Tag Archives: historic

Omaha CVB

February 24, 2017 by

This year Boys Town celebrates its 100th year. The Los Angeles Times recently ranked Boys Town’s anniversary as one of the top-10 milestones of 2017, encouraging people to visit the historic landmark and “add cultural and historical heft to your 2017 travels.”

In 1917 Father Edward J. Flanagan, a 31-year old priest, borrowed $90 to rent a boarding house to take care of troubled and neglected children here in Omaha. Since then, Boys Town has grown into an international treasure. It now helps millions of people from across the globe. It is also one of Omaha’s best-known attractions, welcoming thousands of visitors—including presidents, first ladies, sports legends, and actors—each year.  And while the celebrity of Boys Town has certainly helped put it and Omaha on the map, it is the everyday visitor who is the constant. Visitors can explore chapels and gardens, tour Father Flanagan’s home, visit his tomb at Dowd Chapel, walk through the Hall of History, and even see the world’s largest ball of stamps. That’s right—Boys Town is home to a ball of stamps that weighs more than 600 pounds (talk about selfie gold). Boys Town offers daily tours, step-on guided tours for bus groups, and interactive tours where all you need is your smartphone. QR codes are strategically placed outside Boys Town attractions; scan the codes with your phone and instantly access facts, photos, and videos at each attraction.

With the canonization process underway, the prospect of Father Flanagan being named a saint has wide-ranging implications on Boys Town’s future and on Omaha as a visitor destination. In addition to the current $1.2 billion development being planned nearby, sainthood would mean even more growth on and around the Boys Town campus. Father Flanagan’s tomb would be honored in a new structure that would need to accommodate thousands of visitors a day.  Other developments may include a museum, shops, and possibly one or more hotels. With sainthood comes enhanced international awareness of this historic campus in the middle of the country and would make it and Omaha one of the newest destinations for religious pilgrimages.

It is an exciting time for this Omaha gem that will certainly leave lasting impressions well beyond the next 100 years.

Keith Backsen is executive director of the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

Historic Brandeis Mansion

December 24, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Mark Maser starts with sound advice for any home decorator: “Buy what you like and find a way to make it work in your space.”

And when the holidays come around, he says, “everything stays.” It’s an approach that makes sense for a lot of homeowners, but especially so for a family that owns a turn-of-the-century Omaha mansion that’s also got a lot working in its space—a Jacobethan Revival exterior with brick walls, a red tile roof, and stucco and half-timber work; an interior main staircase with Colonial Revival-style columns flanking the main staircase inside; a sitting room ceiling with exposed beams recalling the Arts and Crafts period; a neo-classical music room; a Georgian Revival dining room. The design—the early-1900s work of architect Albert Kahn—blended several interior design revival styles to make it feel like an English manor house updated through the years, Maser said.

Department-store mogul Arthur Brandeis commissioned the house, situated at 500 S. 38th St., in 1904; Maser’s parents purchased the house in 2008 after it had served as commercial and private residential spaces for years and, by the end of the early aughts, had been through nearly a decade of restoration. Maser and his partner, who’d lived around the corner in another Gold Coast home, moved in.

“We were attracted to the house because of its traditional nature,” Maser says. “I’ve always liked old stuff. We thought if we could park our collections inside an older home, it’d be a perfect fit.”

The question, then? How to make the house feel comfortable, Maser says, how to make it feel like a place people could sit around without feeling constricted in a small antique chair—how to make it feel like the things inside had always been there.

Maser mixed modern upholstered items amid antiques. In a nod to Britain’s Victorian and Edwardian periods—when, Maser says, families were proud to display collectibles purchased in far-off lands by relatives with foreign business concerns—he placed chinoiserie and other items from across the globe throughout rooms.

“The rule I have is ‘be true to the space,’” Maser explains. “[The house] has a sense of collection.”

And that is the sense that, at the holidays, stays.

“We don’t want to lose the flavor of the stuff,” he says. “That way it looks like Christmas is more organic.”

Maser says he works with the help of a decorator (this year, Voila! Flowers’  Ann Etienne is helping with the mansion’s holiday transformation) to find what he and his partner like and make it work
with the house.

“We buy Christmas things that are not 100 years old but are inspired by them,” he says. “We put something together that feels right for a period house.”

