My mother wears size 8 AAA narrow shoes. She doesn’t talk about it much but if you ask, she will still proudly tell you she is a “AAA.” I remember my father saying, “Your mother’s very proud of her narrow feet” in that sarcastic, poking, Irish manner that often gets one into trouble. As a young girl, I thought this AAA set of circumstances must have been a very glamorous condition, indeed. Mother couldn’t just buy any common shoe at any old shoe shop. It meant that she spent quite a bit of money on high quality shoes, as very few of the better brands would even make these specialty sizes. Maybe you, too, are acquainted with a Triple A’r or are privy to this insider, Narrow Width experience. Years later, I can understand how the continual frustration and money spent, might create a sort of pride.
(Photo above, Napier’s Booterie at 309 S. 16th Street in 1929. Notice the “NB” above the display windows. Photo courtesy of the Bostwick & Frohardt collection at the Durham Museum Photo Archive.)
The glorious bronze cases as they look today.
One of the earliest shoe shopping memories I have, after we had moved to town, was at Napier’s in downtown Omaha. This must have been in the mid 1970’s. My mother had learned that Napier’s Booterie carried women’s brands in narrower sizes. I recall mere glimmers of the shop, particularly the woodwork, mirrors and attractively lit shoe shelves. I believe there was a thin, buckled carpet in one area, rumpled from wear—but more than those elements, do I recollect the feeling. I can still feel that Napier’s encounter again—one of my first time experiences as a child, having the profound awareness of being in a shop where time has stood still; in awe and at odds with it all. I know now, it was time travel.
The little, wooden, gold Art Deco letters, spelling Napier’s, as they look today.
For anyone fortuitous enough to have come across Napier’s Booterie or any of the South 16th Street establishments at its pinnacle…well, I’m sure those are magnetic memories for you as well. I have heard that 16th Street showed up the rest of Omaha, quite handily in its day. However comforting it may be to tell myself that I frequented 16th Street with my family, truth be told, I can only really recall those rather infrequent Napier visits, mixed with more recurrent King Fong trips at 315 1/2 S 16th and barely a glint of the White Horse Restaurant at 314 S 16th. And that irks me. I will assuredly be writing more about 16th Street in the future, as it is one of the most historically and architecturally significant streets in Omaha.
Napier’s Booterie 1924.
Napier’s Booterie Moves to Town
I found that the Securities Building, sometimes called the Rose Realty-Securities Building was constructed in 1915. The Omaha City Planning Department has it listed, in a PDF I included, as being constructed in 1916 but I believe this to be a mistake based on the Douglas County Assessor listing and newspaper articles from the time. Rose Realty built the structure and the building went by that name for its first two years. Architect, Frederick A. Henninger borrowing from the “Sullivanesque” style—named after American architect, Louis Sullivan, designed the six-story building. Henninger had designed the former U.S. National Bank building at 16th and Farnam Streets, the Grain Exchange at 19th and Harney Streets as well as several Omaha residences. From the City Planning report, “The most prominent feature of the west facade is the Napier’s Booterie storefront. The street level exterior contains a marble faced storefront with large display windows framed by bronze. The bronze framing above the display windows is heavily detailed.” Amazingly, Napier’s original curved glass display windows are still intact to this day. Please read the rest of the City Planners report of 1996 for a simple overview of the building and further explanation of its historic significance to Omaha. http://www.nebraskahistory.org/histpres/nebraska/douglas/DO09-RoseRealty-Sec-Bldg.pdf.
That Napier’s door. Omaha and Minneapolis.
For all of the media coverage of the grand opening of Napier’s Booterie, what follows is some of the most quirky writing I’ve ever seen, taken from the Dec 16, 1915 Omaha Daily Bee.
