Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Village named Dundee ...

It can be said that Dundee was the Omaha area's first planned suburb ...

The exact boundaries of Dundee are subject to the whim of the observer. :)

Dundee sits in midtown Omaha, approximately 3 miles west of the main downtown central business district.

The eastern boundary is generally agreed upon to be either Saddle Creek Road, the former right-of-way of the long-defunct Belt Line Railroad, or 46th. St. The western boundary is less clearly defined, since the posh Happy Hollow and Memorial Park neighborhoods, and the northern Carthage district are often included in recent definitions of what is and what is not Dundee.

From south to north, Dundee extends from between Leavenworth and Farnam or so, north to somewhere between Cuming (remember, gang, Cuming is singular!) and Hamilton or so.

Historically, Dundee was a separate village, founded in the 1880s by real estate developers as a planned upscale suburb. This included strict building codes and covenants, such things as a mandatory 25 foot set-back of all buildings, side-clearance regulations (discouraging row houses, tenements, and attached apartments) and prohibitions of houses of ill repute and drinking establishments.

Dundee was annexed to the City Of Omaha in 1915.

We'll be exploring the area from 46th. to 50th. along Dodge, then parts of 50th between Dodge and Underwood, and along Underwood within a short radius of 50th., the areas shaded green on the map below.

Dodge Street is the main drag of not only Dundee but of Omaha as a whole. It's the dividing line between "north" and "south" addresses, and has served as US Highway 6 for many decades.

In the heyday of two-lane highways, route 6 spanned the continent from Provincetown, Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Long Beach, California, with the midpoint being just west of Kearney, Nebraska. As of this writing, route 6 is still contiguous from Provincetown through Omaha, but terminates just east of the Bay Area in California.

Fortunately, the history of many of the buildings in this area is well-documented and easier to research than those in some of the neighborhoods previously explored in this blog. :)

From 46th. to 50th.

We'll begin walking westward from 46th. Omaha can be said to be hilly in general and Dodge runs uphill as the street numbers increase, peaking at the corner of 49th.

One of the first things we notice is that many of the commercial buildings are vacant!

Several of the business properties in this area are of a type of commercial vernacular where a storefront was tacked on to a residence. Original covenants in the Dundee area required buildings to be set back 25' from the street. The storefronts were most likely added when this restriction was relaxed.

A sole surviving unmodified foursquare just west of 46th. on Dodge.

Many of the businesses along this stretch, both consumer-oriented and commercial, are indeed open and thriving.

Notice that the tax office is an addition to a set-back residence.

The streamline moderne Pittman Animal Hospital is a designated city landmark. This was built in 1948 by the late Dr. Arthur Pittman.

Dr. Pittman was well-known as Nebraska's first African-American veterinarian.

For decades, Dr Pittman ran a very successful practice in what was then an almost exclusively white neighborhood.

The existing veterinary practice still bears his name.

The commercial building on the northwest corner of 48th. and Dodge was originally a shoe shop, with mini display windows along the east side.

The shop was built as an add-on to the proprietor's residence in the mid 1950s.

Yes, the traditional service station is alive and well in Dundee, with mechanics on duty.

Until the 1990s, this was a photo studio. In recent years it's seen a number of tenants, none of them being long-lived.

Opposite on the north side of Dodge, again, this building has been turned over countless times in recent years. It originally housed the Louis Sommer supermarket, dating from the mid 1950s.

Dating from the World War II era, the 49er has been the archetypal neighborhood bar, in continuous operation to this day.

The existing sign has a somewhat makeshift appearance compared to the one I remember, which featured a covered wagon, the outline of which is obvious.

The building to the east of the 49er, originally the Farmers National Management Company, is another which has seen countless generations of churn. Ditto for the one to the west of the 49er, on the northeast corner of 49th. and Dodge. It was originally a neighborhood drug store, complete with soda fountain, but has seen many other tenants.

Wake 'n' Bake, coming Real Soon Now.

On 49th. just south of Dodge, originally a residence, then a medical clinic (The WAY Clinic), and now a general office building.

On the northwest corner of 49th. and Dodge, Reiners Pianos And Organs has been a long-time member of the Dundee business community.

The complex on the southwest corner, now a general office and retail building, once housed the fashionable Hilltop House restaurant. (Uh-huh, it's right on the crest of the hill.)

I only remember dining at the Hilltop House once.

It was very nice, but the thing I remember most about it -- the other clientele. I was maybe 28 at the time, and I remember feeling conspicuous as we were decades younger than any of the other diners!

My recollection of the Hilltop House is that it was most definitely upscale, but this vintage postcard shows it being more of a family-type casual restaurant. Not the ambiance I remember.

We're now on the downhill slope, walking west between 49th. and 50th.

The building at 4922 Dodge has an interesting history.