It’s a blend of Christopher Radko ornaments, clip-on glass birds, peacocks in blue and green and teal and white, some rooms that are more red than green. With the home’s limited floor space, a shorter 4- or 5-foot tree goes in a large Chinese fishbowl on a table in one room, atop a piano in another.

“It gives the sense of the tree being important and tall,” Maser said, “but without eating up floor space or having to move out furniture.”

And when guests are coming to call—at the mansion, it could be family members or nonprofit groups and organizations (Maser is president of the Opera Omaha Guild, which hosts events in the mansion) or, more recently, private parties by reservation—Maser says the primary concern is to make sure they have a good time.

He doesn’t set a particular theme to events and leaves a lot of creative decision-making to the people he says have the specialized skills for it—florists and photographers and caterers (he consistently works with Attitude on Food).

His does prepare one holiday dish, however, frequently requested by his guests: egg mousse.

He makes the mousse and arranges it in the shape of a tree on a platter. He tops it with parsley flakes and tomato ornaments and olive tapenade garland.

“Every time I have a party, people ask for egg mousse,” he boasts. “I’ve served it millions of times. People think it’s just dandy.”

It’s what people like. It works in the space.

It’s comfy. Merry.

“When Christmas goes up and the music goes on and the lights are twinkling,” Maser says, “it’s a happy feeling.”

large

Old Buildings, New Art

November 3, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Since Omaha was founded nearly 160 years ago, many of its older buildings have seen their demise. But in at least two of Downtown Omaha’s historical structures, creative artists and imaginative entrepreneurs have replaced staid bankers and burly beer makers, enabling these pieces of history to continue on with a new purpose.

Carver Bank

An abandoned building near 24th and Lake streets became a renovated space this year for:

  • Artists in residence. Visual and performance artists receive workspace and a $500 monthly stipend for one year.
  • Art. Exhibitions, events, and workshops are available for youth and adults.
  • Participation. A cultural and economic resurgence is happening in North Omaha.
  • Environmentalism. Finishes inside are mostly made of salvaged and recycled materials, such as a gymnasium floor from a decommissioned school in Panama, Iowa.
  • Delicious food. Big Mama’s Sandwich Shop is open till 4 p.m. every day but Sunday, even serving a roast-beef sarnie called The Carver.

Carver Savings and Loan, named for scientist George Washington Carver, opened in 1946 as Nebraska’s first African-American bank. Vince Furlong, who conducts walking tours for Restoration Exchange Omaha, says that the bank closed in 1966. After housing several nonprofits, the building shut its doors in 2006.

In 2010, Hesse McGraw, then chief curator for Omaha’s Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, and Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates began talking to people in the neighborhood about the needs of North Omaha, according to Jessica Scheuerman, program coordinator for the Bemis Center.

After two years, McGraw and Gates decided to renovate the abandoned Carver Bank building. They wanted to spearhead a program with an emphasis on visual and performance artists of color or who are North Omaha-minded.

Patricia “Big Mama” Barron, the eponymous owner of the sandwich shop, says the neighborhood was excited about the renovation that began last year. “People would come by and talk about how happy they were to see something go in there.”

The Carver Bank building is owned by the City of Omaha and leased for $1 over five years to the Bemis Center, which renovated and programs the space.

The artists’ program fits in well with the City of Omaha’s long-range, public-private plan to revitalize North Omaha, focusing on the 24th and Lake Cultural Arts District.

The building’s renovation is a good example of recycling. Framing lumber torn down during the building’s demolition was reused to frame new walls. Says Barron: “I’m a person who believes in recycling things, and I hate to see old buildings torn down. That’s a part of history being torn down.”

Anheuser-Busch Beer Depot

The stable is gone. The ice house is gone. Even the beer vault is gone. All were destroyed by a fire.

What remains is a quaint, brick building that was an office when the brewery’s complex was built in 1887. At 1213 Jones Street near the Bemis Center, the building has housed The New BLK (pronounced Black) advertising agency and art gallery for three years.

“‘The new black’ is a term in fashion for the next hot thing,” says Brian Smith, who gives his title as connector, catalyst, and co-conspirator.

The building was remodeled in 1988 by its current owner, Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture, which had offices there before moving. The architecture firm added a mezzanine loft area for nonprofit offices, and the space is still set aside for that use. “A recent example was Aqua-Africa, which builds wells in South Sudan,” says Smith.

The New BLK spreads out on the main level in a modern, open, workspace. The advertising firm also runs an art gallery on the lower level, featuring emerging artists.

