Long ago I accompanied my grandmother on a magical visit to the Swanson Towers, off of 84th Street. 8405 Indian Hills Drive, for those among us who require exactness. My grandmother was paying a call to a rather chic galpal and truthfully, this was so very long ago I cannot say if it was a tea or a lunch being served. Perhaps more of a drop-something-by-visit. To my memory this pale, cold architectural beauty teetered high on the highest of hills. Upon entrance through the main lobby, with the assistance of the formally dressed doorman, my grandmother’s smart, city heels seemed to click endlessly through the foyer. There was an exhilarating elevator ride, and finally passage through a breathtaking set of double doors into the private, palatial, ultra modern apartment, during which time I had become voiceless. I’ve determined in years since, the Swanson Towers builds in stages of disbelief, slowly hushing a newcomer into wordlessness. Still in my single digit years, this glorious encounter with luxury quarters could only be likened to the set of the Family Affair television program. Uncle Bill’s Park Avenue Penthouse came into full technicolor view on that day, to include a balcony overlooking, what I perceived as, All of Omaha. There may have even been a Mr. French, of sorts, in an adjoining room.
Family Affair tv show stills.
There was a cosmopolitanism of the Swanson Towers I was quite unaccustomed to. A revelation, really. I knew to be astounded by the Gold Coast Greats. The wavy brick roads and wandering warehouses of the Old Market also impressed. But within this Swanson Towers residence, rooms flowed openly and confidently from one to the other, employing great use of natural light, with huge expanses of windows seemingly in all directions. I know now this environ was more than a decade old by that time, but it still held bolt out of the blue charisma. The contemporary artwork and decor of the apartment were attractively arranged in a look of elegance and utter sobriety. White furniture! Or was it white carpeting with white walls? One thing is for certain, the chic older woman’s suite of rooms were not charged with the familiar fittings of 1970s Nebraska Furniture Mart. This was clearly not a home for children—in fact, that was possibly the most profound realization on that day.
This dazzling inspection left such an impression on me, I have said ever since, with the utmost conviction, “I Want to Live in the Swanson Towers When I Grow Up.” Decades of wandering past 84th Street were devoted in the hope that someday I would see an presumed international jet setting resident luxuriating on one of the many sprawling, recessed balconies, a couple of older, tanned, once playboy executives enjoying tennis, or a face—even just a face in a window would have satisfied my craving to know that the glamorous life continued on at the Swanson Towers. I have pointed high to its flat, Mid-Century Modern roof and told any number of friends over the years, “Now That Is the Place To Be.” No one seemed to have noticed or cared much about my personal brush with the Family Affair penthouse and Mr. Cassette is woefully only ever thinking of Prairie Grasses and Hairy Beardtongues. Swanson Towers has remained regrettably aloof to most people’s eyes. Not to go as far as to say snooty. I am not calling her pretentious; I only mean, she is just out of reach. Or had she become too wedged in from view, enveloped by all of the hospitals and professional buildings? It only made me love her more.
I had named 8405 Indian Hills Drive, the Gloria Swanson Towers a while back after a fantasy vision of a wealthy woman attired in leopard print was spied reclining in a chez lounge poolside with a cigarette holder. Truthfully this vision has never materialized although I have most assuredly become Gloria Swanson Towers’ Most Faithful Lady-in-Waiting. I had to know more and retrace my childhood footsteps. Was I remembering her correctly? Dear friends and fellow gumshoes, you’ve continued to show me compassion in my architectural mania over the years and I do thank you. I can only hope this MCM folly is as fun for you—for my life decidedly took on more color the day I snow-shoed up to the distinguished front door of Swanson Towers again.
I had decided to start by making a thorough study of the property and the surrounding blocks. There were so many things I wanted to know about Omaha’s first upscale, early 1960s luxury apartment building, now turned condominiums. The first mystery needing solved was why was it named Swanson Towers, plural, when it is a solitary building? That had always thrown me off. Did the different wings of the cross massing equate to Towers? Of course the day I chose for my hunt was freezing cold and bitterly windy. You can be assured the security of Swanson Towers found me a curious sight from their surveillance monitors as I tiptoed about like a Scooby-Doo character, discordantly outfitted like a wild and woolly 1823 frontiersman. The doorman was Johnny On the Spot within seconds of my peering through the glass entryway into the large foyer. He carried the stoicism befitting a doorman of the past. Although he admitted he had only been under Swanson’s employ for about 15 months, he meant business and I decided not to play my tricks on that day. However I could not contain my gush about the various fixtures and appointments—openly babbling about door handles, resident rosters and exterior stones. Mr. Doorman became slightly bored and I found he kept looking over my shoulders to a couple that had walked up at the same time as I. I believe now they might have been a timid cleaning crew or hesitant service people of some sort, but they definitely kept their distance of the suited doorman. He did let me know that the large interior mural (or was it wallpaper?) I had inquired about was “not original.” Luckily I had been within the glass portal in recent years for the Mid-Century Modern Neighborhood Tour, organized by the incredible Restoration Exchange Omaha in October 2012. Ultimately I regretted not wearing my Rita Hayworth wig and my grandmother’s heels.
What follows are my photos from that freezing cold stake-out. Regretfully, my snaps were not all that fabulous. I have supplemented with professional photos that I did not take, only to give us a better view. Please email me if you would like credit for these exterior photos.
The cross-shaped, seven-story, hard lined, poured-concrete building offered long stretches of horizontal, recessed balconies. I could see it was classic Mid-Century Modern.
Northeast-facing first floor featuring a juxtaposition of warm, natural exterior stone siding, hard lines of cold concrete above, great space-age lighting fixtures, edged by a cool, modern aluminum railing.
Terrazzo covered pillars at the north-facing front doors. A mixture of recessed and canister style MCM lighting. Crisp and cool.
I would learn that expansive common areas were very popular in Mid-Century Modern apartment and hotel design. Swanson Towers is no different. There is a graciousness, and to some, I recognize, a pretentiousness, in this palatial spread. The cold, hard lines are stunning. I Love It, personally. It makes me feel like a I can breathe and luxuriate and dream. I am not a fan of the overcrowding, silly clustering of seating and décor found in recent boutique-hotel interior design. The awe-inspiring openness of the Mid-Century lobby design did cause me to reflect back on my various Omaha apartments at the Ambassador, Green Lodge, Georgia Row House, Carberry and the Radcliffe, to name a few. The entryways were always quite shallow, without much fuss; it always seemed a pinch to have to get ones mail if another tenant was coming through the door. The real architectural touches were left for the interiors of the apartment itself. These older apartment buildings always bewitched me but the idea of communing with one’s neighbors in these large foyers and party rooms was interesting also—and innovative for its day.
The resident’s roster found in the entryway. Just Divine. It reminds me of something I might have seen at the McMann & Tate advertising office on the Bewitched show.
Seventh-floor penthouse views, facing the west.
Right up there with Butler’s Pantries, Servant’s Quarters, Back Stairs and Dumb Waiters, I hold in high esteem the Service Entrance. Which is the cue for the Swanson Towers Service Entrance. Isn’t the raised-font sign wondrous? It can be found on the eastern most side of the property, north facing. The actual entrance runs behind this stone wall. Perhaps if I had stayed a little longer, I might have detected if this entrance did indeed lead underground, as I suspected.
Entrance to the north facing underground, heated parking lot. More great Jetson’s lighting.
Eastern entrance to the underground parking area. Trust me, these were not my peel-out, get-way tire tracks.
Indoor-outdoor seamlessness was a MCM design must, hence the sprawling balcony views. The extensive landscaping, private garden areas, patio, MCM free-form resort style pool, (purportedly girded by rocks hauled from Mount St. Helens), walking paths and tennis court maximize the indoor-outdoor flow, lending to the leisure class lifestyle vibe. These grounds are found around three sides of the structure, particularly extending on the southern acreage. The Swanson Towers property rises slightly above street level of 84th (to its east), adding to the desirous, Just Out of View Impression.
You know my love of signs and font.
The pool (on a beautiful day) to the west.
