Tag Archives: Art Deco

The Return of the Midnight Movies

May 25, 2017 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

Let’s respect our inverted pyramid and get this out of the way: 4925 Dodge St., née the Dundee Theater, will once again play movies at midnight. They will be regular affairs, maybe/maybe not weekly, and they will be appropriately subversive.

But they’re not going to attempt to recreate the showings that took place there every weekend from 2000 till 2013, when the theater “closed for renovations” (but everyone sort of understood that was that).

It’s probably for the best.

Because part of what made those midnight shows great, let’s admit, was that they took place in that time between cars and bars: when a generation of millennials learned the world was their oyster, when they were amenable to going anywhere, but piddling few places would let them in.

Even now, most theaters’ “late” showings start before 11 p.m., the same time it becomes illegal to step foot in city parks. Come 11:30 p.m., unless there’s a concert somewhere, your options are a lone donut shop and a slew of diner chains, convenience stores, and Wal-Marts. It’s a bleak affair. There are even reports of teenagers gathering in parking lots, like those Polish wood ants that made a go of it in an abandoned nuclear bunker.

With that backdrop, knowing the basics of supply and demand, it’s little wonder that midnight movies were such a success. Midnight movies had long been off-again/on-again during the life of the Dundee Theater. But their most recent incarnation began in 2000, when two employees approached owner Denny Moran with the idea.

“An old theater like the Dundee just sort of screams MIDNIGHT MOVIES,” says former manager Matt Brown.

Moran agreed, but only as an experiment, only for a couple months.

The crowd shifted depending on the film. Fight Club brought the meatballs, Nightmare Before Christmas turned out the Hot Topic set. Sometimes parents would come with their kids. Then, there were the loner old guys clutching dog-eared sci-fi paperbacks.

To a kid, the city felt cold and conservative and corporate, says Jon Tvrdik, an Omaha filmmaker. Midnight movies were a blinking neon XXX sign in a town of church marquees. Tvrdik and his friends basked in the oppositionality.

“It was a nod from the establishment—which was any business that didn’t sell records—almost as if to say, ‘We see you out there, weirdos of all stripes, and we have a home for you and your cinema obsessions at night,’” Tvrdik says.

After two months, the good outweighed the bad. Midnight movies stuck.

Slowly, they evolved into more than just movies shown at a time when most people are hitting the hay.

One night Brown was showing a new employee, Jon Sours, the theater’s collection of trailers. Inexplicably, there were several for Changing Lanes, that overwrought 2002 movie that premised a whole plot out of Samuel Jackson getting into a fender bender with Ben Affleck. As the movie trailer’s narrator describes it: “An ambitious attorney. A desperate father. They had no reason to meet—until today.”

Sours insisted that this was one of the better bad trailers, and made the case for playing it before each and every midnight movie. Brown upped the ante, suggesting they play it twice.

And things sort of snowballed from there. Before long, they were playing it three or four times, upside down, in the wrong aspect ratio, backward.

The audience ate it up. Soon, they were shouting out lines from the film by memory.

“I felt like a proud father,” Sours says.

“Film,” by the way, means film. As in 35 mm. The Dundee Theater never went digital. The adherence to analog made for all sorts of charming hijinks. During Goodfellas, for example, the projector went haywire, so every scene became a weird game of Where’s Waldo? (Except with dangling microphones instead of a bespectacled guy in stripes).

It also meant that every week brought new and exciting questions about just how badly things could go wrong.

Film reels arrived to the theater scratched, spliced, and re-spliced. They were missing frames and wrapped thick with tape. And that was when they came at all. The delivery company lost a print of Jaws the day it was supposed to show, and staff had to scramble when the last remaining copy of Say Anything was destroyed; but sometimes the best ideas are borne of necessity—that night, they dug up a copy of Changing Lanes.

“We needed something to show, and we had been playing that trailer in ridicule for months,” Brown recalls. “I think some of our regular clientele were jazzed to show up and see that we were actually playing the film and not just the trailer four times in a row.”

For the most part, though, things were uneventful in the projection room. The real action was in the calamitous crowd. It was a party. A movie-watching party with a few hundred friends you didn’t know you had.