“Those who did not attend the formal opening of the new shoe store, Napier’s Booterie, are losers of the equivalent of half a dollar. And those fortunate ones who did attend the opening were gainers by just that amount. Inasmuch as they were, each of them, given a check calling for 10 cents. These checks were given out on the opening day only and they will be good until New Years. In addition to the checks 300 roses were also given as souvenirs. And in addition to the presents those who called were treated to an Inspection of Omaha’s great new quality shoe shop. It is indeed a quality shop, tastefully arranged, with furniture and fittings done in soft Kaiser array, and with lighting and display effects the most pleasing. Napier’s Booterie, located on Sixteenth Street. In Omaha’s newest business block, the new Rose building is owned by the Napier brothers: W. Napier being president of the company, B. U. Napier, vice president and B. H. Napier, secretary and treasurer. In addition to these courteous gentlemen there is a force of efficient salesfolk whose ambition is to serve. In the fullest sense, those who came to the store. The ideal of the Booterie is quality and service.”
This March 11, 1922 article from the Omaha World Herald describes in lovely detail about expansion at Napier’s. “Furnished in jade and amethyst” with smoking stands. I just love envisioning this, particularly because I never knew that it occupied two floors.
Classic shoehorn with a button hook at the end for ladies’ small boot buttons.
Fantastic ad from March 21 of 1937. Let it be known that Miss Cassette loves the shoes of the 30’s and 40’s. In 1938, S 16th Street was home to Napier’s Booterie, Florsheim’s, King Fong, the Conant Hotel and the White Horse Inn. The upper five floors of the Securities Building held various offices that were leased to different businesses. The main entrance to the Securities Building offices above was found in between the lovely glass display windows of Napier’s. Clients and business people would enter through a beautiful brass door leading to an Art Deco hallway with elevators. 16th Street was alive and influential.
The kinds of ads I remember seeing as a child. This one was from June 4, 1978, apparently celebrating 64 years of business.
16th Street in its heyday.
The End of An Era
There were hints all along and many clues that probably didn’t even register with me at the time. The final days of Napier’s Booterie were probably replicated throughout the downtown area as more and more businesses moved out west. I was able to find this sad little article from the Omaha World Herald from April 16, 1985.
“After 70 Years Downtown, Napier’s Store Closing”
“Napier’s, a 70-year-old women’s shoe store on 16th Street in downtown Omaha, will close in June, said Manager E.C. Herring.
“It’s a shame to see it go,” Herring said. “We need to do remodeling that would cost $40,000 to $50,000 and we couldn’t get a long – term lease.”
Herring, who has been with Napier’s for 43 years, said his health was another factor in the decision to close the store. “I am 77 years old and I have had triple bypass surgery and gall bladder surgery.”
The store is owned by the George E. Keith Co., Boston, he said. He said the company, a manufacturer of Walkover brand men’s shoes, has been phasing out its retail business. It now owns two stores, Napier’s and a store in Salt Lake City.
Herring said the most significant trend in the shoe business in his four decades has been the increase in the number of colors and heel sizes for women’s shoes. Heel sizes generally are lower today than previously because there are more working women. “Women want to be comfortable as well as good looking,” he said.
Herring said Napier’s was founded by Stanley Napier. “I never knew him,” he said of Napier. “He had been gone for some time when I joined Napier’s.””
Author/Byline: David C. Beeder, Rudy Smith
Current state of affairs at 309: Beautiful rounded entryway proves a private place to urinate.
Ghost of a Building Meets Nu-Style
The Napier’s Booterie store went vacant in 1985. By 1989 it was still empty. The 1993 directory listed it vacant as well. Meanwhile the business offices once housed in the floors above had emptied out. The Securities Building was in serious trouble. The city acquired the building by eminent domain for $190,000 in 1994. By 1996 the unfilled Securities Building, with no interested parties in sight for a full decade, was condemned. In 1996 Nu-Style Development Co, brother and sister team, Tammy Barrett and Todd Heistand stepped in and redeveloped the Securities Building. They hired Alley Poyner Architecture, as it was called at the time, and began to rehab the then 81-year-old building. They essentially turned the Securities Building into 35 low and moderate-income apartment units. The first floor was leased by the Panda House restaurant (301 S 16th) and Nu-Style Development offices. Using federal community development block grants, low-income housing tax credits, tax-increment financing and a mortgage through First National Bank of Omaha, Nu-Style was able to forge the Securities Building project.
