Tag Archives: preservation

Daylight Factory

July 16, 2018 by
Photography by contributed

Daylight may be the most prominent feature of the Rail and Commerce Building at 10th and Mason streets. The banks of windows on every floor—including the lower level—were designed in the style of a “daylight factory,” a multi-story concrete frame industrial building that proliferated in the early 20th century, and that’s how they were restored. 

The multitude of windows was not happenstance. “We recognized the daylight as a resource worth harvesting,” says Jon Crane, president of Boyd Jones, the company responsible for renovating the building. “You need an environment conducive to attracting, retaining, and hiring quality people. Environment matters.” 

Crane motions through the conference room window to the Boyd Jones’ open-space office area. “This is a very collaborative space, which is an important value of our company. This space is very open, yet not disruptive.”

The open floor plan was a feature of the original building. The first floor Boyd Jones office was once meant for mail trucks—they drove right through the center of the building, from the 10th Street bridge to what was then the 11th Street bridge. Downstairs, in what is now the Commerce Village, there was a track so railcars could go through. When the building opened in 1926, it received nearly all the mail for western Iowa and Nebraska. It served in that capacity until the 1970s, when the existing post office next door replaced it.

Vacant for most of the years since then, the Rail and Commerce Building was condemned to be torn down when Crane and his team found it. “It was a cold, dilapidated shell on the inside. But the building itself, the structure was very sound,” Crane says. “We restored the façade and we completely cleaned out the inside and made it new. It was a historical preservation project, so we worked with the Nebraska Historical Society and also the National Park Service. We were able to preserve a lot of the neat historical aspects of the building.”

Building a new edifice for Boyd Jones’ headquarters was only a fleeting thought for Crane.

“It’s very important to remember where you come from—to embrace the past, but adapt it to the future,” Crane says. “Change doesn’t have to mean destruction. It can mean evolution.”

The location in Little Italy attracted Crane. He guessed it would attract others as well. The lower level of the Rail and Commerce Building houses the roughly 20,000-square-foot Commerce Village coworking space. With 16 private suites and 50 desks, it offers a variety of systems for renters: closed-door offices, set desks, floater desks, or one-day drop-ins. 

For the planning of Commerce Village, Crane brought in Matt Dougherty, who had prior experience with collaborative workspaces. His eight spaces at the Ford Building at 10th and Dodge streets “went so fast it became clear there is a real need for this type of incubator space,” says Dougherty. In his insurance business, he’s seeing a sort of “small business renaissance”—a trend of wanting to work for yourself rather than someone else.

That fit just right with Boyd Jones. “One of the values of our company is entrepreneurship,” Crane says. “We wanted an office space that would attract entrepreneurs and start-up companies—a collaborative atmosphere for collaborative people.”  

That energy drew Verdis Group, according to managing partner Craig Moody. “We’re excited for the opportunity for partnering with other organizations here,” he says.  

The daylight was another huge draw. An unexpected benefit? “The trains going by,” Moody says, grinning. “Sometimes I feel like an 11-year-old boy.” 

Verdis Group promotes sustainability, so they were pleased to find the building was equipped with solar panels. There’s also ample bike parking, as well as private showers and changing rooms so employees can freshen up after pedaling to work—or using the Rail and Commerce Building’s own fitness center. 

Conference rooms; access to a printer, mail, and package services; and a stocked kitchenette round out the amenities. Crane explains, “We really want people to be comfortable, like you’re in your [home] office.”


Visit boydjones.biz or commercevillageomaha.com for more information. 

This article was printed in the June/July 2018 edition of B2B. 

Preserving News History with Razor Blades and Computers

December 18, 2017 by
Photography by Scott Drickey

Free beer Friday. Employees at Universal Information Services can indulge in a cold brew at the stroke of 4 p.m. at the office (although some have acknowledged to sipping on suds a half hour earlier).

“Cookies in the break room,” one employee whispers as she slips past with her treat.

Vice president Todd Murphy believes beer and food are universally accepted. It’s one way Todd invests the time to get to know each employee. Just this week, someone was awarded the “9 a.m. employee of the hour.” His father, president Jim Murphy, took a photo with her in front of the flag. It seems like a small gesture, but Todd believes these are what make people work harder.

“We have bosses who care,” P.R. measurement director Austin Gaule says.

Whether it is helping someone after their mother dies, buying a favorite record, or ensuring good coffee is available, this personal touch is invaluable to the Murphys’ corporate plan.

