Tag Archives: Blackstone

The Banses

August 14, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Engra wed Ronald Banse, the couple shared a dream for their matrimonial abode. They wanted more space in an older home.

He lived in the Field Club area, while she resided in Dundee. Neither of their former homes would suffice.

They searched for about a year before discovering a mansion built in 1905 in the now-resurgent Blackstone district.

Banses4It’s a grand place, but if you ask the homeowners, it is simply home.

“We were awed by the sense of space in this room,” says Ronald as he surveys the main room. “It was the ceilings and the quality. You just don’t find this any place.”

Engra, on top of her attraction to the mansion’s space and heritage, has an academic appreciation for the structure. She studied architecture in college. “They call it a Georgian Revival home because of the exterior, but equally important is the interior,” she says.

The home offers many original features, such as mahogany throughout the formal dining room. The mahogany stops at the edge of the dining room, where the wood becomes a less-expensive maple.

“The woods are used according to status,” Engra says. The door jamb is mahogany on the side where the family and guests would have seen it, but becomes maple on the half that would be seen by servants.”

The original-looking kitchen was actually completely renovated by Engra to look authentic to the time period. The couple first ripped out the cabinets, which uncovered several windows in the room.

Banses1“It was like a whole different room at that point,” Engra says. She then stripped the woodwork and began considering other ways to make the room look even more accurate to its original time period.

A pantry became the refrigerator, which was covered with wood and made to resemble an icebox.

As the original home would not have featured many appliances, the butler’s pantry has become extra storage. The north side of the pantry is original, but the south side has been expanded. The couple found 100-year-old glass to maintain the older home’s appearance. Since they like to entertain, they have made room in the butler’s pantry for a stacking freezer and fridge hidden in the cabinetry.

The home uses radiated heat, and one heater in the butler’s pantry, specifically, is used to help with entertaining. A radiator that resembles a tea tray is perfect for keeping food warm until it is time to serve.

This is a home built with the intention that domestic workers would maintain it. There are two staircases: one main staircase for the family, and a second staircase for hired help.

Although the home uses radiant heat, the place contains two fireplaces. Original green tiles surround one hearth in the main room. Original blue tiles surround the other in the library on the top floor. Unlike many homes with multiple hearths, the two fireplaces use the same flue instead of having separate chimneys.

Throughout the spacious house, original oil paintings by Engra hang on the walls. There is plenty of room for the couple and their unique possessions.

“What home can accommodate a 7-foot-tall asparagus?” Engra says of one of her paintings. “It just makes me smile.”   OmahaHome

Local Musician Trades California for Omaha

July 1, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Venice, California, tempts many people—with sandy beaches and year-round sunshine, it is obvious why folks from around the world flock to the destination. Josh Soto has lived there, and he moved on. He now calls Omaha home.

For the sake of Omaha’s music scene, Soto traded Southern California’s serene climate for volatile weather and bitter winters. He relocated five years ago, and he has been a fixture ever since.

Almost immediately after coming to Omaha, he started playing bass for a local band called The Scene, and he worked at Guitar Center. “I played in the Scene for about five years, and just from working there (at Guitar Center) I got to meet everyone and kind of integrate myself into the Omaha music scene,” Soto says.

JoshSoto2Soto says Omaha feels so much like home it sometimes seems funny to think he came from a completely different place.

“It’s been a slow build, and it’s kind of funny how many people think I am from here,” Soto says. “I am a total gear junkie, so it kind of helped when people would come to me for advice, or just pick my brain about different things as a Guitar Center guy.”

After more than five years working at the shop near Oak View Mall, Soto is now the general manager of Ground Floor Guitars in the Blackstone District. He says Guitar Center customers often complained about the long commute to West Omaha. Ground Floor is a solution to their problem.

“I was approached by Phil (Schaffart, Ground Floor’s owner). He wanted to do a guitar shop in Blackstone, and it just made total sense,” Soto says.

According to Soto, Ground Floor won’t be the shop that has everything, but they will have the basics.

“We are going to have the essentials, so if you need a new pack of picks, or strings, an amp, or a new guitar, it’s all going to be right here,” Soto says.

Soto has a lot of love for the Omaha music scene, and he sees this new adventure with Ground Floor as a way to give back. “I think it is going to allow me to better serve my friends in the music community right here in the neighborhood,” he says.