309 S 16th Street in 2016.
In 1998 the New Market Art Gallery moved into the 309 Napier’s Booterie location. David Shaw’s incredible Antiques and Fine Art moved into 309 S 16th in 2007, after calling the Old Market home for years. I can honestly say, seeing all of those beautiful antiques fill the show windows of Napier’s made visual sense. I visited the store a number of times. What a glorious sight that was. It just fit.
Sometime after Antiques and Fine Art moved out, Never Enough Books moved into 309 S. 16th Street. I was only in there a few times. I really thought they were going to make a go of it. By February of 2015 they had moved on to 24th and Decatur Street.
Sifting for Clues
In the early 2000’s the Omaha Housing Authority began looking at the apartments in the Securities Building in an effort to fulfill its court-supervised housing replacement plan. Apparently there was a federal court appointed supervision to replace public-housing apartments previously torn down in several north Omaha locations. After Logan Fontenelle occupants won a 1991 civil rights claim brought against the Omaha Housing Authority and the U.S. Bureau of Housing and Urban Development, HUD tore down the projects in 1995. The 1994 settlement required that previous occupants, uprooted by HUD’s planned closing of the Logan Fontenelle Housing Project, would get counseling, rent assistance, relocation assistance payments, Section 8 vouchers and certificates, and assistance in finding lodging in zones of Omaha with minority populations of less than 30 percent. There was a national push to break up heavy concentrations of poverty often found in inner city areas. The Omaha Housing Authority, OHA, began looking at many apartment and duplex housing developments around town, some in these abandoned pockets of downtown Omaha. With the Securities Building already having been redeveloped with tax credits and federal funds, many of the current tenants would be able to meet the income guidelines. The OHA proposed to buy the Securities Building for $875,000, stating “The 89-year-old building has 10 one-bedroom units, 20 two-bedroom units and five three-bedroom units and was renovated in 1996.”
There is some minimal growth on 16th Street. Panda House has a steady business at lunch and is empty most evenings. King Fong’s is still active. The Limelight, where the old Lerner’s Department Store, looks about ready to take flight. The city brickwork and the planting of the trees all points to “something.” The street continues to attract wanderers, addicts, photographers and the curious. The Culprit Café is currently one of the bright spots on 16th Street. (They actually have an address of 1603 Farnam Street with a 16th Street entrance.) Check out their website at http://www.culpritcafe.com/. Mr. Cassette and I love their delicious food. The staff is upbeat and the patrons are a great mix of neighborhood people, out of towners and people having driven downtown for the food. It feels like being in another city or a downtown that Omaha could become–again. We love to sit, eating, talking and stare out Culprit Cafe’s large windows. It is not hard to see some of the business that goes on in the apartments above Napier’s, originating down on 16the Street—often, consistent streams of the same few people flowing in those Art Deco doors in waves. And as it happens, one can also watch the Omaha Police Department watching that very path of people go in and out. Again, it feels like a real city. Of course watching the Panda House crowd and the Orpheum patrons is always amusing too.
To this day the Securities Building is listed at the Douglas County Assessor as being owned by Securities Building LTD PTR c/o Omaha Housing Authority. The Napier Booterie continues to sit empty. The entryways and little areas around the show windows smell of urine. Litter and leaves blow into the corridors. It truly makes me sad. I know I’m not alone here. I wonder when someone will develop Napier’s Booterie? I wonder when 16th Street will make its big comeback? We have heard about it for so long. It has every possibility within its reach. The Securities Building is on the National Register of Historic Places, which doesn’t always mean a lot in Omaha. I do have such high hopes for this building. I believe 16th Street can get back to her fighting weight. And when that new little business opens up in Napier’s, whatever it might be, I know I will time travel again. I cannot wait for that day.
Please feel free to share your Napier Booterie or Securities Building stories. To enable comments please click on the article title. Thank you, Omaha friends.
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