Monday, May 03, 2010

Beautiful Downtown Benson ...

Benson is now a "neighborhood", a "district", a "division" of the northwest urban core of metropolitan Omaha.



Benson was, until 1917, a separate town, annexed in the 19-teens in Omaha's explosive expansion, along with the other communities of Dundee, Florence, and, of course, South Omaha.

Benson Place, which became the town of Benson, was the eponymous offspring of land speculator Erastus Benson, a late 19th. century Republican maverick whose claim to fame was an unsuccessful Omaha mayoral bid. He attempted to fight the Democratic political machine which is often described as Omaha's answer to Tammany Hall, led by Jim Dahlman, then Omaha's answer to Boss Tweed. :)

There's also evidence that Mr. Benson held a late 19th. century patent on what could be described as a very primitive juke box, a coin-operated acoustic-mechanical phonograph.

The original site of the town of Benson was purchased from the Creighton brothers (yes, "those" Creighton brothers) in the late 1880s. Benson was annexed by Omaha in 1917.

The exact boundaries of Benson appear to be in the eye of the beholder, and more so than for Dundee. Some will say that the eastern boundary of Benson is 52nd. St., others will say it's the NW Radial/Fontenelle Blvd. corridor, and still others say that the old Military Theater is (was) in Benson.



Most seem to agree that the northern boundary of Benson is Ames Avenue, and the western boundary is 72nd. St. But wait! We have the Benson Park Golf Course north of Ames and Benson Gardens west of 72nd!

In preparing this article, I performed an exhaustive search of every map known to humanity in the quest of the most authoritative, authorized, approved, sanctioned, endorsed, authentic, certified, and accredited map showing the exact official boundaries of Benson. Here's the best example I could find:



Military Avenue transects Benson diagonally, and its path has changed somewhat over the years. They tell me (the ubiquitous "they") that Military Avenue once ran contiguously between Omaha and Fremont, and was just that, a path for soldiers and supplies back in the mid 1800s.

I've heard several times about the connection between Omaha's Military Avenue and Fremont's Military Avenue, but was never curious enough to research it or follow the path. (Yeah, lazy, I know!) :)

With today's technology, aerial views are easy to come by, and it's very easy without setting a foot or a tire onto yucky soil, to envision where a connection may have at one time been.



Military Avenue kind of disappears as we get into the hinterlands, but if we examine the aerial view, and use our imagination and intuition, yes, we can pick out sections which show evidence of paths once well traveled.

But enough already! We want to explore Benson, not trace an abandoned right-of-way in the middle of toolies, boonies, and sticks, right? :)


The area we're going to explore runs westward from the divergence of Maple St. and NW Radial to approximately 63rd. St.



This covers the bulk of the Maple St. corridor of Benson's central business district.

Maple Street is Benson's "main" street, and was known in pre-annexation times as Mayne [sic] Street, after Clifton Mayne, a transit entrepreneur and associate of Erastus Benson.



West of 63rd., Maple becomes more mixed residential, and likewise, east of about 56th. or so.


The first landmark we encounter on our westward journey is Louis Market, AKA Louis Foodway. Louis was founded by Louis Paperny (pronounced "Louie"), an immigrant from Russia, and operated for the better part of a century by the Wolfson family, whose fame also extends to the auto dealership and to the former Dippy's Deli at 84th. and Center.


The adjoining bar and package shop is a popular neighborhood hangout.

One very interesting tale was told to me about Louis Market and a unique innovation. In the 1950s they installed a mechanical cart delivery system to offer speed and convenience in the loading of purchases into vehicles. An underground mechanical conveyor system would transport the cart from the main supermarket building to a kiosk in the parking lot, where the customer would pull up for delivery and loading. This was apparently the only such installation of this type in the area.

Across Maple from Louis lie a few small businesses mixed in with some detached houses.


Storefronts in the area east of 58th. or so tend to be of the Commercial Vernacular construction, where the shop was built on as an addition to an existing residence.


After we pass the Military-Maple split, the attached commercial buildings of the Downtown Benson core begin to appear.


No, it's not a shopping "CENTER", it's a district. :)

Masonic Hair!


The Benson Masonic Temple, not to be confused with the Benson GARDENS Masonic Temple, several blocks west, hosts the Masonic Florence Lodge. ...


... As well as 1, 2, 3 (count 'em!) salons!