What might be viewed, by construction date alone, as an aging, high-rise, Mid-Century apartment building had transitioned assuredly into high-end condos for the retired, posh set. How exactly did Swanson Towers continue to Keep Its Cool in Omaha—a city not known for respecting its older properties? Swanson Towers had smoothly ingratiated itself to the downsizing homeowners around town but particularly seemed to draw in the adjacent, affluent District 66 community, I had observed. And hadn’t my grandmother tipped me that this building preserved a kind of Jewish panache? I have always imagined this modernist structure offered strong bones and supreme views. Its prominent stature, cozied on the edge of one of Omaha’s toniest neighborhoods, must have helped. These were my assumptions but as you might have surmised, I needed to know more.
My Visit to the Deeds Office
My pursuit of the original farmland and history of owners tied to the 84th and West Dodge Road area was made all the more tangley when I found the Swanson Towers are now their own subdivision, aptly named, Swanson Towers Condominium Property– a replat of the larger Indian Hills Village neighborhood development, of which it had previously been encompassed. These frustrations happen all of the time when retracing back to the original land; one can either confront these perils with great wonder or cry cloudy thoughts consumed of the plat gods meddling into one’s detective path. I had hoped to learn who had owned this land previous to the Indian Hills Village development. I could see the mysterious Malvern Company Inc. established the various lots of Indian Hills Village in early January of 1958. As for the Swanson Towers building itself, the Book of Numerical Index Mortgages revealed an instrument dated January of 1978—an exchange between the Home Federal Savings and Loan Association and the Creative Land Investments Inc. This clue along with others indicated that the Swanson Towers Apartments had become the Swanson Towers Condominiums at that time.
Allow me set the stage a bit and gather our whereabouts before I get us stuck in the Sticky Wickets. 8405 Indian Hills Drive, the address of Swanson Towers, is about a block to the south of 84th and West Dodge Road.
2019 photo courtesy of Google Map.
Detail of the Swanson Towers property line. 2018 aerial photography taken from the Douglas County/Omaha NE GIS Department mapping site. Of particular interest—note the crisscross massing of the building and large southern grounds. Sometimes I wonder if anyone loves these maps and aerials as much as I? Just a Warning—this article will be very map heavy.
The Mysterious Lora Power
I suppose it is most coherent to lay out that between 84th to 90th Streets, on the south side of West Dodge Road to about Harney Street was, at one time, a large parcel of farmland. This was outside of the Omaha city limits and considered the countryside. If you wholly enjoy complication and would like to know more about the area, may I suggest reviewing my articles, Mysteries of Omaha: 9301 West Dodge Road and The Real Estate Secret Agent: 912 South 84th Street for explicit history of this neighborhood? I will assume the rest of us are up to speed and proceed with simple direction. (I am making fun of myself.) Through a 1920 and 1925 Douglas County Map, I would find the name “Lora Power” and “Lora Powers” written on the vague swath of land. The map, drawn up to document early landowners in the McArdle District, was offered by Perkins Map & Directory Co. Collection.
1925 Douglas County Map. This is a confusing detail of a much larger map. The Lora/Lara Power owned farmland is mapped out with borders approximately at 84th, Dodge and 90th Streets. The thick black horizontal line represents West Dodge Road, as we know it now. The two parallel lines signify 90th Street. The number 147 under her name denotes number of acres in the parcel. Leopold Doll owned the farm to the west, which we figured out in our previous investigation. Map borrowed from publisher: Perkins Map & Directory Co. Collection at Historic Map Works Rare Historic Maps Collection.
From there I began to question, did the handwriting read Lara, Lora, Cora, Loro, or Lord? Lord Power, now that sounded good. I could not track a Lara Power but there was evidence of a Laura Power, sometimes listed as Lora Powers, who lived her adult life with her younger sister, Alice Power/s. The two sisters took in other female boarders, according to the census. This Laura Power was born in 1890, living most of her life in Omaha. She was buried at Omaha’s Midtown Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. Now this may well be the very same gal but there was also a Miss Lora Powers, who was buying and selling Douglas County property in the early 1900s and attending All of the High Society Soirees in town with a Miss Bess Powers. This just might be our gal, if this single Miss inherited or purchased the large parcel between 84th and 90th on Dodge. I am really not trying to be difficult but let us not ignore yet another Laura Power, born in 1894, married to a William Power (discovered on a genealogy site). According to the local newspapers, there was a William Power in the Douglas-McArdle area who was in farming and had purchased additional rural land in the early 1900s. This land would have most likely gone into William’s wife’s name upon his death, explaining the listing on map. My money’s on the Single Society Sister. Of course, there was still a part of me that longed for existence of a Lord Power.
1920 McArdle-Douglas County Map. (Mislabeled year?) This map clearly reads Lora Powers and shows her property ran from 90th Street to the Beverly Hills Addition on the east. Acreage labeled at 150. Map borrowed from publisher: Perkins Map & Directory Co. Collection at Historic Map Works Rare Historic Maps Collection.
**Addendum of April 1, 2019** Local Super sleuth and My Omaha Obsession friend, Ron Hunter, just sent in this wonderful photographic clue. He wrote, “Could this be your Lora Power?” Miss Cassette simply does not know the answer to this query but any fan of Photographer Bostwick knows that he loved to snap pics of It Girls and Society Matrons in the park. We need more Power Tips, Omaha!
Mabel Swanson and Lora Power standing in front of Louis Bostwick’s 1925 Packard coupe. Miss Swanson is wearing a long cloth coat with a furry collar and Miss Power is a wearing a fox fur stole around her neck. Creator: Bostwick, Louis (1868-1943) and Frohardt, Homer (1885-1972). Publisher: The Durham Museum. May 1930.
The Otto Wittorf Break
I was half heartedly contented to establish some smoky, unresolved link between Lora Power/s and our next character, Mr. Yates. (You will meet him shortly if you are very patient with me.) Sometimes we weavers of tall tales and history must honestly air the unmapped portions of the storyline, reveal the holes in our sleuthing suspicions and hope the bread crumbs connect sometime in the future. For the life of me, I couldn’t find the connection until just the other day. I would thankfully catch that much needed break, which sent me back down the thatchy path. Charles C. George and J. Edward George, local real estate men known for development of the fabulous Fairacres Neighborhood, had a hand in this elusive history, I would learn. The George Brothers, not Lora Powers, owned this 150-acre lot from 1912 to 1930, after making an agreement with “an early settler in Douglas County.”
The story begins with one Otto Wittorff, (sometimes Wittorf), who was born in 1837 in Germany. I discovered through the 1900 Census that Wittorff immigrated to the States in 1868. His Omaha obituary showed he died in January of 1911, at the age of 73. From what I could piece together, Otto Wittorf/f would find his way to the outskirts of town and purchase the land at 84th to 90th along Dodge’s southside to approximately Harney and set about cultivating his farm back in 1882. For the record Otto Wittorf is unfortunately not the type of fellow mentioned in the historical annals of Omaha. Although regarded an early pioneer, Wittorf was like most hardworking Omahans who would never have their name across the entrance of a hospital wing. The 1900 Census also exposed Mr. Wittorf/f had been widowed by age 63, and apparently living alone while farming the 137 acres. The Wittorf/f Farm was known to be “just west of Rosenfeld peony gardens and alongside the paved country road of West Dodge.” This peony gardens marker would later be developed into Peony Park. For 30 years Wittorf/f was known to work the land. From an ancestry site, I would find the genealogy research of his relative, Cindy Pickard, who shared his full name was John Friedrich Otto Wittorf, shortened to “Otto” in the States. Apparently his first wife was Marie Giborne Vollmert Wittorf. By the 1910 Census, Mr. Wittorf was then 72 and remarried to 51-year old Elsebe Wuttorff (sic), also born in Germany.
