Saturday, May 14, 2011

Crossing Midtown ...

Up Farnam from Park to 40!

When I moved to Omaha, the term "Midtown" was not to be heard.

I daresay the name, referring to an area of Omaha that is, was unknown until the 1990s and did not become trendy until 2000.

If we ignore the term "Midtown", the area we're going to traverse covers parts of the Turner Park District, the Blackstone District, the Midtown Crossing District, the Mutual District, the Gold Coast, and touches upon the Med Center District.

Nobody seems to agree what the boundaries of Midtown are, or even what the boundaries of Downtown are. I've always thought of the cluster of large TV towers and the Mutual campus as being "downtown", but I'm apparently in the minority.

When I think of "downtown" I think of the central business core.

I've searched what I can, and I have indeed found a very concise and authoritative reference as to what is and what is not Downtown Omaha:

If "downtown" is difficult to define, "midtown" is worse. I would think of "midtown" in Omaha as being west of Downtown, whatever boundaries that may have, and extending westward to where the "old growth" pre-WWII architecture ends.

Rather than debate some ephemeral definitions, let's explore! :)

We'll begin at Park Avenue and Farnam, walking westward on Farnam to 40th.

In our one-mile trek we will pass the headquarters of not one, not two, but three Fortune-500 companies!

The "Park" in Omaha's Park Avenue is that of Hanscom Park, with Park Avenue leading south from Dodge St. along the east side of Hanscom Park. The defunct trolley line serving this route was the Park East Line, with a corresponding Park West Line running along a private right-of-way along Hanscom Park's west side.

Farnam Street was named in memory of railroad and banking mogul Henry Farnham [sic], and in Omaha's youth, the street was indeed spelled with the "h", over time morphing into the current spelling.

Despite the activity and development in the Turner Park and Midtown Crossing area, the immediate vicinity of Park Avenue is uncertain at best. This section contains several vacant, worn-out, and infirm buildings.

Looking east from Park Avenue we see buildings badly in need of some TLC.

Godfather's Pizza is the exception to this rule, apparently thriving in what was once a bridal salon.

West of Godfather's, I knew this building as the home of a Big Boy restaurant, long closed. More recently it was a walk-in clinic, now vacant and for sale/lease, as are several other buildings in the immediate area.

The Crown Jewel of the block, if there is to be one, is the South Tower of the Twin Towers Condominiums. (Is it "condominiums" or "condominia"?)

The South Tower came about in the 1960s from Omaha's flagship Sears And Roebuck shop, gutted to the iron framing and reconstructed, Sears having moved to the new Crossroads Mall on what was then the west side of town.

The adjoining North Tower, what appears to be a fraternal, not identical twin of the South Tower, was constructed from the ground up in the former Sears parking lot.

But wait! What's wrong with this picture?

Give up?

The building is totally vacant! Unoccupied! Considered uninhabitable by the local TLA.

The South Tower, while it may not be thriving, looks like it's holding its own, and offering some excellent views of Turner Park and the relatively new Midtown Crossing.

The Clarinda:

The success story of this block has to be The Clarinda!

Until recent years, The Clarinda was yet another neglected and crumbling apartment, housing druggies and those down on their luck, and destined for the wrecking ball.

Rather than a demolition and the construction of yet another Fedders Special, The Clarinda has been magnificently restored and turned into condominiums. (Jeesh! That word just doesn't sound right!)

The Clarinda offers catercorner views of Turner Park.

He Age:

It may not be a fraternal twin of The Clarinda, but The Page is more like Clarinda's kid brother.

Although still boarded up, the brickwork and stonework of The Page show signs of some recent spiff-up work and plans are to restore The Page along the lines of The Clarinda.

The Page fronts Turner Boulevard and looks out upon an innominate greenspace connecting Turner Park to Dewey Park.

Turner Boulevard is part of what was Omaha's original Boulevard System, consisting of several winding thoroughfares connecting Omaha's parks. Turner cuts a serpentine path from just north of Dodge Street south to Woolworth Avenue, connecting Turner Park, Dewey Park, Leavenworth Park, and with a wee bit of imagination, Hanscom Park.

Turner Boulevard and Turner Park are named in memory of Charles Turner, a turn of the 20th century real estate developer whose family donated the land for what became Turner Park.

Turner park was intended to be the customary "Village Square" for the developing area, a greenspace set aside for the enjoyment of the residents.

A World War I monument was erected in the southeast corner of Turner Park in the early 1920s.

The Turner Park Carousel previously occupied the northeast corner of Turner Park, near the intersection of Dodge Street and Turner Boulevard. It was removed in the early 1950s when Omaha adopted one-way streets and the access lane from eastbound Dodge Street to Douglas Street was constructed.

The former location of the carousel is seen below.

The skyline of Midtown Crossing forms an attractive background on the west side of Turner Park.

The new buildings of Midtown Crossing all but dwarf First Unitarian, which faces Harney Street just west of Turner Boulevard.

Midtown Crossing is one of the most dynamic and energetic areas in the Omaha area as of this writing.

Midtown crossing is a "mixed use" (uh-huh, that term and the concept, is as trendy as wood-fired free-range cupcakes) development consisting of condominiums (yeah, that word again), retail and entertainment venues, business offices, and about anything.

