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.”