Tag Archives: Hollywood

Gurdon Wattles and the Streetcar Riots of 1909

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Matt WIeczorek

It is difficult to imagine Omaha’s once-bustling streetcar system. Scarce evidence remains: There are alleys downtown paved in brick with rail lines running down them, and some old buildings that were once car barns, but that’s about it.

If there is little physical reminder of streetcars’ heyday, there is nothing left of the labor unrest that enveloped the era, despite the fact that it was national news and left an astonishing legacy.

The main character of this story is Gurdon Wattles. A native of New York and a graduate of Dartmouth, Wattles came to Omaha in 1892, finding work here as the vice president of one of the city’s banking concerns.

pagesanThere were several competing forms of transportation at the time. There was the Omaha Horse Railway, which provided something called “horsecars,” which were essentially streetcars drawn by horses. They had five miles of track running through the city, transporting almost a half a million Omahans per year. Then there was the Omaha Cable Tramway Co., which owned a cable car, the only one in the city. The Omaha Horse Railway eventually merged with the Omaha Cable Tramway Co. in 1889.

The city was a mess of rail lines and competing services, which would sometimes sue each other. Wattles joined the fray in 1890, buying controlling interest in one of the companies, and then taking advantage of a Nebraska legislative measure calling for all the lines to be consolidated. The result was the Omaha Traction Co., which was not only one of the nation’s earliest streetcar lines, but also one of it’s longest–lasting. Omaha still had streetcars in 1955.

The streetcar company grew to include 140 miles of tracks and 1,500 employees, and that was a lot of employees to keep happy. In 1909, a national streetcar union called the Amalgamated Association of Street and Electric Railway Employees attempted to unionize local labor, but Wattles rebuffed the attempts in a way that was common at the time. He hired strikebreakers.

Wattles told his men that he would not allow a union. When they went on strike, he replaced them with laborers from New York, whom Wattles cheerily described as a “jolly lot of disreputable” and “always ready for a fight.”

The strikers were ready for a fight, too. On September 19, 1909, they rioted in downtown Omaha, attacking streetcars and battling strikebreakers. They continued to riot for four days, and largely had the support of the public, who refused to ride streetcars during the strike.

But the strikers could not compete against cheap labor that was on hand to fill their positions, and by October the strike had ended. Wattles would write a book about it, crowing about his success. The book—titled A Crime Against Labor—argued for a standing national force of strikebreakers for similar incidents of labor unrest.

However, the strike damaged Wattles’ reputation in Omaha. Once a city leader, he felt himself attacked by “socialistic and anarchistic elements.” In 1920, he moved to a small citrus grove in Los Angeles, and invested heavily in the development of the neighborhood, which expanded quickly and grew rich.

And that’s the strangest legacy of the 1909 strike: That neighborhood was Hollywood. His mansion still stands there today.

Visit douglascohistory.org for more information. Omaha Magazine

Local Musician Trades California for Omaha

July 1, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Venice, California, tempts many people—with sandy beaches and year-round sunshine, it is obvious why folks from around the world flock to the destination. Josh Soto has lived there, and he moved on. He now calls Omaha home.

For the sake of Omaha’s music scene, Soto traded Southern California’s serene climate for volatile weather and bitter winters. He relocated five years ago, and he has been a fixture ever since.

Almost immediately after coming to Omaha, he started playing bass for a local band called The Scene, and he worked at Guitar Center. “I played in the Scene for about five years, and just from working there (at Guitar Center) I got to meet everyone and kind of integrate myself into the Omaha music scene,” Soto says.

JoshSoto2Soto says Omaha feels so much like home it sometimes seems funny to think he came from a completely different place.

“It’s been a slow build, and it’s kind of funny how many people think I am from here,” Soto says. “I am a total gear junkie, so it kind of helped when people would come to me for advice, or just pick my brain about different things as a Guitar Center guy.”

After more than five years working at the shop near Oak View Mall, Soto is now the general manager of Ground Floor Guitars in the Blackstone District. He says Guitar Center customers often complained about the long commute to West Omaha. Ground Floor is a solution to their problem.

“I was approached by Phil (Schaffart, Ground Floor’s owner). He wanted to do a guitar shop in Blackstone, and it just made total sense,” Soto says.

According to Soto, Ground Floor won’t be the shop that has everything, but they will have the basics.

“We are going to have the essentials, so if you need a new pack of picks, or strings, an amp, or a new guitar, it’s all going to be right here,” Soto says.

Soto has a lot of love for the Omaha music scene, and he sees this new adventure with Ground Floor as a way to give back. “I think it is going to allow me to better serve my friends in the music community right here in the neighborhood,” he says.

He recognizes how meaningful it is for a good guitar shop to have caring and attentive employees who build relationships with customers. For Soto, the notion even carries a hint of nostalgia.

“I knew a guy named Josh that worked in Guitar Center back in Hollywood, and he always took care of me, from when I was a 15-year-old idiot kid who had no money to when I actually started being in bands and playing shows,” Soto says.

Soto says he wants to be that person for other guitarists: the guy who always takes care of you, your “man on the inside.” Soto wants people to know they can count on him to take care of their needs.

“It’s sweet that the people of Omaha have trusted me and kind of adopted me,” Soto says with a laugh. “I get a lot of personal satisfaction in being able to help people. I love talking about gear, and I am very fortunate that I can do what I love for a living.”

Just like his employment at Guitar Center, Soto’s band, The Scene, was bound for change, too.