December 1912. OWH. Is this all too much? I measure this, perhaps, overabundance of pointers to the Wittorf estate because I think it makes for an interesting tale of Westward Moving Omaha. Savvy real estate investors, the George Brothers Corporation would apparently approach farmer Wittorf three years before his death and draw up a contract for his land. “Consideration is given at $23,400” for the parcel in December of 1912, almost two years after death. His wife or heirs were not mentioned in any articles about the supposed agreement with Farmer Wittorf. Odd. At that time the George Brothers made clear they had intention to lease the newly acquired Wittorf farm for five years to a J. C. Jeppsen. I would easily discover the well-known farmer, Jens Jeppesen had arrived in Omaha from Denmark. He was married to an Anna “Annie” Marie Larsen. Jeppesen, if the same fellow, would soon equip the leased land into a “high-grade dairy” farm. It was thought “other development of the property” would take place after that five-year lease concluded. This dairy finding was in line with previous discoveries to the south in the Broadmoor and Green Acres Neighborhoods.
The Gwyer H. Yates Clue
My Swanson Towers investigation only really began to gain much-needed traction in 1938, after the discovery of landowner, Gwyer Yates through another McArdle-Douglas County map. Gwyer H. Yates. Isn’t that a great name?
1938 Douglas County Map. As one can see, Lora Power’s 147 acres had been whittled down to 132.66 by the time this map was drawn. Publisher: Perkins Map & Directory Co. Collection: Historic Map Works Rare Historic Maps Collection.
1938 DOGIS aerial. In this same year that the Perkins map was drawn, Douglas county began aerial photos of land. Aerial photography borrowed from the Douglas County/Omaha NE GIS Department mapping site. I spied at least three structures on this swath of land between 84th and Dodge. There may have been more.
March 1930 OWH. I was not altogether sure when Mr. Yates bought the parcel until I learned of the Wittorf-George contract, which ultimately broke loose another piece of the puzzle. March of 1930 found Yates, purchasing the 150 acre farm “as an investment” from the George Brothers. The large farm was thought to be one of the largest realty transfers in Douglas County. Yates prophesied the “logical expansion will be to the west.” The sale amount was not announced publicly and this fuzzy fact was highlighted. To put a finer point on their potential return, the George Brothers had “refused one thousand dollar an acre for it several years ago.” From this tip I wager Yates had spent a pretty penny.
Before we take one step further, let us stop and contemplate why I had found the name Lora Powers chronicled on two maps of this large farm in 1920 and 1925 when the George Brother investment owned the land? By my estimation the Brothers held the deed from 1912 to 1930. Did they lease out to Lora Powers after Mr. Jeppesen? Was I missing a piece of the puzzle? Hopefully the Powers family will come forward and lend a clue.
The Gwyer H. Yates Trail
Gwyer Hall Yates (1885-1963) started working at the age of 14 as a messenger boy for the Nebraska National Bank. I would pick up his footprints later as young man, having transitioned to cashier of the United States National Bank. Through the archives he rose to Vice-President, later President of the U. S. National. In full stride, Mr. Yates became Chairman of the Board.
Yates as an older gentleman. Photo borrowed from the OWH.
I was duly impressed but what piqued my true interest was Gwyer Hall Yates’ marriage to “the daughter of New Orleans’ Richest Woman” in 1923. Christine Ballard Michel’s mother was Mrs. John Dibert. Eve Christine Butterworth Dibert was the well-known, second wife of Dibert, foundry and lumber owner. Not only did she go on to run one of the largest foundries and machine shops in the United States, Mrs. Dibert is still spoken of as one of the most generous gifters of their fortune to New Orleans. Yates and his new bride soon after advanced to the glorious Blackstone Hotel located at 302 South 36th Street. Years later they resided in the Midtown classic, Carberry Apartments, at 503 North 40th St where yours truly previously lived. Once established in town, the Yates would settle in at Miss Cassette’s favorite, coined Miss Sleepy Eyes. 5202 Underwood was featured long ago in Delights of Omaha.
5202 Underwood. 1939 Photo borrowed from the OWH.
Gwyer Yates would truly earn my favor when he went before the Chamber of Commerce committee suggesting that those Omahans privileged with private gardens should use seeds from their perennials to scatter along outlying fences and roadways. “One of the easiest, least expensive and most effective ways to beautify a city,” he shared. “Petunias, daisies, poppies and hollyhocks will spring up anywhere if the seeds have half a chance.” Bravo! Mrs. Gwyer Yates would reign from the inner circle of Omaha Society from Miss Sleepy Eyes until July of 1939 when the couple surprisingly sold their English home to B. F. Knuth of the Miller-Knuth Company. At that time, this corner home on two lots was considered the “most photographed house” in all of Omaha. The Yates were moving to California.
I knew the name sounded familiar! This photo is but a portion of the Perkins Power Hack Saw made by the nationally known Miller-Knuth Manufacturing Company. This electric saw was considered a modern marvel in its day.
The Yates Rural Land
It is unknown exactly how much Omaha property the Yates-Ballard Michels had acquired (I found the Yateses buying up much land during their time in town) but they kept a conscientious hold of their 135 acres area bounded by Dodge, Harney, 84th and 90th Streets, that is for certain. Gwyer Yates would continue to lease out the pastoral land to farmers as he always had. In the years to follow, it was not hard to see that the high stepping Yateses were frequent visitors to Omaha. But what really caught my eye was a city shift in the early 1940s. Gwyer Yates returned to Omaha again when he was alerted to some rural zoning changes to his land “east of 90th Street, south of Dodge.”
1941 DOGIS Aerial. Photo borrowed from the Douglas County GIS mapping site.
You may remember this image from the Mysteries of Omaha: 9301 West Dodge Road story. Looking east on West Dodge Road from about 90th Street. There is a man standing in a deep gully off to the right. There is a billboard for the Rome Hotel on the left side of the road. Creator: Bostwick, Louis (1868-1943) and Frohardt, Homer (1885-1972). Publisher: The Durham Museum. Date: April of 1948.
Enter Henry Glissmann
I would discover Henry Glissmann’s name early on, when he was named in a legal squabble with the city and also Gwyer Yates. More on that later. Glissmann has often been misidentified as the owner of the land later developed into the Indian Hills Village neighborhood and more specifically, Swanson Towers. I believe the storyline is much more interesting than that.
Henry Glissman made for an interesting My Omaha Obsession character. If half of the lore was true, I would be satisfied. Glissmann would design, construct and operate four of Omaha’s public golf courses and earn himself the title of Omaha’s Public Course Magnate. Born in 1880, his family’s farm was fortuitously located at the site of the present day Happy Hollow Golf Course. In fact Glissmann claimed to have helped develop the Happy Hollow course layout as well as work on the Omaha Country Club design. Golfing appeared to be more than a passion for Mr. Glissmann. Always the innovator, Glissmann knew golf and he knew that men who lacked the country club connections would love the game also, if given a chance to play. He owned the popular Dundee Golf course, which I had heard of, but always (wrongly) assumed was the Elmwood Golf Course. The entrance to the Dundee course was at 56th and Chicago and I believe might have formerly been the original Happy Hollow Country Club. Glissmann’s Dundee course was later created into the Memorial Park we all know today.
February 14, 1932. OWH. Valley View and Dundee links. For further information, write or call Henry Glissmann.
By early 1939 Glissmann was planning the construction of new links “west of the city limits.” He had four sites under consideration, plotting a public 18-hole layout for that spring.
March 5, 1939. OWH. Glissmann had obviously picked Yates’ land as his new course, which he christened the Indian Hills Golf Course. I would track this name to an Indian Hills Country Club in Kansas City back in the 1930s, potentially where he lifted the name. I can’t be sure. He planned to plant 500 Evergreens to line the fairways and a lake in the center. He would later say that development of the Indian Hills course cost him 40 thousand dollars.
April 23, 1939. OWH. “The Indian Hills golf course is beginning to take shape. Here’s the first day of grading on the land at 85th and Dodge Streets. Most of the work is being done with a new machine which grades, hauls and dumps eight cubic yards to the load, which contrasts sharply with the two mule power plow at the right. Workers, left to right: Myron Erickson, Hans Glissmann, Lloyd Falconer and Henry Glissmann.” Probably my favorite photograph of the whole investigation.
The Indian Hills Golf Course
Henry Glissmann’s Indian Hills Golf Course opened July 14, 1940 with 80 playing. The Indian Hills clubhouse was completed in May of 1941, built at an astounding cost of 30 thousand dollars according to Mr. Glissmann (aired later during a legal battle.) That must have been quite a glorious publinks clubhouse. Of note the Indian Hills clubhouse sat where Swanson Towers is positioned today.
