the entire establishment now covers more than half a block of ground.”

 

 

Mysterious End of the Cricket Room

 

I stumbled across a dismal little announcement from the Burgess-Nash Company on January 30th of 1921. The brief proclamation let Omaha know the Candy Department and Cricket Room would be discontinued until the new building was complete. They mentioned the Candy Department in the addition “will be one of the largest and most complete in the city and our Café and Tea Room will occupy one entire floor and will be one of Omaha’s show places.” The Cricket Room was never mentioned in Omaha papers again.

 

 

burgessnashroom

Mystery photo labeled “Formerly the Burgess Nash Tea Room.” Could this have been the Cricket Room? Most likely this was the new tea room, after they had closed the Cricket Room. November 18, 1921. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).

 

 

 

carmans

Looking north on 16th Street from 16th and Howard.  (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).

 

 

 

 

16thstreet

Looking south on 16th Street between Douglas and Farnam Streets, Omaha, Nebraska. Parked cars line the street, cars drive down the street, people walk along the sidewalks. Notable buildings include: J.G. McCrory Company 5 and 10 cent store, C.B. Brown Company, Carman’s,  First National Bank Building, Burgess and Nash, and Orchard and Wilhelm. May 24, 1921. (Photo courtesy of the Bostwick-Frohardt/KM3TV Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive). I love the eyeglass sign, including eyeballs on the left side by the Eldredge Reynolds Co. vertical marquee.

 

 

Rise of Burgess-Nash Company

 

 

Interestingly the Bennett Company sold a portion of easement to Baum Realty Co in March of 1922.

 

 

valvesillustration

Fantastic illustration from the Valve World magazine, Volumes 19-20, Justin W. McEachren Crane Company, 1922. I found this great write-up: “The new Burgess-Nash department store is said to be one of the finest of its kind in the Middlewest. Its cost was in the neighborhood of $1,000,000. George B. Prinz, Omaha, was the architect; the Neiler Rich Co., Chicago, engineers; the James Stewart Construction Co., Omaha, general contractors; the Sanitary Plumbing Co., Omaha, plumbing and heating material, supplied through the Omaha Branch of Crane Co., is installed throughout this beautiful and strictly modern store. The display windows face three streets—Sixteenth, Harney and Seventeenth—giving a length of more than two city blocks and containing 6,000 square feet of plate glass. There are approximately 60,000 square feet of Wilton carpets used on the floors in the selling sections. There is a general entrance from each of the three streets. Fixtures of sold mahogany and mahogany veneer are installed throughout the main selling sections.”

 

 

waitresses

“There are eight passenger elevators. The buildings are protected form fire by automatic sprinklers on each floor. There are emergency hospital, physician’s room, men’s ward and women’s ward; cold storage vaults; mail order department; a post office station: comfortable rest rooms; banking service; employees’ lunch room and roof garden; cafeteria; tea room; a flower show; a barber shop for men and a beauty shop for women; a barber shop for children; an auditorium with seating capacity of about 300 which is daily at the service of local organizations, and where free “movies’ is a feature of Saturday mornings for boys and girls.”

 

 

 

beautysalon

Burgess-Nash Company Women’s Beauty Shop from the The Valve World 1922 magazine, Volumes 19-20, Justin W. McEachren Crane Company.

 

 

 

Death of James T. McVittie: Omaha’s Candy Man

An article titled “M’Vittie to Hospital After Poison Attack” from OWH of Nov 13, 1924 caught my eye. “Complication following an attack of ptomaine poisoning caused the condition of J. T. McVittie, veteran Omaha cigar man, to become such that he ahs been removed to a St. Joseph hospital. McVittie was stricken three weeks ago and was removed to his home where he remained until Saturday, when his transfer to St. Joseph hospital was ordered. McVittie is 60.” What was with the mysterious transfer to St. Joseph? I later discovered through Family Search.org that James McVittie died in that year– No doubt from the poisoning.

 

 

mcvittie-lazeus

The End of the Burgess-Nash Company

 

 

According to Ward Burgess’ obituary, he filed petition for bankruptcy as president of Burgess-Nash Company in 1925. I was shocked. After a search of the World Herald from 1925, I discovered…

 

 

burgess-scheduled

January 1, 1925 Burgess-Nash Claims and Assets Scheduled

 

And that very same day the Brandeis Department Store ran this ad, announcing their successful swooping!

 

 

brandeis-announcement

January 1, 1925 Announcement Extraordinary! The next article on the breadcrumb trail described New Year’s Eve revelers, surprised by the spectacle of living room and dining room furniture creeping down Sixteenth Street. Apparently the Brandeis employees spent New Year’s trundling the Burgess-Nash goods down the street on, no doubt loud, castors. “It was a weird procession of household goods transferred to the accompaniment of whistles, gunshots and shouts of pedestrians as 1925 was ushered in.” Brilliant writing.

