Tag Archives: library

W. Dale Clark Library: A Reflection of Omaha

February 21, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Why  are  libraries  relevant? For Rem Koolhaas, international architect and designer of one of America’s premier libraries in Seattle, “in an age where information can be accessed anywhere, it is the simultaneity of all media and, more importantly, the curatorship of their content that makes the library vital.”

This compelling principle of curation—a thoughtful way of organizing and presenting content—is how the Omaha Public Library’s W. Dale Clark branch promotes free public access to multimedia information, programming, and assets inside and outside the four walls of  215 S. 15th St. The library’s architecture, in turn, is both a container for, and reflection of, the community of Omaha at large.
Omaha’s first permanent public library opened in 1877 at 18th and Harney streets. Designed by Thomas Kimball, it was Omaha’s first building dedicated solely to a public library. However, with a capacity of 46,000 books and drastically out of sync with modern needs, the library outgrew this historic building after World War II. Often referred to as “the worst library in America” and “the horror on Harney Street,” city and library officials began contemplating a new building and the role a new central library would have in defining the cultural core of Omaha in the late 1950s.

While some branches of the Omaha Public Library system are named after locations, others are named after prominent city leaders and/or major funders. The central library branch is named after W. Dale Clark, a long-time banker, civic leader, and Omaha World-Herald board member. It is no coincidence then that during the development of this new central branch, the Omaha World-Herald was often a soapbox for the library’s necessity as a cultural anchor. A June 9, 1957, article explained, “a library should offer the opportunity for enlightened citizenship and the continuing education and cultural advancement necessary to a working democracy.” This sentiment held true for W. Dale Clark as well.

Although Clark did not live to see the completion of his library branch, which began construction in 1975, the 124,500-square-foot Bedford limestone monolith opened on March 9, 1977. Architects John Latenser & Sons of Omaha designed the $7 million open-plan building to accommodate 350 patrons and 400,000 volumes (the current collection is 500,000+ volumes). The Omaha World-Herald defined the opening as “the greatest event in Omaha’s history.”

Little has changed architecturally to the branch since 1977, although its surroundings continue to take shape—the neighborhood is part of a six-block $15 million revitalization plan.

The striated five-story W. Dale Clark Library opens laterally east and west and features a 110-foot bridge on the west entrance that spans a parking moat below for 48 cars, special facilities for audio-visual materials, a large open atrium, contemporary art gallery, and significant art collection including Catherine Ferguson’s sculpture Totem and an Olga de Amaral tapestry. The central library maintains practical roles to store government documents, house the ever-growing genealogy department, and to be a repository for community history.

In a building nearly 40 years old, how has the Omaha Public Library advanced into the digital age—an age where traditional media is seen as almost cliché? The answer is quite simple: curated in-person programing.

The facilitators for this community-driven programing are the 78 library staff at the W. Dale Clark branch. With a web of knowledge and resources, Emily Getzschman, the marketing manager for OPL acknowledges, “the staff are our greatest asset.” They fulfill the library’s tagline “open your world” by connecting dots—many of which are obvious (GED training, citizenship assistance, computer training, and literacy classes) and others that seem more disparate (STD screening, a toy lending library, speed dating, a culinary conference, and facilitated conversations around contemporary topics) all under a major OPL tenet of non-discrimination. As Amy Mather, adult services manager, says, “the library allows a smooth transition where a barrier may be to connect people with ideas.” In many instances, the library is filling voids in the public domain with this free niche programming—all of which is community driven.

Since its beginning, some have questioned the role and need for the Omaha Public Library—a story that continues to play out today. These opposing views undermine the very role of the public library as a space to define, beyond hierarchies, the community of Omaha.

It is a privilege and right to use the Omaha Public Library, which is free and open to all of the public. Everyone and anyone has access to its curated network of resources. The potency of programming, outreach, and staff reverberates beyond its architecture and stated mission placing OPL at the frontier of relevancy. As Mather says, “this is your library.”
omahapubliclibrary.org/w-dale-clark-library 

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

Circular Logic

December 28, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In a good bookroom,” Mark Twain once quipped, “you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.”

