Tag Archives: Happy Hollow

Staircase to a Magical Mural

October 15, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A house hunting expedition 30 years ago, spurred by the needs of their growing family, eventually led Maureen and Jim Waldron to tour a Spanish-style home of ivory stucco on South 56th Street between Farnam and Harney streets in Omaha’s historic Dundee-Happy Hollow neighborhood.

The size and openness of the living room with its honest-to-goodness slate floor—a testament to 1925 architecture—decorative tiles, carved wood, and wrought-iron accents throughout the house, not to mention several bathrooms, appealed to both their aesthetic and practical senses.

But nothing prepared the couple for what they saw when they passed by the dining room and reached the stairs leading to the second floor.

A mural of a cornfield, in shades of green and accented with gold leaf, filled the east wall adjacent to the staircase and followed the wall’s narrow angle upwards. A second mural of a barn and rustic fence covered the entire wall facing the bottom of the stairs. The artist camouflaged the light switch by making it a part of a fence post. Connecting the two oil paintings, there is a continuation of the field along a narrow strip of wall between the ceiling and the frame of a door leading to the kitchen.

Who painted it and when? The Waldrons didn’t know, but they believed only a professional hand could have created something so unique, so vibrant, and so unexpected. Not everyone touring the house that day shared their sentiment.

“Well, this thing is going to have to go in a hurry,” a woman sniffed to her husband, waving her hand dismissively toward the mural.

Maureen remembers closing her eyes and thinking, “Oh please, don’t let this woman get this house. We may not get it, but she doesn’t deserve this house.”

The Waldrons prevailed and so did the painting.

Shortly after moving into their new home, a neighbor, who happened to be an art appraiser, walked across the street and asked Jim and Maureen, “You haven’t touched that mural, have you?”

She had good reason for concern.

The staircase cornfield, the neighbor informed them, was drawn by artist Eugene Kingman. He and his family moved to Omaha in 1946 and lived in the house through the early ’70s, during his tenure as director of the Joslyn Art Museum.

The name Eugene Kingman didn’t ring a bell with either Maureen or Jim. But from that day forward, the couple’s son and daughter, ages 2 and 4 at the time, heard “don’t put your hand on the painting!” every time they climbed the stairway to their rooms.

For the next 24 years, Jim built his law practice and Maureen worked in corporate public relations before co-founding the online ministries program at Creighton University, their alma mater. In 2011, Maureen finally found the time to “Google” Kingman’s name and write letters. She realized that he painted more than just walls in Omaha—her research and perseverance proved a catalyst for a chain of events that still resonates from Omaha to New York City.

Kingman, she discovered, had already won awards as a cartographer, painter, and muralist when (in 1946) then-publisher of The New York Times Arthur Hayes Sulzberger commissioned him to paint a 20-foot-long mural for the newspaper giant’s newly renovated lobby on West 43rd Street in New York City.

That same year, Omaha came calling with a job offer at the Joslyn.

“He asked for—and got—permission from the Joslyn, his new employer, to do the high-profile mural for the Times,” Maureen says. “We have pictures of him painting the mural in the Joslyn. We now believe he painted it in one of the Joslyn’s galleries, not the basement.”

Kingman’s iconic post-war mural, a depiction of the Northern Hemisphere as viewed from space, greeted famous newsmakers and crusty news reporters in the Times lobby for more than 40 years before winding up in storage for another three decades.

With the help of the muralist’s two daughters, Elizabeth Kingman and Mixie Kingman Eddy, Maureen and a group of Omaha friends persuaded the Times to part with the mural. In 2014, a rolled up, dusty, and nicotine-filled canvas arrived in Omaha, donated by the Times to the nonprofit Joslyn Castle Trust. Kingman’s newly restored work now hangs in the W. Dale Clark Library downtown.

Having shined a light on an under-appreciated talent, Maureen, in turn, became enlightened on the origins of the staircase mural.

Kingman, a native of Rhode Island, “fell in love with the Midwest and West when the U.S. Department of the Interior commissioned him to paint seven national parks while he was an undergraduate at Yale,” Maureen says. “He absolutely loved the openness of Nebraska and loved to paint cornfields.”

So when his wife, Betty, lamented that their little daughters were leaving dirty fingerprints on the ivory stucco walls along the staircase, Kingman did what any self-respecting muralist would do: He painted what Mixie would later call “magical cornfields” to hide their fingerprints, thus enabling Mixie and Elizabeth to continue touching the wall—a luxury the Waldron children never had; nor does the next generation.

When the Waldrons’ four-year-old granddaughter recently visited with a little friend, the tot issued a warning of—you guessed it—“don’t put your hand on Nana’s painting!”

Visit eugenekingman.com for more information about the artist.

This article appears in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

Food for Thought…

April 25, 2016 by

Omaha is a foodie town. Sure, we love our steaks, but we also love sushi, ramen, farm-to-table fare…you name it. Omahans always knew this, but what about people outside the city? Liz Claman, FOX Business Network anchor for “Countdown to the Closing Bell,” also loves eating in Omaha.

“Honestly what’s so interesting everywhere I’ve eaten has been so amazing,” says Claman.

She says her crew is just as particular, and they have had a similar reaction. Claman, among tens-of-thousand others, is coming to town this week and will interview Warren Buffet on May 2 following the Berkshire Hathaway weekend. She eats at her favorite restaurants, which often align with local favorites.

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“We have to stop at the Twisted Fork on our first day,” she says. “There and Stokes. We love it (Twisted Fork). We call it The Fork.”

Like many locals, one Old Market spot, and its signature appetizer, tickled her tastebuds. 

“The crew will be so disappointed to hear about Ms because we loved the lavash,” says Claman upon hearing it burned down in February. She also noted she liked to purchase her “annual pair of jeans” at Nouvelle Eve.

Claman claims one reason she loves the food scene in Omaha is because it can accommodate her diet through the entire trip.

“I am a Californian so we try to eat as healthy as possible,” Claman says. “I always get the Good for You salad at Stokes. How easy is that? I make sure I do lots of veggies and lots of protein.”

Her schedule involves working 20 hour days during the annual shareholder’s weekend. If she eats unhealthy foods, particularly sugar and starch, she crashes. She admitted, however, to treating herself each Sunday night with the meatloaf and mashed potatoes she orders from the Hilton’s room service.

Claman also listed Crescent Moon as a favorite for their service.

“We’re treated so nicely. We feel so welcome, and it just puts the cherry on top of everything every time we come to Omaha.”

As for steak?

“We have about seven places we like,” Claman says. “801, Passport, Omaha Prime, Happy Hollow when I can with Warren. V. Mertz is incredible. There’s a little Omaha Steaks store at the airport, so on my way home I always order about 15 filet mignon for home. I have a contrail of great steaks that follow me.”

So how are local favorites also favorites of a New Yorker-via-California?  She bypasses Yelp and the hotel concierge and asks locals where they like to eat.

“That’s how we found The Fork,” Claman says. “We were in Nouvelle Eve and asked where to eat. And we love it.”

Claman and her crew think that Omaha is one of their favorite places to visit, and the food scene is a big part of that.

“We sink our teeth into Omaha both figuratively and literally.  The people and the atmosphere make it just as wonderful of an experience for us.”

Like this story? Join us tonight at Salt 88 as we launch The Food Issue.

Launch Party Invitation

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

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