Gerard Pefung, born in Cameroon, is one such artist who exhibited his work at The New BLK. “He recently did a mural installation at Omaha Police Headquarters,” Smith says. “Some of our partners are active artists and some have managed artist studios in Europe.”

Roger duRand

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Omaha designer Roger duRand didn’t invent the Old Market, but he played a key role shaping the former wholesale produce and jobbing center into a lively arts-culture district.

His imprint on this historic urban residential-commercial environment is everywhere. He’s designed everything from Old Market business logos to chic condos over the French Café and Vivace to shop interiors. He’s served as an “aesthetic consultant” to property and business owners.

He’s been a business owner there, himself. He once directed the Gallery at the Market. For decades, he made his home and office in the Old Market.

The Omaha native goes back to the very start when the Old Market lacked a name and identity. It consisted of old, abandoned warehouses full of broken windows and pigeon and bat droppings. City leaders saw no future for the buildings and planned to tear them down. Only a few visionaries like duRand saw their potential.

 “I had in mind kind of an arts neighborhood with lots of galleries and artist lofts.”

He had apprenticed under his engineer-architect father, the late William Durand (Roger amended the family name years ago), a Renaissance Man who also designed and flew experimental aircraft. The son had resettled in Omaha after cross-country road trips to connect with the burgeoning counter-culture movement, working odd jobs to support himself, from fry cook to folk singer to sign painter to construction worker. He even shot pool for money.

He and a business partner, Wade Wright, ran the head shop The Farthest Outpost in midtown. A friend, Percy Roche, who had a British import store nearby, told them about the Old Market buildings owned by the Mercer family. Nicholas Bonham Carter, a nephew of Mercer family patriarch Samuel Mercer, led a tour.

“We trudged through all the empty buildings, and I was really charmed by how coherent the neighborhood was,” says duRand. “It was really intact. The buildings all had a relationship with each other. They were all of the same general age. They were all designed in a very unselfconsciously commercial style.

“They were such an asset.”

Remnants and rituals of the once-bustling marketplace remained.20121119_bs_4319 copy

“When I first came down here, the space where M’s Pub is now was Subby Sortino’s potato warehouse, and there were potatoes to the ceiling,” recalls duRand. “Across the street was his brother, John Sortino, an onion broker. There were produce brokerage offices in some of the upper floors. There were a couple cafes that catered to the truck drivers and railroad guys. There was a lot of jobbing with suppliers of all kinds of mechanical stuff—heating and cooling, plumbing and industrial supplies. The railroad cars would go up and down the alleys at night for freight to be loaded and unloaded.

“A really interesting urban environment.” He thought this gritty, rich-in-character built domain could be transformed into Omaha’s Greenwich Village. “I had in mind kind of an arts neighborhood with lots of galleries and artist lofts.”

That eventually happened, thanks to Ree (Schonlau) Kaneko and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.

duRand and Wright’s head shop at 1106 Jackson St. was joined by more entrepreneurs and artists doing their thing. The early Market scene became an underground haven. “In 1968, it was really artsy, edgy, political, kind of druggy,” says duRand.

Experimental art, film, theatre, and alternative newspapers flourished there. City officials looked with suspicion on the young, long-haired vendors and customers.

“We had all kinds of trouble with building inspectors,” who he says resisted attempts to repurpose the structures. “The idea of a hippie neighborhood really troubled a lot of people. This was going to be the end of civilization as they knew it if they allowed hippies to get a foothold. It was quite a struggle the first few years. We really had a lot of obstacles thrown in our path, but we persevered. It succeeded in spite of the obstructionists.

“I do have a sense of accomplishment in making something out of nothing. That was really the fun part.”

“And then it became more fashionable with the little clothing stores, bars, and gift shops. Adventuresome, young professionals would come down to have cocktails and to shop.”

The French Café helped establish the Old Market as viable and respectable.

The social experiment of the Old Market thrived, he says, “because it was genuine, it wasn’t really contrived, it evolved authentically,” which jives with his philosophy of “authentic design” that’s unobtrusive and rooted in the personality of the client or space. “Sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing at all. The main criterion wasn’t profit…It was for interesting things to happen. We made it very easy for interesting people to get a foothold here.”