 

 

S. S. Kresge Company

 

 

According to the Register of Deeds Office, by April of 1925 Baum Realty Co began leasing to S. S. Kresge Company, specifically the east 2/3 of the building. The S. S. Kresge Company was a very solid five and dime. They were not the high-end department store of Burgess-Nash but more of an every man’s store, known for their great service and affordable goods.

 

 

kresgeswindow

Kresge’s window. Live model in S. S. Kresge Company 5-10-25¢ store on Market Street in downtown Philadelphia, late 1920s. Kresge’s would go on to own K-mart. S. S. Kresge Company also had a location in South Omaha at 4824 S 24th Street.

 

 

grand-final

Grand Final Clean Up Sale. By January 10 of 1926 the last of the Burgess Nash store fixtures were being sold out of the M. E. Smith Building at 9th and Farnam. This is the dry goods business that Ward Burgess was also running, according to his obit.

 

 

fivemillioninclaims

By January 16, 1926 there were “Five Million in Claims Against M. E. Smith & Co” and this department store also went bankrupt.

 

 

Deaths of Burgess and Nash

 

wardburgessdeath

Ward Burgess obituary from the Find a Grave site. Ward Burgess died in New York City in 1936. His obituary listed him as chairman of the board of directors for the Jackomatic Corporation in NY, an automatic jack manufacturer. He had apparently been ill for some time.

 

 

louisnashobit

Louis Nash obituary. OWH May 25, 1942. Louis Nash died of pneumonia in Omaha in May of 1942. His obituary stated that he had been a governor of Ak-Sar-Ben for many years as well as the twenty-eighth king in 1922. Nash was a one-time director of the Omaha National Bank. Mystery solved regarding that bank directors photo! He was also vice-president of the M. E. Smith Company, the same company that Burgess ran.

 

 

1950s

postcard

1950s post card of downtown looking north on 16th Street Orpheum on the right, Carmans and Hotel Regis on the left. Orchard & Wilhelm Co sign. By Jan 1955 E. B. Crofoot (Louis Nash relative) had changed a part of the deed and in March 1955 E. W. Nash Bldg Corp sold a portion of the block to Omaha Public Power District. Kresge’s is still in the building, although their sign isn’t apparent. At some point the bowling alley was put in above Kresge’s. I think this needs to be a future story!

 

 

1960s

heartofomaha

Great 1960s postcards, looking north on 16th Street. Kelley’s Classic Bowl is above Kresge’s. Orpheum on the right, with the old Lerner’s Shop up on the corner.

 

 

heartofomaha1968The cars!

 

 

Omaha Public Power District and the Clock

oppd1966

1966 Omaha Public Power District western most portion of the building (Prinz’ addition.)

 

 

sskresgewide

By June of 1966 the Baum Realty Company had sold the rest of the 146 block to OPPD. S.S. Kresge Company Building was officially sold. The S.S. Kresge’s Building on the southwest corner of 16th and Harney Street. June 16, 1966.(Photo courtesy of the Robert Paskach Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).

 

 

oppdgarage

September 9, 1970 was the last set of ads for Kresge’s at 402 S. 16th that I could find. According to what I could see on DOGIS site, the southern most part of the building changed to a parking structure somewhere between the 1973 and 1982 aerial shots.

 

 

 

oppd1988

In the fall of 1986 OPPD’s customer service department moved from the 17th and Harney Street location over to the Central Park Plaza at 15th and Douglas while OPPD were to build the new Energy Plaza. A $18.4 million headquarters addition was expected to be built by 1988. The fall of 1988 I found an article announcing the opening of the new OPPD building, with a renaming of the address at 444 S. 16th St.

 

 

energyplaza

Photo from the OPPD website.  2016

 

 

harneystlookingwest

Harney Street looking west from 16th Street. 2016.

 

 

clock

Clock on corner of old Kresge Building.  I found a fantastic article from December of 1988. In it an OPPD spokesman, Mark Gautier, described a clock hanging in the new OPPD atrium. He claimed that the Burgess-Nash Company had affixed a clock to its original building in 1916. “For anyone who used to come downtown years ago, that clock is like an old friend. It was a landmark.” He said the clock stayed on the original building until 1975. When OPPD bought the then Kresge building and demolished it, the clock was saved and placed in the old OPPD headquarters until 1976. It remained there until 1982. The clock was put into storage until 1988, when it was restored and hung up in their new atrium. I have no idea if it is still there or not. We’ve got to get a photo, if it is!

