Tag Archives: F.A. Henninger

Clarence Wigington

December 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When she lived a block away, Linda Williams would pass the Broomfield duplex at 25th and Lake streets almost every day. That was a little more than a decade ago.

As she walked past the duplex, she remembers thinking, “There is something interesting about that building…something I really like.” She liked the diamond shapes inside the top border, the hints of classical style in the columns in the front, as well as the rhythm and symmetry in the arched windows.

She did not know what made the building so special until a 2002 trip to the Great Plains Black History Museum.

clarencewigington2It turned out that the Broomfield duplex, built in 1913, was indeed special. In 1909, it won first prize for “best two-family brick dwelling” in a national competition sponsored by Good Housekeeping magazine. The duplex’s 2502-2504 Lake St. address was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, too.

But what made it particularly significant was that it was one of many residential structures in the area designed by Nebraska’s first African-American architect and also the nation’s first African-American municipal architect—Clarence W. “Cap” Wigington.

Williams was shocked. She had a Bachelor of Science in design from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Architecture, and this was the first time she had ever heard about Wigington.

“I thought, ‘If I’m educated and I don’t know about him, there are a lot of other people who don’t know about him,’” Williams says. “So ever since then, I’ve been spreading the word about him.”

Williams, who works in the architecture field, has spent the last several years working to shine light onto Wigington’s work. She has presented seminars about Wigington for the Douglas County Historical Society and currently leads Restoration Exchange Omaha’s North 24th Street Walking Tour, which highlights three of Wigington’s significant Omaha buildings.

Wigington was born in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1883 and his family moved to Omaha shortly thereafter. Wigington graduated from Central High School (then Omaha High School) at age 15 and worked for the prominent Nebraska architect Thomas Kimball for six years before opening his own office. While he was in Omaha, he designed almost a dozen homes by independent commission, mostly in his North Omaha neighborhood. In 1914, he and his family moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he served as a senior designer for the City of St. Paul for 34 years. He designed several municipal buildings as well as monumental ice palaces for the St. Paul Winter Carnival in the 1930s and 1940s. He passed away in Kansas City in 1967 at age 84.

While Williams highlights several structures on her 24th Street tour, including Kimball’s Black History Museum and the Jewel Building (designed by F.A. Henninger), she spends a significant amount of time and effort explaining the three buildings on the route by Wigington.

She talks about the Broomfield duplex and the fact that it was actually one of two identical duplexes on the corner designed by Wigington. The second, called the Crutchfield duplex, was destroyed by a fire in the 1980s. Williams talks about Zion Baptist Church at 2215 Grant St., another structure on the National Register with big classical columns, original stained glass windows, and a cornerstone with Wigington’s name. And she talks about the prairie style and craftsman elements of St. John’s African Methodist Episcopal Church at 617 N. 18th St., which Wigington helped remodel.

“I thought, ‘If I’m educated and I don’t know about him, there are a lot of other people who don’t know about him. So ever since then, I’ve been spreading the word about him.”  -Linda Williams

Williams’ dedication has so far caught the attention of architecture and preservation aficionados in Omaha and nationwide. In 2015, she won a diversity scholarship through Historic New England and she was recently named a Diversity Scholar by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Another recent honor was particularly significant to Williams, even though it was not even for her. In October, the Central High Alumni Association inducted Wigington into their hall of fame. Since no one from Wigington’s family was able to accept the award, Williams was asked to accept on their behalf. Williams plans to deliver the award to the family, who live in Chicago, this year.

It was a humbling honor to accept the award and a humbling duty to continue sharing Wigington’s legacy with everyone who will listen. She says it is important for people to know not only what he did, but that he accomplished so much during a time in history when black men faced significant challenges.

“When you think about that particular time and era, there was Jim Crowism going on,” says Ethel Mitchell, current owner of the Broomfield duplex. “To have this black man do what he did and design this type of building was just unheard of. It’s hard to put words to that—it’s just outstanding.”

Visit restorationexchange.org/events/walking-tours to learn more.

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Sophisticated Simplicity

September 3, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The newest devotee of the work done to the stately property at 38th and California streets also happens to be among its oldest—in more ways than one.

