Tag Archives: Midtown

Meet The Pressnalls

December 8, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you pop by The Pressnalls’ lovely Midtown home for an afternoon visit, you’ll meet a happy, healthy family. You’ll witness this in wide grins, plenty of laughter, and a warm, laid-back nature. They may also offer you broccoli and tea, but their most distinct healthy hallmark is the balanced, thoughtful approach to parenting, life, and art displayed by Derek and Jamie Pressnall.

“I want our kids to really know themselves,” Derek says. “To be strong, self-confident, believe in themselves. Hopefully with that comes a lifetime of happiness.”

On such a visit, one feels welcome immediately; sipping tea as an eerie, organ-heavy Halloween song rolls forth from 3-year-old Max Wilde’s current favorite thing—a chain of singing, light-up Jack-o’-lanterns. He and his sister Willa Sun, 5, dance to the pseudo-spooky sounds before finishing their broccoli and retiring to the backyard for a chocolate cupcake.

Unbeknownst to Derek and Jamie, upon meeting on a Bright Eyes tour years ago (at the time, he lived in Chicago, she in Omaha), the future Pressnall quartet was set into motion—albeit slowly. They were good friends before they began dating, and have now been together 11 years, and married eight.

“We started hanging out, and started a band with some friends, but didn’t begin dating for about a year after,” Jamie says.

Oh yeah, these parents are also rock stars, by the way. That band they started is the critically acclaimed Tilly and the Wall. Tilly is often noted as the band with a tap dancer (that would be Jamie) rather than a drummer, but the group is more than the sum of its quirks. Tilly brags strong musical chops—also featuring Derek on guitar and both Pressnalls on vocals—that produce unique and joyful indie pop.

“The way we ended up being musicians is so weird,” says Derek. “All the sudden I’m just tap-dancing in a band, touring the world,” Jamie says.

While Tilly doesn’t tour with the frequency they once did (due to a geographically spread-out roster and newfound family lives), the band is in the early stages of a new record, a follow-up to 2012’s Heavy Mood. “We can pick and choose stuff now, and just tour for fun,” says Jamie, noting the flexible freedom they enjoy as members of Tilly.

Max and Willa re-enter the kitchen singing an ad-libbed song about chocolate and requesting milk, which Jamie grabs, while Derek discusses another of his projects, Icky Blossoms. The band recorded its second record in spring at ARC Studios with Mike Mogis (to be released in 2015), and spent the latter-half of 2014 playing gigs, including Maha Music Festival. “We’re getting back into the live thing, and figuring out how the new songs work live,” Derek says. Jamie and Derek make a point to carve out time for creative pursuits, but acknowledge it takes focus and effort.

“Being an artist and a parent at the same time is tricky. Just like anything else in life, I guess,” Derek says. “It’s balancing your art, making a living, and raising children.”

“Every day you just have to find a balance,” Jamie says. “I’m still working on finding that—I think most moms are. You can find the time, but if you don’t have the energy it doesn’t really matter.”

Part of pursuing their music and continuing to scratch that creative itch is actually for the kids’ benefit. “It’s really important to us that we show the kids through our actions, not just tell them, how important it is to follow your passion,” Derek says. “Whatever you truly love, do whatever it takes to do those things, because they’re that important.”

“We want them to feel comfortable in their own skin and embrace the world,” Jamie says. “To voice their opinions, have fun, be positive, make good choices, and follow their dreams. Hopefully we as role models are showing them how to do that.”

Willa loves art, singing, writing songs, and going to her violin lessons through the Omaha Conservatory of Music’s Violin Sprouts program. Max likes seeing how things work. (He loves to take things apart and then reassemble them). He also loves dance and dressing up and taking on different personas.

Derek loves “watching the kids become who they are.” And while the parents have a lot to teach, so do the kids.

“They remind you of what’s really important and help you live in the moment a little more,” Jamie says.

“Children are like a mirror,” Derek says. “You see yourself reflected back, so it’s actually a great way to look at yourself and consider the things you are doing.”