 

 

 

valvesillustration

On a certain cold afternoon in the last weeks, I was wandering among the shivery buildings on the South Sixteenth corridor, peering in windows, trying to spot clues, looking for this blessed clock. Everything was closed up. ‘This must have been some special sort of corner,’ I thought to myself, looking up at the newer concrete slab building. I would like to tell you that I heard a ghost of a trace of crickets chirping or could see that clock in the atrium but I couldn’t and I didn’t. And I’d certainly like to tell you where you could get a decent cup of tea in this town but I can’t. I quickly ran back to the car before the wind blew me away and then Mr. Cassette eased the car in another direction altogether.

 

 

I welcome your feedback and comments on the Cricket Room, Burgess-Nash Company and this part of Downtown Omaha. To enable comments, please click on the header title. If you would like to correspond with me privately, please do so at myomahaobsession@yahoo.com. But I assure you, everyone would love to read what you have to say and it makes the conversation more fun. You can keep up with my latest investigations by “following” myomahaobsession. You will get sent email updates every time I have written a new article. Also join My Omaha Obsession on Facebook. Thank you Omaha friends.

 

© Miss Cassette and myomahaobsession, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Miss Cassette and myomahaobsession with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Bertha Yost Offutt and the Mysterious Gold Coast Mansion Part Two

diffuseglow

 

Omaha friends, I’ve been hoping that you’d drop in. Your hands are like ice. It’s bad out there. No cabs to be had out there, as they say in a favorite holiday song. Might I recommend you just hunker down and stay a while? We are in good company, friends. Settle in and make a hot drink. Mr. Cassette is currently building us a fire. Eartha Kitt and Bing Crosby’s voices are floating through the house, mingling with frankincense, Texas cedar wood and lime oils in the air–a new mixture that I would like claim as my own, but alas Mr. Cassette originated. It smells so divine. Little lights are twinkling on the mantle. Our animal friends are running around the house because they know what happens when the newspapers, pine cones and logs are brought before the hearth. It’s all very exciting and but I am ready to indulge in Some Particular Details of Utmost Importance.

 

 

fireplace

 

And by that, I mean revisiting….Bertha Yost Offutt and the Mysterious Gold Coast Mansion.

 

In case you have not read the first installment, Bertha Yost Offutt and the Mysterious Gold Coast Mansion, please, for the love of obsessions, do take some time and get caught up. These Particular Details of Utmost Importance will not make much sense otherwise…because I intend to plow straightaway and do not want to flit around on these keys backtracking when we’ve got a fire and merrymaking to attend to. The article was a smash hit in my estimation, because I received so many fantastic, personal emails and comments, I was beside myself. I loved to hear from all of you. In particular when I received emails from Bertha Yost Offutt’s family letting me in on familial background information, I knew I would have to write up a Part Two, with their permission, of course. I, too, had come across gobs more interesting tidbits.

 

 

The Two Missing Mansions

 

From Born Rich: A Historical Book of Omaha by Margaret Patricia Killian, I had learned that there were at least two mansions on the land that would become the TraveLodge on 39th and Dodge. These properties were three houses to the south of the Yost-Offutt mansion at 39th and Davenport. Using the DOGIS map, I was able to obtain this aerial of the Gold Coast area from 1941.

 

1941

1941 shows the rooftop and property of two mansions on the old Travelodge property. They were still visible in the 1955 photo. By 1962 aerial view, the homes have been razed and TraveLodge appeared. The TraveLodge became a Travel Inn and it, too, was razed in the 2000s.

 

 

Bertha Yost Offutt’s Travels

 

I was able to find Bertha Yost Offutt’s passport application from a fantastic trip in 1924. Additional information confirmed previously detected information about Bertha. But I did not remember knowing that she had been born in Nebraska.

 

 

passport

France, Great Britain, Turkey, Spain, Egypt, Northern Africa. Leaving on December 27, 1924. That must have been quite the holiday.

 

 

 

 The Casper Yost Offutt Home

 

 

The current owners of 109 N 54th Street have confirmed that Casper Yost Offutt built their home in 1924. They found the original picture of their gorgeous home in the attic and as well as the original landscaping blueprints. They report that they are the fifth homeowners. They are currently restoring the house and happily report that Casper Yost Offutt’s home has been very well taken care of over the years. I discovered in an OWH article of 1990 that 109 N. 54th Street was one of five Happy Hollow homes featured on Landmarks’ Candlelight Tour that year. Named the Atwood residence at the time, 109 N. 54th St. “Hidden by trees, this home reflects the rich detailing, top – quality materials and intimate floor plan that was characteristic of Omaha architect F.A. Henninger.” I about fell over. Do you recall my obsession with F. A. Henninger? Dying with love. I sensed another story in the future! Please check out The Curious Case of the French Fairytale Cottage: Part OneThe Curious Case of the French Fairytale Cottage: Part Two, The Curious Case of the French Fairytale Cottage: Part Three articles for more details on Henninger.