“It’s the little simple things that add up over the course of 109 years,” Todd believes.

Leasha Benolken scans one of the newspapers received at Universal.

Todd’s father Jim, a former brigadier general in the National Guard, learned how to empower people to their highest degree while in the military.

“Not only did it help them improve, but it made me look good,” he jokes.

Yet, when all the work is set aside, one feeling resonates in this tight-knit office space—family.

It was an idea that started in 1908 when Katherine Allen created the company. With a slide of a razor blade, Allen would send state legislators clippings from newspaper articles about themselves or their competitors. Jim worked side by side with her for nearly a decade in a time when women were typically wives and mothers. Allen was a “progressive, smart individual,” but Jim took the company to innovative levels as the world changed.

Jim originally worked part-time in Washington, D.C., as a press aide, meeting such presidents as Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon. It did not appeal to him—he was not fond of the politicians, lobbyists, and traffic. He put his finger on middle America, and it landed on Omaha. He didn’t know a soul. He entered the National Guard and met “5,000 instant friends.” Jim purchased the Universal Press Clipping Bureau in 1959.

Jim took the motto of Winston Churchill to heart, “We must take change by the hand or, rest assuredly, change will take us by the throat.”

He developed construction reports for prospective clients. It is an ideal way for architects or engineers to learn about projects long before there is an official request from a proposal. And when Jim received a call from a senator’s office to cover television news channels, it was time to take technology to new heights.

“I like to be up for a challenge,” Jim says.

Vice president Todd Murphy uses both “reel” technology and modern technology in his business.

He called Todd, then 13 years old, and asked him what he should buy at Nebraska Furniture Mart. Jim bought VCRs and had Todd set them up in his own bedroom with cords running haphazardly through the house so they could index and record broadcasts.

The company name has since changed, along with technology, and it is a data information landmine. Todd, who once wanted to become a cinematographer in Hollywood, realized the need to hire knowledge workers who could absorb data.

The data collectors have consequently become a dominant part of the office space. A room full of black servers track information clients want into databases across 16 states, from Nebraska to Alaska. The company pings 165 radio stations across the United States and Canada. Televisions are tuned into the latest scandals. Monica Lewinsky used the company to discover what was printed about her after news broke of her relationship with then-President Bill Clinton. Dr. Phil uses the service differently, mainly wanting to know if his program has good service.

And yet, a nod to the nostalgic age of print still resonates. The “Reading Room” is filled with newspapers, many of which make their way to another room to be clipped and scanned by hand.

In the digital preservation room, the old VHS and media equipment offer a tribute to history. Whether it is footage of Casey the gorilla being flown into the Omaha Zoo or huge bindings of newspapers, Jim hopes to clean, restore, and digitize the moments by using some of the aging monitors and sound systems.

Dr. Lee Simmons, chairman of the Omaha Zoo Foundation, echoes this on Universal’s website.

“Unless our history is preserved, we may find ourselves victims to the coming digital dark age,” he says. “We must be able to access our past so we can continue to improve the future.”

Visit universal-info.com for more information.

This article published in the Fall 2017 edition of B2B.

History in the Digital Age

April 22, 2015 by
Photography by Scott Drickey

Lee Simmons has a goal to see all of the film in the archives of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium digitized and preserved. “We’ve got about 100,000 feet of 16mm film of virtually every animal that came into the zoo and virtually every procedure we did in the zoo’s first seven years,” he says. “We can never duplicate these.”

His first digitizing effort last year started with film from 1971 when Simmons, then director of the world-renowned zoo, helped examine and treat 384 animals at a zoo in New Orleans. He filmed the procedures on 16mm film. Forty-four years later, he has no way to view his work.

“16 mm film projectors have become antiques. Everyone is going digital,” says Simmons, now chairman of the Omaha Zoo Foundation.

He asked Universal Digital Preservation to digitize the video. He then shared thumb drives of the converted film with several veterinary schools.

“We were using fairly unique immobilizing drugs back then that are no longer available,” Simmons says. “I’ve shown it in the past to veterinary interns and staff here at the zoo.”

Being able to convert assets into a usable format can represent a great source of value to institutions, says Todd Murphy, Universal’s vice president. “However, each day that passes places these documents at risk of being lost forever. Digital preservation is a process that ensures this history can remain relevant well into the future.”