This magnificent example of a “good bookroom” is found in a Lincoln home where the magic of reading is much appreciated.

Forming a turret on one corner of the home is this towering, double-decker circle of learning connected by a spiral staircase. Old World aesthetics merge with machine age materials as stainless steel is juxtaposed against the warm, lush grains of English Burl, forming a vibe that dwells at the intersection of the contemporary and the classic.

The famed architecture firm of Porphyrios and Associates in London designed the
ink-strewn space.

The homeowners estimate that their A-to-Z repository of the printed word houses a mere…oh, 10,000 volumes, give or take.

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Meet the Reiners

September 2, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The new library located in Metcalfe Park is doing a brisk business. Oh, you didn’t know that the park in the Country Club neighborhood had its own library? At about 20 cubic inches, this “library”—a simple house-shaped box on a pedestal—could be easy to miss…except, of course, for all the kids usually gathered around it selecting children’s books while following a “take-one-leave-one” lending policy.

The open-air library is the work of Kim Reiner, who is a public relations coordinator with Omaha Performing Arts. She and husband, Kevin, are the parents of Henry (4), and Charlotte (2).

Kim is also a blogger, and her “Oh My! Omaha” site is a parent’s guide to the city.

That’s how Kim got into the library business to begin with. Post Alpha Bits cereal had contacted hyper-local bloggers across the nation with an offer to supply one of their Little Free Library kits in an effort to promote early childhood literacy.

Perhaps as much as any single space in Omaha, Metcalfe Park represents the classic melting pot view of what it means to be an American. Little girls in hijabs play with Somali refugees who play with Burmese children—most too young to understand the gift that their parents have given them in bringing them to our country.

“Many of the kids who play in the park are learning English,” Kim explains, “so it’s really inspiring to know that their first book in their new world—their very first book in English—might just be one from the Little Free Library.”

“Take it another step,” adds Kevin, “and think about the idea that many of those kids’ parents may be learning the language through the same books. It’s been said that countless immigrants have learned English by watching Sesame Street with their kids, so I picture moms and dads and kids all learning together with the children’s books that flow through that library.”

Kevin also works in the creative world as a digital media producer with Clark Creative Group. You’ve probably seen a million of his TV commercials and other projects but, just like Kim, he’s also played a role in delivering fine art magic on the Orpheum Theater stage and beyond. Kevin created the animations that became the projected backdrops for the Jun Kaneko-designed productions of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (Opera Omaha), Beethoven’s Fidelio (The Opera Company of Philadelphia), and Mozart’s The Magic Flute (Washington National Opera).

So it’s no surprise that Henry and Charlotte are being raised in an environment where they are immersed in art and culture.

“It’s kind of a hit-or-miss experiment every time we take in a show in terms of learning what the kids are now old enough to sit through,” Kim says, “but it’s great to experience theater and other cultural events through the lens of your kids. You take in a production in entirely new ways when your kids are by your side.”

Henry, Kim and Kevin explain, is a builder of considerable talent. Just give him enough of anything—from Legos to lima beans—and he’ll soon assemble an impressive architectural feat of some kind, ones that usually incorporate a wildly imaginative collection of other, seemingly unrelated found objects.

“He’s a mixed media artist,” Kevin adds with a chuckle.

The young boy is also pretty good with movie and book quotes. When a recent shopping trip found Henry crossing the threshold of a local big box store—the one with the red bullseye logo—he was compelled to blurt out “You’re not the Target market, weirdo,” in echoing a line from the film The Lorax.

“And then there was the ‘As you wish’ kick that came after we watched The Princess Bride,” adds Kim. “He was begging for a bonus bedtime story one night and I finally caved with an ‘Okay, okay’ when he corrected me and said ‘No, mom, you’re supposed to say ‘as you wish,’ just like in the movie.”