Well, sorta. :)



Across from the Masons we have the Good Report Christian Center ...



... and (drum roll) {tat-a-tat-a-tat-a} ...


Max I. Walker, Omaha's answer to Martinizing. :)


Oodles of locations, one near you! :)


Strolling west we come upon ...


The Tip Top Thrift Shop! (I love that name, it both rhymes and alliterates.) Proceeds to benefit the Uta Halee Girls Village.

Why in the world such a place would be closed on a busy Saturday afternoon is beyond me! There's terrific foot and vehicle traffic out here today!

Oh well, so it goes. (And so do I.) :)


We certainly can't forget 4-Real Deals, can we? A one-stop shop for all of our cell phone and tie-dye needs!


And Cornhusker Press!


On the north side we have MinDay Architecture, of San Francisco and Omaha, one of a number of professional offices sandwiched in between the various shops and pubs.


Speaking of pubs ...


Benson has a great selection of lounges and night life options, and they're not all just trashy neighborhood dive bars. They're more of a mixture of NICE trashy neighborhood dive bars and hardcore indie music venues, featuring mostly things such as rock, blues, and other types of Real Music. :)


This one's The Sydney, one of several we'll pass today.


Another thrift shop locked up tight! What is it? There are customers walking by and driving by! Go figure! Jeesh!

We cross 60th., continuing west.


Get booked!


A Friendly Book Store.


Is there such a thing as an unfriendly book store?




We pass a Chiro office, and some kind of new shop called For Lease. :)

But seriously, in all of these neighborhood walk-throughs, I've run across more vacant storefronts than I can count. The Benson business district is thriving, no doubt about it. It has that "spark" that we saw a couple years ago in South Omaha, maybe even more so, but the amount of vacancies, which to me translate to failed businesses, still bothers me. :( I really hate to see an upstart, or a long-standing Mom-n-Pop business struggle and go under! :(


I feel a blind spot coming on. I'm going to pretend I don't see this one. Many of the neighborhoods in Omaha's urban core are practically devoid of the ubiquitous fast food eateries and formula restaurants, and I really prefer them that way.


A maternity shop with a very appropriate street mural on the side. We'll circle back to that below.


Omabra? :)


Back on the north side we come upon The Faucet Shop, a plumbing supply house.


It's kind of difficult to tell if this is open or not.

Notice the vintage credit card signs.


If you don't "get it", you're not looking closely enough.


West of The Faucet Shop, we come upon another watering hole.


The Musette, with specials galore!


Tucked away on a side street is an old-fashioned barber shop ...


... across from the Benson Community Center. "They" tell me that this was originally Benson's fire station, now converted into a a gymnasium and social hall.


To the south we have The Foundry, a nonprofit art gallery cum coffee house. Yes, arts abound in Benson!

Wandering on west, we come upon what was a bridal salon.


Left standing at the altar after a GOOB sale.


From the looks of the signage, it was a long-standing operation.


Shirts! Hats! Jackets!


An antique shop.


Why, tell me, why aren't these places open on Saturday afternoon?


Independent eateries abound in Benson! This one is kind of an unusual blend of a pizza parlor and performance venue.


The PS Collective. PS = Pizza Shoppe, get it? :)


Yes, viewers, the friendly neighborhood greaso-spoono is alive and well in Benson, and I've been told that Leo's Diner claims to be the oldest continuously-operating diner in the Omaha area.


Limited hours, as many neighborhood diners seem to have lately.


Uncommon Talents ...


... looks like a framing and craft shop.




Along with another bookstore, but this one may not be as "Friendly" as the last one. :)


Benson boasts its own luthier.



That's a fancy-schmancy word for somebody who works on string instruments. (Hmmmmm ... could the repair department at D-Rocks call themselves "Luthiers"?) :)


West of Hargiss, we find what was a hardware store. Looks like a recent closure, as the old signs are clearly visible.


At first glance it might look like a new shop called "For Rent" is moving in, but I definitely recognize the logo on the door as that of Rainbow Sound Studios.


"Keyboard Division", huh? Might they be opening up a storefront here in Benson? "Mighty Hammond!" :)

"They" tell me of a Ben Franklin shop in Benson, and my guess is that this may have been the location of it.


Another salon, west of Rainbow.


And a Podiatry office.


No "Good Drugs" stored on prem. :)


Haney Shoes on the north side, and a tapas restaurant.


And a CPA and a ...


