Tag Archives: Stan How

Indian Hills Village

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

With subdivisions and shopping centers cropping up in one-time croplands west of the city, it is difficult to remember that the Crossroads and Westroads Malls were once shopping meccas located on the edge of town. But as the city developed west in the 1950s, families sought the quiet living of suburbia. Only suburbia wasn’t 204th Street; it was 90th. Neighborhoods like Indian Hills Village, tucked between Harney and Dodge and 84th and 90th Streets, were born.

Forged over 50 years ago, Indian Hills Village was advertised as an “ultra-modern community,” a forerunner of the avant-garde concept that is mixed-use development, says Darcy Beck, Realtor with DEEB Realty and resident of the Indian Hills neighborhood.20121204_bs_6606 copy

So what is considered hip and ‘au courant’ now—mixed-use developments like Midtown Crossing, for example—actually has its roots in the past. Mixed-use development refers to the combination of complimentary commercial, residential, and rental properties in one neighborhood, Beck explains.

Barbara Naughtin has a long-time connection with Indian Hills Village. Her mother and step-father bought a low-rise condo in the neighborhood 30 years ago. Now, she has lived in Indian Hills for the last seven years. As a member of Restore Omaha, she played an integral role in the October 2012 Mid-Century Modern tour of homes. Naughtin is a history buff who attributes her affinity to Omaha’s colorful past to her own family’s connection with it: “My great-great-grandfather was the first Omaha blacksmith in the 1850s.”06 Febuary 2013- The city of Blair is photographed for Omaha Magazine.

Not that long ago, Regency was in “West Omaha” and land beyond 132nd was still farmed. Boys Town was “out in the country” and driving to Elkhorn was considered a “trek.” Such was the case for Indian Hills in the ’40s and ’50s. During World War II, Harold W. Glissman carved an 18-hole public golf course out of farmland between Dodge and Harney streets and 84th and 90th streets. If you were not a member of one of the country clubs, golf in Omaha was limited. But Indian Hills Golf Course offered players the chance to take in panoramic views of the growing city while satisfying their need to hit a little white ball around an undulating course adorned with over 500 evergreens. The course was situated on the city’s highest point, 88th and Indian Hills Drive (now the location of the Lincoln Financial Group business complex). Thus, players claimed they were “golfing the hill” as they set out for a day on the links. Green fees were only 50 cents for Saturday mornings and weekdays, and $1 for Sundays, giving credence to the course’s “Poor Man’s Country Club” nickname. The clubhouse sat where Swanson Towers, a neighborhood anchor, currently resides.

In the early 1950s, the golf course was sold to Gilbert and W. Clarke Swanson who recognized that the city was expanding westward. The brothers envisioned a business and residential development and secured the services of Leo A. Daly architectural firm to help them realize their dream.20121204_bs_6595 copy

Leo Daly, whose company has been located on Indian Hills Drive since 1959, developed Indian Hills to accommodate all income levels. Swanson Tower was created as the area’s high-end, high-rise living option. Condos appealed to middle-income residents. Apartments filled the housing gap as the most economical option. Single-family homes were also constructed with over 80 percent of the homes boasting two-car garages. A church (First Covenant), school (Swanson Elementary), shopping center, hotel (the now defunct Indian Hills Inn), and park rounded out the development.

“If you are not looking for cookie cutter, you might be looking for Indian Hills,” says Beck. Two-story, multi-level, and ranch all coexist peacefully, a melting pot of architectural styles. She and her architect husband were drawn to the collection of flat-roof homes in Indian Hills. “Move over, Brady Bunch,” she laughs.06 Febuary 2013- The city of Blair is photographed for Omaha Magazine.

These homes featured heavily in the Restore Omaha Mid-Century Modern Tour. The “ring leader” of these homes was Mike Ford, who built his home on 89th and Harney in the Mid-Century Modern style in the early ’60s. Not wanting his house to be the sole example of modern architecture on his block, Ford bought four additional lots and enlisted Stanley J. How, Jr. as architect of each. Sam Mangiamele designed their interiors.

Sadly, not all architectural and historic gems of the area have survived. The Indian Hills Theater was built in 1962 for $1 million. It boasted the largest Cinerama, floor-to-ceiling movie screen in the country. Sitting in the theater was the visual equivalent to surround sound. In its heyday, ushers wearing tuxedos would escort movie goers to their reserved seats. The theater closed in 2000 and was demolished the following year despite protests from its Omaha fans and Hollywood’s elite.

