Tag Archives: Plattsmouth

Sketches of Omaha

December 19, 2018 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Derek Joy

A watercolor print featuring Joslyn Castle is the centerpiece of a young couple’s remodeled living room in the Dundee neighborhood. The image is a reminder of their wedding day and the location where they married.

The artist responsible, Julia Mason, doesn’t know the couple. But she’s happy her work can evoke this sentimental feeling. “It makes me feel proud and happy that I can create nostalgia for someone else,” she says.

It’s not the first time that a sighting of Mason’s artwork has come back to her with a personal anecdote attached. Mason’s friends often snap photos of her art in the wild and send evidence back to her. Sometimes they notice a print hanging in someone’s home; other times they notify her of a print gifted to some dislocated Omahan longing for familiar scenery.

“It’s exciting, and it makes me feel happy to see my work popping up someplace I wasn’t intending,” Mason says.

The daughter of mixed media and metal artist Vicki Mason of Plattsmouth, she appreciates the beautiful masonry patterns found around Omaha as she walks to the farmers market downtown, and she is fascinated by details in older architecture.

“Just by walking, you can observe a lot more character from a building than you would driving,” she says.

Although best known for her sketches of local neighborhoods, Mason says world travel has inspired her Omaha-centric work.

While studying secondary education with an emphasis in art at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, a two-week summer study abroad experience took her to the British Museum, the National Gallery in London, Scotland National Gallery, and traipsing through Britain’s many beautiful cathedrals.

In Edinburgh, Scotland, she discovered the work of Glasgow artist Libby Walker. She bought a print—a detailed pen drawing of a local scene—to remind her of the city, and she has since purchased more of Walker’s work for display in her home.

Mason kept a journal to document the trip, and the journal inspired her first solo art show at Paperdoll in Benson. “I started with showing at Benson First Friday, and that gave me the confidence to start making art for other people,” she says.

The travel bug bit again, and she went to Costa Rica for four months to study at Veritas University. At the end of the trip, she organized an art show at a local cafe. She presented observational drawings of her neighborhood and images of fruit and flowers from her host family’s residence. She titled the show, Costa Rica Through My Eyes.

“I like to remember the places I have been through my art collection,” she says. “I wanted to bring that kind of nostalgic experience to our community.”

After Costa Rica, she decided to try her hand at depicting Omaha’s beloved local scenes. Her first print consisted of a montage of Dundee scenes. She now has prints for many of Omaha’s older neighborhoods, which are available for sale at Hutch in Midtown Crossing, at local pop-up markets throughout town, and her website.

Travel remains a major source of inspiration for Mason. She recently returned from a leisure trip to Hawaii where she gravitated toward local illustrators that represent the community in their work.

When traveling, Mason always carries a travel journal with her to draw and paint from observation. “I think of it like a souvenir,” she says. “Drawing and painting the waves of North Shore was a new experience for me, so it was a bit of a challenge with the moving waves. I always feel like a better person after painting than I do before sitting down. It recharges me.”

Three years into her teaching career as a traveling art teacher at Beals and Indian Hill elementary schools, Mason decided to go full-time as an artist. “If I fail, I always have a career to fall back on. Now I get to work in my yoga pants and listen to podcasts as I paint. It’s the dream,” she says, adding that she continues to substitute teach for Omaha Public Schools.

She says that life is too short to be unhappy in your career and has this advice for others seeking to start their own business: “Build your small business with your full-time job, and when you are ready, find a way to supplement your business part-time until it thrives on its own.”

Since making the entrepreneurial leap of faith, demand for work has filled her calendar. “Inventory is something I am always trying to keep up with,” she says, adding that prices are intentionally reasonable. She wants her work to be accessible to all, and she receives orders from Oregon, New York, South Dakota, and across the country.

“It’s reaching a bigger audience than I ever anticipated,” she says. “I am happy that so many are connecting with it. Omahans are everywhere!”

Visit juliamasonart.com for more information.