Rocky Horror Picture Show drew the costumed freaks. Purple Rain became impromptu karaoke, with people running to the front of the theater to take the lead on their favorite song. The Princess Bride was an odd communal script reading. And every now and then, during any movie, someone would kick over a clandestine bottle of something, and you’d have to listen as it slow-slow-slowly rolled all the way down the theater floor before coming to its merciful stop.

Maybe the end of the Dundee Theater was merciful, too.

Film Streams was competition, technically. But the truth is it was never close, and they were running up the score.

The Dundee had standing water in the basement and a heater rusting through. Film Streams had a brand new facility and a membership that paid to keep it shiny. The Dundee had day-glo  photocopies. Film Streams had a marketing budget.

The last midnight movie was The Room, widely considered one of the worst films ever made. It had been a regular in the repertoire.

Only about 150 people showed up that night—not at all capacity, and not even close to a record for a midnight showing.

But for Brown, who steered that ship for 13 years, it was the perfect payoff.

“They were so appreciative that we were taking some time to do a final screening of this weird little freak show movie that they all came to love, and they all came to party,” Brown says, fondly recalling the cult classic’s spoon-throwing ritual. “So many plastic spoons. It felt very communal. It was great.”

Even today, people tell Brown how much those movies meant. Their whole idea of cinema, their platonic ideal of a moviegoing experience, is based on seeing, say, Clockwork Orange or Fight Club at midnight at an art deco, formerly vaudeville theater in midtown Omaha.

Since announcing the acquisition of the Dundee, people have peppered Film Streams founder Rachel Jacobsen with questions about a reboot.

The first meeting with the Dundee neighborhood association was expected to be a dry to-do to discuss traffic flows and parking and other crushingly adult things.

Instead, people showed up specifically to advocate for the return of midnight movies.

Film Streams wants to pay respects to its predecessor, Jacobsen says, and midnight movies were a big part of what made the Dundee the Dundee. But she wants them to be different; she wants to dress up the basic concept in new clothes that are a little better fit for the new ownership.

She talks about a movie that might be the perfect balance—a French film with feminist undertones and cannibalism.

She could also open it up to “Members Select,” to let those dues-paying members pick the films they’d like to see.

Midnight movies are a big part of the theater’s recent history, sure. But Jacobsen seems well aware that much of the passion she hears could be standard-issue nostalgia.

“There’s not too many places that a teenager can go after midnight, someone under 21,” she says. “Maybe part of it is the age group that was going; they think of it as real glory days. We’re not going to try to recreate it. We couldn’t. But we’ll try to do our own version that honors the history.”

That’s no surprise to Brown.

“I seriously doubt they [Film Streams] are going to be laying out the red carpets for a bunch of 17-year-olds dressed like Frank N. Furter and Riff Raff with packs of hot dogs and bags of rice shoved down their pants to toss around,” Brown says. “I think that ship has sailed.”

Maybe it is all schmaltz for being young and dumb and the places that let you get away with it.

Tony Bonacci, a local film director, compares the midnight movies to that dive bar in stumbling distance from your front stoop. You know every nook and cranny and stain on the floor. You could pick the exact tone of green in the carpet off the Pantone color wheel. You nod to “Metaphorical Ed” who comes in after work and grabs his place at the bar, which is empty, because everyone else knows it belongs to “Ed,” too.

You love this place.

Then it goes under and is sold. Cheap draws give way to microbrews and craft cocktails. The new place is clean. There’s a great jukebox. The carpet is pried up and original hardwood restored. “Ed” found a new place to hone his alcoholism, and the new crowd is well-dressed and mannered.

It’s a good bar. A great bar. You like it. Still, something nags.

“It’s just a totally different vibe,” Bonacci says. “It’s like, ‘Man, can’t we just have that back?’”

Tvrdik, though, thinks the updated version will be, well, a lot like the rest of us—older and wiser. Still out to have a good time, it’s just what constitutes a good time has changed: less like you’re staying up past your bedtime to watch something scandalous and more like your favorite professor is playing your favorite film.

“A more mature version of what it was,” Tvrdik says.

Visit filmstreams.org for more information.

