Monday, February 23, 2009

Lucky 13

South 13th St.

Little Bohemia

Antique alley.

This is another neighborhood I've regularly driven through but very seldom stopped in, except for occasional irregular Bohemian Cafe visits.

Historically, 13th. St. was the main thoroughfare linking the city of Omaha, proper, with South Omaha, once a separate municipality. Nowadays it's one of two main local streets connecting downtown with Rosenblatt Stadium and Henry Doorly Zoo.

We will be exploring roughly between Vinton Street and Pierce Street on South 13th, working our way downhill north from Vinton.

"Little Bohemia" is frequently assigned to this district, from the historical concentration of Czech immigrants. Many businesses wear Bohemian names. Little Bohemia was, as of 1890 or so, the largest ethnic concentration in Omaha. Little Bohemia's boundaries were roughly Vinton Street, 10th. Street, and the railroad corridor on the west and north. Neighboring ethnic districts were Little Italy (east), Polish Sheelytown (west and south), and mixed middle-European South Omaha to the south.

"Antique Alley" is another name, from countless Antique dealers, many of them now closed, unfortunately, along South 13th.

The east and west sides of South 13th. are quite different. The west side consists of various small businesses of all types, churches, bars, restaurants, etc., while the east side is home to what might be called light industry such as machine shops, sheet metal shops, and various automotive businesses.

As occurs frequently elsewhere in Omaha, street numbers are not continuous, and we will observe some large jumps downward as we venture north from about 2500 or so.

We will work our way north from Vinton St., strolling and driving. Some of this area is sparse, becoming more dense as we approach William St. or so.

Chops Bowling anchors this end of this stretch. Chops is one of Omaha's remaining neighborhood bowling alleys and dates from late 1940s or early 1950s, with iconic deco-inspired signage.

Just north of Chops -- what is this? -- Fruit stand? Used car lot? I sure don't know! I don't think they do either! :)

Checking a bit further, we find that this is the former site of Oddo's Drive-In, mentioned briefly here previously.

Looking at the sign in the photo above, it's very easy to envision it marking a 1950-1960s vintage drive-in, complete with a juke box blaring out early rock & roll and doo-wop, rollerskating car-hops and the like. :)

Anyway ... the next few blocks heading north are mostly residential, detached bungalows, dating from the 19-teens or so, most of them well-kept.

At the corner of 13th. and Martha is Sokol Auditorium, a world-renowned two-level music venue. Sokol Auditorium was built in the mid 1920s as part of the Sokol Movement, emphasizing such things as gymnastics and dance.

For those who have never been inside, the upper level features a large combined auditorium/ballroom/gymnasium with stage and balcony seating, and the lower level "Sokol Underground" is a concert and dance hall.

Across from Sokol to the east is Inter-Tech Body Shop, one of several auto-related businesses in the area.

Down the street from Sokol is what is or was an antique shop. Several antique dealers in this area have closed recently, and this one looks very much like it's not open for business.

As we saw along Vinton last summer, it's sometimes difficult to tell if something is opening for business, in business but closed at this particular hour, "closed for remodeling", or admittedly out of business.

Notice the "boomtown" false-front styling, with the rectangular facade facing the street, obscuring the gabled roof.

At the corner of 13th. and Dorcas St. sits the neighborhood corner bar, right on the corner, Kurt and Clyde's.

This one is definitely open for business. :)

Across to the east is Felix Tire, again one of several auto-related businesses, again most definitely open for business.

This building grew out of a vintage service station dating from 1930 or so.

Crossing Dorcas (why do I always chuckle when I hear that street name?) on the east side we have a buy-here-pay-here lot.

Continuing north, looking west ...

We now pass a rare coin shop and a bike shop, nice appearing shops in a well-maintained building, the Gallagher Building.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Gallagher Building dates from the late 1800s and remains in excellent shape now in the 21st. century. This "commercial flat" design features walk-in shops on the lower level and walk-up apartments above.

The center bay appears vacant and looks empty except for an Obama sign. Notice that this is an Obama for Illinois Senator sign, not an Obama for President sign.

I thought for a while that this might be an Obama election office, but I checked and I could not find any evidence of it. He had one office on 70-something street, west of here, and one on the North Side, but apparently none in this area.

