Friday, August 08, 2008

A Walk Up Vinton

I've driven through the area many times, but until a recent Saturday I had never set foot within the Vinton Street Business District!

This is one area I've wanted to explore, so, why not? :)

Vinton Street is one of those streets which doesn't always appear on the same part of the map, depending on what part of the city you're in.

(And a preposition is a great word to end a sentence with.)
(And a conjunction is a great word to begin a sentence with!)
(And good grammar has went!)

Vinton Street cuts a serpentine path south-westward between 13th. Street and 24th. Street, and it's on this swatch that the Vinton Street Business District resides.

The actual business district begins abruptly just east of the intersection with 16th. Street and kind of fizzles out around 20th. Street or so.

Some will tell you that the Vinton Street Business District is part of the area known as Sheelytown, and others will tell you that the "real" Sheelytown lies to the west and south of this area. In any case, Sheelytown is/was a historically Polish-Irish community which housed many packing house employees in the heyday of the South Omaha meatpacking industry surrounding the Union Stockyards.

Today the area (Vinton Street and Sheelytown, no matter how defined) is an eclectic mix of many nationalities, including European families of many generations, Hispanics, and assimilated Statesiders of all backgrounds.

Let's take a stroll up Vinton, beginning at 16th ...

... there are a couple businesses just east of the 16th. St. intersection ...

... but the majority of the business goings-on happen as we wander westward from 16th.

The first building you notice -- and you can't help but notice, bright canary -- is on the southwest corner, a meat market and a restaurant.

Notice the featured dishes on the placards, catering to the diverse ethnic mix of the clientele. :)

As we saw on the trip up South 24th., this area as well is completely devoid of chain fast food joints and formula restaurants.

Isn't it NICE! :)

The one thing that's sadly obvious about the Vinton Street district is that many of the businesses don't seem to be well organized or keep regular hours. There are quite a few shops whose business lines don't seem to be clear, kind of antique cum collectable cum kind-of-everything shops. Several storefronts appear to have turned over quite recently.

Throughout our journey today, we'll see, unfortunately, many "closed" signs, empty bays ...

... and even a few totally vacant storefronts. :(

More commonly, there are a number of business whose status is unknown, meaning signs of something recently going on inside, signs outside, well maintained facades, but no actual lights or activity inside, and this is Saturday afternoon, the most busy shopping time there is!

However ... There are many which are indeed open for business and doing business!

Not just Snow Cones, but {pause -- deep breath} Hawaiian Snow Cones! :)

They were just setting up their snow cone machine as I wandered by. Actually, a Hawaiian Snow Cone sounded good. It was getting quite warm. However, I was juggling two cameras, purse, notebook, so it wasn't really practical at this time.

Heading west by southwest, we cross 17th St.

The prototypical corner bar ...

... right on the corner! :)

Across the street from a photo studio and a moneychanger, both active and well-maintained storefronts.

Also across the street from Mario's, whatever Mario does, and another meat market.

"Warm Beer, Lousy Food, Bad Service!"

Hey, I didn't say that, I'm just quoting what the sign says! :)

Yes, viewers, the good old greaso-spoono neighborhood diner is alive and well on Vinton Street! Louie M's Burger Lust is the unquestionable anchor of the Vinton Street business community.

Some of the regulars have a nickname for the place, sounds demeaning, but it's said affectionately. If you can't figure it out, I'll give you a hint -- form an anagram of the letters in "lust". :)

The Enigma Building ...

I know there's a "Rest Of The Story" behind this building at 1724. It's obviously well-maintained with a lot of recent TLC, but there's no sign outside, other than the address, no obvious activity inside, and no clue as to what goes on behind the stark white and chestnut facade.

Update: A viewer has noted that this is the South Side Turner Hall, a social hall, not unlike the Sokol Hall.

My guess is that this building is an old theater ...

... but the frontage is only about 25 feet or so, making for a very small theater if that's what it once was.

... yes, I googled, came up with the current owner, and a vague reference to a tavern on this corner, long before this building, however. I would estimate that this building is 1930-ish, post-depression, but pre-war, due to the Deco styling, with a hint of Moderne, particularly around the marquee, which may have been an afterthought.

Oh well ... we wander on ...

Residential And Commercial! Yeah, uh, okay ...

The Strausbaugh Building. I *KNOW* there's a good "Rest Of The Story" behind this building too!

More antiques!

Open? Closed? Still in business? Out of business?

And a bindery shop.

And yet more antiques ...

Open? Closed? In business? Outa business?

This used to be a hardware store (obviously) ...

... as they left the original sign in place. The building is otherwise still in great shape.

And I'll huff! And I'll puff! And I'll ... :)

Right about here, Vinton curves more to the south. It doesn't really intersect with 19th. at all, but intersects with a couple of the east-west "tree" streets between 18th and 20th. Yeah, there's a rebranded supermarket in here, but ... I didn't shoot any photos of that ... tres ordinaire ... yeah-yeah. Ditto for that dead service station turned into a makeshift convenience store back around 16th!

Update: But wait! I missed something! As an alert viewer pointed out, I totally missed the El Aguila Restaurant.

No excuse, my bad! :(

Sorry, this is right across from the rebranded supermarket, west of 18th. As I found out, it has a very loyal following.

As we approach 20th. Street the density of the storefronts begins to thin out. At the corner of 20th. we have the new Vinton Street Business District sign, beside a very new iron-frame bus bench.

Yes, there are a couple of very busy "kind of everything" shops up here on this end of the strip.

Certified Services?

As we pass 20th. the neighborhood becomes more and more residential, particularly as Vinton curves to the west on its way to join 24th. St.