This article appeared in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Unifying the Outside with the Inside

Photography by Amoura Productions

When Joan Heistand began her search for the perfect place to call home in downtown Omaha, she came upon a 2,700-square-foot condo in the Paxton and saw potential in its open flow and natural light. She had already fallen in love with the Art Deco building and its residents when renting a smaller unit there, before she took the leap into ownership.

Heistand saw examples of my previous work in a national publication. After Heistand’s real estate agent gave a referral, she called me for help.

Our first visit to the condo revealed a unit broken into separate spaces that seemed choppy and disconnected, with random accent colors on the walls, poor lighting that caused terrible glare, inefficient storage, and seven different flooring materials. The condo included part of the exterior wall of the original historic building, with exposed brickwork and once-exterior windows.

Transformations2

This new home would be Heistand’s sanctuary, her place of comfort and security where she could host friends, neighbors, and family, including her four grown children and 12 grandchildren. Guided by her strong sense of what makes good design, she knew the “look” she wanted to achieve. On a mission to find the right balance of comfort and style that reflected her personality, Heistand and I embarked on a journey to bring her vision to life. The condo needed a breath of fresh air and a vibrancy to match its new owner and location in the heart of downtown.

We began by re-drawing the space and tearing out all of the existing flooring that was outdated and disjointed. We assigned each space a purpose and designed furniture layouts and finish selections that would suit the function of each new space. The homeowner fell in love with a large-scale, Italian-inspired tile. Using the same flooring throughout unifies the space; the light color and high polish adds brightness to make it feel larger. The contractor installed radiant heat coils underneath for maximum comfort. Silk and wool area rugs anchor the three separate living areas.

All of the can lights received new LED bulbs and trim packages, making them more seamless and efficient. Decorative fixtures were selected for maximum functionality and design impact. Table lighting, floor accent lighting, and task lighting in the kitchen and baths are additional layers of light that, when adjusted, can change the ambiance in the condo completely.

The conversation area just inside the entry has four armchairs encircling a cream ottoman and silky chocolate shag rug, positioned in front of a fireplace wrapped in white Quartzite ledgerstone panels. Here, the original exterior wall of windows is covered with silk drapes, providing a soft and luminous backdrop to the intimate seating arrangement. This is the perfect place for enjoying a glass of wine and conversation with friends. The adjacent room, with the original brick exterior wall exposed, is the cocktail and wine room with beautiful built-in cabinets and a black mirrored backsplash.

Transformations3The media lounge has a velvet sofa and storage ottoman facing a custom built-in media center. The third lounge area boasts a large custom sectional upholstered in a textured chocolate velvet, with silk and satin pillows, perfect for curling up with a book or magazine. The artwork in this space is a display of black and white portraits of the grandchildren in mirrored frames. 

The kitchen was already outfitted in high-gloss European cabinetry, but we installed new Cambria quartz countertops and a simple, modern glass backsplash. The pantry was completely redesigned, adding functional built-in storage, an ice machine, and a second refrigerator. A water system was installed to filter, soften, and condition the water. The den was transformed into a home office/guest bedroom for the grandkids, with two murphy beds that come out of the back wall. The master bedroom features a channeled leather headboard flanked by strips of hand-painted wallpaper and two elongated crystal pendants. The master bath was refreshed with new Cambria quartz surfaces and sinks. A new closet system was designed to house clothing, shoes, handbags, and accessories.

After many months of construction and installations, the resulting space is one with an incredible energy, filled with neutral palettes, sumptuous textures, a clean and modern aesthetic, interesting art, and countless objects that have become treasures. Visitors can expect a bottle of wine, lit candles, and songs by Andrea Bocelli in the background. But most of all, visitors can expect conversation about travel, grandchildren, and life’s experiences. OmahaHome

Transformations1

Unblemished Beauty

January 22, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In this continuing series of exploring architectural styles, we’ve covered such diverse genres as Jacobethan Revival, Art Deco, and Victorian, but deciding what the heck to call a home has never been much of an issue.

Until now.

This space was slated for “Spanish Colonial.” Seems simple enough, we thought. But just to be doubly sure in assigning that moniker, we sent the photograph you see here to three different architects and asked them to chime in. We got three different answers, only two of which had the word “Spanish” in them. And none of them were a flat, straightforward “Spanish Colonial.”

