I am not one of those people who refuse to go west of 72nd Street. In fact some of my very favorite homes in Omaha are west of 90th Street. But in recent years, I will confide, Center Street (west of 72nd, so it is officially West Center Road) is one of my least favorite jaunts around town. At times it can seem downright miserable. Slowly but surely every last building along Center is being replaced by concrete slab throwaways with even more slabs being used for neutral-colored exterior paving. It is all really too damaging to the spirit. When the long overgrown Putt-Putt Golf, House of Pies-Gamez and the infamous Westside turf Burger King were bulldozed, I knew the West Center Road gig was up. So hold on, my friends, because this one does not end well.
Oakdale’s fabulous cupola with brackets. Louvered vents including that classic patina weathervane. And that sign. One the best signs in Omaha.
Oakdale Elementary School, at 9801 W Center Rd, has always stood like a beacon on the hill—to me, drawn straight from the Officially Preppy Handbook. Oakdale, in fine company with Loveland Elementary and St. Margaret Mary’s are some of my absolute, most adored schools in all of Omaha. Like an East Coast coed boarding school or a proper blueblood country day school, I often imagined Oakdale covered with ivy where young children were being taught field hockey, where to vacation in France and the fine art of how to make their parents great gin and tonics. I am speaking, of course, about the northern most building of the campus, the Tudor style, classic wing that faces West Center. I have always loved the look and feel of the school, thinking that it stood as a testament to the class of our West Omaha forefathers. Just as charming is the brick road leading to Oakdale and all of the weird, winding roads and split intersections of this part of town, guiding to some of the most fabulous, hidden woodland homes, sprinkled around this school in all directions.
Mr. Cassette and I were driving Center the other night to meet family for dinner in Rockbrook when we came upon the missing school. I should add, at this point, Mr. Cassette attended Oakdale Elementary kindergarten through sixth grade and, of course, was properly shocked. There was the Oakdale pedestrian overpass but the school had vanished. I began digging into the missing school and its history when we got home.
Modest knee and bracket details. Really quite fabulous school doors.
In my search I discovered District 66 was previously called District 31, of which Oakdale Elementary was a part. It was officially called the Oak Park School District. From the District 66 website “Oakdale Elementary School was built in 1871, and it consisted of a one room school house with forty students. District 31 merged with District 65 (Loveland), and District 46 (Underwood/Peony Park) in 1947. This merger resulted in the establishment of District 66.”
Early photo of the school and meeting hall.
Oakdale in 1927.
Frederick S. Stott was Architect of the Oakdale School. Stott’s drawing shows the new Oakdale, then called “Oak Dale” school planned for District 31. “The building is to be built on a sightly two-acre tract on paved Center Street, opposite Rockbrook addition at Ninety-seventh Street. The land is purchased from the Jacob Armbrust estate.” OWH archive. 1927.
OWH: “The building has been designed to harmonize with the rural residential character of the neighborhood. It is to be a modified English type, with exterior walls of extremely hard-burned Omaha common brick, selected with rich red and brown colorings. The gables will be of stucco, with timber work stained brown. The roof is to be slate.”
By 1927, the glorious Tudor section of the school was added. Oakdale at that point became a K-8 school. The rest of the school was added in stages during the 1950s. Mr. Cassette has told me of the fun he had when he was a student at Oakdale. Just south of the school, long before all of those newer houses were built, there was a large, hilly farm with a house far in the distance. The school children had spread rumors for decades that the farm and house were haunted. They would often go exploring on that farmland, terrified of it, but braving the adventure, as they got older. He also described the creek winding around the area.
Oakdale aerial in 1941.
He described the large front Tudor building as being the music room. It had a large peaked ceiling with beautiful old English wood beams. He said he was keenly aware of the room’s age and historical feel when he was in music class. The spacious room was filled with instruments, a piano and particularly, recorders. There was also a heated corridor, joining the 1927 building to the more modern structure, in which he remembers waiting for his ride. If a student rode the school bus, they would wait on the north most side of the 1927 building.
North, facing Center. Bricks of various shades and lengths
I found a fantastic account from an older Oakdale alumnus, who truly remembers the old school. For a very interesting read, check out: http://imagineadistrict.org/oakdale-alumnus-ken-koch-talks-old-school/
Bracket from the 1927 Tudor building, laying in the grass.
I located some OWH articles about the new Oakdale Elementary plans. I was saddened to hear that the neighbors’ only complaint about the plan to demolish this great school was fear over parking issues or soccer balls flying into their yards. Nothing about building around or incorporating the older structure into the new design. Nothing about historic preservation, save for a few elements of the structure. I am confused by this lack of understanding. When these authentic beauties are gone they’re gone. Please check these articles: http://www.omaha.com/news/education/neighbors-voice-opposition-but-officials-move-ahead-with-oakdale-elementary/article_b0ecaf6c-fc49-11e5-97d4-7b77259f1e5
Historic cupola and its sad weathervane laying in the parking lot.
