Tag Archives: Brandeis

Nostalgia: Ain’t What it Used to Be

April 17, 2015 by

Originally published in May/June 2015 edition of 60-Plus in Omaha.

Peony Park was where you danced indoors in the Royal Terrace Ballroom and under the stars in the Royal Grove.

Remember meeting the amusement park’s mascot, Peony the Skunk? (Some people called her “Stinky.”) Or playing Dodgem? Or KOIL Radio’s dance party in the Royal Grove? Or splashing in the Peony Park swimming pool?

You have been around at least 50 years if you remember never seeing women on the Omaha City Council. Betty Abbott blazed the way in 1965. Of course, Omaha finally has its first woman mayor. And it only took 160 years after the city’s founding.

Your first escalator ride was at the downtown Brandeis store on what was the city’s first escalator.

Come to think of it, you remember when there was an actual Brandeis store, a place where shopping became a social event.

Younkers’ stores were called Kilpatrick’s.

Your “health club” was a YWCA or YMCA.

And the YWCA was actually called the YWCA, not the Women’s Center for Advancement.

Horses, not college students, were housed in the Ak-Sar-Ben area. The college students are only slightly less messy than the horses were.

Ak-Sar-Ben horse racing was a live video game you played before there were video games.

Warren Buffett was yet to make his first billion. Remember when you could afford to buy a share of Berkshire Hathaway?

The idea of “Omaha” extended only about as far as 90th Street. Today, that’s more like midtown.

The Henry Doorly Zoo was called Riverview Park. There was a lone, forlorn bear and two moose.

The sprawling University of Nebraska-Omaha was then the smaller University of Omaha, called disparagingly by some “West Dodge High.”

Remember when Elkhorn was a city? Oh, wait…that wasn’t so very long ago!

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An Omaha Christmas Story

December 23, 2014 by
Photography by The Nebraska State Historical Society

When Bill Eustice first saw the movie A Christmas Story, he thought, “I’ve been there. That’s me.”

Just like Ralphie in the classic holiday movie, Bill Eustice as a child was enthralled by a department store at Christmas. His store was Brandeis in downtown Omaha in the 1950s.

The anticipation of seeing Brandeis store windows light up for the holidays kept Eustice and his mother anxiously driving up and down 16th Street.

They were waiting. And waiting. Hoping to see the beautiful window displays finally appear. It was a major event in Omaha at the time.

“We drove around weekends until the day they were revealed,“ he says. “Brandeis was so secretive about it.”

Finally the day arrived. Eustice thinks it may have been right before Thanksgiving. Crowds formed to see inside the five windows. The brightly lit displays were left burning all night.

Eustice remembers mechanical Santas and reindeer in motion in the window displays. He became wide-eyed seeing a toy train run around and around.

“All the time, kids would be in front of the store, looking at the windows, gawking,” he says. “The windows got more elaborate as time went on over the years.”

Even today when he walks by the windows of the downtown Brandeis building just a few blocks from the law office where he is an attorney, memories come rushing back.

“It was a magical childhood. Everything was still new,” says Eustice. A visit to Santa Claus and his elves was another highlight. “It was kind of scary. Some kids cried.”

He says it’s an era that no longer exists. “Today you go to a shopping center, it’s just a small segment of the mall. Whereas with Brandeis, the whole store was magical.”

He remembers that his first ride on an escalator was at Brandeis. Escalators were something of a novelty at the time.

Now when he visits the Brandeis building—which closed as a department store in 1980—he spots the same Romanesque pillars that fascinated him when he was a boy. “And the Art Deco elevators haven’t changed.”

There was Toyland, a wonderland. “I used to hang around the toy department while my mom shopped,” he says.

And restaurants. “The basement had a restaurant called Hamburger Heaven. I thought it was a great name and still is for a kid.”

At times, he would go with his mother to her favorite Brandeis restaurant, The Tea Room, the “place to be” at the time. With six restaurants in the building, Brandeis fed 10,000 people a day and most likely more during the holiday season.

The wonderland that was Brandeis at Christmastime is a memory Eustice will never forget. “As a kid, you were seeing everything in black and white on TV,” he says. “Then you went downtown and saw those colorful displays.

“Life was simpler back then. Everything looked like Leave it to Beaver.”

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