He recognizes how meaningful it is for a good guitar shop to have caring and attentive employees who build relationships with customers. For Soto, the notion even carries a hint of nostalgia.

“I knew a guy named Josh that worked in Guitar Center back in Hollywood, and he always took care of me, from when I was a 15-year-old idiot kid who had no money to when I actually started being in bands and playing shows,” Soto says.

Soto says he wants to be that person for other guitarists: the guy who always takes care of you, your “man on the inside.” Soto wants people to know they can count on him to take care of their needs.

“It’s sweet that the people of Omaha have trusted me and kind of adopted me,” Soto says with a laugh. “I get a lot of personal satisfaction in being able to help people. I love talking about gear, and I am very fortunate that I can do what I love for a living.”

Just like his employment at Guitar Center, Soto’s band, The Scene, was bound for change, too.

“We did a lot of really cool stuff. We toured a lot, we played Maha in 2012, and we played the opening ceremonies for the College World Series two years ago,” Soto says. “That band just recently ended.”

Soto briefly played with several local bands before joining his current group, High Up. Soto says his first rehearsal with High Up carried a very surreal realization.

“I’m playing with all stars,” Soto says. “That was one of those pinch me moments where I thought, ‘I’m playing with these guys?’” The rest of the band consists of Christine and Orenda Fink (vocals), Greg Elsasser (keyboard), and Eric Ohlsson (drums).

High Up got together just over a year ago and the band is sure to remain in the Omaha music scene for some time—much like their bassist, Josh Soto. Encounter

Visit highup1.bandcamp.com for more information.

Blackstone Royale

October 15, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Rhonda and Wayne Stuberg’s home at 3708 Farnam Street needs little introduction. It’s “that” house, the grand stone home easily visible while driving down Dodge Street to the east towards Midtown Crossing, or to the west towards Corkscrew Wine & Cheese or The Pella at Blackstone.

The 1907 home, designed by architects George Fisher and Harry Lawrie, is Jacobethan Revival—a style of architecture that combines the horizontal lines of Elizabethan architecture with vertical columns and pilasters as in the Jacobean era.

The style includes flattened arches, featured in the porch overhead and the carriage drop-off point on the west side of the house. The outside is constructed of light-grey stone with trim work around windows and doors, steep gables on the terra-cotta roof, and a tall chimney stack. Decorations around the exterior include relief panels that feature barley, hops, and grain—a nod to original owner Gottlieb Storz, founder of Storz Brewery.

The grand entrance includes a seven-feet-tall doorway created of dark wood and featuring a magnificent stained glass top tucked under a nine-feet-tall archway over the porch.


The mishmash of two old-English styles perfectly describes the inside of the house, which features everything from a light and airy solarium featuring a stained-glass skylight modeled after the one in the main dining room of ocean liner “The Bremen,” to a heavier-looking Victorian living area. The “formal” dining room is a more casual Mission style.

It’s a place where a family can live in comfort, and a bride can float down a staircase and stop at a landing to have her portrait captured—standing next to original art nouveau lamp balustrades.

Then there’s the top-floor ballroom, known as the “Fred Astaire” ballroom as it is one of the few places in Omaha of which the actor, singer, and of course, dancer, retained memories. Nick Huff, co-owner of Hutch in Midtown Crossing, used the ballroom for the second Food Rave in April 2015.

“I said, ‘Oh, Nick, you don’t want to use that space, it isn’t finished!’” says Rhonda, whose son, Nick Stuberg, is friends with Huff. “But he insisted. I said ‘OK, at least let me take care of a couple of things.’ ”


“The house is gorgeous from top to bottom,” Huff said. “But I was just captivated by this room. It’s amazing, wooden floors with huge vaulted ceilings. The walls are this emerald green color. You walk up to this nondescript third floor. You walk through this small hallway, and then there’s this huge ballroom.”

The work that has gone into this home to bring it back has cost well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of labor, but Rhonda wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’ve always lived in older homes,” she says. “We thought about a condo, but I love to garden.”

She also loves living in the Blackstone neighborhood, and has become the president of the neighborhood association. She believes that future development of the area needs to take into consideration the historic value of its buildings. “The architectural features of historical buildings are works of art,” she maintains, “and should be treasured and restored like any other works of art.”

Storz Mansion