Of interest “The current building, the oldest part of which dates to 1927, will be demolished and rebuilt on-site, with certain historic features preserved. Pitched roofs at the main entrance will pay tribute to the current Tudor design, and bricks and a cupola will be salvaged for the new school.”
Construction on the new Oakdale Elementary will be completed during the 2017-2018 school year.
Meanwhile, east of the razed Oakdale Elementary is a very odd new development, called Oakdale Cottages, at 9515 West Center Road. There is one strangely configured house framed up on the acreage with its sad address spray painted on the front. Apparently seven more cottages are coming. Like any good beacon on the hill, Oakdale Elementary has given the official warning signal.
Thank you for reading my blog. If you have any memories you would like to share about Oakdale Elementary, District 66 or the very cool Rockbrook area, please feel free to comment. To enable comments or to read comments, please click on the header title. Thank you so much, Omaha friends. Always a pleasure.
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Ugh. So sad. I’ve been down Center dozens of times recently, and like a dork, hadn’t noticed. Maybe I did, but more than likely being in a rush made only a blip of “I should check that out” flash across my mind.
Contrast that to Loveland. Plans were being made to update the appearance (including removing that fabulous sign from the 1930s) and, joy of joys, the neighbors rebelled! They wanted to retain its look and character. The old, aging Loveland sign was actually replaced with new letters – EXACTLY as they had been for decades and plans to update were scrapped.
Oakdale was similar to Loveland in design, but I thought Loveland had more character. I went to Swanson in District 66, but always – always -wanted to go to Loveland. I think I begged my parents a couple of times to transfer. I thought the leaves covering the walls were so cool, so “Ivy League.” It was picture book-perfect of what an elementary school should be. I lived vicariously through my kids, though, as all three went to Loveland. Two of them even having the same 6th grade teacher I had – Jan Dobbs. Parent-Teacher conferences were truly bizarre. But in a good way.
My brother-in-law actually lived in the cul-de-sac right next to Oakdale in the early 90s. I hoped they’d live there so their kids would go through District 66, but alas, they opted for another neighborhood farther west a few years later. Shame on the Oakdale neighbors! And that’s all I have to say about that.
Good to hear from you. Yes, Loveland is amazing. Good to hear that neighbors have an interest and the muscle. I guess we will have this conversation in another 15 years when the new Oakdale is crumbling apart. Why can’t we get this?
Thank you all for the read. I attended Oakdale K-6 starting in 1964. I grew up at 3110 S 104th St when Omaha ended at 105th Ave. Rockbrook wasn’t even built yet. I decided to Google Oakdale and the original building. I attended Kindergarten in that building. Disappointed they tore it down.
I am a Loveland graduate as is my fiancé. We are being the process of digitally archiving Loveland’s history and physical archives. I would love to meet you and invite you to share your knowledge of Loveland with our students. My goal is to preserve every element of Loveland that we can. We are taking a proactive approach to preserving our historic school house. Please join us. Our archives are something special to see.
So sad the old building could not have been saved.
Twas a beauty!
I am an Oakdale graduate and so is my dad and his brothers. I am almost 20 now and Oakdale holds SUCH a special place in my heart. Hearing that they were going to tear it down, I cried. Every time I drove by, I cried. Whenever I remember that I can’t go swing on those swings anymore, I cry.
I would not say that the neighbors didn’t stand up to it. I tried to get the scoop on it whenever I could but the answer as to why Oakdale was being torn down seemed to vary from person to person. I heard it was like bacteria in the walls or something like that, I don’t know. But I got an invitation in my mail box to attend a meeting about about the new structure and the first thing the guy said was “I know that it was really important to all of you that we keep the tutor style to we did that”. They showed us what the new school will look like. It looked nice. Very long. If they use the right materials it will be cool but if not it could just be another cheap looking, characterless, brick building.
Oakdale just held so many memories. Around 11th grade my friends and I started hanging out there again at night time. I loved going back to my old stomping ground, playing on the equipment, peaking into the classrooms and remembering things that I hadn’t thought about in 10 years. Feeling things that I hadn’t felt in 10 years. I made new memories on the oakdale play ground that summer and I told myself that I would go back in another 10 years. Whenever I had little music performances, my dad would walk around and tell me all these stories about when he went there. I wanted to do that with my kid..
And now I can’t and I am so PISSED about it. It’s gone. It’s never coming back. People don’t know what a good thing is anymore. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was nothing wrong with the school and they just thought it seemed out dated.
I am with you and I wholeheartedly agree. This should not have happened. It is so very upsetting to pass by this area. All that remains are the patch of brick road and people’s memories.