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Crystal and Corned Beef

May 28, 2014 by
Photography by KMTV 3 / Bostwick-Frohardt Collection at the Durham Museum

High-stakes meetings and stylish parties were held on the hotel’s top floor ballroom.  Lush rooftop gardens looked out over bustling Midtown Omaha. The elegant Blackstone Hotel towered over Midtown, even casting its name onto the surrounding neighborhood.

It was a short stroll from where I worked at WOWT to the hotel’s front door. The Blackstone was a second home to those of us who wanted to grab an after-work drink at the Cottonwood Room—a fun hangout with a whimsical décor and air. How could it not be an enjoyable place? In the center of the bar stood an elaborate replica of a cottonwood tree densely festooned in leaves.

Upstairs, the hotel’s Orleans Room was reserved for special-occasion dining. Presiding as maître d’hôtel was a tall, distinguished-looking black man who was always seen wearing a tuxedo. Called by diners the “Governor,” he looked like an ambassador and was just as charming.

If you had dined at the Orleans Room before, the Governor remembered your name, your preferred drink and where you wanted to be seated. Meals were always prepared tableside. It was the type of personal service rarely seen anymore.

The room attracted visiting celebrities over the years. A hallway was lined with photos of stars who had dined at the Orleans Room. Mark Schimmel remembers spending time in the coffee shop with comedian Jack Benny. The self-described “miser” would allow Mark to pay for his coffee.

Mark’s father, Edward Schimmel, was the hotel’s general manager for many years. Now living in Wentzville, Mo., Mark was the manager when the family-owned hotel was sold to Radisson in 1968. He stayed on.

A busy Golden Spur coffee shop in the hotel was good for a quick lunch. Each of the seven walls displayed a different decor, according to Mark, with whom I recently traded fond memories of the Blackstone days. “It was like going into a museum.” he said, Spurs hanging from one wall explained the room’s name. In earlier days, the room was called the Plush Horse.

The Golden Spur is where I tasted my first Reuben sandwich. For countless Omahans and Blackstone guests, this was also the first place they tasted the famed Reuben.

But, was it the first place? The big question for posterity: Was I eating a Reuben from the actual birthplace of the now-iconic sandwich? While the Blackstone is most often mentioned as the home of the Reuben, others outside Omaha have tried to stake claim.

Debate no more. The case is closed. The Reuben was invented at the Blackstone.
Mary Bernstein—the granddaughter of Blackstone owner Charles Schimmel—got the story firsthand.

“Here’s the scoop,” she says. “My father, Bernard Schimmel, had just returned from school in Switzerland where he trained to be a chef.  His father, Charles, held a weekly poker game at the Blackstone Sunday nights.  He said to my dad, ‘Reuben wants you to make some sandwiches with corned beef and sauerkraut.’

“And my dad put together this concoction of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing and dark rye bread and grilled them, then took them to the poker players. After it later received such wide acclaim, they decided to put it on the menu at the Schimmel hotels and call it the Reuben sandwich, because Reuben Kulakofsky had requested it.”

The exact date is lost in family history. But it would have to be after Bernard returned in 1928 from Switzerland. The first menu the family has uncovered that lists the Reuben sandwich was from the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln in 1934, according to Judy Weil of San Francisco, the family historian.
Because the Reuben sandwich apparently first appeared on a menu at the Cornhusker, it is sometime mistakenly assumed that the sandwich was created there.

Charles Schimmel added the Blackstone to his stable of hotels in 1920. The building became an Omaha Landmark in 1983 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
He trained his four sons in the hotel business. They along with other family members each ran one of the seven Schimmel hotels. In Omaha, the hotels were the Blackstone and Indian Hills Inn. In Lincoln, Schimmel owned the Cornhusker.

The Schimmel family’s sandwich story has been repeated throughout the nation.  Bernard’s granddaughter Elizabeth Weil wrote about her family’s appetizing creation in the New York Times.
Bernstein still advocates for the Reuben sandwich, but admits she no longer eats the corned beef and sauerkraut concoction.  She’s now a vegetarian.