1955 DOGIS detail of what I believe is the Indian Hills clubhouse, with street markings as they are today. This is also site of the Swanson Towers. Photo borrowed from the Douglas County GIS mapping site.
The course itself was not said to be easy. For those who wanted to pay and play but didn’t have the privilege of country club membership, the 18-hole Indian Hills Golf Course was a relaxing, bucolic, panoramic course. On that note 88th and Indian Hills Drive was thought to be the highest point in Omaha, offering quite a view of the surrounding rural environ. Glissmann did plant his 500+ Evergreens, with big willow trees found in the bottoms.
1941 ad. OWH. 50 cents, folks.
Unfortunately during World War II, golf club officials had some resignations about the sport. Recreation was sorely needed for Americans on the home front but country club memberships were down and “the now and then play” of the publinks were losing interest. Glissmann would plan to keep only Harrison Heights and Indian Hills. Valley View would be closed permanently. Dundee was cut down to nine holes during WWII and Glissmann no longer had run of it.
July 20, 1942. OWH. Henry Glissman seen with his salvage pile items when he began collecting scrap metal and rubber for the war effort at his course. A contribution of at least five pounds of metal scrap or a pound of rubber was required for each round of golf or a session of tennis at municipal and privately operated public courses during this time. I never knew! Can you imagine the outcry today if people were asked to contribute in this manner?
The Yates-Glissmann Feud
As I mentioned in the Mysteries of Omaha: 9301 West Dodge Road investigation, Glissmann got into some hot water with the city when he erected a trailer camp at 87th and West Dodge Road, (some articles said the camp was at 90th and Dodge) adjacent to the golf course. The Trailer Camp Case was fought with an injunction under a zoning change. By spring of 1949, former Omahan Gwyer Yates filed a complaint in Federal Court seeking to regain possession of his land, site of the Indian Hills Golf Course and adjacent land. He charged that Glissmann violated his lease conditions by not furnishing a correct audit of his golf fees profits, paid a smaller amount of rental than the lease agreement, permitted use of Yates’ land for purposed prohibited by the lease and provision of rural zoning ordinance of the City of Omaha and permitted the use of signed prohibited in the lease. For Yates’ part, he stated the understanding was that the land not needed for the golf course was to be “used for farm land or pasture.” I came to understand that Glissmann had an additional twenty-year lease on Yates’ land. Attorney Ellick, a representative of Yates, negotiated the newest lease under the belief that Glissman intended to establish a nursery there. Apparently Yates was as surprised as anyone regarding the trailer court proposal.
Again there was issue in 1951 when Glissmann brought suit against Yates. Yates had apparently leased the land to Glissmann effective until January 1, 1968. Glissman was charging Yates was seeking to break the lease so Mr. Yates take over operation of the course. Meanwhile Henry Glissmann claimed to have retired from active golf course operator by 1947, when “the handsome, young man” known as Lee Glissmann had succeeded him. Henry’s son Lee had grown up on his father’s courses.
What was the truth in this?
The Big Sale
Surprisingly in 1952 Gwyer Hall Yates up and sold his 133.75 acres from 84th to 90th, to include Glissmann’s Indian Hills Golf course. Henry Glissmann, who had a lease with 16 years to run, planned to continue operation of his Indian Hills Golf Club. Sadly Omaha’s public golf magnate died a few years later in 1955. When the Indian Hills Course closed in 1957, all that remained of golf in Omaha were the private and municipal course. Gwyer Yates died in May of 1963 in California; subsequently his wife, Christine Ballard Michel, died in 1970.
January 10, 1952 OWH article. Mr. and Mrs. Gwyer Yates sold 133.75 acres from 84th to 90th Streets, along the south side of Dodge to the mysterious Malvern Company.
The Figure in the Doorway
By 1953 the Malvern Company began to drop hints at ambitious plans for development of the large tract that included the still functioning Indian Hills golf course. The Malvern group presented to the Omaha Planning Commission. Their design layed out 63 acres of residential sites, a church, a shopping center, 10 apartment buildings, a hotel, a school and a park. The men behind the curtain were none other than Omaha Famous Gilbert C. Swanson and W. Clarke Swanson. Anyone from that time period could possibly recite this family’s legacy by heart but I didn’t know of any of it. Pardon me, if this is old news to you hardened history detectives but I thought it might be a good idea to let everyone in on the (not so) secret Swanson story.
Gilbert Carl Swanson and Walter Clarke Swanson. These photos are from the Reconnaissance Level Survey for: Selected Mid-Century Modern Neighborhoods: Omaha Historic Building Survey 2010, prepared by Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture P.C.
The Swanson Dossier
Carl Anton Swanson immigrated to Omaha in 1899 (some say 1896) from Sweden and straightaway began working for a local man, John Peter Jerpe. Jerpe had built up a business buying eggs, milk and poultry from regional farmers, and then reselling the goods to hotels and neighborhood grocery stores. Swanson soon partnered with Jerpe in the Jerpe Commission Company, a large firm on 12th and Douglas. After Swanson became sole owner and changed the company name, the C. A. Swanson & Sons (we know it as Swanson Foods) would take over as the local wholesale dealers in butter, eggs, poultry and processors of dairy products.
The Senior Swanson of C.A. Swanson Company is standing at his desk putting Swanson’s canned butter and Swanson’s canned boned chicken into a carrier. Creator: Savage, John (1903-1989). Publisher: The Durham Museum. 1947. You have probably already figured that I am most interested in those 1940s blinds with the cloth tape ribboning the fronts and you would be correct. In fact that looks like a fine detective’s office by my estimation.
Carl A. Swanson married Caroline Gerock and they had three children: Gilbert Carl Swanson 1906-1965, Walter Clarke Swanson 1908-1961 and Gretchen Swanson Velde 1923-2003. The boys came into the wholesale fold in the 1920s and along with their father, they would quickly fashion C. A. Swanson & Sons into one of the most respected names in the American food processing industry. Modern use of quick-freezing methods, automated chicken plucking and gutting as well as introduction of powdered eggs helped elevate Swanson to national esteem. Carl Swanson died in 1949, whereupon Gilbert took the reins as president.
By the time of the Malvern Company land purchase, the Omaha City Directory of 1953 revealed that eldest son, Gilbert C. Swanson and his wife, Roberta Epperson Fulbright Swanson lived at 412 North Elmwood Road. Interestingly Roberta was sister to Senator James William Fulbright, the longest serving chairman in the history of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But where were we? This gated, enshrouded home remains one of the most prestigious homes in Fairacres, although it has undergone many additions over its years. The Gilbert Swanson family owned this home until the early 1970s.
412 North Elmwood Road. The lovely English Country Tudor has swollen to new proportions over the years and now hosts another Omaha Famous clan. Gilbert C. Swanson was listed as President of the C. A. Swanson & Sons Company by that time. The family business, meanwhile, was located at 1202 Douglas. This address and building are now gone. It was originally the Jerpe Commission Company, the C. A. Swanson & Sons and later the Campbell’s Soup Company when I was young. File that business name away. This building and address has since been replaced by the Holland Performing Arts Center.
The City Directory of 1953 showed W. Clarke Swanson, known as Clarke, was Vice-President-Treasurer of the Swanson Company. Clarke and wife, Florence, resided at 5209 Burt Street with their three children. A proper brick Colonial in Dundee, this photo is borrowed from the Douglas County Assessors site.
1953 was a big year for the Swanson brothers as it was also the year they developed and found success with the packaged Swanson’s TV dinner. Originally a traditional Thanksgiving meal dinner meal served in a tray covered with aluminum foil. Previously the brothers had unveiled the Swanson Chicken Pot Pie—which I can still see in my grandparent’s freezer. I think it had a light blue box? Upon the company’s merger with Campbell Soup Company in 1955, Gilbert would become vice president of famous soup brand. Brother Clarke served as director of Campbell’s and was president of another Swanson merger–the Butternut Coffee Company.