 

 

 

 

109-n-54

109 North 54th Street.

 

 

More about Casper Yost Offutt

 

Bertha Yost and Charles Offutt’s oldest child was Casper Yost Offutt. He was born October 30, 1893. My original article has a good amount of information about Casper, as he was quite a successful man with a varied life. But here is even more about this remarkable man. According to his OWH obituary of 1987, from 1917 to 1919, Offutt served as the second secretary of the U.S. Embassy in Chile and first secretary and charge d’affaires in Panama. From 1926 to 1940, Offutt practiced law in Omaha and taught a course in corporate law at Creighton University. Later he served as a director of Carpenter Paper Co., and Wright and Wilhelmy Co. In 1941, Offutt joined the trust department of the U.S. National Bank. He retired in 1958 as senior vice president, trust officer and director of the bank. After retiring, he traveled to South America for several months, and then returned to teach Latin American history at Omaha University. “His salary went to the university’s library for the purchase of books. He also taught two years at Creighton University at $1 per year.”

 

Later I came across an obituary for Casper from the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1987/12/23/obituaries/casper-yost-offutt-former-diplomat-93.html

 

 

507_casperyostoffutt_1911

From the Offutt Family Genealogy page, I was able to find this school photo of a young Casper from 1911. It is easy to see the family resemblance. What a beautiful young man.

 

 

 

Initially from the Offutt Family Genealogy site I only found mention of Casper’s one son, John Longmaid Offutt, born in 1933 at Omaha. I mistakenly thought he must have been an only child until I received a number of emails from family members. According to the grandsons of Casper Yost Offutt, John Longmaid Offutt was actually the youngest child of Casper and Mary Offutt. Janet Offutt was their first-born. Janet is still alive, living in Cold Springs Harbour, New York. Casper Offutt, Jr. was the couple’s second child. Casper, Jr. (their writers’ father) is alive and well in Portola Valley, California. John Offutt, the youngest child, died on June 11, 1992 in Omaha. He was buried on June 15, 1992 at Forest Lawn Cemetery.

 

 

 

blkandwht

 

 

Memories from Casper Yost Offutt, III

 

I was so pleased to receive some warm emails from Casper Yost Offutt, III. “Bertha (Yost Offutt) was my great grandmother. I can tell you she moved in with her son, Casper (my paternal grandfather), at 109 N 54th because she had gone blind. I was born in Omaha in 1951 and recall sitting on her lap while she would feel my face with her fingertips. Creepy to a small kid. I have never been in the mansion but I vaguely recall being in the Joslyn Castle with my grandmother, Mary Offutt, as she visited her friend Mrs. Joslyn. I remember being closely watched so I wouldn’t run off and touch ‘stuff’.”

 

 

 

joslyncastleone

Joslyn Castle  at 3902 Davenport St, across from Bertha Yost Offutt’s home.

 

 

“There IS a tunnel connecting Joslyn Castle with the Offutt mansion. They were friends and wanted a weatherproof connection. This, according to my father Casper Yost Offutt, Jr. who grew up playing in his grandmother’s mansion.” I was absolutely fascinated that this was reason for the tunnel. I wanted to know more. Through my years in Omaha, I have heard of the numerous underground secret tunnels in this town. This tunnel was one of the longest private tunnels I had heard of.

 

 

 

1866377874_61e671302f_o-700x525

Haydenville Tunnel in Ohio, used only to illustrate what a tunnel under Davenport, connecting the two homes might look like.

 

 

He wrote further. “Bertha did have a chauffeur. I have been told he was a former cowboy, possibly named Tom. I have a tiny tin toolbox he made in the workshop in the mansion garage. He would drive Bertha and others to Lake Okoboji summers.” Can you imagine? A former cowboy chauffeur named Tom? This was very good stuff.

 

 

autochromes-first-color-photographs-1920s-11

1928 San Antonio, Texas – Cowboys and riders sit along a fence at the Rodeo. From the first color photos, called autochromes, of the 1920s. Not chauffeur Tom, only used to illustrate what a cowboy from this time might have looked like. And I would love a pair of vintage boots in the style of any of these. So cool!

 

 

 

carriagehouse

“There is a chauffeur’s room attached to the garage. I grew up in Omaha from 1951 to 1963 and knew very little about the mansion. It was rarely discussed with us children.” I suppose that is the way with children. You do not know what you have before you, or rather what to make of what you have before you, told or untold, until you are out in the world and have some perspective.