Good Vibes at the Tibet Hotel

May 22, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Driveway basketball games all over the city provide a staccato soundtrack as spring awakenings draw people outdoors to enjoy the weather. But simple pickup games at a certain Gold Coast address on North 38th Street are anything but simple. They have a look and feel that is distinctly their own.

Where else would you find Tibetan monks in bright orange robes setting picks and draining threes?
The monks who visit the city to create elaborate sand paintings at the Old Market’s OM Center have been frequent guests of Deirdre and Steven Evans over the years.

“We call it the Tibet Hotel,” Deirdre says of the home built in 1921 that is on the National Register of Historic Places. “It’s just a huge amount of good vibes to have them here. And the neighbors, I think, get a kick out of seeing them playing basketball, sitting on the terrace, or walking up and down the street in their robes.”

“Monks are known for their compassion,” Steven adds, “but they are in-your-face aggressive and competitive when it comes to a game of hoops.”


Just as with the anomaly of monk sightings in Midtown, the home’s décor is anything but the expected.

A lava lamp is juxtaposed against Victorian tchotchkes. The graceful lines of Chippendale and Queen Anne furniture compete for attention positioned beside the ornate carvings of Asian pieces. A stuffed dummy in the solarium is positioned as if it were engrossed in a tome of illuminated manuscripts. Menacing gargoyles face off against whimsical, bobble-head clowns. Buddha figurines are found at every turn.

It’s one of the more crazily convoluted decorating themes ever featured in this publication, but it all seems to just somehow…work.

“A little of this,” Deirdre shrugs with a winking grin, “and a little of that.”

Steven bought the home almost sight unseen in 1975 after a nine-month negotiation process. It was a rental property at the time divvied up between 16 occupants.

“I had only seen the place from the foyer,” he says of the home in which he and Deirdre would be married in 1992. “It wasn’t even for sale. The neighborhood was threatened with extinction for a lot of different reasons at the time and I ended up buying it for a song. People thought I was crazy.”
Successive waves of “progress” had long threatened to forever change the neighborhood. A plan dating back to the 1950s envisioned an east-west freeway that would parallel Dodge through the Gold Coast and out to Dundee. Remember that odd “cloverleaf to nowhere” on I-480 at the 30th Street exit near Creighton University that was only recently reconfigured? That was to be the source spur of the project that would have decimated what are now considered to be two of the city’s most historic neighborhoods.


Like many Gold Coast homeowners, the Evans’ feel a responsibility to preserve and protect the area that is an Omaha treasure.

The battle last year over the idea of an ultra-modern, flat-roofed home being built nearby on 38th Street sent the couple once again into activist mode.

“The home would have been more than a little incongruent with the surrounding neighborhood,” Steven says. “Imagine if such a famous architect as, say, I.M. Pei himself had somehow been behind the design. World-class, award-winning design. How exciting! But the price would have too high in terms of maintaining the integrity of this street. Historic district designations mean something. They are not just an accolade. They have teeth.”

The Evans’ also enjoy keeping the neighborhood connected in ways that are meant to be pure fun. Deirdre started an annual Ladies’ Neighborhood Tea 20 years ago and it is still going strong. A monthly Girls’ Night Out that she launched a decade ago started out as a hyper-local affair, but has since evolved to include friends who are within walking distance and beyond. Their zanily colorful spooks-and-spirits Halloween Party has become the stuff of legend.

To Deirdre, the social life of North 38th Street also serves to build community in a way that bolsters the spirit of preservation. Too many landmarks, she says, have been lost.

“Don’t you ever look at old pictures of scenes around Omaha and say, ‘Oh, I remember that! I wish that could still be here?’ You can walk up and down this street and be transported back in time. We have met walkers from other neighborhoods who actually drive here and park just to make it a part of their regular routine.”

No Brick Left Unturned

May 5, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

St. Cecilia Cathedral, the Old Market, Creighton University, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. The list goes on and on. Think of any Omaha landmark, and chances are, Kathi Geringer has captured it in her distinctive style that she calls “Nouveau Folk Art.”