A review of the W. Dale Clark Library reference desk clippings file, found establishment of at least four foundations in the family’s name, upon the deaths of Gilbert and Clarke. One of the groups, the Swanson Foundation, was headed by Gilbert Swanson’s oldest child, Gilbert Jr. or “Gibby,” as he was called. Gibby, apparently had moved to Aspen, Colorado and all but disappeared in the 1980s after a stint as a polygraph operator, among other things. But by 1993 the Swanson Foundation came under scrutiny when accused of having donated $55,000 to Empire Colorado police force to include the purchase of three submachine guns. It was all so exciting. Barely skimming the articles, I resolved the Swanson Tv dinner heirs would need volumes dedicated to their respectable legacy as well as their colorful endeavors. Did you know that Fox News’ Tucker Carlson’s stepmother, Patricia Caroline Swanson, was Gilbert Swanson’s eldest daughter? No, I didn’t either. And then, my dear detective friends…I desisted. Let us agree we will leave this all for another time.
The Indian Hills Village
What I found most interesting about the Malvern Company purchase of the Yates farmland was that the Swanson brothers had originally planned construction of an office building for the C. A. Swanson & Sons. When the food processing firm was merged into Campbell Soup Company, the Malvern group was relieved of the responsibility of providing for the large company site. Can you imagine the look of West Dodge Road if their initial plan had gone through? The land was essentially freed up to become the Indian Hills Village we know today. Additionally the brothers made plain they did not intend to become developers moving forward. The Leo A. Daly Company was given the power of planning “a beautiful area for Omaha.”
September of 1957 brought the plan to fruition. The Swanson’s Malvern Company announced approval of Indian Hills Village plat, southwest of 84th Street and West Dodge Road but it wasn’t until the Spring of 1959 that the group began emphasizing the exclusive, architecturally designed neighborhood portion of the design.
1957 map. From golf course to planned business and residential areas. Plans were drawn for 26 acres along Dodge Street—called “the business campus.” There were 9 1/2 acres of “apartment campus” south of Indian Hills Drive. The rest of the large plat was set aside for 107 residences, a grade school and new Lutheran church. Note the placement of Swanson Towers, “luxury apartments” in the early planning stages.
1955 DOGIS aerial of the parcel two years before the above map was drawn. Photo borrowed from the Douglas County GIS mapping site.
The first building completed in the Indian Hills Village plan was Guarantee Mutual in 1958. In November of 1956 a building permit was issued for the $1,600,000 Guarantee Mutual Life Company Headquarters at 8721 Indian Hills Drive. The Leo A. Daly Building at 8600 (sometimes labeled 8636) Indian Hills Drive was completed in 1959, joining the Swanson Building at 8401 Dodge. The Daly designed Carl A. Swanson Elementary School (1959), was a one-story, brick structure located on the southern edge of this residential area. I drove by this school just today and it looks to be is in the middle of a huge new construction project by Alley Poyner Macchietto Architects.
Swanson Towers on the Table
W. Clarke Swanson was determined to construct a projected 26-unit luxury apartment building, what we would come to known as the Swanson Towers. This was his baby. As of 1957 he had hopes to create a twin apartment building, explaining the plural usage of Swanson Towers. After getting the luxury complex under way, the Swansons hoped to build other, smaller apartment buildings in the Indian Hills Village development for families and working singles—validating my childhood suspicion that the Towers were not built for families.
1957. OWH. Early Swanson Towers design. I am not sure who was heading up the project at that time.
The Indian Hills Apartments at 87th and Indian Hills Drive began renting in spring of 1962. It is interesting to note that the Indian Hills Apartments, specifically constructed for middle class families and smaller income singles were built first, rented quickly and are still very popular to this day. What had happened to the Swanson Towers and why did it take so long to get the project off of the ground? A scouring of the 1962 City Directory brought the 84th and Dodge Street corner and a bit west into view. Connecticut General Life Insurance, Dearborn Chemical Company, Butter Nut Foods, Continental Can Company, Trailmobile Inc, McKenna Company Insurance and my favorite—B&G Drive-In all had businesses along this strip.
Engrossing 1962 aerial from the Indian Hills Village “business campus” annals. Indian Hills business park includes 1) Indian Hills Inn, 2.) Cinerama Theatre (Let’s hear it for the Indian Hills Theater!) 3.) the Leo A. Daly Building 4.) Guarantee Mutual building.
A Detail and A Death
I was possibly most excited to learn of the design team for Swanson Towers. Many years later it was the Omaha World Herald announcement of September 1962 that gave me the clues I needed. “New apartment complex being planned–projected 72 units. Architect is Stanley J. How Associates. The designer is Howard Lapham, Palm Springs, CA. The luxury apartment is being erected at Eighty-fifth Street and Indian Hills Drive by members of the family of the late W. Clarke Swanson.” What? Clarke Swanson didn’t even get to see his passion project get started? As it turns out, Walter Clarke Swanson died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1961 at age 52 following a heart attack on the sixth green of the Thunderbird Country Club in Palm Springs. Swanson was part of a golf foursome that included former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He tragically left behind his wife, Florence, a daughter and two sons.
October 25, 1962. OWH Gilbert Swanson and Peter Kiewit overturn first soil of the Swanson Towers. Unfortunately W. Clarke Swanson, the man behind the plan, had already passed away.
Swanson Towers was projected to offer eight two-bedroom (at 2,288 sq ft) and four one bedroom units (estimated at 1,092 sq ft) on each of its six residential floors with units arranged to be combined into larger three and four bedroom apartments dependent on tenants’ needs. WHAT. Genius. An underground, heated parking garage with ground level parking for guests. A main-floor lounge, (later coined the “Sansui Room” according to realtor Marty Cohen) with capacity for 250 persons would be available for parties. The lounge would overlook a free-form outdoor swimming pool. The apartment building was said to be managed by the Byron Reed Company. General contract was awarded to Peter Kiewit Sons Company. The building was designed by Howard Lapham Association of Palm Springs CA. Stanley J. How & Associates was the architect. Swanson Towers was slated for completion on November 1 of 1963. Finally she was coming into view.
The Architect Dossier
I would reach out to Marty Vestecka Miller of the Nebraska State Historical Society, to try to track down historical photos of the Swanson Towers or any information on Stanley J. How but alas…after checking the state’s photo collections, she did not have the material I needed.
The Nebraska State Historical Society did offer some good information about Stanley J. How & Associates, Architects, and once crosschecked, appeared to be accurate. I reached out to the Stanley J. How firm to ask for additional confirmation, any desirous photos or renderings but they did not return my inquiry. Maybe we will hear back at some point. Here is what I found: Stanley John How, Jr. was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1928. How was the Chief Designer with the Leo A. Daly Company, Architects, until 1959 and I would guess knew the Swansons and had most likely worked on the large Indian Hills Village project. He initiated his own firm in that year, apparently practicing alone for two years, until establishing Stanley J. How & Associates in 1961. How ran a very successful architecture firm and won numerous honors throughout his long career. St. Cecilia Cathedral Rectory at 701 North 40th Street, the Diplomat Hotel at 1511 Farnam Street, Westroads Shopping Center at 10000 California Street and the old Witherspoon Residence (RIP) at 9909 Fieldcrest Drive are but a few of Secret Agent Cassette’s favorites. Stanley John How, Jr. died in 2011, but happily the firm continues on under the direction of his son, Stanley John How, III. Check out their impressive projects at http://stanhowarchitects.com/
How’s rendering of the Swanson Towers is from the Reconnaissance Level Survey for: Selected Mid-Century Modern Neighborhoods: Omaha Historic Building Survey 2010, prepared by Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture P.C. I love it. This image was used in the first advertisement for the Towers after completion.
The Detective’s Path to How
The Omaha City Directory of 1953 indicated Stanley J. How and wife, Hazel, living at 4863 Decatur. The senior How was assistant to the Vice-President of the Union Pacific Railroad. His son, our architectural focus, Stanley Jr. and wife, Angela, resided in a Dundee apartment at 4728 Chicago. Apartment 11, to be exact. These apartments are still renting strong. Go have a gander. At that juncture, the younger How was then a designer at the Leo A. Daly Company.