“Walking into that home again all these years later,” says Joe Barmettler, “was just pure magic.” The retired attorney was recently feted on the occasion of his 80th birthday in the home built in 1917 for his grandfather, bakery magnate Otto Barmettler. “They did a beautiful job with the house,” Barmettler adds. “I was flabbergasted at every turn.”

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“They” refers to Avery Loschen and Will Perkins, the current owners who have spent the last few years meticulously restoring the once-faded Gold Coast beauty.

Girded by towering pines on its perch atop a hillock, the home has a breathtaking view of the Downtown Omaha skyline.

And how did the Barmettler clan wrangle an invitation from all-but-perfect strangers?

Perkins (left) with Loschen and their Old English Sheepdog, Bridget.

Perkins (left) with Loschen and their Old English Sheepdog, Bridget.

“It all just kind of came together,” says Loschen with a chuckle. “We love to entertain. Our goal here with this house can be described as ‘social, social, social.’ We want to use the house for entertaining and hosting fundraisers.” Loschen, a real-estate investor, had previously spent nearly two decades at the helm of an Oregon-based nonprofit.

Since the home is still what the owners call “a work in progress,” the pair has a long list of projects slated for the property. Loschen and Perkins currently use a third-floor ballroom as storage while it awaits new life, and the three-bedroom caretaker’s house will become the studio for Perkins’ interior design practice.

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Designed by famed architect F.A. Henninger, the 10,000-square-foot Second Renaissance Revival home features Doric columns framing pavilions of multi-paned, floor-to-ceiling windows. Also among Henninger’s lasting contributions to the Omaha landscape, several of which are listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, are the Havens-Page House on the northeast corner of 39th and Dodge streets, the Jewell Building (once the site of the legendary Dreamland Ballroom and now the home of Love’s Jazz and Arts Center), and the ever-popular Elmwood Park Pavilion.

Peeling away layers of history revealed more than a few surprises. Among the pair’s archeological finds were richly patinaed cookie tins bearing the logo of the Iten-Barmettler Biscuit Company. Also unearthed was a long-forgotten, boarded-up bathroom. In addition, Loschen and Perkins discovered hand-painted Arts and Crafts wallpaper borders that will be recreated in their original positions throughout the home.

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And ranking highest on the serendipity scale? That would be the story of the rather circuitous route traveled by the home’s roofing material.

“The company we hired to do the roof,” Loschen says, “stumbled upon the original Spanish tile in a salvage yard, and we were able to buy it all back. Better yet, the manufacturer is still in business and had the original molds, so we were able to fill in here and there where needed.”

Like a pair of Canada geese, Perkins and Loschen tend to migrate through their home with the changing of the seasons. The sun-drenched South Solarium is a favorite for morning coffee during spring and summer. The warm hues of the mahogany-clad library, complete with one of the home’s several fireplaces, offers a cozy respite from winter’s chill.

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The space is decorated in an eclectic mix of antique furnishings and art, including a work by David Stirling (1887-1971). The Corydon, Iowa-born landscape painter worked in Estes Park and throughout the Rocky Mountains for 50 years in the early part of the 20th century.

“It’s a deliberate blend of styles to emulate a historic look without being stiff or stuffy,” Perkins explains, defining his home’s feel. “It’s all about comfort, both for us and our guests.”

The “comfort” theme continues in the kitchen, which itself delivers a lesson in history.

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“A kitchen in a house like this,” Perkins explains, “would have never been seen by guests. All of the floors in the service areas are in maple and the public part of the house is in oak. We wanted to keep that theme of simplicity in all aspects of the kitchen, so we kept the maple.”

“Only after we found it four layers down,” Loschen quips.

A space once invisible to all but servants now bustles with conversation whenever guests arrive in the home. Quite a change from its middle-aged, frumpier years when the home served as a dormitory for the adjacent Duchesne Academy.

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Whether in the most intimate of gatherings or, as in the case of a holiday party that found over 200 people circulating with ease through the cavernous home, Loschen and Perkins have created a “social, social, social” space for entertaining. Loschen sums up the couple’s philosophy with yet another riff on the theme of hospitable yet sophisticated simplicity.

“Why have a home like this,” he muses, “unless you want to share it?”