A rising need for digitization persuaded Murphy last year to expand into a high-security, climate-controlled space in the historic Universal Information Services building downtown. Customers are mostly corporations, organizations, libraries, and museums.

At Omaha Central High School, alumni were concerned about the loss and deterioration of items in their archives. After more than 150 years, the school has considerable history stored away. They also wanted to share historical images on the school’s website.

Alumni Jim Wigton, 1966, and Barry Combs, 1950, volunteered to see that the priceless items were digitized. The Register student newspaper is now online starting in 1886. So are yearbooks from 1904 and on. Basketball game films from the 1950s and 1960s are now digitized.

“As time and funds permit, we hope to scan much of the Alumni Association’s archive collection,” says Wigton.

Restoration Exchange Omaha also wants to make its sizable archives available to the public. The nonprofit is the result of the merging in 2013 of Landmarks Inc., Restore Omaha, and Omaha Urban Neighborhoods.

“When we merged, we inherited from Landmarks Inc. these amazing archives accumulated over 50 years,” says Restoration Exchange Omaha executive director Kristine Gerber.

“We eventually will put all these archives on our website. It will be a great resource for the community. There now isn’t one place to go if researching the architectural history of Omaha.”

Fading photos, 16 mm films, VHS tapes and audiocassettes languishing in basements can be archived, used for presentations, and shared online when digitized.

Mitch Treu oversees the expanded service for Universal. “Documentation from the past has an invaluable place in the future and making that history relevant again is possible.”

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Libby Krecek

October 27, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Puh-leeze,” she would beg on family vacations as a girl, “can we go to the history museum?”
Libby Krecek has a longtime passion for both history and museums.

By the fourth grade, she had decided museums would be the center of her career as well as her vacations. Krecek went on to earn a Master of Arts in Classics degree from the University of Colorado and set out to pursue her calling.

She first worked as an intern at Omaha’s Durham Museum. Jobs followed at the Joslyn Art Museum, the Gerald Ford Conservation Center and—for the past 10 years—the Douglas County Historical Society, where she is the registrar.

The what?

“I’m the one who takes care of the stuff,” explains Krecek. Wearing white cotton gloves (and sometimes purple medical-grade gloves), she tenderly handles rare historical artifacts and records.

The Douglas County Historical Society lacks a budget for acquisitions and so depends on the kindness of strangers to donate relics that tell the story of Douglas County.

Krecek accepts donations and assures the givers that their items, even when not on display, are in good (white-gloved) hands. Donations are archived in acid-free boxes with acid-free tissue.

“A lot are precious family items,” she says. “They want them to go to a good home to be preserved rather than put back in a box in the basement.”

Kathy Aultz, executive director of the Douglas County Historical Society, said Krecek has the most serious of responsibilities. “She is taking on people’s treasures, people’s memories. We have six million documents and 8,000 artifacts. The house itself 
is an exhibit.”

Aultz is referring to the General Crook House, located on Metro Community College’s main campus and home to the Society’s museum. The house’s Italianate-style façade is the same as it was in 1879 when built for Gen. George Crook.

The campus in the 19th century was Fort Omaha, a military headquarters. The historic district near 30th and Fort streets is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Krecek is thrilled by many of the donations. “Last year, a woman called. She had an authentic Indian Wars uniform from the 1860s or ’70s. The officer had been stationed here at Fort Omaha. Her collection also included his history and a photo of him wearing the uniform.”

She also trains volunteers who conduct tours of the museum, and she helps the museum’s research specialist answer questions from the public about Douglas County history.

The registrar shares office space in the library archives building with a cluttered desk, a huge aerial view of Omaha in 1944, and an oil portrait of Edward Creighton, one that is so heavy it took two people to hang.

Creighton University, where Krecek earned her Classical Bachelor of Arts degree in Classics and History, was named for the man in the portrait, who died in 1874. She’s an enthusiastic fan of Creighton basketball and baseball.

Krecek’s idea of a fun time is exploring the museum’s ancient newspaper archives. “The way people wrote back then was totally different. They wrote about what people were wearing and were more graphic about murders. I get a view into that world.” OMAG

For information on donating historical items, contact Libby Krecek at 402-455-9990 ext. 107 or registrar@douglascohistory.org.

Q&A: Valeria Orlandini

August 27, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Valeria Orlandini has made a career of preserving works on paper and photographic materials, many of which are proudly displayed in fine homes and museums worldwide. Ensuring that the rich stories, family memories, and important lessons they convey live on for future generations is a job she takes very seriously.