 

 

Memories from David Offutt

 

I also received some great messages from David Offutt. David is also a son of Casper Yost Offutt, Jr. He is brother to Casper Yost Offutt, III, who had written previously.

 

“My father, Casper Yost Offutt, Jr., was the grandson of Bertha Yost Offutt, whom I knew as a child as a great grandchild. She was blind in her later years, but a very loving person who always enjoyed seeing the kids. She lived with my grandparents, Casper Y. Offutt Sr., who lived on N. 54th Street, just off of Dodge. My dad spent quite a bit of time at the house (Offutt Mansion) as a youngster, and still knows many of the stories related to the house (including the underground tunnel that connected to the Joslyn house). He is currently 89, but doing well and living in California.

 

 

 

sideview

 

 

My great grandmother, Bertha Offutt, lived in the (109 N. 54th St.) house (we called it the “Blue Bedroom”) while I was a child, passing away in 1958 when I was five. The maid, Marie, lived in the attic bedroom, and I still have great memories playing their as a child. My grandmother (Mary Longmaid Offutt) passed away in the early 1980’s, but my grandfather (Casper Yost Offutt) was there until his passing in 1987 — 60 years in the same house. I’m glad it’s been well cared for; it was always a beautiful house!

 

Dave had many memories that were triggered from my first article. Henry the Chauffeur, to the names of the maids of the house (Hilda, Marie, and several others), the tunnel that went from the house to the Joslyn Castle. He reported that his father spent a good deal of time there when he was younger, “and still remembers just about everything.” Apparently there was a Tiffany chandelier in the dining room (of the Offutt mansion.) “It was purchased by my great grandparents (Bertha, I called her ‘Bapa’), but eventually sold by one of the former owners. I believe my dad said it fetched $300,000-600,000 at an auction many years ago.”

 

 

a-rare-and-early-chandelier-circa-1895-tiffany
Rare, breathtaking Tiffany chandelier which is probably too small for a large dining room the size of Bertha Yost Offutt’s BUT I love how intricate this majestic piece is. I would wear this around my neck if I could bare the weight.

 

 

Virginia Offutt Gates

 

In the original article this sleuther was not able to uncover much good information about Bertha’s youngest child, Virginia. I did know she was born September 16, 1896. I have since done a bit more digging. I have found that Virginia was married to Omahan, Milo Talmage Gates in 1921. She was listed in the Omaha World Herald as upholding the privileged position of one of the “Ladies of the Court” in the Ak Sar Ben coronation ball festivities of 1923 and 1928. I longed to see a photo of Virginia.

 

After a time, I was able to track her husband, Milo’s obituary. According to the OWH August 26, 1947 “Milo T. Gates, 52, former Omahan Monday at his home in Piedmont, CA. He was manager of the western branch, Crowell Publishing Company. Survivors: wife, Virginia Offutt Gates; sons, Milo Jr. and Jarvis O, both of Piedmont.” This followed with my pervious findings that Virginia had moved to California.

 

Later I found Virginia’s obituary, dated, June 22, 1988. From OWH: “Virginia Offutt Gates, sister of Jarvis J. Offutt, for whom Offutt Air Force Base was named, died Saturday in her home in Oakland, Calif. She was 91 and had suffered a long illness, a family spokesman said. Mrs. Gates, born in Nebraska, was a member of a pioneer Omaha family. She had been a longtime resident of Piedmont, Calif., the spokesman said. Mrs. Gates married Milo Talmage Gates in Omaha in 1921. Jarvis J. Offutt was Omaha’s first air casualty in World War I. Mrs. Gates’ older brother, Casper Y. Offutt, a lawyer and a director of the former U.S. National Bank, died last year in Omaha. Mrs. Gates’ survivors include a son, Milo S. Gates of San Francisco; daughter – in – law, Mrs. Jarvis (Elizabeth) Gates of Piedmont, Calif.; eight grandchildren and a great – grandson. Private services will be held in California.”

 

offutthouseone

 

Memories from Virginia Offutt Gates’ Great Granddaughter

 

It was such a special day to receive an email from Virginia’s great granddaughter. She generously filled in some details on the mansion, the clan and gave that personal touch to Virginia’s life.

 

“My father, Ned Gates, son of Virginia Offutt and Milo Gates, was born in and lived in the Offutt house until he was about 8 when he moved with his father, mother and brother to California. Virginia lived in Piedmont where she raised her two sons Ned and Jarvie (Milo and Jarvis) until she died in 1988. She was married to Milo Gates, an ad man, who was a great husband and father. My father adored him. Sadly he died early, in the forties.

‘Bapa’ spent her later years living half the year with her son Casper in Omaha and the other half with my grandmother in Piedmont. My eldest sister remembers her well.