As an aside, as I was shooting the plaque, a gentleman, quite possibly the proprietor, came out of the cellar stairway and asked me, in a very flattering way, if I was the same one who was shooting in the area a few nights before. I said I was not, but this let me know that I was not the only one to capture South 13th. :) He caught up with me later, on a bike, and asked me if I was getting some good shots, to which I replied that I was. :)

To the east of the Gallagher Building we have the Electric Machinery Company, one of many long-standing light industrial firms on South 13th. ...

... and a Family Dollar store.

We pass Center St. traveling north, and notice that the street numbers change abruptly from the 1900s to the 1700s, skipping the 1800s for some reason.

This is one of a handful of storefront churches, occupying one of the many "commercial vernacular" buildings along South 13th.

We pass a recently-opened salon and ...

the definitely open-for-business Village Antiques, one of the surviving and apparently thriving antique dealers in the area.

On the side of this row of buildings is a fading painted sign, featuring Pepsi, for the Vocelka Market, a previous occupant of the building.

We work our way northward and pass what was, until recently, the A. Marino Italian grocery.

The building was originally a Kosher meat market and was purchased by Andrew Marino in 1919. The A. Marino Grocery operated continuously until 2007, being the sole surviving independent grocer of the area in the 1990s and 2000s.

An exception to the rule! An auto-related business on the west side of 13th. :)

At the corner of 13th. and Hickory, another legacy commercial flat, now a restaurant.

As we've seen in other longstanding Omaha neighborhoods, the formulaic cookie-cutter chain restaurants are very few and far between, if present at all!

I kinda like it that way! :)

We journey past Hickory St., on the east side we see the Tomasek Machine Shop, an industrial anchor of Little Bohemia.

What the Heck?

The Edward Heck Company, but they don't really indicate what's their line of business.

Googling a bit indicates they specialize in grain processing and dust suppression equipment.

We pass Pine St, past another auto shop.

Let's look west for a while. :)

Tattoo parlor, most definitely open for business (LOL, but not my business!) and well kept.

Notice the flag mural on the north side of the building.

The 1446 building is a print shop ...

... although I suspect that the building began life as a supermarket at one time.

Update: This was at one time a pool hall.

Ethnic Sandwich Shop. Open for business? In business? Outa business? Hard to tell!

No cars in the lot on a busy Saturday afternoon? No activity. No "open" sign. You tell me? :)

My guess is that this is an old "barn type" Dairy Queen, vintage 1960s.

Tourek Engraving and Printing. Edie and Old Bohemians. :)

Whitesel Building

Another well-kept legacy commercial flat row.

Buy! Sell! Trade!

Take it or leave it!

Trauma Tech?

... uh, okay, I guess ... :)

Now signed as the Legend Hotel, this is the historic Kopecky Hotel, once one of several Bohemian-operated hotels and rooming houses in the area.

This was, apparently, the old Berkeley Theater, closed in the 1950s. Cinema Treasures, which is usually accurate, shows the Berkeley as demolished, but as we can see, it's still here, and still very much recognizable as the theater it once was.

Whatever it is now, it's not very obvious. :)

Another body shop on the east side of the street ...

No, these two are not grossly overexposed, the sign has faded significantly from the afternoon sun of so many years.

There's A Light ...

Whenever I explore one of these neighborhoods I seem to run into a mysterious building, one which I know has a "rest of the story" behind it. Well, this trip is no exception.

At first I thought it might be a church (This Little Light Of Mine?) but at a closer look it's obvious that somebody lives there. It turns out that this, along with the one-story structure to the south, is now the home of a local pastor, so I really wasn't far off, was I?

Or was I?

As Ron Popeil always says, "But wait! There's more!"

Although this is now owned by a choirboy, literally, this building has a somewhat interesting past, you might even call it a soiled past ...

It's quite a story, involving a well-known local artist and a colorful character who might best be described as a local schoolboy turned soldier turned hairstylist turned property developer turned sailor turned humanitarian turned aficionado turned smuggler turned, uh, after a run-in with the Coast Guard, convicted felon. :) The story goes on and on.

Google a bit for a taste of the story, ask around for the rest of it. :) It's really no secret at all. It could be a book! Or, a screenplay, hello, uh Mr. Payne? You listenin' in? :)

Update: This was at one time the Glass Front Cafe.

Now, for those of you who are very observant and paying attention, you may notice some differences in the photos at about this point.