Q: Tell us about your work as a preservation specialist. Who are your clients? 

A: Orlandini Art Conservation was established in 2004 to provide the highest quality conservation treatment and preservation services for a broad range of paper-based objects: historic manuscripts, prints, printed documents, watercolors, drawings, paintings in all media, collages, contemporary works, pastels, and posters, as well as parchment, ivory, and photographic materials. Regardless of whether you’re a discerning collector or a family seeking to preserve precious documents, my goal is to provide all clients with the same exacting standards required by major art and archival institutions. My clients are mid- to high-end collectors and custodians of artistic and valuable and irreplaceable historic materials from holdings in museums, archives, libraries, private owners, and corporate businesses. I work in a wide range of projects and budgets.

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Q: Where did you receive your education and training in art and art conservation?

A: I hold a B.F.A. from the National School of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires; a M.F.A. from the National School of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires; and graduated in 2002 with a M.S. and a Certificate in Art Conservation in Paper and Library Science at the University of Delaware/Winterthur Museum Art Conservation Program in Newark, Del.

Q: When did you first discover your love of history? Why are you so passionate about preserving it?

A: I have always been an art and history geek! I grew up with artists in my family, and as a child I would dig for old artifacts at my grandparents’ homes. I think that from that very early age, I became aware of how real history can be. Also, I come from a family of collectors and art and architecture lovers. Just about every member of my family collects old artifacts and memorabilia of previous generations. I grew up with a real sense of the importance of the past.

Every day, the vision of artists, the identity of people, and the very evidence of history all threaten to disappear. Left alone, old buildings will crumble, the Declaration of Independence will disintegrate, and the photographed faces of battle-weary Civil War soldiers will fade away, among other artifacts. The cultural patrimony, so painstakingly created over thousands of years, is surprisingly ephemeral with the ravages of time and the indifference of a disposable modern culture its biggest enemies.

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Q: How does your work interplay with home interiors and historic home preservation? 

A: As a collections conservator, I work very closely with interior designers, architects, engineers, and maintenance personnel to secure the building envelope where we protect objects from extremes and fluctuations in exterior temperature and moisture as well as light, dust, and gaseous contaminants. We frequently assess and measure temperature and relative humidity characteristics of air surrounding collections, as well as patterns of use and handling protocols. The conservation mission recognizes the need to preserve the unique character of both historic structures and artifacts. No two collections are identical.

Q: What have been some of your most interesting past projects?

A: While working in a number of studios and labs, I’ve had the privilege to treat an array of fascinating objects: Old Master paintings; Japanese woodblock prints from the Edo Period; ancient Korean rubbings and manuscripts; original newsprints from various American cities upon Abraham Lincoln’s assassination from April 1865; John James Audubon’s “Birds of America” folios; original documents of the Founding Fathers; and many others.

Most notably in 2010-11, I participated in the conservation treatment of the Thomas Jefferson Bible Project at the National Museum of American History, at the Smithsonian Institution. I worked with a team of conservators and scientists, conducting materials analysis, assessing aqueous stabilization treatment options, considering appropriate micro- and macro-environmental conditions, and a variety of other tests to help preserve this national treasure.

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Q: What projects have you worked with since moving here?

A: I have treated several objects from the Durham Museum. This museum stands as a magnificent reminder of a bygone era and allows generations to come together to learn, to share, and to remember.

Also, a very rewarding project that I carried out last fall was the treatment of an original Wright Brothers Patent Document [No. 821,393] for the “flying machine,” circa 1903-06 that was brought to my care from a private collector in Iowa. This was a really interesting study piece about the history of aviation and contains five original signatures hand-inscribed in iron gall ink by the Wright Brothers: Orville (1871-1948) and Wilbur (1867-1912), witnesses, and attorney.

Q: What advice would you give those looking to preserve family heirlooms? 

A: The American Institute of Conservation and Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) has developed guides for caring for your treasures at conservation-us.org. There’s also a book by Heritage Preservation entitled Caring for Your Family Treasures that can provide folks practical advice and easy-to-use guidelines on how to polish silver and furniture without diminishing their value, as well as creating safe display conditions for artworks, ceramics, dolls, quilts, books, photographs, and other treasured collections. These are tips with clear and understandable information on how to care for beloved family treasures.