So let’s default to an Omaha World-Herald story from 1931 that called this home on North Happy Hollow Boulevard “one of the best examples of Spanish architecture in the middle west.”

A permit was issued in 1928 for the home now owned by George and Christine Greene. It was built—for the then princely sum of $16,000—by noted architect Bert Hene, whose timeless mark was made all throughout Happy Hollow, Fairacres, Dundee, Country Club, and beyond. The space features a handsome library/music room and a 40-foot sunroom with broken marble and a tile.

While this beauty looks like something straight out of Sunset Boulevard (“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”), it is the library that tells one of the home’s most intriguing stories.

The tile-roofed stucco home with arching windows was purchased in 1933 by Dana Van Dusen, a Harvard law school graduate who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1934. A former city attorney, he was then the general counsel of Metropolitan Utilities District.

On Sept. 29, 1947, a pair of prominent MUD officials were menaced by a former district employee.

A car driven by Personnel Director Earl Frederickson was forced to the curb by another vehicle at 18th and Cuming streets. The disgruntled former employee climbed in Frederickson’s car and threatened him.

A half hour earlier in Happy Hollow, a shot had been fired through a window of the Van Dusen home. The former MUD worker had no gun on him when he was arrested, and none were registered in his name.

The window has long since been repaired, but a bullet hole remains to this day on a shelf in the library…and Christine and George Greene have no plans to repair the blemish that speaks to the quirky history of their stately home.  OmahaHome

Spanish-Colonial

The Burlington Building

November 19, 2015 by

The Fourth of July 1898 was quite a day for Omaha. The Trans-Mississippi Exposition opened its doors about a month earlier, and it would continue until November. Omaha’s own World’s Fair drew 2.6 million people to the city while attempting to tell the story of the taming of the American west. The legendary event attracted presidents and criminals alike: William McKinley traveled from Washington, D.C., while the iconic Everleigh Sisters set up a brothel across from the festival, allowing them to raise enough money to relocate to Chicago, where they became the city’s most notorious madams.

This July 4 was special, and not simply because it was Independence Day—although the town celebrated with patriotic events, such as a large parade featuring a menagerie of wild animals, including a float with a seated lion at the front and a snake charmer at the rear; and a Devil’s Dance concession, featuring a marcher dressed as “His Satanic Majesty,” chased by a group of angels.

The day also marked the opening of one of Omaha’s grandest buildings, one that has been empty until very recently: The Burlington Train Station at 1001 South 10th St. The building boasts one of Omaha’s best-known architects: Thomas Kimball, who also conceptualized St. Cecilia Cathedral, the Omaha Public Library building on Harney, and the Burlington Headquarters Building that stands at one corner of the Gene Leahy Mall.

The station was built for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, whose passengers bestowed on it an impressively brief nickname: The Q. In Nebraska, the rail line carried mail and farm equipment as well as transporting passengers and freight. The Burlington Station awed its visitors, featuring an enormous lobby and a circular staircase descending to the tracks, where a canopy protected soon-to-be passengers.

While the original building exhibited a restrained, elegant Italianate style borrowing from the design vocabulary of the Renaissance, the Burlington later found itself in competition with a flashier building: The Union Station, a ziggurat immediately declared a masterpiece of the then-fashionable Art Deco style.

Union Station opened in 1931 opposite the Burlington, and, as a result, the older building underwent extensive remodeling, making the structure both simpler and bolder. Workers removed 24 columns. (They reappeared in Lincoln standing between Memorial Stadium and the Coliseum, where they can be seen to this day.) Gilded medallions bordered the walls while massive lanterns, each weighing one ton, hung inside the building.

The Burlington continued on for decades, much of it marked by a long, slow decline as passengers abandoned rail travel. In 1971, riders were moved to a nearby Amtrak station—small and functional, decidedly lacking in the ambition and grandeur of the nearby glamour-huts.

Union Station reveled in a second life in 1973, when the Durham Museum (then the Western Heritage Museum) took control, but the Burlington labored on for decades, finding occasional use for one-off events (it housed several plays and seasonal haunted houses) along with infrequent and doomed redevelopment plans.

