Tag Archives: Italianate

Sentimental Journey

May 3, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Michael Heaton had a royal curiosity, which he ultimately satisfied by buying a palace.

Eleven years ago, Heaton and partner Barry Burt happily occupied an adorable English Tudor home in Florence, which they had lovingly remodeled. That’s when the Chiodo Palace came calling.

“I never thought we’d leave [the Florence house], but my friend Christy, who’d just started with NP Dodge, said ‘Michael, you’ve got to come look at this amazing house with me,’” Heaton says. “So, we came to look four times and would just sit on the floor fantasizing about living here…then we just went for it. I’ve never regretted it. It’s been an adventure.”

The Chiodo Palace, near 25th and Leavenworth, was built in 1922 by Vincenzo Pietro Chiodo. Burt and Heaton, together nearly 20 years, have worked diligently to preserve the legacy of one of one of Omaha’s more unique, storied homes since purchasing it in 2006.

Chiodo immigrated from Southern Italy to the United States in 1885 at age 16. He studied in Chicago before settling in Omaha, where he operated a tailor shop, then found his fortune in real estate.

“He owned 50 homes in the area,” Heaton says. “This was one of many he built, and his primary residence.”

According to the Nebraska State Historical Society, Chiodo wasn’t so much an architect or builder himself, but he had ample vision and funds to support the proliferation of his real estate empire.

“He was billed the first Italian millionaire in Omaha and was also very politically active,” Heaton says.

In fact, Chiodo was an Elk and a fourth-degree Knight of Columbus. His titles included Italian Vice Consul of Omaha, State Supreme Deputy of the Sons of Italy, Knight of the House of Savoy, and Cavalier of the Order of St. Gregory.

Heaton lights up when sharing stories of days gone by in his abode, many of which were relayed by longtime neighbor Angelo Bonacci, now deceased, who worked at the Chiodo Palace as a young man when it functioned as the consulate.

“Chiodo was very popular, and described as an elegant man,” Heaton says. “He could be seen walking the neighborhood and his domain wearing a long, white fur coat. When the Santa Lucia Festival parade made its way through the neighborhood, they always stopped in front of the Chiodo Palace and saluted Vincenzo, who’d be sitting up on his veranda. You can just picture him up there with the crowds passing by.”

“‘Chiodo Palace’ is what Angelo said they called it,” says Heaton, who believes the moniker comes from “palazzo”—Italian for a large, palatial building.

Chiodo passed away in 1949 at age 80, but his grand domicile lived on to weather years of general dirt and disrepair, water damage, and updates like ill-placed drop ceilings and gaudy, yellow wallpaper that spoiled or obscured the home’s unique character and verve.

Heaton and Burt, who are members of Restoration Exchange Omaha, purchased the house to preserve its history.

“We knew it had been an important house in the past and, seeing the sad condition, we thought we could have some fun, restore its appeal, and get the history back as much as possible,” Heaton says.

For Heaton, who owns and operates Legacy Art & Frame in Dundee, preserving historical homes and objects is a longtime interest.

“The house is a mix of styles,” he says. “The outside is very Craftsman. There’s some Italianate detail with the dentil molding around the tops of the eaves. The stained-glass windows are a mix: Some [feature] traditional designs, but in the dining room there’s a very Frank Lloyd Wright Mission-style design. So, there are unexpected elements here and there.”

The interior swims with stunning, rich mahogany woodwork, accented by a striking fireplace constructed of rough-hewn, imported Burmese stone. Colorful, original tile surrounds the floor of the fireplace, featuring a horseshoe that’s open into the room and closed toward the hearth.

“That was to deter unwanted spirits from entering the home through the fireplace,” Heaton says.

In the sunroom above another fireplace, a large painting in memoriam to Chiodo’s wife and daughter, both named Caroline, remains molded right onto the wall.

Ornate, hand-painted, original murals on linen grace the tops of walls throughout the main floor.

“Each of these murals depicts different aspects of Italian culture and Roman life,” Heaton says of the incredible illustrations of accolades, life phases, arts, animals, and plants.

“I love these dragons,” Heaton says, zeroing in on a mural. “They’re griffins, protectors of the empire, and their protection allows wealth and prosperity to extend from them, so they turn into these leaves. I’m just so glad no one ever ruined them.”

Part of one dining room mural suffered water damage prior to his ownership, so Heaton completely—and 100 percent convincingly—reconstructed it.

“I rebuilt the wall, put linen on the top, created a stencil off another wall, transferred it, and then, over about four weeks, hand-painted it,” he says.

With the scope of work Heaton puts into his home and a handful of rental properties, you’d think he had extensive training, but no. He says just the occasional HGTV show or YouTube video help him complete home projects.

“My grandfather was a real hands-on kind of guy, so I learned lots about working with wood, building, and fixing from watching him,” Heaton says. “He could do it all, so I just kind of hung out with him a lot.”

Like Heaton and Burt, Chiodo himself preserved Omaha history.

“Chiodo was a preservationist way ahead of his time,” Heaton says. “He got the salvage rights to the original county jail and courthouse, and used all of the marble, stones, cobblestones, and other materials he harvested from that in several of his other properties.”

We’ll never know whether Chiodo was a sentimental preservationist, simply a cunning businessman, or perhaps both. As for Heaton, that case is closed.

“I’m painfully sentimental,” he says. “That’s my inspiration.”

Visit Legacy Art & Frame on Facebook for more information about the homeowners’ business.