Having a hand in its transformation, he says, “was interesting, exciting, even exhilarating because it was all new and it was a creative process. The whole venture was kind of an artwork really. I do have a sense of accomplishment in making something out of nothing. That was really the fun part.”

He fears as the Market has become gentrified—“really almost beyond recognition”—it’s lost some of its edge, though he concedes it remains a hipster hub. “I’m a little awed by the juggernaut it’s become. It’s taken on a much bigger life than I imagined it would. I never imagined I would be designing million-dollar condos in the Old Market or that a Hyatt hotel would go in.”

duRand and his wife, Jody, don’t live in the Market anymore, but he still does work for clients there, and it’s where he still prefers hanging out. Besides, all pathways seem to take this Old Market pioneer back to where it all began anyway.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.

Millard Roadhouse

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If homemade comfort food is what you crave—think golden fried chicken, creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, and pork tenderloin—look no further than a historic eatery in southwest Omaha. Grab a friend or two (or more, there’s plenty of seating) and head to the Millard Roadhouse.

Just a stone’s throw from 132nd and L streets, the Millard Roadhouse has been serving up stick-to-your-ribs lunches, dinners, and Sunday brunches since its owner, Mark J. Kitson, opened the restaurant in 1997.

Mark Kitson, owner.

Mark Kitson, owner.

With more than 20 years experience working in the dining industry, Kitson says the Millard Roadhouse personally provides him with the perfect professional balance: great food with the opportunity to continually meet new people and routinely see familiar faces.

On a steamy Friday afternoon in early summer, Kitson chatted with a handful of regulars who have found a home at the Millard Roadhouse. The menu, along with the relaxed atmosphere, keep patrons coming back each week, Kitson says.

A spacious restaurant with room to hold upward of 350 guests (children eat free on Monday nights), the Millard Roadhouse’s signature red-checkered tablecloths and Americana décor can make any party, large or small, feel right at home. Its signature Husker Room is a popular pick for larger parties, especially during football season.

Millard-Roadhouse-20120726_bs_3920-copy

Kitson adds that the Millard Roadhouse often hosts pre-nuptial dinners and other family celebrations. The reason?

“We are very accommodating,” he says. “We see family dinners of 20, 30 people. Sports teams, too. We can make our layout work, hosting parties of up to 70 people. When a big group arrives, we make it work—even if they don’t have reservations.”

And while the space provides a relaxed and casual dining atmosphere, it’s the food that keeps Millard Roadhouse fans hungry for more, meal after tasty meal. A quick scan of the menu will leave anyone with taste buds salivating for what’s sure to be a memorable meal.

Millard-Roadhouse-20120726_bs_3985-copy

“Everything here is homemade,” Kitson says. “It’s all from scratch…our homestyle breading, homemade mashed potatoes and gravy. We even have fresh-baked cookies.”

The onion rings are a popular appetizer, fried perfectly golden and served piping hot. During the summer months, fresh-baked pies are a signature dessert; apple and strawberry rhubarb are among the most-often ordered. Another decadent favorite is a dense (and delicious) chocolate and peanut butter pie, served atop thin ribbons of caramel with a pretty strawberry garnish.

Although the Millard Roadhouse’s broasted chicken dinner is a fan favorite, Kitson says his variety of steaks are always ordered, too: roasted prime rib, New York strips, and T-bones by Omaha Steaks, to name a few.

Millard-Roadhouse-20120726_bs_3971-copy

The lunch buffet is served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday; and the popular Sunday brunch menu (featuring both breakfast and lunch favorites) is also served 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Tradition is a big part of the Millard Roadhouse history. Kitson says that today’s regular customers started dining at the restaurant as children with their parents. Today, the children are all grown up, bringing in their own children for lunch and dinner. They stop by, too, for happy hour during the workweek, ordering up a variety of cocktail specials.

Millard-Roadhouse-20120726_bs_3947-copy

The building itself is historic, as well. At more than 100 years old, the Millard Roadhouse space is actually a combination of three adjoining buildings. At various points during the past 100 years, the buildings housed a number of local businesses: a post office, another restaurant, a barber shop, café, even a hotel and speakeasy. And part of Millard’s surrounding brick streets remain intact, giving the neighborhood a small town feel.

“We are Millard,” Kitson says of his restaurant. “We’re in the hub of Millard. I love that we support our heritage and our roots here in Omaha.”

Millard Roadhouse
13325 Millard Ave.
402-891-9292
millardroadhouse.com