... insurance broker, and entertainer agency.


"Inflatable Attractions?" Hmmmm ... :)


Okay, everybody, on three ...

One ...

Two ...

Three ...

{Aaawwwwwww!} :)


To the south we have a physical therapy office.

We've just reached 61st. Street. Let's cross it!

No, wait, what's this?


It's a very nice little sitting area off to the south of Maple.


And a S&L office.


Jane's Addiction!


(Jane's Addition? -- Tom?) :) :) :)


If you don't "get it", don't worry about it. :)


Benson Printing.


Print shop on the northwest corner of 61st.

In the 6100 block we come across two buildings of some historical significance. First is the Sorenson Building at 6104, with an attorney as the main signed tenant.


Some vintage collectables on display. Not sure of the reason.



Vintage neon clock.


Across to the south at 6105 is the James Howard Building.


The namesake of James Howard, former Mayor of Benson.


Now housing a Yoga studio.


And a blend of cuisine and culture.


A bakery with dine-in and gallery space.

Speaking of dining in ...


The Today Cafe opened last December, on the site of the former Benson Bakery, to much fanfare and great reviews.


The cuisine is said to be a fusion of contemporary eclectic and down-home comfort food.


With pedigreed talent in the kitchen and a rotating "something for everybody" menu, this place has as good a chance as any of making it, and it's most definitely on my personal "must try" list.

I'm really glad to see a well-planned upstart unique place in here, rather than have yet another {fill in any ho-hum oh-so-formulaic place} cookie-cutter chain place invade the area!

Hey gang! If you ever listen to me, please listen to me now. We really need to support and patronize our upstart and long-standing individually owned diners, restaurants, and other food and drink venues and value them for their addition to the quality of our lives. Next time you go out for lunch, and the gang suggests Chilis or Applebees, why not suggest instead a place like the Today Cafe or Leo's Diner or B&G's, or Danny's, or any of countless others?

Anyway {dismounting from high horse} ...


West of the Sorenson Building we have a bodyart shop.


Tattooing and piercing. OUCH! Each to his/her own, I guess ... :)


On the south we have Mia's Bongo Room.


Another independent neighborhood restaurant.


This one's said to be Vegetarian.


Silver Of Oz. Is that supposed to be a pun?


Or maybe silver from Aws-Trail-Ya? :)


Burke's Pub is west of Oz.


Another neighborhood bar.


Oh Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore!

Ya know, whenever I walk through one of these neighborhoods, I always seem to run into one enigma building.


This trip is no exception. 6121 is a well-kept business of some kind, with a nice little area out front, somewhat protected from the elements. It's not obvious what this is, and The Phone Book and Google don't seem to help.

Oh well, they probably prefer it that way! :)


West of Bodymod we have a dental laboratory.


Prodenco.

Between 61st. and 62nd., Old Military branches off from Maple to the northwest, on its original path to Fremont and All Points West.


The path to the northwest used to be the main route, and as such was lined with businesses, as is Maple St. now.


There's a well-kept salon right northwest of the junction.


However, if we venture further, things get, shall we say, a bit more sparse and rustic.

Let's not go there!

Instead, let's venture off the beaten path in another direction, south.


Barley Street Tavern.


This is one of a few Benson venues I'm actually familiar with. It's not as small inside as it looks outside, and it's a great place for local musicians to get some exposure. Mostly indie rock and blues.

Speaking of music venues, one of the best known is right on Benson's main drag.


The Waiting Room.




It's been known by a few other names over the decades, but lately it's been quite consistent and has a great reputation for quality live acts!


On the corner of 63rd. to the south, we have the Benson Post Office, home of 68104, among others.


A sleek moderne-styled building, most likely dating from the mid 1940s.


I really hate to see this happen! :(


West Omaha Appliances. They've been around longer than I have! There's something to be said about an independent appliance dealer which has been around for many decades.

They obviously survived the competition of the likes of Sears and Monty Ward, the Center, Crossroads, and Westroads from the 1950s to the 1970s, and even the onslaught of Best Buy and such in the 1990s, but not the Great Recession of the 2000s. :(

I really hate to see a place like this go under! :(

Oh well, moving on ...


Now this is a strange juxtaposition of signs. :)


Kremer Funeral Home, the local neighborhood funeral director. I've been told that this building was originally a church, but it's been the funeral home for some time.