Charlotte is described by the Reiners as being perhaps a bit more extroverted than her brother. “Henry is more gentle-goofy,” Kim says, “and Charlotte is more spirited. She’s a force to be reckoned with.”

“We’ll go to, say, Jazz on the Green,” Kevin says, “and Charlotte is the kid that will plop down next to any group of people and just start chatting away.”

Charlotte’s dreamland domain of late is the backyard sandbox. The adorable tot was encrusted almost head-to-toe in a rime of sand the evening of the interview.

“That’s where we look whenever anything goes missing in the house,” Kim quips. “We check the sandbox first.”

“Yeah, like that’s where we found last night’s leftover pizza dough,” Kevin winks.

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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?”

Dusty and Marlina Davidson

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In a fit of late-night online browsing in 2004, Dusty and Marlina Davidson responded to a quirkily written classified for an Old Market apartment: “Super fly loft. Huge windows, two bedrooms, 2,000 square feet.”

With their minds set on moving out of their bland rental into something with a little more character, the couple stopped by the downtown loft the next morning. And moved in the next week. “It was a blink of an eye sort of thing,” Dusty says.

Neither of the Council Bluffs natives had lived downtown before, but both were ready to be in the heart of Omaha. They cite the energy of the Old Market, the Farmers Market (“We go down once a week and get stuff from our ‘garden,’” Marlina says, laughing), and the never-ending supply of things to do.

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The spacious loft seems TV-show ready, with exposed bricks and piping and scarred concrete. Contemporary décor, set off with pieces from IKEA, local designers, and heirlooms, keeps the two-bedroom apartment looking Young Professional Modern and not College Student Artistic.

The foyer is long and narrow, with a tiny seating area, a few plants, and gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows framed by heavy, white curtains. “It’s a weird space,” Dusty says, but the bar is down there, and it’s a good overflow area for entertaining. A little bit of a library adds an intellectual flare to the area, thanks to Dusty’s grandmother gifting him three or four classics on his birthdays. “I wish I enjoyed reading as much as I enjoy books,” he says.

The couple has considered buying a place but, as Marlina says, “We love the location, the frontage, the windows.”

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“The food truck,” Dusty adds with a sigh, pointing out where Localmotive parks right outside on 12th and Jackson every night. “We can’t be bothered to move. It’s sort of like inertia on some level, but we really love our place.”

A few years into living in their no-name building, the Davidsons made the acquaintance of local designer Jessica McKay of Birdhouse Interior Design. With her help, the couple learned how to give their personal style a voice in their Old Market home. “We bought a few pieces,” Marlina says, “but really I think it was more about what do we have and how do reorganize it so that it makes sense.”

One long-loved piece takes pride of place in the loft’s entryway: a bright blue Ms. Pac-Man arcade gaming console, built by Dusty as a gift for Marlina when they were dating. “He bought it as a black box,” she explains, noting he had an artist friend hand paint the iconic character on the console because it was her favorite. An old CRT television is the screen and is hooked up to a computer loaded with thousands of arcade and Nintendo games. “It’s fun when we have people over for the holidays or a party,” Marlina says.20130122_bs_2642 copy

You won’t find them entertaining much during the summer, however. For the past two years, the Davidsons have rented out their apartment to College World Series visitors and escaped the season’s craziness with a European working vacation. “I’m fine never seeing the College World Series again if we can get someone to pay us to go to France,” Dusty says. The couple plan to rent an apartment in Paris again this summer, a scheme that pans out nicely for his work as a serial entrepreneur with Silicon Prairie News and Flywheel, and her summers off from lecturing in communications at UNO.

If that sounds good to other young professionals in town, the Davidsons are all encouragement. “I think there’s more of us down here than people realize,” Dusty says. “There are places to be had. You can find them.”