Virginia was a lovely woman; elegant and very kind she loved fashion and had a wicked sense of humor. She was great fun to be around.”

 

 

virginia-and-baby

She was so kind to include these photos! “Virginia with baby, Milo (later known as Ned.)”

 

 

 

virginiaand-boys

“Virginia with both sons, Ned and Jarvie.” Anyone who knows me, knows that I am coveting Virginia’s whole attire. I must know what color that divine coat was and if that was a curly Persian lamb trim? Also, those boys are about as precious as it gets. But my favorite is that Virginia Offutt Gates’ great granddaughter, who sent me these , is seen in the photo with her ancestors, like a ghost figure. Thank you so much.

 

 

Special Dedication from the 1970s

 

From the Omaha World Herald, dated November 9, 1971, I learned that Casper Yost Offutt and his sister, Virginia Offutt Gates donated a beautiful portrait of their brother, Jarvis Jenness Offutt to the Offutt Air Force Base.

 

 

portrait

General and Mrs. Holloway, Casper Yost Offutt and his wife, Mary Longmaid Offutt, unveil a portrait of Jarvis at the party held at the Offutt Air Force Base Officer’s Club. “The portrait donated by Casper Offutt and his sister, Virginia Offutt Gate, of San Francisco, will hang in the dining room at the Officer’s Club.” The painting was done by Woodi Ishmael, a professor at the Troy State University. I wonder if that painting still hangs at the Officer’s Club?

 

I thank the Offutt family for reaching out to me and all of you that wrote in. I look forward to hearing more from you all in the future. Let us hope that you are reading and enjoying this Part Two on a day as freezing cold as I am writing it. Do you remember our Omaha winters? I do hope you’ve had a sleeping Saint Bernard on your feet as you’ve read along. Is it about time to mix up another warming drink? I, myself, really must go now. It would seem that both the fireplace and Mr. Cassette are calling my name from the living room.

 

 

diffuseglow

 

 

Thank you, thank you everyone for reading my articles and supporting me. It means so much to share this obsession of houses and their people with all of you. I welcome your feedback and comments on this article and its previous installment.  We know more together. To enable comments, please click on the header title. If you would like to correspond with me privately, please do so at myomahaobsession@yahoo.com. But I assure you, everyone would love to read what you have to say and it makes the conversation more fun. You can keep up with my latest investigations without even leaving your inbox, by “following” myomahaobsession. You will get sent email updates every time I have written a new story. Also please join My Omaha Obsession on Facebook. Thank you Omaha friends.

 

© Miss Cassette and myomahaobsession, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Miss Cassette and myomahaobsession with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Mysteries of Omaha: The Log Cabin and the Jones Street Bridge

joneswalkbridge

If you did not know it or maybe, if you were deep in thought (or woefully of the unobservant type), you might have never seen or even heard tell of the Jones Street footbridge through the foliage of Elmwood Park. It is now formally called the Jones Walk, which I only just stumbled across on a map. I am making excuses here but maybe if you happened to be of the Timid Type or if your mother taught you to not go Nancy Drewing about town, you might keep walking merrily along Happy Hollow Boulevard just north of Leavenworth minding your own thoughts. Perhaps you might be judging yourself a Rude Intruder to dare cross the bridge. Your mind might wander back, though, having regrets about not being more of a snoop and you might imagine that just past the bridge was a private home, inhabited by a distinguished person…a person of great taste. “Aren’t you even the least bit curious about all that?” asks your mind. And you might be right to imagine, as distinguished persons of brilliant taste, living in incredible homes are so often the case around these parts.

If you are fortunately acquainted with the Jones Walk Bridge and sensitive to these types of matters, you know that to cross into the park, is to slip through a mythical passageway into quite another region of Elmwood, unknown to most, to one of the strangest, most marvelous, secret streets in all of Omaha. Like a drawbridge across a mote to a castle just out of view but, freely mixing fairy-tale metaphors here, this castle happens to be of equal storybook lore: a Log Cabin in the Woods in the City. Oh how I have been waiting to tell you this curious, rustic tale.

angleviewofcabin

The Beginning of the Obsession

Like any unwitting pedestrian, I am sure, the first time I stumbled across the Log Cabin, I was absolutely entranced. Something about its expression and posture as it snuggled darkly into the corner of the park. Perfectly natural and secure with itself…. like it was birthed from the wooded grounds. As if it belonged. Inevitable. Upon closer inspection, I felt faint as I studied the coarse stone columns of a bygone gate with its coach lights and doorbell. I couldn’t breathe.

