August 28, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

That imposing building with an iron front near 13th and Howard streets is actually made up of three buildings, each with an interesting history.

The family-owned J.P. Cooke Co. is on its fourth generation and sits at its fifth downtown location—all within a six-block area— since the company’s 1887 founding.

John Cooke thinks his company’s current site in an almost century-and-a-half-old building is perfect for a 127-year-old business. Three buildings were combined to make the 80,000-square-foot brick structure. Each was built at a different time.

In 1865, the building on the east was constructed to house the German-language Omaha Tribune newspaper. The newspaper was printed to accommodate the many German immigrants who came to Omaha. In 1890, Germans made up 23 percent of the Omaha population.

In 1889, what may be the most interesting of the three buildings went up on the west end. The classic cast-iron façade and big windows hint at the skyscraper architecture then popular in Chicago. Early tenants were a tent company and the Skinner Macaroni Company.

Gas lamps provided light for the building. The basement of the 1889 building held Omaha’s first municipal swimming pool—the Omaha Natatorium, a Latin word for swimming pool. Remains of the archaic pool can still be seen in an area now used for storage. “I heard that the pool was later used by the YMCA,” he says.

In 1909, the middle building went up, and a printing company moved in.

The three buildings were combined over time by Peterson Litho and Printing Co., which sold them to U.S. Checkbook in the 1950s. “Our father, Lawrence Cooke, bought the buildings in 1963,” says John, who is a partner with his brother, Warren Cooke. They moved from 1111 Farnam St. to the present location.

In 1887, J.P. Cooke sold rubber stamps, stencils, inks, and metal tags. In 2014, the product line-up remains the same, but technology has created a modern company serving customers nationwide through e-commerce. In 1899, James Cooke invented and patented time stamps used worldwide. “That’s when we first got a lot of attention and became a nationwide company,” John says.

“We’re very happy here,” he adds. “People thank us for saving the building. They say ‘that’s a beautiful building down on Howard Street.’”

The company was founded by brothers James and John P. Cooke. James was the grandfather of current owners John and Warren Cooke. Its present site seems a perfect marriage of a long-time company and a notable trio of historical buildings.

John’s children, David, Jim, and Julie, make up the fourth generation and the future of J.P. Cooke.

“Who would have thought,” John asks, “that we would still be operating, and that there would be a fourth generation?”

J-P-Cooke

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