This article appears in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

You Only Live Twice

October 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Omaha’s Orpheum Theater was designed to impress. Those vaulted, gilt ceilings. The 1920s Czech crystal chandeliers and gold leaf and ivory finishes. Its similarities to the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles are intentional. The Orpheum’s architects were inspired by the French Renaissance.

But, the French weren’t the sole inspiration.

The architectural styles found within the Orpheum Theater are as eclectic as the performances on stage. Designed to be a vaudeville house in 1927 by the firm Rapp and Rapp, lush Louis XIV influences mingle and complement other styles, particularly Italian. Look up as you enter the Orpheum by the ticket booth and inside the second set of entry doors. The French grandeur blends with urns and grapes typical of Italian architecture on the ceilings.

orpheum1“What the audience sees is Rapp and Rapp’s interpretations,” says Ed Hurd, who has spent several years researching the history behind the theater. He calls them interpretations because burgundy draperies and some chandeliers inside aren’t typical of French Renaissance design.

Other architectural elements sneak in elsewhere, such as a 1920s Greek Romanesque feel in the Exhibition Lobby and English-looking flowers and symmetrical design found on the ceiling by the ticket booth.

Hurd, as the performance rental director for Omaha Performing Arts, the nonprofit that manages the theater, started digging into the story of the Orpheum in order to better sell the venue to touring artists. The strategy has worked. “Without exception, the artists are amazed by the quality of this theater and the beauty,” says Joan Squires, president of Omaha Performing Arts.

“Omaha’s really lucky this place didn’t meet the wrecking ball.” Ed Hurd

Most of the elements found in the theater’s lobbies and its concert hall are original to the building, including the furniture, wrought iron grill work, draperies, marble, plaster sculpture, and the terra-cotta drinking fountains.

It wasn’t always so well maintained.

“Omaha’s really lucky this place didn’t meet the wrecking ball,” says Hurd.

In 1971, the theater had fallen into disrepair—nets under the ceiling kept plaster from falling on the audience. The following year, the building was purchased and donated to the City of Omaha and renovations began. The lobby space grew and a permanent concession area was added. While the city still owns the building, Omaha Performing Arts assumed management in 2002 and began its own extensive renovations. While heavy duty work has been done backstage and on-stage, plenty has been improved in the front of house.

That’s where James Bond comes in. Not THAT James Bond. The James Bond of Custom Artistic Finishes in Omaha, who has been touching up the Orpheum’s interior for years. He was hired to restore and accurately reflect what the building was like, says Squires. The fact that no one notices his touch-ups reflects the quality of his craftsmanship.

Bond is a former artistic apprentice to Salvatore Nespolo, the lead foreman on the original Orpheum renovation in the 1970s. He meticulously applied gold leafing, or gilding, throughout the bottom floor of the Orpheum, restoring the luster once tarnished by smoke damage. The extensive retexturing and color matching on the Lauritzen Lobby ceiling is another example.

“I’m very proud of every bit of the work I’ve done here,” says Bond.

Through the hard work of Bond and others, the ornate theater’s appearance has been restored to the level it deserves.

“What saved this building is the love people have for it,” says Hurd. 60-Plus in Omaha.

Italianate

January 15, 2015 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
The spare lines of General Crook’s frontier military home at Fort Omaha (Metro Community College) don’t quite do justice to the Italianate form. The most regal Italianate homes in Nebraska’s early days were built to send a message: It’s possible to thrive in the “Great American Desert” and, dangit, we’re here to stay.

The list of Nebraska homes on the National Register of Historic Places is peppered with these tall, stately boxes with flat roofs topped with square cupolas. Most famous, perhaps, are the Butler, Gillespie, and Kennard houses near the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln. In photos from around 1870, the three homes tower over empty prairie and a mostly paper town. “They were built by promoters of Lincoln to say to people, ‘We have confidence in this new town, you should, too,’” says Jim Potter, author and senior research historian for the Nebraska State Historical Society. “All across the state, you see town boosters using that big, bold style to send a message about their town.”

Just to the west of Omaha, on a hill southeast of Ashland not far from Mahoney State Park, sits a long-silent relic of the early days of statehood. The Bettison Mansion, built in 1874 from limestone quarried near South Bend, Neb., has been in decline for decades and abandoned since the late 1990s. Still, preservationists continue to hope that someone will buy and restore the fortress-like structure. “It’s a special place, not one that anyone would want to see lost,” Potter says.

(For more information on the house, visit ashlandhistoricalsociety.org.)

An Italianate field Guide

  • Low-pitched or flat roof
  • Balanced, symmetrical rectangular shape
  • Tall appearance, with two, three, or four stories
  • Wide, overhanging eaves with brackets and cornices
  • Square cupola
  • Porch topped with balustraded balconies
  • Tall, narrow, double-paned windows with hood moldings
  • Side bay window
  • Heavily molded double doors
  • Roman or segmented arches above windows and doors

The Italianate style began in England in the 1840s. For the previous two centuries, English homes tended to be formal and classical in style. Builders began to mimic the more fanciful design elements of Italian Renaissance villas. Like Queen Anne and other architecture styles, when the Italianate movement came to the United States, it was reinterpreted again to create a uniquely American style.

Italianate forms were fading from fashion along the coasts of the United States by the early 1870s. But, styles tended to arrive and stay later on the frontier. Italianate houses were being built in Nebraska well into the 1880s.

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