This article was printed in the January/February edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Obviously Omaha

June 29, 2016 by
Bohemian Cafe

Bohemian Cafe

Outdoor Adventure Center

Outdoor Adventure Center

Farmers' Markets

Farmers’ Markets

Alpine Inn

Alpine Inn

Farnam House Brewing Company

Farnam House Brewing Company

Omaha's Original Greek Festival

Omaha’s Original Greek Festival

Omaha’s Czech community will lose a cornerstone of culinary heritage with the shuttering of the Bohemian Cafe (1406 S. 13th St.) scheduled for September. Enjoy dining on their signature plum dumplings, svickova, goulash, hasenpfeffer, and kolaches while you still can. Closure of the south Omaha staple is the latest in a trend affecting many of the city’s most historic restaurants.

Escape the sweltering heat by river. The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Outdoor Venture Center (OVC) offers affordable canoe, kayak, and stand-up paddle board rentals. Paddling from Schramm Park to Louisville State Recreation Areas is a mild 5.6-mile trip that takes roughly 2.5 hours on the Platte River. The OVC also rents camping equipment for those heading to the Niobrara River or other far-off destinations.

Summer is the season for farmers’ markets. Support local agriculture and artisanal vendors all across the metro area: Saturdays in the Old Market, Benson, Village Point, and Bellevue; Sundays at The Florence Mill and in Aksarben Village; Wednesdays at Charles Drew Health Center Market in North Omaha, and in Papillion; Thursdays on Council Bluffs’ Main Street; and Saturdays and Wednesdays in Plattsmouth.

The Alpine Inn feeds deep-fried dinner scraps to wild raccoons once daily outside their restaurant, 10405 Calhoun Rd. The feeding frenzy is not set by clock time; rather, the feast begins once customers’ leftovers fill a 5-gallon bucket. Raccoons linger impatiently opposite a large glass windows before and after evening meals.


Farnam House Brewing Company’s Bière de Garde won a silver medal at the 2016 World Beer Cup in May. The once-every-two-years event—billed as “the most prestigious beer competition in the world”—featured 6,596 beers from 1,907 breweries and 55 countries. The only other Nebraska brewery to medal was Lincoln’s Ploughshare Brewing Co. Bière de Garde means “beer for keeping” in French, and Farnam House keeps the farmhouse-style ale on tap year-round.

Remember to say, “Opa!” and head to St. John’s Greek Orthodox Church (St. Mary Ave. & Park Avenue) for Omaha’s Original Greek Festival on August 19-21. Authentic Greek music, culture, food, and alcohol await. Adult entry costs $3, and the event is free for children under age 12, students, military, police and fire department staff.

Keeping it Real

April 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Pounding sounds greet me as I walk into the Tudor Revival-style home of Kristine and Jared Gerber. The upstairs powder room was being noisily remodeled.

Perhaps you know the homeowner’s name. Kristine Gerber is the founding executive director of Restoration Exchange. The nonprofit offers walking tours, information, and meetings about Omaha’s older buildings and neighborhoods.

“We have been Omaha’s preservation voice. We educate, advocate, and motivate,” she says.

Which is part of the reason why the remodeling job in her own home is minimal. The house has changed little since it was built in 1931 in the Country Club Historic District of Omaha. This remodel will maintain its 1930s charm with the installation of historically accurate tile, and any remodeling during the home’s 75 years has maintained its original character.

“It’s important to us that our home have character and the original décor,” says Kristine.

Standing in the immaculately preserved house with oodles of charm is like being in a pristine dollhouse. And that’s OK with Kristine. “I like small, cozy places. We’ve loved old
houses forever.”

Until last year, Kristine and Jared lived in a raised ranch home built in the 1950s near 93rd and Leavenworth streets. With District 66 schools and one-half acre of lawn, it was a perfect place to raise their two sons.

Then their sons left home. Creighton is now an archaeologist in Sioux Falls, and Drew is a sophomore at Carleton College.

“We began looking for a home east of 60th Street,” says Kristine. “A home not remodeled, not gutted, with original fixtures and tiles. We looked for a year and a half from Ponca Hills to Plattsmouth.” 

They came across their Country Club-area home one day while volunteering at the historic Mercer mansion.