The neighborhood is at the start of a revival, and, so, too, is the Burlington. Hearst Television purchased the building in 2013, and the structure is now home to KETV (Channel 7). The idea of placing a television station next to a railroad track is rather extraordinary, and it may be impossible to muffle the sounds of the passing trains. Then why mute them? Omaha is a rail town, and it seems somehow appropriate to get our news with the whistles and rumble of trains calling out in the background.

BURLINGTON TIMELINE

1870: The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad first enters Omaha.

1890: A temporary station is erected at 1001 S. 10th Street.

1898: The temporary station is replaced with the current Burlington Station, designed by Omaha architect Thomas R. Kimball.

1908: The Chicago Record declares the Burlington Station to be “The handsomest railway station ever seen.”

1929-1930: The station is extensively remodeled to compete with the new Art Deco Union Station, which would open in 1931.

1954: The station is remodeled again to add a parking plaza.

1971: Passenger service is moved to Amtrak, which will build its own station in 1974 and cease passenger operations at the Burlington.

1985: The building is gutted by an architectural salvager, who removes all interior fittings.

2004: The building is purchased by investors planning to transform the space into private residences. A downturn in the economy halts these plans.

2013: Hearst Television announces a plan to renovate the building for use as the broadcast facility for KETV.

Burlington-Building

Art Deco

September 14, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
This begins a new series in OmahaHome magazine where we tour the city looking for great examples of different architectural genres.
Our first entry is this Art Deco gem on the corner of N. 53rd Street and Country Club Avenue owned by Janice Snyder, who grew up in the home. It was built in 1933 by the Jaycees as “The House of Tomorrow,” a showcase of modernity at a time when Art Deco was at the apex of its popularity.

The design style was born in France in the years following WWI and later became popular in the states before waning by the end of WWII.

Art Deco Field Guide

  • The main distinguishing characteristic of Art Deco is a streamlined vibe boasting vivd geometric patterns and often lavish ornamentation.
  • Almost all homes in this style feature a flat roof, but they are not to be confused with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School of design that was popular at the same time. The eclectic style may also be differentiated from Art Nouveau in that it embraces a less organic, more Machine-Age celebration of technology.
  • Note the “stair step” means of connecting the garage to the main structure. This home was built in the same year that King Kong scaled a similarly stair-stepped building in New York City that had opened just two years earlier.
  • Art Deco homes often—as this example certainly does—evoke a sense of movement. Think here of the sleek ocean liners and gleaming trains that also borrowed heavily from this style in an era when the promise of technological and social progress seemed limitless.
  • Quiz Time: What element is out of place in this picture? The shutters were a later add-on and are not true to the Art Deco aesthetic.
  • Commercial examples of Art Deco (think Empire State Building or Chrysler Building) pulled out all the stops when it came to embellishments, but most residential examples of the genre were decidedly more reserved. The subtle striping atop the chimney and at the rear of the home is just the right touch to accent the clean lines of this 81-year-old landmark.

20140720_bs_0608

Modest Magnificence

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.”

20131003_kb_3385

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.”

20131006_kb_3440

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.”

History Comes to Life

October 20, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Durham Museum underwent a $1.2 million renovation this past year. But most of the improvements are not visible to visitors, according to Executive Director Christi Janssen. Behind-the-scenes work, such as security cameras and new heating and air conditioning, were main concerns. The renovations were another step forward in improving the visitor experience, the museum’s priority.

The visitor experience also has been enhanced by close relationships with national partners providing exhibits that would otherwise not be seen in Omaha: The Smithsonian, the world’s largest museum; Chicago’s Field Museum; and the Library of Congress and National Archives in Washington, D.C.

“A lot of our physical enhancements have been because of our partners’ needs for their exhibits,” says Janssen. “National museums have standards and requirements for their exhibition partners. They want a staff that understands what it takes to mount a successful show.” Exhibit costs can range from $50,000 to $500,000. “Security is a major part of the cost,” she says. “For the Abraham Lincoln exhibit, we had 24/7 security.”

The partnerships that Omaha’s regional history museum has forged have led to a new era of exceptional traveling exhibits.

