December 2, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann & Keith Binder

From Downtown to Hanscom Park and from the Gold Coast out west to the once frontier environs of Dundee, Happy Hollow, and Fairacres, the father-son architecture team of John and Alan McDonald made a lasting impression on Omaha’s cityscape.

With the publishing of Building Omaha: The Architectural Legacy of John and Alan McDonald, a veritable treasure trove of information is revealed about the designs of the men who built Joslyn Castle (1903, John McDonald, Scottish Baronial Revival) and the Joslyn Memorial, now known as the Joslyn Art Museum (1931, John and Alan McDonald, Art Deco).

The book’s author, Joni Fogarty, began to research the project from her own doorstep. She and her husband, noted attorney Ed Fogarty, live in a 1910 Prairie Style home designed by John McDonald in the city’s regal Gold Coast neighborhood.

“You can’t talk about the development of Omaha as a city without looking to John and Alan McDonald,” says the author of the book available at Our Bookstore in the Old Market Passageway. “They were prolific. They were everywhere. It was a practice that John opened in 1880, and it lasted until 1950. Their story is the story of Omaha. They are known as the architects of the rich and famous, but their bread and butter were the commissions in between—hundreds and hundreds of them—from apartment buildings to small family homes.”

Armed with Fogarty’s book, Omaha Magazine set out to explore some of the more modest of the McDonald legacies, ones that are gems in their own right. We selected two that perhaps best accentuate the theme of legendary architects who also designed “homes for the rest of us.”

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Michael Drinkwine and Rochelle Hair

“Astounding!” is the first word Michael Drinkwine could muster when informed that the Hanscom Park duplex he shares with Rochelle Hair is not just a John McDonald property, but one of the architects’ earliest works, designed in the very year that his practice opened. “We know this isn’t the Joslyn Castle or the Joslyn Art Museum,” he says, “but to us, it is so much more. This is our home. This is where we live, where we sleep, where we play. This is where our friends and neighbors live, and it is our sanctuary. Joslyn Castle is a great place to visit, don’t get me wrong, but this is our castle.”

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Lisa Moore and Kelli Smith

“I have always been a fan of the Bungalow/Prairie Style,” says Kelli Smith of the home she shares with Lisa Moore. The couple learned of their home’s impressive lineage only after they moved in. “In 2005, we decided to look for a new home and, happily, this one—one of our favorites here in Field Club—was on the market.” Moore adds, “Even though the style of the house represents a purposeful simplicity, the quality of the craftsmanship is amazing. Our home isn’t a designer showhouse where every space looks like it came out of a magazine. It’s lived in, it’s comfortable, and some days it’s messy. But we love it and so do our dogs.”