electricgatelarge

How exactly did a log cabin end up in the middle of Omaha? Did the city spring up around it? How does a Lucky Devil end up with a plot of land within a popular city park? Aside from “leisurely walks” down Jones Street aka Log Cabin Sleuthing Missions for the last ten years, I knew not a thing about the log cabin on the edge of the park. (There was that one time that I actually drove down the No Outlet Jones Street and found it to be such a shamefully awkward turnaround that I vowed to never again drive the private road. Insider Tip: Please take heed.) I will confess to having next to no experience with log cabins whatsoever except for having played with John Lloyd Wright’s genius invention, Lincoln Logs, on the deep, shag carpet of my best friend’s family room on numerous classified occasions. The peculiar notched miniature logs tend to stay in one’s mind especially when we were warned against playing with her brother’s toys for Boys Only.

lincolnlogs

And then there was that momentous Yellowstone National Park vacation that my grandparents swept me away on one 1970’s summer. Staring up at the interior of the Old Faithful Inn, particularly that fantastic Crow’s Nest view, many stories above, seemed to have carved out a warm, little place in my child memory. How on earth did a whole orchestra of tiny elves scales up into that forbidden hideaway?

oldfaithfulinn-interior_wikipd_680-612x353

The Crow’s Nest in the Old Faithful Inn. Photo from the Yellowstone National Park site.

The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton has a number of delicious phrases and concepts within its pages. Please read it. One idea is that of my kindred belief (although much more beautifully articulated) –the idea of a house having grown into a “knowledgeable witness.” Implanted with the observations it has absorbed from its family of inhabitants meanwhile the home environ, in turn, shaping the inhabitants’ experience with its structure. Another idea relates the house as a “psychological sanctuary.” I only share this with you because it was so profoundly validating to read from a like-minded person like us. It was with this renewed spirit that I picked up my magnifying glass and began to dig into the Log Cabin Mystery of 5803 Jones Street.

The Teasers

Surely by now you know my methods. A detective on stakeout often spends long hours sitting in wait, smoking cigarettes and biting nonexistent hangnails. Habits that no longer serve Miss Cassette. My surveillance began with the Douglas County Assessors site. There I learned 5803 Jones was built in 1923. This would have to be double-checked. Later I found that its current owners thought it was erected in 1917. Technically 5803 Jones was platted Lot 3, Block 0 of the Elmwood Addition. The log cabin would be remodeled 1994. The home itself was quoted at 4,054 square feet to include an indeterminate floor plan. Still, it gives a general idea. The assessor also gave evidence of the 5803 parcel encompassing 1/2 of a vacant alley as well as additional lots 1 and 2.

dcafloorplan

Floor plan from the Douglas County Assessor’s site.

Lay of the Land

From the magnificent, exhaustive Streets of Omaha: Their Origins and Changes compiled by H. Ben Brick, I learned of the abstruseness of Jones Street. “There is question whether it was named in honor of A. D. Jones, first Omaha postmaster, or for George W. Jones of Iowa, a railroad builder.” Harrumph. From what I could surmise Jones Street starts at about 5th or 6th Street, an off- shoot of what is now called ConAgra Drive (but not for long, I imagine.) Jones Street gets the run-around and experiences a number of cut-offs through most of Downtown Omaha and Midtown, at one point doubling as Jones Plaza through the UNMC area. The short-winded jaunt past the log cabin in Elmwood Park is the last sighting of Jones Street until it picks up again off of 90th Street.

googlemap

Google Map of the area.

2016dogismap

A 2016 aerial view, thanks to the DOGIS site, displayed what I already knew by heart. 5803 Jones is within the Elmwood Park property, sandwiched between the Dundee and Elmwood neighborhoods. The Jones Street mini-run through Elmwood has only four houses on it.

front5803

The 5803 Jones Log Cabin has a city park ravine and wooded area directly to its east with Jones Walk Bridge leading up to its drive. I had detected the west most part of the house to be the original log cabin with a large addition to the east, not shown in this photo.

5913angle

5913 Jones. Mr. Cassette longingly named off the roses, irises, and lovely perennial garden on this daydreamy path between the homes. 5913 is just west of the 5803 log cabin. 5913 is quite a jump in house numbers. This gorgeous home has what looks to be a large addition on the original home as well. I could be wrong. I discovered 5911 Jones was an address listed between 5803 and 5913 until about 1996. An ad from May of 1935 stated, “Elmwood Park $3,500. 6 rooms, garage, unusual location facing the park, beautiful trees. Shingle Home, rustic and appealing. See 5911 Jones today.” You know how I love the shingle style! I wish I could have seen it.

treesofelmwood

By the way, if you have ever daydreamed about living in Elmwood Park, here is a glimpse into your view, across from the short Jones Street jaunt.