This is our journey's end, gang. West of 63rd., the strip becomes more sparse and more residential. This has been a very interesting and enjoyable couple of hours.

There's more to Benson that we've seen. You could actually say that Benson's business district begins just west of Fontenelle Boulevard and doesn't end until past 72nd.


The Benson and Halcyon Heights Railway

The western end of our journey today, the intersection of 63rd. and Maple (nee Mayne) Sts., is, coincidentally, the historical western terminus of the Benson and Halcyon Heights Street Railway. The original B&HH originated at the intersection of Cuming St. and 40th. St. (nee Lowe Avenue), ran north on 40th., west on Hamilton, and then followed Military and Maple to the end of the line.

This line was unique in that it had been powered by horses, steam, and electricity during its lifetime.

It was absorbed into the Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway system in the early 1900s, providing through service from downtown Omaha to Benson. A branch of the line split off from Military at 45th., and ran north to Bedford past the Nebraska School for the Deaf.

The line was decommissioned in the mid 1950s and the tracks were removed during various resurfacing projects.


Street Art!

The commercial row just west of 60th. boasts well-kept murals on either end.


Amazingly, totally free of tagging!


In fact, very few, if any tags can be seen anywhere in the Benson business district! Kudos to those who help keep it that way. :)


Benson Beat!

Benson Beat is a promotional program of the Benson-Ames Alliance, and several shops display variations of the slogan


Feel The Beat!


Book The Beat!


Buy The Beat!


Walk The Beat!


Love The Beat!


Grind The Beat! (look closely)


Don't Miss A Beat! :)


Hear The Beat!

Read All About It here:

www.bensonbeat.com

23 comments:

Matt said...

As far as I know, Mia's Bongo Room is closed and has been for some time. Which is too bad, it was a great restaurant with an eclectic and frequently changing menu.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Many memories. I used to live on N. 55 between Grant and Lake and walked to Benson. So much has changed. Does anyone else remember the old Benson Furniture, with the animated rocking chair sign.

Marc S said...

Omababe..........great walk through. Benson is lucky to have an alumnus like yourself, willing to preserve the memories. I lived in Benson 1973 to 76. Right after my US Army days, and during my college years at UNO on the GI bill. Lived on 60th and Birch. The local bistros I frequented.....The Zoo Bar, Bill Baileys (great sing along place with peanut shells on the floor), and The Lifticket Lounge. Also spent some time in that neighborhood in the 60's....movin' and groovin' to the sights and sounds at Sandy's Escape. Interestingly enough, my maternal grandparents also lived in Benson in the early 20's. My grandmother told me that it was her favorite home, as two of her four children were born there. Thanx again for your journalistic expertise. Still think your bit on Omaha restuarants was your best so far.

Omababe said...

>Omababe.......... great walk
>through.

Thanks. {blush} :)

>Benson is lucky to have an alumnus
>like yourself,

Actually, I'm not an alumna of BH nor a native of Benson. There's so much I *DON'T* know about the area. I did a small amount of research on a few things, asked around a bit, observed as I walked around ...

>The Lifticket Lounge.

This was actually the only one you mentioned that I remember. My impression is that Benson has changed quite a bit over the past 20-30 years.

>Still think your bit on Omaha
>restuarants was your best so far.

Thanks. I never expected it to get so much exposure as it has. I've only scratched the surface, and I may do some kind of a follow-up piece on it, perhaps tracing some of the others I (vaguely) remember.

Anonymous said...

Before it was Dippys Delli, it was Dippys Donuts at the corner of 55th and Military. Right down the street from Uncle Louie. They moved to the Deli on Center and expanded.

Anonymous said...

Omababe...As with the others, many thanks for taking the time to post 'Beautiful Downtown Benson'..having grown up in Benson (1950's)...it brought back many memories. "Thanks again!!!"
DGehrig

Anonymous said...

Just found this site by accident and it's great. I'm a 1968 Benson Bunny. I walked through Benson everyday on my way home and I loved it. My friend and I bought clothes at a cool little shop, I think it was Virgies? Don't know what I would have done without Sandy's Escape. Does anyone remember Bumpy Action? They're having a reunion on June 19 at the Bar Fly Lounge off of 114th and Dodge. All the band members are coming in from all over the U.S. to perform for one last time.

Anonymous said...

Oops. Sorry. That would be Bumpy Action appearing on Friday the 18th (NOT the 19th) of June 2010 at 8:00. It's advertised in The Reader.