Here's what happened. The battery in the Olympus I was using died suddenly! I rarely carry a spare since they seem to last forever and ever and ever, and I do replace it right at the beginning of shooting anything majorly important, but this one was unexpected. The camera turned into a brick over the course of just a few seconds!

Yes, I could go get one and resume shooting, but there's no shop in this area that would have them, and I was losing daylight, at about 4:45pm or so. The battery is not really that uncommon, but it takes at least a drug store with a well-stocked photo or electronics department. I would have some serious light problems or I would have to resume the shoot another day, and the weather was expected to turn cold!

Fortunately, I had the Canon GIII in the car, loaded with a mostly-unshot roll of Kodachrome. I started shooting it about a month ago as an intended contribution to The Kodachrome Project, but had only shot a few frames. I decided to finish the shoot on Kodachrome.

Kodachrome is, in general, a great film for urban scenes, but it's quite a bit different than the Fuji Superia 200 I was shooting up the street. Contrary to the "Nice Bright Colors" of the song, Kodachrome is somewhat muted compared to most of today's films, and in particular, the lower speed Fuji films, which tend to be quite saturated. I also don't have a flash on the GIII, and I was using fill flash regularly on the Olympus when shooting the buildings on the shaded west side of the street.

Therefore, many of the shots from now on will not appear as saturated in color and will be lit mainly from reflected sunlight.

Mystery Bookstore!

Burn a censor, not a book! :)

Bohemian Cafe

Operated since the 1940s by the Kapoun/Libor families, the Bohemian Cafe has been around since the 1920s and has now expanded into three adjacent buildings. One of the buildings was originally a Bohemian savings and loan company.

What more can I say?

Bohemian Cafe is an Omaha institution. Great food and service, very loyal following!

North of Bohemian Cafe lies the Prague Hotel building, now apartments with commercial space on the street level, now including a coin dealer.

The Prague Hotel dates from the late 1800s and was built by the Storz family, of Storz Beer (Omaha's longest-lived local beer) fame. This closed as a hotel some time ago, as did all of the legacy hotels along this strip.

Although some of this is currently vacant, the dusty maroon brickwork remains clean and in great shape. Great example of a building that has not been allowed to deteriorate!

We pass William St. (remember, gang, William is singular) and the first building we encounter when strolling north is the Postal Union Hall. We also notice that the street addresses abruptly change from the 1400s to the 1200s, skipping all 1300s. No, there is no such address as 1313 S. 13th. :)

The hall is named in honor of Kenneth Wilson, as the plaque indicates.

The block between William and Pierce has several commercial flats on the west side.

O'Dowd's Vacuum, an independent vacuum and appliance sales/service center, has been there for years.

Don's Coins comes up next ...

Another antique shop, Why Not Antiques, appears to be doing well.

Looking eastward ...

Hempel Sheet Metal.

I've been by this building a million times, but not until this walk-through did I realize that much of the building's decoration is -- yes -- sheet metal. :)

Looking back west we have a law office ...

... and Mosaic Community Church, another storefront church.

Then we reach the Donut Stop!

It's really hard to tell if the Donut Stop is open or not, as they were shuttered tight when I walked past, which was late Saturday afternoon, maybe 4:30 or so. I guess that's not prime time for the donut business, huh? :) As confirmed by the sign, they tell me (the ubiquitous "they") that Donut Stop keeps very irregular hours, opening in the late evening and remaining open until next morning. The Donut Stop has what might be described as an extremely loyal cult following.

Moving right along, we have a photo studio ...

... and yes, the neighborhood shoe repair shop is alive and well!

We begin to lose daylight as we pass a Christian Science Reading room and an auto parts jobber. It's time to call it a day.

I very much enjoyed this afternoon! Weather was very nice for early February and it was a nice relaxing stroll for the most part, taking in a neighborhood I now know much better. :)

Technical information: Olympus Stylus Zoom with Fuji Superia 200, and Canon QL17 GIII with Kodachrome 64.


Ben S. said...
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James T. said...

Most excellent article. Thanks for doing it.

Your 1446 building was Manny's Pool Hall where I learned to shoot Pool. This was about 1968. Manny Segal was the owner.

One of my dad's best buddies in high school had Manny as kind of a surrogate father. He was a polio survior and lived with his single mom in an apartment across the street from where Manny then ran a record shop. Manny kind of adopted him and they would hang out at the record shop. Needless to say they collected quite a few records.