“Jared was gone for an hour. When he came back, he said, ‘You need to get to that house and make an offer’,” Kristine says.

Within hours, their offer was accepted. They moved in on Labor Day 2015.

Like the Gerbers’ home, most houses in the historic district are Tudor Revival style with steeply gabled roofs and half-timbered framing. The style was popular in the early 20th century. Brickwork is tapered, while arched windows display leaded glass and complement the doorways.

Old architecture suits them. Kristine has written and/or edited 32 books focused on the history of Omaha and Council Bluffs. Jared is an architect who has worked with owners to add to or remodel older homes.

The couple begin my tour of their historical home at the entryway with glass knobs on the front door and the original light fixture and tile.

The traditional beauty of quarter sawn oak floors covers the main level. “They are one and one-half inch wide instead of today’s standard two and one-quarter inch,” says Jared. “You can tell they are the originals by the width.”

Kristine says she loves the coved ceilings that have no square corners and make the room appear taller. The home’s original fireplace in the living area, once a main source of heat, has been converted to gas.

The kitchen has been modernized while retaining a 1930s feel. A bead-board ceiling and subway tile showcase the look of the era. A family room with a second fireplace sits in the basement.

Windows in the dining room overlook nearby Metcalfe Park.

Tucked off the living room is Jared’s small office, once a formal den. The room’s heavy wood doors with glass panes are original and elegant.

Kristine leads us to what she calls her “favorite room.”  A striking master bath with the original tiles and a basket-weave style floor is striking in black, white, and gold. A pedestal sink has been replaced with a look-alike to preserve the era.

Also on the first floor is the master bedroom. Two more bedrooms are on the second floor.

A staircase curves provocatively off the living area around a corner to the upper level. “There’s kind of an elegance to that,” muses Kristine.

The Gerbers give credit to former owners for maintaining the spirit of the home and avoiding renovations that would have taken away its historical ambiance. Their long search for the perfect house took them to homes poorly remodeled by their owners, says Kristine. They search no more. OmahaHome

Visit historiccountryclub.com to learn more


Putting the Fun in Functional

March 3, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

First-time visitors to the home of Cory and Teri Wehrbein often let out an audible “wow” or “whoa” when looking up, around, and through the property. Located on an acre of land off Bay Road in rural north Plattsmouth, an area still confusing to MapQuest and GPS, the home elicits spontaneous utterances of amazement for its creative, distinctive qualities.

The white exterior of the U-shaped home catches the eye immediately, contrasting with earth-toned neighboring homes spaced generously along the street. A row of oblong windows rises above the roofline, giving the illusion of a two-story home, when, in fact, it’s a one-story design. The windows, architecturally known as clerestory (pronounced clear story), catch the sun’s morning rays from the east and fill the white and gray interior with plenty of light and warmth during the cold Nebraska winters.

Columns of untreated cedar hold up the front porch’s metal overhang, while several cedar planks lie horizontally across the front window. More than an act of whimsy, the modern, external window treatment pays homage to Cory’s roots.

“I grew up on a dairy farm between Plattsmouth and Louisville,” says Cory, who, along with his brother, owns a landscaping and design company. “Teri’s and my goal outside was to have a modern-looking farmhouse and the clerestory mimics a barn.” Looking around, Cory adds, “There’s a story to everything we designed.”


The Wehrbeins’ story goes back to fifth grade, when they met. They married 15 years ago and have two children Mila, 9 and Micah, 7. Their ideas mesh perfectly and the house they designed, with the help of architect Jeremy Carlson of Omaha, reflects their personality: warm, welcoming, and lots of fun.

Walking through the front door, the eye catches a family restaurant-style dining booth of light hickory wood across the large room, just off the kitchen. “One of our children’s cousins says, ‘This is like eating at Applebee’s’,” laughs Teri. The space is just as social as a neighborhood bar and grill. The kitchen, dining room, and living room encompass one area.