We find a corner restaurant which appears to be alive and well, a few nondescript storefronts ...

... a dental clinic, and ...

... this kind of Rhomboid building.

This is another one with a rich story behind it, I'm sure, but its secrets are safely locked up! No sign of life. No sign of business. No signs at all, except ...

... some parking admonitions, and ...

Save The Blatt! :)

This has been a nice relaxing hour or so, actually. I'm glad I took the time and took the photos!

Now, let's see, how I can put this ... I was expecting a little bit more activity than I found, particularly on the weekend.

Compared to last spring's walk-through of 24th. St., this area has one thing missing -- people! For a walkable urban community, there wasn't much walking, very few out there on the street. The customers I observed would drive up, park near the business they were patronizing, go in, do their thing, back out to the car, drive away, rinse, repeat!

On 24th., I lost count of the times I had to wait, reposition, motion people on, things like that, in order to get an unobstructed shot of a storefront. I never had that problem on Vinton, unfortunately! :(

This is a potentially viable neighborhood, but it's just lacking that certain something, that vibrancy, that "spark", so to speak, and part of that unlit spark is the lack of the presence of people on foot. The South Omaha 24th. St. district is a vibrant and bustling community, and the Vinton Street District has this potential, but unfortunately it's unrealized.

Vinton Street is not a ghost town by any means, nor is there any particular reason for people to stay away. It's definitely not blighted, nor is it unsafe. It's for the most part litter-free and graffiti-free. I'm at a loss to explain the lack of the expected foot traffic in the neighborhood.

Technical information: The images for this entry were shot on a combination of Fuji Superia 200 and Fujichrome Astia, using an Olympus Stylus Zoom and a Canon QL17 GIII.


Anonymous said...

How could you leave out El Aguila? Best Mexican in town.

Omababe said...

You are very correct. I totally missed it! It's across from the rebranded supermarked and I drove by that area and re-parked. If I can get by there this weekend, I'll get a few shots and include it, sorry.

Matt said...

You can find a little more info on the odd theatre-like building on thecounty assessor's site. They say it was built as a "fellowship hall". No idea how accurate that is.

Matt said...

A little more digging netted me this page which says this building was called South Side Turner Hall. I found a reference to a South Side Turners group in Omaha existing in 1938. It looks like the Turners were a German society devoted to gymnastics (Turner is apparently German for Gymnast), so this building was probably a meeting place and gymnasium for them. Similar to Sokol Hall on 13th & Martha.

Anonymous said...

Omababe, I found your very interesting blog on a December night in 2011, long after the fact. But if you see this, I thought you might enjoy some 1960s context.

I spent much of the '60s walking up and down Vinton. My father was pastor of the former Salem Lutheran Church (now apartments) at 3219 S. 23rd St., and we lived in the parsonage next door at 3223. Vinton School (also now apartments, and actually on Deer Park Boulevard) was 10 steps from our back yard. Its extensive schoolgrounds -- the hillside running down to Vinton Street, and the playing field to the east -- are now completely covered with apartments as well. The "rhomboid building" at 20th Street was Katz Foods, a wonderful little neighborhood grocery where we did much of our trade. On the northwest side of Vinton right about that point was an old OPPD (actually Nebraska Power) power station that may be gone now.

The brick "certified services" building at 1945 was a U.S. Post Office in the early 1960s; I think it closed around 1967.

The relabeled grocery stores on the northwest side of the street were a Safeway and Super Valu, I believe, upgraded around 1965.

On the next block was, among other businesses, Lyman Drug, where I bought comics, pop and Popsicles while waiting for the World-Herald at Station E, across the street. Later, that paper station moved to the back of the Turners Club, which was indeed the German equivalent of a Sokol. I, too, believe the building originally was a movie theater. Cross-checking the addresses with old City Directories at the library might prove fruitful.

I was only in the hardware store at 18th Street a few times, but it was definitely an old-style store, a seemingly undifferentiated mass of counters and shelves, filled with gee-gaws and thingamabobs!

The Nieto's Pasteleria building held a bakery in the same location, and a drug store in the next storefront, which became my comic-book HQ in junior high.

It's hard to recognize after the extensive paint job, but I think the Vinton Street Bar may be the former Matulka's Rendezvous, a longtime bar that I think was still open under that name around 2000.

There was an interesting building on the southeast corner of 16th and Vinton, where two brothers named Kadavy had their practices. One was a dentist, the other a doctor; my family nicknamed them "Dr. Cavity" and "Dr. Cadaver." But they were our family physician and dentist for years.

Having read your Vinton and 13th Street blogs, you have missed one of my favorites, just south of the service station at 13th and Vinton: a old Goodrich Dairy store where I bought many a malt walking home from Bancroft Junior High.

Thanks for a nostalgic visit!

-- Brian Nelson, East Moline, IL

Larry Ferguson said...

Great article, The Historical Vinton Business District is now in a total revitalization, supported by the Omaha Chamber and Omaha By Design. Many things have happened here on Vinton since the time your wrote your original article, and lots more things are in the works, including a facade and signage program. Tons of vehicle and pedestrian traffic now also. Come back again and join the fun! P.s. Turner Hall wasn't ever a theatre that we know of....

lisysomna said...

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Unknown said...

Brian, the "corner bar" idnt the rondezvous. Otto and teresa were my grandparents, and the bar was on the corner of 15th, on block east from the building that says mattresses on it at beginning of article. They had an apartment above there when i was pretty young until we moved them to the place in the same building the bar was in. Chuck Witt and maybe a fella named Vern lived in the basement apartment there too at the time.

Kinda surprised this blogger missed the browns park ball field story on 15th....should look into that wide apron on the northeast corner of the street sometime