Stanley J. How, Jr. professional photograph. This photo is from the Reconnaissance Level Survey for: Selected Mid-Century Modern Neighborhoods: Omaha Historic Building Survey 2010, prepared by Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture P.C.
By the time Stanley J. How Jr branched off to forge the Stanley J. How & Associates Inc., he chose 8401 West Dodge Road as his firm’s locale, a setting nestled directly in the Indian Hills Village business district. In fact this is the address of the Swanson Building. His wife, Angela, then served as Vice-President with John P. Ford as treasurer of How & Associates. Just days ago I unearthed the How’s residence, also within the Indian Hills Village neighborhood at 8743 Harney. It was not surprising to learn this fabulous home was one of How’s own designs. Amazing.
You simply must tiptoe by but keep it moving. We don’t want to be accused of gawking at perfection.
8743 Harney. Photo borrowed from the Douglas County Assessor’s site.
The Howard Lapham Connection
I puzzled over the Howard Lapham association, as he was the alleged designer of Swanson Towers. How curious that Laphram was reputedly from Palm Springs. Early on I shrugged it off, focusing instead on the local Stanley J. How. But the fact that Lapham was credited with designing Swanson Towers was a small thorn I couldn’t ignore. It soon became a late night prickle patch. I decided to do a general search into Lapham in the light of day and was able to find a brilliant clue just sitting there minding its own business. Howard Lapham (May 11, 1914–April 16, 2008) was a well-known modernist architect, primarily working in the Southern California region. He is rumored to have transported to the Coachella Valley area in 1954, at age 40. Lapham was known for his MCM residences designed for the wealthy and Hollywood elite, most notably in the Thunderbird Country Club area. These home nestled along the golf club’s fairways and within the foothills became known as Thunderbird Heights. And guess who had superstar abodes in this posh area? Just guess… Lapham had designed the “Clarke Swanson Residence” at the Thunderbird Country Club neighborhood in 1961 as well as the “Peter Kiewit Residence” at the Thunderbird in 1960. Call to mind Clarke Swanson died on the Thunderbird golf course. I was smacked loudly in the gob. As it turns out, these prominent Omahans had homes in Rancho Mirage in California’s Coachella Valley. Just take a look at this: http://www.palmspringsca.gov/home/showdocument?id=51773
Designer Vs. Architect
The Lapham Connection to the Swanson Towers seemed lost over time and that was strange to me, as he was a big name. I would consult with an architect friend, who we shall call Private Investigator Fancy Shoes, to try to understand what role Lapham played as opposed to How. P. I. Fancy Shoes brought to light many intricacies about the potential Lapham-How agreement, which of course we cannot really know the specifics of unless we hear from one of the parties involved. Fancy Shoes educated that sometimes a designer and architect who seals the drawings are one in the same and sometimes not. “The person who seals the drawings is required to be an architect. The designer does not have to be, but designers usually have education and training in the field if they are working professionally.” (In this case, we know that Lapham was also an architect.) She further elucidated it is not unusual for firms to collaborate. This collaboration is “especially common if the designer isn’t local, as they may not be registered locally or have a good understanding of local codes. Other reasons this may happen is if the designer lacks experience in the building type or lacks staff capacity to perform the detailed work of putting the permit set together.” I gathered that a designer’s name could become lost over time if their seal isn’t on the documents; I believe this is the case with Howard Lapham and the Swanson Towers lore.
The Apartment Landscape in 1962 Omaha
Whether inspired or goaded, I seemed lured by all matters concerning the upbuild of 1962 Omaha, particularly apartment dwellings. This propelled obsession clearly took me off of the Swanson Towers Trail but I convinced myself the excavation was for cultural and architectural context. From it, other strange clues were unfolded. In October of 1962, the Omaha building permits for apartment construction hit an All Time High when the $1,500,000 permit for the 72-unit Swanson Towers was filed. Oddly 1962 was considered the Year of Apartments in Omaha. The largest apartment project was the 21-story Masonic Manor, now called the Elmwood Tower, at 52nd and Leavenworth. Originally slated for 320 units for senior citizens, most of them Masons, the building was estimated at a $5,200,000 cost. Also scheduled was the 15-story, luxury building of 54 units at 37th and Jackson streets. I believe the article must be referencing to my beloved 3702 Jackson Street, although they obviously did not go with the 15-story plan. This is yet another building I would tour in the late 1990s when apartment hunting and of course dreamt of living, surrounded by older folks. The Swanson Towers, under construction, were touted as top of the line luxury—a two million dollar structure. One of the largest projects from 1962 was that of remodeling the former Sears Roebuck building at 3002 Farnam into the nine-story Twin Towers, forecast to house 129 apartments. This Julius Novak enterprise would unfortunately come under a cloud of darkness many decades later as host site to the Franklin Credit Union Scandal parties. Sadly we teens of the Old Market Punk Scene knew of few kids attending these adult gatherings, although we had no idea of the depths of the abuse. To memory, in our adolescent ignorance, we viewed those stylish teens being invited to adult parties as the ultimate sign of flamboyance. I, too, might have bought into the Omaha World Herald’s reporting of the “Franklin hoax” in the 90s, had I not known of these Twin Towers parties from years earlier.
Fantastic MCM Twin Towers sign after the Sears Roebuck remodeling.
I scurried further into the archives in an attempt to understand the swell of apartment buildings in 1962-1963. City Planning Director, Alden Aust, named three major causes:
-The influx of young people moving into Omaha for jobs. “They are apartment dwellers.”
-Older couples where the children have moved out and larger houses are no longer needed.
-Frequent transfers by industry. A number of young executives were being transferred in and out of town and the rental properties suited this transient lifestyle. Thought to be a new trend. Following World War II men could buy a house and sell it after tow or three years, apparently at a profit. The deduction of sale cost and fees and the cost of buying in another city, made buying cost prohibitive. He also thought that Omaha lagged in apartment construction leading up to the big build of 1962.
As for 2019, I’ve come to believe we are in the beginning stages of the apartment dwelling upswing again.
This building obsession really can make or mar a friendship. I am lucky to hear the inside scoop from many sleuths, a hidden virtue. My Omaha Obsession Friend, Mark Eckstrom dished on a fabulous clue, tipping me off to a great part of the Swanson Towers story I knew nothing about. “Here’s a good Swanson Towers scoop: Mr. and Mrs. B—- live at 8700 Douglas Street—their house was the ‘model unit’ to sell the apartments at Swanson Towers. Their house was always a favorite of mine since I was young—as we were living in the midst of ‘Mid-Century Modern’. I would reach out to Ms. B—- to discuss this Very Important Matter but unfortunately she did not return my email…just yet. Was Mark’s curious tale almost better than the whole apartment building itself? I loved it but was it true?
I soon found a 1962 article about the model apartment that lent credence to Mark’s scrumptious tale.
OWH December 1962. Model house and designer’s sketch of living room interior.
“Sample Luxury Apartment.” The prospective tenants could get an early look, even though excavation of the Swanson Towers had only just begun. A model home was built at the site. “It duplicates facilities to be in a typical apartment.” The “model apartment” house will contain more than two thousand square feet of living space, offering a front double-door, a living room with an enclosed bar with a sink. Master bedrooms and living rooms will open on balconies. Most interesting–the model home “was to be sold upon completion of the Swanson Towers.”
I would reach out to Ms. B—- to discuss this Very Important Matter but she did not return my email…just yet. Another My Omaha Obsession friend and local realtor, Marty Cohen corroborated that the B—–’s Home is indeed, the Swanson Towers Model Apartment. Isn’t that fun? Marty verified that the model was built on site of the Towers. According to him the family who owned Zoob’s and the Daisy (remember those great stores on 72nd Street by the original Hitchin’ Post and Wooden Nickel?) moved the house to its current location at 8700 Douglas. The home was turned around, making the balcony feature of the model, the front door. Cohen also believed there have been additions to the home since its Modeling Days.
8700 Douglas Street. You must race over there and take in this cool part of Omaha history. Such a great home. It is a vice.
While hopeful residents toured the model apartment, the Swanson Towers was being built slowly but surely.