I remember this mostly as Fenwick's, a restaurant and ice cream parlor of the retro-diner genre.

It began life as the Uptown Hardware, one of Dundee's two fiercely-competitive hardware stores, the other being Underwood Hardware, the site of which we will visit shortly.

The last time I was in Fenwick's, I remember the "Lost our lease, everything must go." sign. A few months later, Voila!

The lot just west of what was Fenwicks also has an interesting history. This salmon building was for years a rent-to-own furniture and appliance dealer, but in the post-WWII years the original building housed the Monsky-Louis Mercury-Lincoln dealership, which appears to have been the only new car dealer in the Dundee area.

Monsky-Louis survives, however. Over the years it morphed into the Omaha Auto Auction in the Millard area.

Next we come upon *THE* landmark of the Dundee community, the Dundee Theater.

The Dundee Theater, which began life as a Vaudeville house, is the Omaha area's sole surviving still-in-operation single-screen theater. It currently features foreign and art films, as well as midnight screenings of various cult films. (It's just a jump to the left!)

Immediately to the west of the Dundee Theater is a long-standing bar and grill, now signed as the Old Dundee Bar and Grill.

Long-timers will remember this as the original home of the Dundee Dell, which recently moved to a new location on Underwood. We'll visit this shortly.

Is this now a biker bar? (Look closely.) :)

To call this particular area (49 to 50 on Dodge) "walkable" is pushing it! The sidewalk is quite narrow and there's almost no clearance. Dodge is a major thoroughfare and there are cars and trucks zooming by at what I would guess to be 45-50 MPH just inches away!

On the corner of 50th. sits Merle Norman, occupying this storefront for at least three decades.

For the foodies among us, no, I haven't forgotten.

Yes, viewers, the good old greaso-spoono neighborhood diner is alive and well in Dundee!

Cecil's, only open for breakfast and lunch, has a very loyal, regular clientele.

Eat your heart out, Guy Fieri! :)

West of Cecil's ...

Cris Rexall Drugs originally occupied this building on the southeast corner of 50th. and Dodge.

They moved to the current larger catercorner facility in the mid 1950s. The current proprietor (Kohll's) retains the Cris name. Until the 1990s, Cris was home to Omaha's only surviving original drug store soda fountain. You now have to drive to Springfield (Nebraska) to find one.

Along 50th. to the north of Dodge are various small businesses in a well-maintained commercial flat row, a barber shop, a frame shop, etc.

Locals tell me that a side-business, underground OTB for the AkSarBen racetrack, thrived on this stretch for years. :)

End of Part One.


(Take a brief stroll, drive, actually, up 50th northward.)

End of intermission.

Part Two.

To Underwood and Beyond The Infinite. :)

Dundee's business community is disjointed. The hectic hustle and bustle of Dodge gives way to a nice walkable section centered around 50th and Underwood.

Several eateries, drinkeries, and snackeries (is that a word?) have sprouted up in the block just east of 49th. on Underwood.

The Blue Line Coffee Shop now occupies the former Forbes Bakery and Delicatessen.

An antique gas pump, guarded by four bollards, graces the area outside yet another convenience store, most likely as a momento to a long-standing Phillips station on this corner.

Get the lead out! :)

This was an old fire station, now a dry cleaner.

The building on the southeast corner of 50th. and Underwood was for many decades a hardware store, the Underwood Hardware, longtime competitor of the Uptown Hardware, the site of which we visited on Dodge just a few blocks to the south. It remained a hardware store through the mid 1990s and had an appearance as such in the film Citizen Ruth. It's now a bar, "Beer And Loathing", an awful pun!

The logo design has an obvious connection to the name.

It's styled upon the famous Yesco "Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas" sign.

The hardware store moved catercorner to a vacant supermarket on the northwest corner of 50th. and Underwood. It remained in business until quite recently. The building now houses a medical clinic.

A few more eateries have appeared just south of Underwood, occupying what had been a barber shop and a shoe repair shop.

Cork and Bottle and Amsterdam Falafel and Kabob.

Amsterdam Falafel and Kabob?

Uh? Yeah, right!

Sounds almost oxymoronic. It might go well with Colonel Van Dijk's Dutch Fried Chicken! :)

The Harte Block occupies the southwest corner of 50th and Underwood. For the better part of a century, this housed the Carl Baum Drug Store, a "friendly competitor" to Cris down the street. It's now an ice cream parlor and Subway sandwich shop.

A 1950's view of the Harte Block appears Here. Notice the trolley wires and tracks. More on that below.

West of the Harte Block is the new Dundee Dell. Dundee Dell moved a few years ago from its original location on Dodge.

Dundee Dell is famous for fish and chips and single-malt Scotch.