Timeless. That is still how Beck describes Indian Hills though: “It’s a remarkable chameleon, able to change and grow and reinvent itself for 21st century living while retaining its original appeal and historic relevance. I guess they knew what they were talking about when they dubbed it the ‘ultra-modern community’ back in 1953.”

Mid-Century Modern

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann, Kristine Gerber

In post-World War II America, a contemporary design style borne of the modernist movement and emphasizing a balance of form and function came to the attention of visionary Omaha developers and architects. The resulting homes and buildings completed in that style made for some distinctive neighborhoods that endure as models of aesthetics and utility and that continue to fascinate owners and onlookers alike.

What became known as Mid-Century Modern is seeing a resurgence in interest today among preservationists and restorers, thanks in part to television shows like Mad Men and their celebration of vintage culture. That interest was never more evident than during a October Mid-Century Modern tour sponsored by Restore Omaha and Omaha 2020 that drew a record 850 participants.

elevation drawing 106 s 89th crop copy

Sketch drawn by architect Donald Polsky

Restore Omaha President Kristine Gerber says it was the organization’s first tour to focus on an architectural style, and the Indian Hills neighborhood offered “the best collection” of Mid-Century Modern. A 2010 Omaha Historic Building Survey of Mid-Century Modern neighborhoods by Leo A. Daly architects Christina Jansen and Jennifer Honebrink offered a blueprint or map for the tour.

For tour participants, it meant getting inside homes they may have long-admired from afar or been curious to see for themselves the various ways in which these structures bring the outdoors “in.”

Mid-Century Modern homeowners like Mark Manhart and Bonnie Gill love their residences. “We both feel we have lived here forever and plan no move now or later,” says Manhart.

Gerber says there’s growing appreciation for the style’s ahead-of-its-time characteristics of flat roofs, open floor plans, floor-to-ceiling windows, ample natural light, and green design-construction elements.

There’s motivation, too, in obtaining National Register of Historic Places status for select Mid-Century Modern structures and neighborhoods that qualify.

Mid-Century Modern can be found in other metro neighborhoods besides Indian Hills, but some intentional decisions made it the prime site for it to flower here.

Food manufacturer brothers Gilbert and W. Clarke Swanson, along with architect Leo A. Daly, saw potential to develop a modern, upscale suburban neighborhood taking its name from the old Indian Hills Golf Course. Commercial structures, such as Christ the King Church and the Leo A. Daly company headquarters, became shining examples of this modernist-inspired architectural style.

Leo A. Daly company headquarters.

Leo A. Daly company headquarters is a shining model of modernist-inspired architecture.

But it was left up to a pair of edgy young architects, Don Polsky and Stanley J. How, Sr., to design dozens of residential homes in this new development featuring the attributes, values, and principles of Mid-Century Modern. How also designed one of Omaha’s most distinctive luxury apartment buildings, the sleek Swanson Towers, in Indian Hills. The building has since been converted to condominiums.

Together, the Swansons, Daly, How, and Polksy transformed the “built Omaha.”

“They were young tigers and weren’t necessarily rooted in doing the same old thing, and I think they saw an opportunity to do some things that were really unique and new,” says Stan How, president of Stanley J. How Architects, the company his late father founded. He says his father was “a cutting-edge guy.”

Polsky apprenticed with superstar modernist architect Richard Neutra in Los Angeles and borrowed concepts from his mentor and others for the work he did in Omaha. He says Mid-Century Modern’s appeal all these years later makes sense because its forward-thinking approaches and emphasis on clean lines, simplicity, and efficient use of space are what many homebuyers look for today.

“We were green before its time, we put in a lot of insulation, we shaded our windows, we oriented things towards light, and brought light into the home. We used insulating glass, we planted trees to give us shade, we broke the wind from the north, and we worked with the client’s budget on the configuration of the sight,” Polsky says. Passive solar features and energy-efficient systems were rarities then.

Stan How says his father began practicing architecture for Leo A. Daly right as the modernist movement caught on. “He started his career at a perfect time to absorb all these new things going on. When he went out on his own, he had some clients who had the guts, he’d always say, to explore some of these ideas and let him toy around with that.” Mike Ford became a key early client.

Stan How, Sr., turned his business over to his son in 1990 but still came into the office every day until his death in December 2011.

Stan How, Sr., turned his business over to his son in 1990 but still came into the office every day until his death in December 2011.

“Mike was a young guy who wanted to do something really new, so my dad floated out the contemporary style or what we now call Mid-Century Modern, and Mike loved it. But he also didn’t want to be the only one on the street with a house like that, so he bought four lots and said, ‘Let’s do four spec houses,’ and that’s what they did.”