In February of 1963 the first Swanson Towers Logo was introduced. Swanson Towers was aimed primarily at executives and couples with grown children and one can see from the crisp, pinstripe-eluding illustration that ladies’ city gloves were required. I find this logo interesting for the use of what I perceive as the classic laurel wreath. Now realize, Father of Miss Cassette was a 60s-70s adman and I was raised to observe that every usage of even the simplest of images carries meaning but sometimes can be an understated clue. In this case Swanson Towers was overtly proclaiming itself a crowning success. It was all business. Yet there was an indistinct whimsy, as if Wes Anderson had sketched the mockup. It was preppy yachting. It was the horse races. It was cocktails. It was a leisurely game of tennis. Omaha had itself a Winner. It might also have nodded to “Time to rest on one’s laurels.” Ooooh and that font…That was all Ladies Who Lunch. Fun to think about. I wish I knew which advertising company developed the campaign.
March 24, 1963. OWH. Anticipation mounts with construction of Swanson Towers.
OWH Jan 9, 1964 advertisement photo
*aka Lucky Ducks
By all accounts Swanson Towers opened sometime in the fall of 1963. In November of 1963 Patricia Gail Farrey and Richard Walter Johnson were to wed in Miami Beach Florida and take residency at Swanson Towers after their honeymoon in Puerto Rico. This was the first family I found to speak of their big move to the Swanson Towers. Can you imagine being able to move into the Swanson Towers as newlyweds? What a start. Lawrence and Ruth Davis were also early tenants. Their visiting daughter, Ann Davies, who changed the spelling of her name, was an actress. Here is a brief (long) list of the first tenants to call Swanson Towers home.
Allen and Gladys T. Scott
Mrs. Mary Pape
Mrs. Helen P. Martland
Abe A. Greenberg
William A. Levey
Reverend Walter Traub
Irvin B. Ziegman
Mrs. Laura Johnson
Mrs. Madeline Daly
W. Dale Clark
M. J. Warren
Mrs. Isabel Caldwell
Mrs. Celia Cassman
Leslie Kizer and many, many more. I had to pry myself away from the phone book—I was having a blast.
Almost right off the bat, I would find many, many deaths at the Swanson Towers apartments. Many tenants who passed away in the first decade appeared to be in their 80s. Realistically I supposed that was perhaps an inevitability of accommodations oriented toward older citizens. In discussion with Marty Cohen, he shed further light on this phenomenon. Early on the Swanson Towers offered 24-hour concierge service to its residents. Hence the luxury in luxury high-rise. This round the clock feature, which remains to this day, continues to positively support seniors and allow older citizen to own and remain in their homes later into life. It sounded pretty fabulous.
I would work to compile a formulation of the original apartment interiors at the Swanson Towers. Marty Cohen conjectured, “I doubt that there are any original apartments left” but assured me that the original apartments were so well designed, that even the renovations maintain their classic MCM appeal.Unfortunately it sounds as though most units have been refashioned over the decades, although the incredible current interior images, forthcoming, reveal very tasteful updates. If you happen to live in the Swanson Towers and have evidence of authentic interiors, please, please, please let us hear from you. But back in 1963 the design was All Mid-Century Modern Glory. Some of the Towers bathrooms had beige tile floor, lemon yellow walls, with white fixtures. Some kitchens displayed green mosaic floors, pale green countertops and light green walls. “Larger apartments also offered a den with a tan carpet and brown burlapped walls.” Oooh Miss Cassette loves burlapped 1960s walls. The Hyman Ferer’s family interior designer, Miss Jessica Wilson, “recommended a Wedgwood blue carpet for living and dining room with ivory walls dotted in blue. The dining room walls were ivory paper with a scenic pattern of Roman ruins in blue. The master bedroom had a fuchsia carpet with matching flowered wallpaper.”
Mrs. Edwin Hafer in Swanson Towers apartment living room.
Richard Walker’s library-hi-fi set fits in the cabinet.
Hospitality corner: screen conceals door to balcony. “In a corner is a hospitality area with a small sink, a white countertop, birch cabinets and green burlap behind wall shelves.
The Richard Walker apartment, also decorated by Wilson, has a grayed linen white carpet and ivory wallpaper in the living room. The library in the same colors has a long arrangement of sectional cabinets and bookshelves, with space for their hi-fi equipment. Their master bedroom repeats the carpet but has a black and white wallpaper printed in classical scenes. David Sadler’s article gave more intriguing details. He explained Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Hafer had recently moved from a three-bedroom house into a one-bedroom apartment at the Swanson Towers. There was no more snow shoveling. The garage in the basement. An elevator. There was a party room. For overnight guests, a furnished apartment could be rented. There was a washer and dryer on each floor. Thoughtful, scaled furnishings with storage cabinets were emphasized. The couple’s interior designer, R. O. Johnston, “chose bright blue, green and lemon yellow upholstered pieces to contrast with the off-white walls and carpet and beige draw curtains. A green, blue and yellow screen conceals a swinging door to the outdoor balcony.
And the crème de la crème: “Hyman Ferer apartment has a den…walls in brown burlap.”
By 1966 Mrs. Cele Cassman has lived in Swanson Towers for 2 1/2 years—an early tenant of the luxury apartment building. The widow used to live in a three-bedroom home in Illinois. At the Swanson Towers Cassman enjoyed a sun deck off of the living room and bedroom. A Swimming pool. Mrs. Elsie Fogel, a My Omaha Obsession favorite, decorated Cassman’s apartment and was featured in the The Fabulous Fireside Connection. The interior designer decorated while Cassman was in Florida, able to make the instinctive choices, because the “designer knows her and her tastes well.”
“There is a soft look to the apartment. The decorator abandoned most of the rainbow colors to concentrate on three hues: blue, silver and mauve. A mural picks up much of the color theme behind a large blue and silver sofa in the living room. There’s another mural on a foyer wall. Double doors leading into the foyer have moldings rubbed with silver and blue.”
OWH Jan 1966: five bed, five bath with maid’s quarters and 2 garages??? This must have been one of the apartments that combined different layouts to create a massive suite of rooms. Glory Be. A few years after completion, Swanson Towers was included in a Garden Walk tour of special Omaha gardens. The topiary terraces of Mr. and Mrs. W. Dale Clark and Rev Dr. Walter Traub and Mrs. Traub could be visited. But I think we know what Omahans were really hoping to see when they gained permission to enter the Swanson Towers.
Black and White
I had intentions of creating a whole map of the Indian Hills Village and neighboring buildings but the tranquility of this agreeable three AM wandering became sullied by worry of my potentially bored audience. I have decided not to upload all of these photos and their architectural histories or everyone’s computers will surely crash. Perhaps a Part Two is in order at a later date. Anyhoo I stumbled across the most astonishing thing. The thing I had been looking for from the start. Finally a historic photo of the Swanson Towers!
Schimmel’s Indian Hills Inn, a once well known Omaha motel stood at 8501 West Dodge Road. The building became the Continuing Education Center for Methodist Hospital. Creator: Savage, John (1903-1989). Publisher: The Durham Museum. 1966. The marquee reads “Dolores at the piano and organ. Kavalier Lounge.” Love it. The Indian Hills Inn was to be Omaha’s Luxurious Motor Hotel. Also designed by Stanley J. How Architects, the Inn sported a modern, post and beam U-shaped, flat roofed building offering 200 rooms. Operated by Schimmel Hotels, of Blackstone Hotel fame, the MCM delight also played host to the wonderful Kavalier Cocktail Lounge. I can only imagine the antics once inside. If the walls could talk. I can’t help but notice how narrow West Dodge Road was in 1966.
And there she is. The Swanson Towers in the mist. Savage, John (1903-1989). Publisher: The Durham Museum. Date: March 1966 detail.
Changes on the Horizon
In the summer of 1976, Maenner Company was appointed managing and leasing agent for the Swanson Towers Apartments and subsequently by the fall of 1977, the Swanson Towers apartment complex was sold for a cool $ 2.1 million. Gray Pearson, (superb name, I hope it’s not a misspelling of Gary), was vice president of Creative Land Investments, Inc., which purchased the property. The W. Clarke Swanson Family Partnership sold the property. Pearson said intention was to convert the MCM apartment building to “prestigious condominium units” and that about $250,000 would be spent on improvements. The purchase was financed by Home Federal Savings and Loan of Sioux City. Creative Land Investments was apparently a sister company of Creative land Consultants, developer of the Harvey Oaks, Crescent Oaks and Fountain Hills subdivisions in Omaha. In the fall of 1978 the advertisements for the condominiums began to roll out.