The printmaker is a self-taught artist who began her career by accident almost 13 years ago. “I did my first Omaha print for fun,” she recalls. “I had an idea to make a collage of Omaha. I took photos of places like Indian Hills and Aksarben and then I drew them in pencil, colored them in with markers, and fit them on a poster board.”

Her mother saw the prints and showed her friends, who purchased copies. Geringer then began creating more prints, making ones of Happy Hollow, Dundee, Memorial Park, and Central High School. In 2002, she sold her prints at Dundee Days and learned that it wasn’t just her mother’s friends who wanted to buy her art. “I paid $50 for a booth, and I made
$2,000,” she says.

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From that moment Geringer’s profession as an artist took off, with the list of collectors growing longer each year. That’s because she loves Omaha, and it shows in every print she creates. They are affectionate portraits of places that bring out not just the architecture, but the spirit and traditions inherent in them. And she does so with astonishing detail. For example, if a building has different colors on its facade she portrays them accurately. “I fill in every single brick so it’s accurate,” emphasizes Geringer.

People also connect with her art because it directly touches their lives. “They really resonate with people,” the artist says. “They’re personal. People say, ‘I went to that church, I went to that school.’ Everyone can find something they can relate to. If you live in Omaha and don’t find something, you live under a rock,” she chuckles.

Geringer, however, doesn’t just do landmarks.She has undertaken numerous commissions for organizations and schools celebrating anniversaries, and she also takes private commissions that include one-of-a-kind portraits of people’s homes. These have proved so popular that last June she began featuring them on greeting and Christmas cards. She additionally creates prints that depict places that are meaningful to individuals, making them somewhat analogous to a pictorial This Is Your Life. For example, prints for high school graduates often include preschools, churches, and places where their extracurricular activities took place.

What’s next for Geringer? She would like to branch out and perhaps do prints of landmarks outside Nebraska. And Paris is also a tempting possibility. “Of course I would have to go there,” she laughs. “I’d have to see the buildings in person to photograph them and get them right.”


Omar Arts & Events

January 17, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Our customers are looking for a different type of venue,” says Mark O’Leary, executive director of Omar Arts and Events. “Something other than four white walls. Something with timeless craftsmanship and impeccable attention to detail.”

In other words, those seeking Old World charm and character intermingled with modern amenities will find what they’re looking for at Midtown Omaha’s newest arts and events facility. “We fill a niche,” O’Leary explains, “for those planning mid-size to large events.” Everything from weddings to trade shows to fundraising galas will benefit from perks like state-of-the-art A/V equipment, two screens with HD projection, free Wi-Fi, plenty of free parking, and enhanced security.

As a life-long Omahan, O’Leary knows what people in Omaha, particularly Midtown, are looking for. After all, his family’s been here since the 1880s. It’s no small wonder that he also owns The Cornerstone Mansion Inn, Omaha’s only historic inn, located in the Offutt mansion. The inn also serves as an event facility, giving O’Leary the experience event planners will find at the Omar.

Newly opened in November 2013, the Omar will be known quickly as the premier event facility in town, if O’Leary has any say in the matter. “We want to be secure in knowing that we are our customers’ first choice in event venues,” he says, “and that if they go elsewhere, it’s only because we were already booked.” His plan to keep clients coming back is by taking care of every detail and helping them to make their events as memorable and distinctive as possible.

No doubt he’ll be able to see to that, given that he’s a hands-on operator at the Omar. O’Leary’s passion for involvement is evident in his ongoing love and participation in theater. He produced and acted in the feature film For Love of Amy, directed by Ted Lange (Isaac from The Love Boat). For 10 years, he has served on the board of the John Beasley Theater and has produced and/or acted in more than 40 productions, including several national and local commercials.

His sense of timing and production will undoubtedly lead to your event putting its best foot forward at Omar Arts and Events.

Omar Arts & Events
4383 Nicholas St, Suite 230
Omaha 68131
402-905-9511
mark@omarbuilding.com
Executive Director/ Mark O’Leary

This Is Halloween

October 31, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“What’s your favorite decoration?”