I went to Oakdale in the early 60s, and my children attended during the 80s and 90s. My grandson will be a 1st grader there next year. I loved the old school and felt very strongly about preserving the old Tudor building .It is not correct that neighbors’ only complaints regarded soccer balls and parking. I went to several of the Oakdale meetings, and along with many other neighbors and former students, we expressed our desire to not tear it down. We felt it was our neighborhoods “front door”. But the building sat right on top of the frontage road, and when dropping off and picking up children, both parents and buses, it was an extremely congested area and not a safe situation. There didn’t seem to be any solution to change the traffic flow with the building in place. The Tudor building was the kindergarten when I attended, and eventually became the early childhood center. I appreciate your research and your stories, but I didn’t think it was a fair representation of the reaction of neighbors vs. the reaction of Loveland neighbors.
Thank you for writing in. I really appreciate your point of view. I was only working from what the World Herald reported in trying to understand what I saw one day in passing. I am sure there is a lot more to the story and value any input into the behind the scenes story. Thank you so much.
I began kindergarten in 1948. went thru 6th grade. My kindergarten teacher was Miss Stolly. There were Kindergarten…1st…2nd grades in one room. that was the room in the very front. there were two other rooms. between them they had 3rd thru 6th grades. The other two teachers were Miss Jamison and miss Wise. I had an older brother and sister that went there as well. My older brother began attending in 1940. What a wonderful place to attend school. we lived in rockbrook at what was then 1511 Rockbrook Road. later changed to 2203 So.103rd st. almost all the kids were farmers children. the older boys would be excused for 2 weeks during harvest season to help out on the farm. there was nothing surrounding Oakdale other than farm fields and prairie. My parents were the 13th to build a home in Rockbrook. All their friends thought they were crazy to move so far out of town. In by opinion…Rockbrook was the most beautiful place on the Planet. Everything a young Kid could ever dream of for a perfect childhood. we were as free as the wind. Its sad to see it all disappear, but thats the way it is in life…gone with the old and in with the new. The great thing is that Memories can’t be taken from from us, and I could write a best seller about our time in Rockbrook and Oakdale school……Kirt Chiles…..IMHO…luckiest kid on the Planet.
So beautiful, Kirt. Thank you for this contribution.
Please write more about this young rockbrook life. Even if just a few paragraphs. I must hear it.
While I did not attend Oakdale, I did attend Swanson Elementary. It too, was razed & rebuilt recently. I attended the meeting before construction started where the builders, etc. were to explain the new design, timeframe, and what to expect the building to contain. I’ll be perfectly honest, I was disgusted. So much so, my older sister and I walked out mid-meeting shaking our heads at the floor in disappointment. Fast-forward to this past August 2019. I decided to take a long walk on a sunny Saturday, and stroll past my old stomping grounds to see the newly-finished Swanson Elementary. Words are hard to put together what I felt as I walked up 87th street to see the new dig in full view. A dirt tan cinder-block BOX with a 30’s out-house-type slanted roof! I have to confess, I literally spat on the pavement at the sight! The finished product was even worse than the arch. drawing we were shown. I’ve seen county jails with more design put into them!! Then a little voice told me, “Will, get over it. What’s done is done. This is now the 21st century, and nothing will bring back what you remember. Besides, you hadn’t attended this school since 1972!!” OK, I listened, and had to reluctantly agree. It was now a new era, for a new generation of kids, teaching methods, and memories to be made. The lump in my throat was the size of a musk melon, and my eyes actually did well up with tears. Before someone drove by & saw me I had to snap out of it, and continue my walk. Although the sun was shining that August day, for me it was a bit misty as playground memories of yesterday flashed by……
This is heartbreaking. I attended Oakdale K-6…’85-92 YIKES! I am actually starting an Oakdale Alum FB page and would LOVE it if I could use some of the pictures in your blog. Btw, your story although sad, is very well done. Thank you for taking the time to put forth such a good piece of work.
Hi, Thanks for the nice compliment and yes, of course, you can use these images. Only the most recent ones are mine; the rest I mined for. Maybe you could mention this link for more info? It’s no biggie. Take care!
Just in case the hubby wants to join, we’re at @OakdaleElementaryAlum And I added your page and the Oakdale blog.
Thank you so much!
Kirt Chiles remarks brought back many memories. I went to school at the same time as he did along with the Armbrust Gratton,, Matthews, Williams, etc., families, however we moved when I was in the fourth grade so lost contact with many of my classmates. I lived on a farm at 110th & Center, just above the Dutch Mill, and most days would walk the 1 mile to school. Other kids would join in and by the time we got to school there were usually 10-12 of us. At one time Center Street was all brick and when they made it a four lane street just to the north of the original street, they left a block of brick to the east of the school, I guess for nostalgic purposes. I was sorry to see the old building be destroyed. It seems to me then could have kept part of it, especially the front where the sign was. The front should have been kept. Thanks Kirt for bringing back memories.