5919jones

5919 Jones. You must know, I am in love with 5919 Jones. I love the breeziness of this summer feeling home, its outdoor area that could be additional room and yes, I am partial to a good tire swing.

5919jonesretainingwall

5919 Jones also has one of my favorite mystery retaining wall in all of Omaha. I believe this brick gate is all that is left of the property that once was at this location. The Douglas County Assessor reports this home was built in 1941 but interestingly has what looks to be an old brick fence going around the property. Perhaps their had been wrought iron work between the posts? Ooooh so exciting.

5923

5923 Jones. Curiously behind 5919, just south is 5923 Jones, although not actually on Jones Street. This sweet, little gem faces west into the park. Isn’t it all fascinating? Photo taken from the Assessor’s site.

Early Evidence

Since I had no real knowledge of American log cabins, I spent some time wading into that realm. According to The Visual Dictionary of American Domestic Architecture by Rachel Carley, “the Swedes were the first settlers to build log structures in America, the major tradition of log building here originated independently in the late 1600s to the early 1700s with German speaking settlers in the mid-Atlantic region.” The Scot-Irish and English settlers also employed the technique. The saddle notch was used universally for round logs. These logs were locked into place by their own weight. Joints were typically “chinked” with mud plaster or covered with narrow split boards. Pine and spruce were commonly used.

minersdominioncreekyukonterritory1898

Miners’ cabin from 1889.

The incredible House Book a collection by Phaidon depicted gorgeous log cabin homes from Switzerland to Russia, all with a dark warmth. Whether the primitive cabin of a working family, a Russian “Izba” peasant hut or a holiday lodge, the “dacha” was a true rustic sanctuary, reconnecting the rhythms of nature.

cabinanddogs

A Sort of Heaven on Earth.

Weeks later I was fully swimming in A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia Savage McAlester, up to my neck in the history of folk houses vs. styled houses. If 5803 Jones Street log cabin’s speculated build date of 1923 was ten years off in either decade, a gable-front folk style log cabin would have been quite unusual for the Dundee-Elmwood neighborhood, let alone Omaha. The question for this detective became was 5803 Jones an authentic vernacular style folk home or a wealthy person’s kitschy wink to the moneyed high style of the time period? I couldn’t wait to dig further.

 J.T. Maxwell

I could not find 5803 Jones in any city of Omaha neighborhood surveys of Dundee or Elmwood Park. Additionally it was not listed as a historic Omaha home in any of my local books. Familiar with brick walls, I next visited one of my favorite haunts in Omaha: the W. Dale Clark Downtown Library. You better believe I ran to that 1923 Omaha City Directory but was dismayed when I found 5803 Jones Street was not listed. It was also not listed previous to 1923. Furthermore the 1924 City Directory has been missing for years. The 1925 Omaha City Directory listed 5803 Jones Street for the very first time under “J. T. Maxwell.” J. T. Maxwell also had an office listed at 503 Omaha Loan & Bldg Association. I was not sure what line of work he was in nor had I heard of that building.

omaha-loan-building

As it turns out, J. T. Maxwell’s office was in Downtown Omaha at the Omaha Loan & Building Association building (redundant?) at 1504 Dodge Street. July of 1964. (Photo courtesy of the Martin Weil Photography Collection at The Durham Museum Photo Archive).

Other clues from 1925: On the other side of the Jones Walk bridge, T. J. Prettyman was listed as owning 5714 Jones Street in 1925. It was interesting to me that 5901 Jones Street was listed under “G. M. Maxwell” in the same directory. Was this the original property of the gorgeous brick fence now addressed 5919? Was G. M. Maxwell related to J.T. Maxwell? 5911 Jones was owned by “C. W. Wonch.” In my research, I had become accustomed to addresses changing over the years. Why did the 5911-5913 addresses next to the cabin bother me so much? I could tell this wasn’t going to be a tidy investigation.

Closer Inspection

After further city directory digging and Various Mystery Omaha World Herald Documents, I knew it was time to visit the Douglas County Register of Deeds office. I was not disappointed. As it turns out William F. Snyder owned the original plot of land that the log cabin was on. Mr. Snyder sold the land to James Taliaferro Maxwell on December 7, 1910. I now had J. T.’s full name. I was able to track the Omaha World Herald Real Estate Transfer dated December 8, 1910 where they listed the sale from Snyder to Maxwell Lot 1, Elmwood Addition for $300.00. From the OWH Real Estate Transfer of Jan 21, 1911: William F. Snyder et al again sold to James Taliaferro Maxwell– this time Lot 2, Elmwood Addition for $300.00. I was dying to know more about this William F. Snyder.

summer-1959

Meanwhile I kept envisioning myself in situations like this. Life Magazine. 1959.