“That one!” says Salvatore. As do most 3-year-olds, he knows what he likes.

“The one in the cage right here? Or the big spider?”

“The one in the cage.”

“It makes noise,” his older brother, Mario, volunteers. “Except not right now. Mom has batteries for it, but we don’t know where.” Mario is 8 and quite matter of fact.

“And it has a black eye!” exclaims Sal.

These brothers, along with sister Mia, 2, and mom and dad Denni Layne and Mike Anzalone, have the privilege of residing at one of Midtown’s best decorated homes for Halloween. Layne and Anzalone say it’s not uncommon for people to slow down for a good gawk at their home at 35th Avenue and Leavenworth Street.

Can onlookers be blamed?

 

The front yard of the mustard-colored Victorian home is small but surrounded by a tall, ornate iron fence. Cobwebs drape over the rails and a good portion of the yard itself, while cornstalks serve as a seasonal front gate. Tiny corpses hang in little cages on the porch, a light-up spider is on the door, and a bat hides in the eaves. Zombie heads populate the space underneath a small tree, and large stone lions hold Barbie-doll-size skulls tightly in their jaws.

Of course, passersby will notice all those minor details after they’ve stopped staring at two life-size coffins propped up in front of the porch. They’re open so that visitors can admire the lighted skulls of the inhabitants.

Despite the fact that the yard and front porch are covered in all manner of Halloween fun and it’s right off of busy Leavenworth, nothing has ever gone missing. “Well, these things are heavy,” Anzalone says, pointing to the coffins. “I made them almost life-size.” As a wood and metal custom designer, Anzalone is no stranger to making some of the more exotic Halloween decor. He also made the home’s iron fencing. And a 12’-tall pumpkin reaper monster that may make a last-minute debut this Halloween.

“We try something new each year,” Layne says. “And we’ve been doing this for about four or five years.”

It takes the family a couple hours daily over the course of four or five days to bring Halloween to life at their home, and everyone is incredibly into it. Even Gigi, the family’s Italian mastiff, carries a plush pumpkin with her these days, short tail wagging furiously amid all the activity.

“The kids and Denni do a lot of the spiderwebs,” Anzalone says. One particularly enormous web gathers fallen leaves underneath a small maple. “At first I tried to pick them out, but I finally said, you know, that adds to it,” he says.

Because Leavenworth is such a busy street and their front sidewalk is right on it, Anzalone and Layne don’t get many trick-or-treaters. “We’ll leave a pumpkin out with some suckers and every now and then there’ll be a couple missing. We’ll have maybe one or two.”

Still, the family enjoys the notes of appreciation from the neighbors and the comments from pedestrians. “We’re glad that people love it,” Layne says, “because we really love it.”

Game On

September 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When was the last time you put down your blinking, beeping electronic gadget (think iPhone, iPad, iPod, iAnything) and picked up a traditional board game?

If you can’t recall the month (or even year) you found such entertainment with family and friends, make plans to visit Midtown Crossing this fall to experience Spielbound.

Spielbound—a play on the word spellbound using spiel, a German word meaning fun or game—is the brainchild, passion, and part-time preoccupation of Kaleb Michaud, a local board game collector and enthusiast.

Michaud, a full-time University of Nebraska Medical Center research professor studying the effects of arthritis, owns more than 2,200 board games from various genres in his personal collection. The towering stacks currently reside in his Dundee home but will move to Spielbound at Midtown Crossing in the coming months.

For years Michaud, 38, has hosted game nights in his home for friends and neighbors. Guests (the most was 45 people) pick a game to play and others join in. By the end of the evening, Michaud jokes, the more cerebral games are put aside for something easier (read: ones that require less mind power but yield more laughs).

“Board games are a tactile experience,” Michaud explains. “They encourage human interaction.”

A look up and around at Michaud’s shelves of games reveal a varied collection, many of which hail from Europe. Since purchasing his first few games in the mid-1990s, Michaud estimates he has added four or five new titles per month.