OWH October 25, 1977
The 1977 Swanson Towers marketing campaign. Not quite the same flourish or bravado of yesteryear. Who has ever heard of elegance with a lower case “e”? The building is seen having been nonchalantly reduced to a vague sketch of part of the structure. Low-key. I would be remiss in saying my father’s portfolio isn’t filled with the exact same kinds of work from the 1970s. I think it speaks to America’s discomfort with class differences and the perception of hoity-toit-ism. But the casual illustration is quite incongruent when you read the fine print: “There are presently two apartments available in Omaha’s luxury high rise apartment complex. Swanson Tower is an adult community designed to satisfy those with discerning taste. These elegant apartments are located at a prestigious address. 8405 Indian Hills Drive and are truly the epitome of luxury living.”
The Swanson Towers of the 1980s
By March of 1980 the Creative Consultants team had sold about half of the double unit condos. The Swanson Towers was 100 percent occupied in 1981. Phil Patterson, long time resident and president of the Swanson Towers Association, said the view wasn’t really the thing that drove people to Swanson Towers. “The frosting on the cake” was the luxury. “It’s a top of the line facility.” In 1981, a lower floor, one bedroom apartment, according to Patterson, went for $100,000. A larger, top floor unit went for around $250,000. Adjusted for inflation, $250K in 1981 is equal to approximately $728,000 in 2019—a nice little chunk.
According to one My Omaha Obsession friend, whom we shall name Miss. M., she used to be married to a Coca-Cola deliveryman who had the Swanson Towers on his weekly route in the early 1980s. But here’s the thing: her husband wasn’t restocking a Coke machine in a Swanson Towers public area, he was delivering to a very wealthy man’s private residence. The gentleman had earned his money in ways that could make for a very lively story of it own but I will not venture down that colorful path today. Within his condominium this mysterious client had his very own Coke vending machine, which needed stocking every week. Can you imagine?
1980s Coke vending machine.
Detective G., another My Omaha Obsession friend had interactions with the Swanson Towers. I was very interested to learn of his memories from the 1980s. “I worked for a District 66 business. A lot of the clientele were wealthy or the movers and shakers of Omaha at the time. On occasion I would make deliveries to Swanson Towers. I can only describe going there as kind of a strange experience and no matter how often I went there, it always felt the same. These were just my impressions as a 20-year old kid and it might have been quite festive a place, but it just always felt institutional to me every time I was there. You would be immediately accosted by an aggressive doorman whose job was to keep anyone out of the building who wasn’t a resident or had a good reason to be there. Once you got past him, you would be in the lobby. There was never any activity in the lobby any time I was there and it had a kind of a cold, lifeless feel about it (kind of like a hospital lobby). The doorman always just left me alone to travel up the elevator once he knew I had a reason to be there. I only knew two of the residents (both extremely nice older women probably in their 70’s). The units I was in had what looked like the original look (what was probably modern and trendy in the early 1960s, but was kind of a dated look by the mid 1980’s). They were in extremely clean and well preserved state. I never really saw the residents out and about, it was just extremely quiet with no activity.”
The Doorman. A 1986 movie still.
I have to say Detective G.’s tale surprised me greatly, as I had long envisioned my move to Swanson Towers. I dreamed of being surrounded by people in their later 70s, 80s and 90s, some of whom might greet me when I entered the lobby. I had hoped it might be a place where I would hear extra loud televisions and ringing landlines from the hallway as I fumbled for my suite keys. In my musings I would be invited over to someone’s condo for lemon iced tea and a long history lesson. It seemed like I wouldn’t have to share the pool all that often or the exercise room or even get dressed on Sundays, if I was so possessed. And I am often possessed to luxuriate on an imagined balcony.
The Union Pacific Railroad made the news in 1986 when they bought a top floor apartment at the Swanson Towers for their new 54-year-old chairman and chief executive officer, Drew Lewis. The penthouse, which cost $250,000, was bought for Drew Lewis, newcomer to town, who was said to succeed John C. Kenefick as head of the railroad company. The UP stated, Lewis, former secretary of transportation in the Reagan administration, would be paying the company back. Ahhh…the Eighties.
The Marty Cohen Interviews
Allow me to share more thoughts on the Swanson Towers from someone who knows the place quite well. Marty Cohen, whose insights have been sprinkled throughout this long article, let on even more clues. These statements are from a combination of email and telephone interviews. “Swanson Tower is a very special place to me personally and professionally. Our family has been lucky enough to sell 25+ units there since the building, ‘went condo’ in the late 1970s.” It sounds like every day there is a rousing gathering of Mahjong players in the Sansui Room. He was able to describe a sort of private Asian garden on the east side of the building, I had spied all these years while passing on 84th. “That is a Japanese garden, a shared courtyard between three condo units. They are considered common grounds but these units open up onto the courtyard.”
The Sansui Room with view of the pool right outside. Site of Mahjong rounds and a popcorn machine.
When asked about the potential cultural tie between the Omaha Jewish community and the Swanson Towers, Cohen did see the building as part of a longstanding, local Jewish tradition. He thought it was based more in friends and family cliques and word of mouth, than a love of MCM or anything else. Of course by the sounds of it, the Swanson Towers service offered is beyond compare in this city and enough to draw anyone in like a magnet. He explained that luxury comes at a price. The two bedroom units carry an association fee between $1250 and 1300 a month. This includes concierge services and utilities. The staff will meet residents at their vehicle with a cart in the heated garage. They will water residents’ plants when away, handling mail and newspapers. “All deliveries go through the 24-hour concierge. No workers or deliveries are allowed outside of a strict 8-5 schedule. That does not include 5:05pm. Each floor has letter slots.” According to Cohen, Architect Stanley How would live in the Swanson Towers at the end of his life. I do hope that was by design.
The Current Dossier
Are you still with us? I do hope so, as this is the moment I know I have been waiting for. I offer up these incredible, current images of the Swanson Towers interiors. All of these photographs were taken in recent years, when various units were sold. I did not take these images and if a realtor/owner/photographer needs credit, please email me. Don’t blame me if you cannot get enough air. Take your time and savor. I know the images of the double doors at the end of the entrance hallways make me Dizzy with Desire.
If I was lucky enough to ever reach a certain income bracket, I know just what I would do. First I would squeeze myself and cry. Then as a discerning, tasteful spy, I would take up residence in the elegant, well appointed, Swanson Towers. Once enveloped behind my glorious MCM double doors, I would slyly slink down that long, vestibule like a Bob Fosse fanatic in a vintage caftan. Over at Father of Miss Cassette’s tube stereo, magically positioned within the built in bookcases, I would load up Peggy Lee’s frosty “The Boy From Ipanema.” I would click across my parquet wood floor to the mirrored bar where Mr. French would make up a small batch of green crème de menthe, white crème de cacao and cream, shaken with ice and served in a martini glass. Only then would I open my expansive glass deck door. Mr. French would hand me my Bakelite cigarette holder, as I might like to look out and have a puff. And did I mention I am wearing a printed silk draped Halston turban, a tad more in the Elizabeth Taylor tailoring that Sunset Boulevard? Yes, maybe it is a Gloria Swanson leopard turban. I would look upon All of Omaha and smile wryly about the 1963 phrasing By Appointment Only.
I welcome your feedback and comments on this treasured Omaha Apartment Building, the Indian Hills Village neighborhood and West Dodge Road area. Do you have a Sneaking Suspicion, a Snoopy Sense, or a Hunch we need to know about? Or are you Just-Plain-In-the-Know? Let us hear from you. Please share your additional clues to the story in the “Comments,” as we know more together. Please allow for long logjams with regards to private emails. I am having a hard time answering all of your fabulous emails. Everyone would love to read what you have to say and it makes the sharing of Omaha history more fun, if you share in “Comments”. You can use an anonymous smokescreen name if need be. We want to hear from you.
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