“We did a lot of really cool stuff. We toured a lot, we played Maha in 2012, and we played the opening ceremonies for the College World Series two years ago,” Soto says. “That band just recently ended.”

Soto briefly played with several local bands before joining his current group, High Up. Soto says his first rehearsal with High Up carried a very surreal realization.

“I’m playing with all stars,” Soto says. “That was one of those pinch me moments where I thought, ‘I’m playing with these guys?’” The rest of the band consists of Christine and Orenda Fink (vocals), Greg Elsasser (keyboard), and Eric Ohlsson (drums).

High Up got together just over a year ago and the band is sure to remain in the Omaha music scene for some time—much like their bassist, Josh Soto. Encounter

Visit highup1.bandcamp.com for more information.

Erich Hover

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Erich Hover still speaks of his father, Ed, in a tone of respect, describing him as a “big, strong, tall, handsome, six-foot-two guy” who liked to fish and hunt, play racquetball, and work in his garden.

“My dad was always strong for us…he always wanted to provide for us…he never wanted us to think that there was anything wrong with him,” Hover says.

But the younger Hover, an actor and producer, will be telling a different story about his father on the big screen. At 62, Ed Hover is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease only four years after his initial symptoms and diagnosis, typifying the early-onset form of the disease (his son prefers the term “younger-onset”) as being particularly aggressive and swift. Erich Hover is currently in pre-production for a feature film that will be based on his family’s experience.

“We want to shed some light on Alzheimer’s disease, and we also want to portray a family that’s sticking together through a very difficult situation. We want to tell an uplifting story…it’s important to me for it not to have to be a downer,” Hover says.

The Hover family at Erich's brother's wedding, 2011. Photo provided by Erich Hover.

The Hover family at Erich’s brother’s wedding, 2011. Photo provided by Erich Hover.

Hover, who graduated from Omaha Benson High School in 1998, launched his acting career eight years ago, appearing in local commercials for Horseshoe Casino, Regency Court, and the Iowa Lottery (he is still remembered for bursting out of a bucket, doused in black oil). In 2006, he left his full-time real estate position and relocated to Los Angeles. Among other films, he’s appeared in 2009’s For the Love of Amy (beloved Omaha actor John Beasley was a lead), and he also had a small role in 2011’s Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt.

The feature film will be his first project serving as a producer, and Hover credits his education over his acting experience with getting him there. He graduated from the University of Nebraska-Kearney in 2002 with a degree in organizational communication and a minor in marketing.

“Communications and marketing is kind of what this business is. A film never gets seen unless you find ways of marketing it,” he explains. “It absolutely helped me having that degree. It gave me the confidence that I can go out and produce something,
 create something.”

Hover, who already visits Omaha frequently to see family, says he made a deliberate choice to film in the area, with shooting likely to begin next spring, if not this fall. Local actors will be included in the cast, and he’s also partnering with some of the same Omahans “in the business” who helped him along in his acting career, including filmmaker Derek Baker, Manya Nogg of Actors Etc., and businessman/executive producer Jeff Burton. The three will share producing credits with him.

“We want to shed some light on Alzheimer’s disease, and we also want to portray a family that’s sticking together through a very difficult situation.”

“[Omaha’s] where I was born and raised, and it’s important to me to be able to bring a project back here. And it’s a personal story about me and my family, so I want to keep it as close to home as possible,” he says.

Hover is also excited to have others he’s grown to respect attached to his project. “Jay Giannone, who has acted in such movies as Gone Baby Gone, The Departed, the recently-released Safe, and the upcoming The Iceman, will act in the film, produce with me, and write the screenplay with Eric Watson based on my story,” he said. “Eric will write and direct the film. His credits include Pi (which won The Sundance Film Festival), Requiem for a Dream, and The Fountain.”

His movie, in which Hover plays the lead character, is close to home in other ways, too. The film is filled with personal references, from a 1950s pickup truck that refuses to start to dogs with the names of real Hover family pets.

“The people in the film are parallel to my family, and the major elements are actual real-life occurrences my family has gone through,” Hover says. “Even the dialog—the conversations between me and my father—are from things my dad and I have actually said to each other in real life.”

Ironically, Ed Hover watched his mother, now 93, struggle with Alzheimer’s before his own diagnosis. His son says he is acutely aware that the odds of being a third-generation sufferer are significant.

Hover with actor Philip Seymour Hoffman on the set of Moneyball. Photo provided by Erich Hover.

Hover with actor Philip Seymour Hoffman on the set of Moneyball. Photo provided by Erich Hover.

“I don’t want to live my life in fear, so I want to create something that can help find a cure,” he says. “I don’t have millions that I can donate to research, I’m not a doctor who can be in a lab finding a cure…I’m an actor and a producer, and if I can put something up on the screen that can reach a large audience, well, then, that can increase awareness and hopefully motivate people to take action with their time and their donations to research.”

His family, who is depicted in the movie, has been behind him from the beginning, Hover says.
“I really couldn’t have done this without my parents’ and brothers’ blessing. I mean, we’re talking about something that’s happening with our family, with our father,” Hover says. “My father’s in a place where I don’t know if he’s really exactly aware of what we’re doing, but he has always been supportive of my career…If my dad would have said ‘No, don’t do this movie about me,’ I would not have done it; I would have respected his wishes.

“The fact that he’s in this place where [Alzheimer’s disease] has been so aggressive and he’s so far along with it, I feel like I have to do this for him to honor him and to help other people, including my own family.”