Adam Fletcher said...

Great article - I really appreciate the pictures and your exploration of the boundaries of Benson - that's kinda useful. You might be interested in the composite of the neighborhoods in Omaha, including Benson, that I made at http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=118443093709615440330.00048e30cf18f6c3edcab&t=h&z=12

About the so-called "they" you're referencing, and the deep, deep research you did, I would suggest that you don't be shy to cite the Wikipedia article you took so much of your information directly from, which included work by myself and others. Folks interested in that can read it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benson_neighborhood_(Omaha,_Nebraska)

Happy writing - and make sure you keep going! If you're interested I'll race you to find interesting stuff out about your neighborhood. I'll start by pointing you to an article I wrote about the Old City Hall and Fire Station at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benson_City_Hall_(Omaha,_Nebraska)

Gene said...

The building with the park bench inside an open area in the front is the American Legion.

greg said...

I grew up on 56th and blondo and walked to the benson library and bakery every sat. lived at the gallagher swimming pool during summer.....such a great time. my favorite store was ben franklins and the bakery...would love to see some old pics of those places if you can find some to post!!!! I lived there i n the benson area from 1960 until 1978

Sheri said...

I grew up in Benson and walked to the library at least twice a week. Shopped at Ross' Grocery, ate ice cream at Hollywood ice cream, shopped at the Hobby Shop, Kay's Jewelry and even went to the movies on Maple Street somewhere close to the Pizza Shoppe. A great neighborhood to grow up in. I went to Benson West, and then of course was a Bunny. The fifties and sixties were so wonderful

Irish Patty said...

Wonderful trip down memory lane. I lived the first 50 years of my life in the Holy Name/Benson area. Raised my children on 49th and Ohio. We spent most of our shopping time in Benson. Loved the Benson Library. FYI, the address of 6121 Maple is a group home for folks with Developmental Disabilities.

Kurt Goetzinger said...

May I post these photos on Benson Nebraska's website? I'll be sure to credit you if you give me your name. Thanks! Kurt Goetzinger www.BensonNebraska.com omahaadvertising@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

Had my first home at 67th & Bedford, my babies were born there and my kids went to school in Benson...I remember walking them through downtown Benson and doing shopping there...it's so sad that there are nothing more than bars left...too bad Bill's closed, the bakery and the 5 and dime closed...that's what is needed in the neighborhood to bring it back to life...

Jeff Lonowski said...

You missed Mint Design Group, next to The Sydney.

Anonymous said...

I loved the Benson Library! I remember the pool being built at Gallagher park, and the fountain.
I think there was a Hinky Dinky on the south side of Military/Maple catty corner from Dippy Donuts. There was also a florist and dry cleaners by Dippy Donuts. I remember Taylor's taste freeze. And at one time across to the north there was a Spiegle catalog pick up center. I am old enough to remember both "dime Stores" one had a fountain and a basement, I think that was the north side of Maple. Commercial Federal was on the NE corner where Military split off. And yes, there was a nice dress shop by Commercial Federal. Who remembers Yeargies? East edge of Benson, maybe 45th? A lot of good memories! I was about 1 year to young for Sandy's Escape.

Adrienne Huber said...

I am looking for anyone who may have worked at Yeargies. My Dad recently found out my Grandma had a daughter she put up for adoption. My Great Aunt told him a women who worked at Yeargies adopted her. My Grandma worked at The Nifty at the time. Any help would be appreciated.

Anonymous said...

To Adrienne Huber....I think the store was called Virgies. I did know a woman that worked there, she was my neighbor across the street and her husband worked for the Post Office. Their last name was Kurbs.

Anonymous said...

My high school English teacher, Josephine Frisbie, told the story of Military Road connecting from Omaha to Fremont. It's true.

Anonymous said...

Only around six years and so many changes yet Benson stays the same in as many other ways.

Unknown said...

Wow. Great article. And think of Benson now. Lit up. All those vacant areas are now filled with places for us to enjoy. The history is amazing and I learned a lot from the article. Live on Benson!!

Anonymous said...

I have tickets to Blue October, whom I thought was playing at the Waiting Room Outdoors and now I see on an email showcasing upcoming events, this particular event is listed as Downtown Benson. What is that? We are traveling from Central Kansas the day of the event and don't want to be late because we don't know where we're supposed to be going!