One of those Stanley How-designed homes, built in 1963, was later purchased by Mark Manhart and Bonnie Gill. Homebuyers like Ford were the exception, however, not the rule, as Mid-Century found relatively few takers.

“We’re a pretty conservative [town], Omaha. It’s not Los Angeles. I thought you’d just show a few things and they’d be beating a path to your door, but it didn’t turn out that way,” says Polsky. “There’s still a limited supply of buyers for this type of architecture but you do what you can, you carry the torch.”

Polsky marveled though at the huge turnout to see his homes and those of his old colleague, Stanley How, Sr. “It’s amazing how many people showed up,” he says.

Don Polsky at his drafting desk.

Don Polsky at his drafting desk, circa 1979.

Stan How says designs by his father and Polsky are the antithesis of the overblown, oversized McMansions many homeowners reject today. “I think people are coming back to simplicity.” Indeed, Mark Manhart says, “the clean lines and classic simplicity” of his home are major attraction points for he and his wife and the many inquirers who call on them.

The only regret How has is that his father wasn’t around to see all the love his homes are getting today. “He would have absolutely reveled in it. He would have loved it.”

The March 1-2 Restore Omaha Conference will once again offer a strong lineup of expert preservation and restoration presenters, says Gerber, who promises a dynamic host site that gives attendees an insider’s glimpse at some landmark. For more information, visit restoreomaha.org.

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

A Designer’s Perspective

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Updating modern architecture from 50 to 60 years ago with interior design true to the period was an exciting prospect for me as a designer. The style was in vogue as I was finishing college…in 1969. I love the design concepts [of Mid-Century Modern], form follows function, the simplicity of design, bringing the outdoors in. Famous architects of the period, such as LaCorbusier, inspired me so much that I was married in one of his French churches, built in 1955. In 1977, my husband Rob and I traveled to France, and we were married on July 7, 1977 (7-7-77) at Notre Dame du Haute. Fast-forward and 43 years have flown by, but there’s still a spot in my heart for the era.

When asked to help Dr. Paul and Kim Coleman of Omaha update their Mid-Century Modern home in Indian Hills, it wasn’t necessary for me to visit a library or go online to research what would be appropriate. I found the Colemans’ residence a wonderful canvas to execute the flavor of the architect’s design and re-emphasize the mood, materials, and focus of the home. Incorporating some of the same tiles available during those years, but with an updated color scheme, we brought the home’s bathrooms into the present. (Unfortunately, the tile company has just recently gone out of business.)

It was popular to use “scrim” style casements for draperies…sheer enough to see the garden through them. This year, the final touch was installing new draperies on the glass walls that cover the entire backside of the home. The Colemans’ style is exactly what would have been considered the best choice for this architecture.

All the furniture of the home takes its inspiration from the styles popular at the time, lighter-colored fabrics and leathers and touches of black as accent. Lighting that is functional, such as by Omaha’s own famous lighting designer, Cederic Hartman, created floats in front of the windows. Large, colorful but minimal art and hand-crafted accessories supplement the more modern-style accessories to compliment the space and bring color to the quiet, restful spaces.

Another influence popular during this era was the use of Oriental themes for simplicity…usually more Japanese than Chinese. The sleek, minimal styles blended well and the colors were wonderfully compatible. In this case, I worked in Celedon vases and branches that compliment the Oriental theme and drew the nature influence into the mix. (I am told the home was decorated with an Oriental style originally.)

The materials common in flooring were practical and durable, such as tile, stone, wood, cork, and in this case, terrazzo. We repaired the materials when possible or found similar materials to replace them.

The over-scale landscape by Nebraskan Hal Holoun was a perfect touch. The scene of Nebraska’s big sky at sunset is stunning and serene, casting a spell of calm as evening comes on. The classic fireplace at the opposite end of the living room flickers with it’s comforting glow.

The home’s architect, Stan How, understood the idea of simple elegance and function in his design. This sleek, clean design, spare and open to the sunlit garden, reflects the outdoors and unites the interior to the patio year round. The glass walls include nature in daily living while the extended roofline protects it from the summer’s sun. The winter sun’s warmth flows in when the sun lowers in the sky. During the ‘60s, these design concepts were strong and the beautiful Colemans’ residence is an accurate reflection of the period. We have much we could learn from this practice.

Today, with the desire of many homeowners to be conscious of living conservatively, the examples of the Colemans’ home are a perfect solution.