Manny then opened up the pool hall. Dad got transferred and when we moved back the pool hall was closed and I never found out what happened to the hall or Manny. Anyone else know?

Ted said...

Hi AnnieR this is HD_c

I have eaten at Bohemian cafe and it was good, but a little heavy for me.
Number of Operations Iraq Freedom and Enduring Freedom casualties
as confirmed by U.S. Central Command: 4895

Adam Fletcher said...

Spectacular! I love what you've done so far - please keep going. You inspire me to want to write more, too. I hope you've seen some of the articles I've written on Wikipedia, like this one about S. 10th Street -

You can see a list of some at including a collection of the street articles I've written. My fave is North 24th Street.

Anyway, thanks again for writing your blog, and please keep going - its exciting.

- Adam

Anonymous said...

that glass-front building used to be the Glass Front Cafe years ago

Mary Ann said...

I enjoyed the tour of 13th street. My wedding invitations were printed at Tourek's, enjoyed many a good polka at Sokol Hall and I visit Bohemian Cafe periodically on a visit from Texas. Going one street west at 14th and Martha, the big brick bldg which I believe is an apartment now, was the Janda Funeral Home--my greatuncle.
Also enjoyed your earlier tour of south 24th.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

loved your walk down 13th street where i grew up (50'2 & 60's). i have a couple of old photos of the gallagher building if you are interested. one from abt. 1900 and the others from 1953 which include a long view of 13th street looking north. how may i email these to you?

Anonymous said...

Although I was raised in Benson, I worked for several years near 10th & Leavenworth. Between wedding receptions at Sokol Hall, lunches or dinners at The Bohemian, lunches at Oddo's, and a bowling league at Chop's, this was an excellent trip down memory lane.

Debbie said...

I lived down on 6th and Williams. in fact my family still does. Sad that most the places have closed. Little Italy has lost many of the old greats. It is hardly reconizable anymore.
The Italian resturants and shops are gone.
THough still refered to as Little Italy, you think they would have kept some of the history intact.
We lost Caniglias, Little Franks, Pistoni's, Don's bar, Bosco's, Angie's, most the original homes down pierce street. I remember ordering from Oddo's, getting ice cream at Goodrich, bowling at Chops and at Soko, next to Soko was Buda's store. There was a Bakery on the corner of 13th and Hickory, The Hotel on the corner of 13th and Williams had the best sandwhiches. There was a Harley shop on 6th just up from pierce and during the Festival the street was blocked by the arch. Falcone Electric was on the corner there.
There was another market on the corner of 8th and pierce, and a little shoe repair on 6th and poppleton. In the summer you would be treated to the old model t the Vendetti's would drive through the streets, and every yard had a fruit tree. hmmm wonder what was going on in those cellars lol .
If you grew up in the neighborhod you most likely went started at train school for kindergarder, then either stayed till 6th grade or went to St Frances Cabrini.
The neighborhood kids were mostly found on Mosquita hill, or in the street playing base ball, kick ball or football. Also on6th street was a resturand called the Italian Gardens, 6th and poppleton. Rinky Dink bar was on 6th towards dorcus and up on 10th and dorcus was St Josephs Hospital. 9th and Willimas had St Catherines.. so much change in my lifetime. How sad... I would give nything to be able to walk into any of them places that are gone.

Eric said...

Loved your walk down 13th Street! We love this neighborhood (I'm the pastor you mention who lives at 1424). The main house was built as a dance hall in 1895. Another, smaller, house on the property was built in 1890 as a settlement house (Google "settlement house omaha" and you'll find old photos of it). In 1991 Doug Hiner and Christina Narwicz purchased the property and transformed it with much love, creativity, and artistry. We feel fortunate to live here.

(BTW, my church is Countryside Community Church - at 87th and Pacific. I also host an internet program called Darkwood Brew that streams live on Sundays at 5pm at

William J Reynolds said...

Many thanks for the photos and notes. My mother grew up in a house at 8th and Hickory, and although we lived "way out west" at 74th and Hascall, I naturally spent much of my childhood at my grandfather's house in "the old neighborhood." (Indeed, I was born just up the street at St. Catherine's Hospital, now, I think, part of the Grace University campus.) I was back in the old haunts just this past November. Many wonderful memories, many wonderful places.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if City Hotel is still standing. It was at Harney and 10th. It was owned and operated my grandfather Fritz Wirth and his wife Minnie. Anybody know?? Does anybody have a picture to post of it?

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