Shades of SNL -- "If it's not Scottish, it's craaaaapp!" :)

I don't normally photograph strip malls. I loathe strip malls! Tres ordinaire! They are to architecture what McDonalds is to fine dining.

However, I'm making an exception here.

The bay now occupied by the "1020" for many years was Trovato's Italian Cafe. This was a neighborhood operation, similar to, but smaller than the many Italian restaurants covered in a previous item. Trovato's closed quite recently, but the new cafe "1020" is said to offer some of the Trovato's recipes.

Across Underwood to the north, we find the offices and studios of radio station KFAB (and FM station KGOR). KFAB is Omaha's only "Clear Channel" radio station, and is well-known for the broadcasts of the University Of Nebraska football games.

Except for the games which are not on TV, I very seldom listen to KFAB, which is a news-talk station, broadcasting mostly hardcore right-wing propag^H^H^Hgrams. In my not so humble opinion, the trio from Canada is the only Rush worth listening to! :)

KFAB does have a rather interesting history. KFAB began life as a sister station of Chicago's WBBM, the two stations simulcasting the same programming. They assumed their own identities in 1948 and KFAB moved into this facility at that time. Johnny Carson interned at KFAB while attending college.

For avid technoids, more about radio station KFAB can be found here.

The building at 5015 Underwood may not look familiar to you, but the name of the business here certainly will be. This was the "new" home of Buffett Grocers, operated by Sidney, Ernest ("nobody calls him Ernie"), and Fred Buffett.

Yes, it's *THAT* Buffett family!

Warren himself worked here doing such things as stocking, deliveries ("Buffett's - We Deliver!"), and cashiering.

Buffett's original location on 14th. St. was founded in 1869. The Underwood location finally closed in 1969 as one of the area's few surviving independent supermarkets. It's often said that Buffett's was the last survivor of this genre. Many shops make this claim. I do know, for example, that Clanton's on Center and Tony's Grand Central, both independent grocers, survived well into the 1970s, and A. Marino, the building of which was noted in a previous blog item, survived until around the turn of the 21st. century. However, one century of service, 1869 to 1969, is a hard act to follow and deserves to be commended!

The building now houses a bank.

The Dundee Line

In the 1890s, the Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway ran the Dundee Line from its then western terminus at 40th. and Dodge to the new suburb. Originally a horse-car line, it was electrified in the early 1900s and became part of Omaha's once-extensive trolley network.

From downtown, the line ran westward along dodge, turned north at 49th and thence to Underwood, then west to 50th., where it turned south and headed back to Dodge and downtown. Some runs continued further west via a one-track spur along Underwood to Memorial Park before returning via 50th. to downtown. The Dundee line operated until 1955.

A restored car of the type which ran on this line is on display at the Western Heritage Museum.

A brick haute relief, commemorating the Dundee Line, stands on the corner of Underwood and Happy Hollow Boulevard.

More photos of the haute relief appear here.

Notice the lamp post to the left ...

Most of the residential streets in the areas we've been exploring are graced by a very unique and unusual type of street lights, the elusive cast-iron "bubble gum machine" globe-top lamp post. These particular lamps are indigenous to Dundee, Twin Ridge, and the Country Club addition here in Omaha. (Yes, those are row houses in the background, but please note that they are indeed set back the required 25 feet.)

Since the city maintenance of the lamp posts can be spotty, local neighborhood associations have instituted an "Adopt A Lamp Post" program to help out. Some of the lamps have been cleaned and repainted by volunteers. Several of these adopted lamps are adorned with hanging planters during the spring and summer months.

The only other location where I can remember these lamps is part of Chicago's Gold Coast, just north of North Avenue, as seen below.

The subject of architecture in Dundee is a topic by itself.

Historically speaking, in the first third of the 20th. century, Dundee was one of the most upscale neighborhoods of Omaha in which multiple dwellings were permitted. Apartments were prohibited by building codes in such areas as Happy Hollow, Fairacres, and Memorial Park.

This led to a plethora of beautiful apartments, most of which are standing today and remain in excellent condition.

Although single-family homes do predominate, Dundee is sprinkled with various duplexes, row houses, and apartments of all sizes from six-flat to almost-highrise.

Recent apartments lack the character of the legacy multi-unit dwellings of Dundee.

Newer housing units, if placed in Astoria, might be known as "Queens Crap!" Yes, the habitat of the "Fedders Special" includes Dundee.

WW II Bombing raid over Dundee!

Yes, it's true. A Japanese balloon bomb exploded over Dundee in 1945. The incident was classified until the end of the war. A plaque commemorating the "bombing" lies just west of 50th. on Underwood.

More about the "bombing" appears here..

Technical information: Olympus Stylus Zoom, Canon GIII, Fuji 200; haute relief shot on Fuji 800 with Mamiya SD.