Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A darker side of NoDo ...

NoDo (North Downtown) is, unquestionably, the up-and-coming, hip-n-hap'nin', oh-so-trendy neighborhood du jour in the Omaha area.

Situated just north of the former Jefferson Square district and east of the Creighton University campus, what we now call NoDo was once an active and thriving business and industrial area, with light manufacturing, printing, auto body shops, and businesses of all type along the Cuming Street corridor.

Today's NoDo, anchored by the QWest Convention Center and the soon-to-be (fill in a corporate sponsor's name) Stadium, is a burgeoning arts and entertainment district with several new hotels, trendy shops and clubs, loft apartments, and the headquarters of Saddle Creek Records, a major player in the indie rock scene.

Film Streams, a not-for-profit cinema cooperative, operates their flagship two-screen Ruth Sokolof Theater, showing first-run independent features, as well as foreign, documentary, classic, and other non-mainstream films.

Everybody talks about what NoDo has become and will become.

Let's take a look at a side of NoDo which the boosters don't show, and look back to what NoDo once was ...

Just footsteps from the new Hampton and Fairfield lies an entanglement of crumbling sidewalks, boarded-up factories, weed and debris-filled vacant lots, flophouses, abandoned storefronts, and such ...

Everything is for sale ...

... or so it seems. We would think that with so much active development in the area that these properties would be snapped up quickly, but apparently that's not happening.

Most of the flophouses are now closed and padlocked ...

... patiently awaiting suitors to kiss them and turn them into postmodern lofts.

Prince Charming is evasive, however ...

... with today's economy, nobody seems to wish to commit and consummate.

Oh well ...

Cuming Street transects the area and is NoDo's primary east-west thoroughfare. Several of the streets in the area are named for 19th Century politicians (Webster, Nicholas, Izard, Burt, Cuming, etc.) with Cuming Street being named for Governor Thomas B. Cuming. For some unknown reason, many native Omahans pronounce Cuming Street as if it were plural, as in "Cumings" {sic}.

But anyway ...

To call this area blighted is an understatement! "Blighted" would actually be a compliment. Notice that there's very little gang graffiti. Even the gangs stay away, there's nothing here for them!

The other Tip-Top:

Among the four-figure per month apartments in the area is the Tip-Top building, an immaculately-restored manufactory, originally an auto assembly plant, then producing various sundries from hair rollers to glues. This now contains Brandeis Catering, the last business to wear the Brandeis moniker, and an on-again, off-again all-ages gaming arcade.

This is not the Tip-Top building we're visiting here ...

Across Cuming to the south stands the remains of three attached production buildings of Carl Renstrom's once-mighty Tip-Top empire.

The once-gleaming moderne marquise and deco-inspired ironwork lie crumbling, the unwelcome stepsibling of the prodigy across the street.

The dates are unclear to me, but I've been told that Tip-Top was plagued with things like labor issues in the 1970s and eventually sold out to Goody, a larger maker of plastic products.

Such is business, such is life, we wander on ...

The 906 building ... what ferocious monsters lurk behind the chain-link fence?

A watchdog, maybe?

A watchdog on wheels?

Ooooooo, scary! :)

Not all is bleak, however ...

Along with the weeds, some contemporary artworks have bloomed in the yard of this one-time auto shop.

Standing Bear.

Ya know, with just a little TLC, some clean-up, fix-up, paint-up type of things, something like this could host some nice little shops on the street level, with some very nice walk-ups above.

As for Tip-Top, OMG, the possibilities for this complex are endless!

What comes to mind immediately are things like a music venue or concert hall, maybe even a nightclub!

Technical information: Night shots: Mamiya SD, Fuji Superia 800. Day shots: Canon QL17 GIII, Fuji Superia 400.