Partners on Display

In 2004, the Velde Hall of American History was completed, providing environmentally controlled space for traveling exhibits, which further encouraged national partners to send exhibits to the Omaha museum.

In January 2011, the Library of Congress sent to Omaha With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition. “The Library of Congress said it was the best installation in the five-city tour,” Janssen says.

The Durham works with other partners, too. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry sent Mindbender Mansion this year, among the museum’s best-attended exhibits. More than 70,000 people visited. Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power, an upcoming exhibit (that includes Lady Gaga’s meat dress) will be on loan from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Feb. 9-May 5, 2013.

Traveling exhibits from partners are sometimes matched with a compatible exhibit put together by Durham Museum curators. Examples are current exhibits now on display: The American Soldier reflects soldiering from the Civil War to the War in Iraq. Its companion exhibit, Worn with Pride: Americans in Uniform, gives a local angle to the same topic.

You may be surprised to learn that the museum’s largest artifact on display is right before you as you enter the parking lot. It’s the Art Deco-style building the museum sits in. The building was constructed in 1931 by Union Pacific as a station for railroad passengers who traveled in elegance.

Building2 copy

Walking into the museum’s Suzanne and Walter Scott Great Hall for the first time is an awesome experience. Interior walls are limestone with polished black Belgian marble and terrazzo floors. The ceiling is gold, silver, and aluminum leaf. Brass lighting fixtures hanging from the 65-foot-tall ceiling each weighs one ton. It takes 45 minutes to replace a light bulb.

Architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood said he designed the building “to depict the strength and masculinity of the railroad.” Because Omaha is Union Pacific’s headquarters, an all-out effort was made to construct a special building.

As airplanes, interstate highways, and Amtrak provided new ways to travel, passenger trains dwindled. In 1971, the final UP passenger train left the station. UP donated the building near downtown to the city. The building became the Western Heritage Museum in 1975. The regional museum is now called the Durham Museum after philanthropists Chuck and Margre Durham, who led a $25 million renovation effort to create the museum seen today.

Membership at the Durham has more than doubled since 2004. About 40 to 45 percent of visitors are from out of town, leaving behind money at local shops, restaurants, and hotels.

Education at the Museum

Households with children predominate the list of visitors coming through the museum doors, a major change since 2004. The Durham has set out to make the museum a place of education as well as fun for children. Museum staff follow state education standards, work with local Nebraska and Iowa school districts, and distribute curriculum guides as a resource for teachers.

An example is the curriculum ‘Hail to the Chief.’ Students are asked to identify a U.S. president, his years in office, and a major event tied to him.

The Velde Gallery of American History is a destination for many class field trips. Children also can sign up for summer camp and for summer workshops that offer educational games and tours.

These upcoming exhibits throw a spotlight on topics of educational interest:

  • Girl Scouts: 100 Years of Courage, Confidence and Character—Nov. 3, 2012 – June 9, 2013
  • We Want the Vote: Women’s Suffrage on the Great Plains—Feb. 23 – May 26, 2013
  • A T. Rex Named Sue—May 25 – Sept. 8, 2013
  • Goose Bumps! The Science of Fear—Sept. 28, 2013 – Jan. 5, 2014

20120917_bs_2179-Edit-copy_2

Saving Omaha’s Pictorial History

Two years ago, Durham Museum staff began the long process of digitizing more than 700,000 historical photos from the 1860s to the 1990s and making them searchable online.

Yes, you read that number correctly. More than 700,000 photos that document Omaha’s history from frontier days to modern days are in one archive. Some of the negatives and prints are more than a century old and were in danger of being lost to history as they deteriorated.

The Durham turned to interns for help. Each spends about 20 to 30 hours a week to archive and document the collection. The interns also get hands-on experience by building exhibits around the photo archives. Photos are organized in 17 different collections. So far, 50,000 of the photographs in the archives have been posted online, where they can be viewed or purchased for a minimal amount at durhammuseum.org.

“Ak-Sar-Ben is the most recent collection of photos and artifacts,” says Janssen. “We want to be the repository for all things Ak-Sar-Ben.”

Some people using the photographs are compiling family or local histories. Others are writing books or producing documentaries.

“There are not many communities that have this kind of historical documentation,” says Janssen.