True to the Wehrbeins’ vision, the open-floor design with clean lines and vaulted ceilings, coupled with a modern, yet simple, décor, makes interacting with guests a breeze. Windows on three walls add extra airiness and openness to a surprisingly boundary-free interior. Heck, even the dishes, cups, and glasses sit in full view on open shelves above the sink, an idea Teri grasped long before it became a more commonly accepted convenience.

The dining booth’s cool factor is surpassed only by the fireplace, which fills the entire north wall. Built from hundreds of interlocking pieces of hickory wood treated with four different colors of stain, the fireplace resembles a giant Tetris video game. There’s a story here, too.

“We knew we didn’t want stone, so Doug Kiser [of d KISER design.construct] came up with the wood idea,” explains Teri. “He had all the pieces cut, had them all numbered, and just pieced it all together.” The fireplace won a top national award among entries from 1,600 woodworkers, and the home was featured in the 2011 American Institute of Architects’ Home Tour.

A stairway next to the fireplace, the only steps in or around this “zero entry” home, leads to an unfinished basement, which the couple plans to renovate soon.

Oh, the possibilities…


Rising from the Ashes

May 19, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For several decades, Plattsmouth’s downtown oozed a distinctly river-rat vibe. The city’s main street, once Victorian glorious thanks to vibrant river and railroad trade, was faded, mostly abandoned, adorned with kitsch and mismatched storefronts, and, at times, just plain scary due to the cavalcade of 18-wheelers on old U.S. Highway 34.

If you haven’t been to Plattsmouth’s main street in a few years, the transformation here will likely astound. Simply put: You’ll feel like you’re somewhere else: a lively, interesting, historic retreat with good food and, on some summer evenings, good music and fun.

The transformation of this Omaha bedroom community comes thanks to an aggressive push by Plattsmouth businesses and more than $10 million in public and private dollars. Main Street was torn up as part of a major project to improve the city’s infrastructure, and then rebuilt with businesses access and pedestrians in mind. Charming Victorian street lamps were installed. Music is now piped continuously into the streets thanks to more than 60 speakers suspended along four blocks.

There is even a new outdoor plaza where, for the last two years, numerous events have been held, including a summer concert series.

Then, disaster. On a recent day, charred bricks littered the plaza. Park benches sat buckled under the weight of fallen rubble. Chain link fencing surrounded the area, protecting pedestrians from a two-story wall rendered precarious by a massive fire last winter.


The roofless shell of the 132-year-old Waterman Opera House, which housed three businesses, will have to be demolished.

“It’s heartbreaking, of course,” says Charles Jones, executive director of the Plattsmouth Main Street Association and a longtime businessman in town. “It’s a roadblock, to be sure. But it’s not an end by any means.”

Plattsmouth has more than 40 structures on the National Register of Historic Places still standing. The city still has the substantial 19th century architecture and ambience that goes with it. But the razing of the building has been slowed by the technicalities of legally removing a historic building, leaving the broad eyesore of the condemned site and useless plaza in the center of the still-emerging business district.

“Business is down for those around the (Opera House) site,” Jones says, pointing toward several storefronts on the street. “It does impact things. For one: I’m going to have to figure out how to keep some of the concerts going. It’s sad because you don’t want to lose any of the energy we’ve built.”
Erv Portis, the city administrator behind much of the downtown push, shares the concern about the effect of any pause of the city’s progress. But, like Jones, he believes the redevelopment is far too large to be upended by the death of one building. A plaza expansion with a permanent stage is already planned for the soon-to-be empty lot. Many of the second floors of downtown buildings are being converted to loft space.

“This was a very tired street and now . . . well, it still amazes me seeing it,” Portis says. “It’s just the beginning. The potential is all there.”

The impact of the Opera House fire doesn’t worry the owner of the newest business in town, Sisters Café. On a recent day, Sisters, which, interestingly, serves both German and Thai food, was full of customers enjoying a surprisingly upscale but affordable lunch.

“We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of customers, and that’s been through some weather that’s not great,” says co-owner Jit Kunkel. “We have high hopes for the future here.”
“We’re kind of at a ‘too-big-to-fail’ point here,” Jones says as he looks over the charred Opera House. “This is very sad. No doubt. But Plattsmouth will beat this.”