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His interest was sparked playing The Settlers of Catan with a college friend and only grew from there. Michaud realized, after shopping the standard big-box stores, that the variety of games he sought just wasn’t available.

“I was amazed at the quality of board games not available in stores,” he explains. “And lesser-known games often lack advertising dollars for promotion.”

Though Spielbound was slated to move into the old Attic Bar & Grill at Midtown Crossing this fall, Michaud states, “Unfortunately, we don’t know when we’re opening at this point. Midtown Crossing is trying to find us another location otherwise it could be several months due to the additional construction needed. It’s September to January time period.”

When Spielbound does open, the shop will offer a café area serving coffee drinks and light snacks, a party room for gamers, and the crown jewel of the space: the complete library with floor-to-ceiling shelves of games.

Michaud and volunteers have spent the past few months cataloging the collection and recording details of each game, instructions, and the number of pieces included in each box.

Players will be able to join the board game café for a monthly or annual fee. A drop-in rate will also be available for customers who plan to frequent Spielbound a few times throughout the year. Teachers will receive a discount to borrow games used in the classroom.

Michaud wanted Spielbound located in the heart of the city and in close proximity to two large gaming audiences: students at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Creighton University. (Although Michaud doesn’t rule out the possibility of his UNMC students and colleagues playing a game or two as well.)

Michaud and his board of directors have applied for nonprofit status, a unique approach for such a venture, he explains. Spielbound will need memberships, grants, and donations to keep its doors open. But in this nonprofit organization, however, the primary focus will be fun and, of course, games.

For updates, visit Spielbound at spielbound.com

Justin Schafer’s Mid-Century Modern Coffee Table

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Justin Schafer, a senior graphic designer with Mutual of Omaha, first discovered his fascination with Mid-Century Modern design while studying in college. “[MCM] transformed how we perceived objects and furniture in our homes…The idea that things could be functional, beautiful, and have a streamlined aesthetic is something I gravitated toward. [MCM furniture] was the first to blur the line between something that is purely functional and a piece of art.”

Inspired by his dad (“Growing up, my father was always building something from scratch or fixing something…”) and the works of husband-wife Modern designers Ray and Charles Eames and others, Schafer looked for ways he could express his “right-brain creative side” through furniture design. “I love to look online at Modern furniture stores, but everything in those stores is priced higher…That’s a big reason I finally decided to stop hunting and just build [things] myself.”20121119_bs_4401 copy 2

Looking to DIY blogs and magazines for ideas, Schafer came up with a design for a MCM-inspired coffee table. “I sketched numerous ideas, gradually refining them until I had a solid plan with measurements.” Almost all of the necessary supplies were purchased at a local hardware store, he said. One-quarter-inch birch plywood, layered four planks thick and edges mitered, produced the tabletop base. Raw steel pipe, bent in a classically MCM ‘hairpin’ shape and purchased on eBay for $45, was used for the table legs. A wire brush was used to ‘clean’ the steel pipe. Then L-shaped brackets secured the legs to the tabletop. Lastly, Schafer spray-painted the steel legs black, adding several coats of clear enamel for durability, and glued a cherry veneer over the top of the birch. Wood stain gave the tabletop a rich, dark brown hue. In total, the cost of the project was “minimal, about $100,” Schafer said. “If you tried to buy a similar table in a store, it would probably have cost $200-300.”20121119_bs_4378 copy

Schafer said the most difficult aspect of the project was getting the 45-degree plywood cuts to line up perfectly on each corner of the tabletop. “That’s always a bit tricky, especially if your saw settings are a few degrees off. I’ve learned, however, that it’s best to slow down and take your time.”

Today, the table sits in Schafer’s Midtown apartment, which he shares with his wife, Libby. He loves it when friends visit and, impressed with the table, ask him where he got it. “It’s nice to be able to say I built it from scratch,” he shares. “There’s a satisfaction and pride that comes with saying that.” That pride has spurred him onto other projects, including a similarly built desk and a padded headboard, framed with solid walnut planks.