The project was financed and developed by a subsidiary of Mutual Of Omaha, whose campus we will visit as we wander to the immediate west.

Midtown Crossing is intended to be a walkable and transit-friendly district, except for the fact that the friendly transit disappeared from the area about 1955. It's definitely walkable and enjoyable.

As an aside, for most of the photos in this section I'm trying something different.


Just because. :)

I shot these scenes using medium format color transparency film, cross-processed in the chemistry normally used for color negative film.

This is something I don't normally do, but I did it once kind of on the spur of the moment, written up HERE.

I wanted to do it, however, planned and intentionally, to try to work with the medium.

Cross-processing in this manner typically results in some color shifts, anywhere from subtle to bizarre. This can result in such things as a sky shaded from azure to salmon color in the same frame. Some consider cross-processing such as this to be part of the "lo-fi" movement in contemporary photography.

I also composed these for the square format, something I don't usually do and a technique with which I'm not familiar. My last "square format" camera was the Brownie Starflash I had when I was very young. :)

Anyway ...

Farnam Street is the "Main Drag" of Midtown Crossing, running along the development's south side, from just west of Turner Boulevard uphill and westward to 33rd. St.

Delice' Bakery, a transplant from the Old Market, is one of the casual dining venues along this stretch of Farnam.

As is ingredient [sic] (lower case "i" is correct for this name), more of a full-service eatery.

And you can work off the calories at Prairie Life Fitness just across the street. :)

Midtown Cinema offers adult beverages with your feature film. :)

Dogs Allowed!

We have a "people bakery" down the street, and this one for our furry companions.

The new construction of Midtown Crossing blends well with that of the Twin Towers in the background.

Looking eastward and downhill through the Midtown Crossing area. For those who remember the Chicago Bar, it was where the building dead-center in the photo now stands.

Notice the red and white tower poking up above the "Cinema" sign. Hold that thought. :)

The street lamps of Midtown Crossing are somewhat unusual.

A design I don't remember seeing before, particularly around Omaha.

Mutual Of Omaha

Yes, >>THAT<< Mutual Of Omaha.

Nope, no Lions, Tigers, and Bears (oh my!) anywhere around here. :)

Mutual's World Headquarters building sits on the northwest corner of 33rd. and Farnam.

The original building dates from the 1940s, with additional "layers" constructed in between the 1950s and the 1970s, and expansion to other buildings in the neighborhood from the late 1970s to the present.

Mutual's business units include the core health and accident insurance business, United Of Omaha Life Insurance, Mutual Of Omaha Bank (photo below), and others including East Campus Realty, the developer of Midtown Crossing.

Mutual's iconic "Chief" logo appears in several places throughout the Campus.

The main Bank building occupies the large tract on the southwest corner of 33rd. and Farnam, directly opposite the main headquarters building.

Under a dusty rose sky!

This frame, taken along with those of Midtown Crossing, shows an example of the not-all-unexpected color shifts which can happen when cross-processing transparency film.

As we venture west of Mutual, we enter what was once known as Omaha's Gold Coast district. Stately and opulent mansions, many long gone but some still extant, lined such streets as Harney, Dewey, North 38th., and yes, Farnam.

Immediately to the west of the Mutual Campus is First Presbyterian Church, a brick Gothic structure dating from the 19-teens, one of several cavernous churches in the Gold Coast area.

Tower To The Sky!

West and across from First Prez stands the headquarters and studios of WOWT, Omaha's first television station. WOWT beat rival KMTV (whose original tower can be seen in the distance in one of the photos above) by only a handful of days in a "race to the air" in 1947.

Originally WOWT was the area's NBC affiliate with KMTV originally affiliating with CBS. They swapped in 1956 and swapped back in 1986. They traded off carrying the ABC programs until KETV went on the air a few years later, and the two arm-wrestled over who got stuck carrying the DuMont programs. :)

Johnny Carson hosted a local talk show from this very building in the late 1940s.

Several nationally-known news figures began their careers with rival KMTV including Floyd Kalber, Tom Brokaw, and Chuck Roberts.

Both KMTV and WOWT claim to be the first station in Omaha to do live local color broadcasts.

The downtown towers are no longer used except for emergencies. The three "majors" (WOWT, KMTV, KETV) now broadcast from a shared facility on north 72nd. Street.

The highrise just to the west of the WOWT studio is home to two well-known Fortune-500 companies.

The moniker is that of PKS (Peter Kiewit and Sons) whose family parlayed a small bricklaying outfit into one of the largest construction contractors in the world.

However, the sleeper behind the facade is none other than Berkshire-Hathaway. Uh-huh, this is Warren B's office! :)

No huge "BERKSHIRE-HATHAWAY" logo here. They keep a low profile.

The flagship of the Gold Coast is, or rather was, the Blackstone Hotel.

The Blackstone closed as a hotel shortly after I arrived in Omaha. In my goings-on I became acquainted with several recent employees of the Blackstone and all reflected upon the classy place it was under the management of Schimmel and the subsequent fall from grace under Radisson's (mis?)direction.

The tale oft told was that of the Reuben Sandwich and its origin at the Blackstone.

The name is attributed to Reuben Kulakofsky, a Russian immigrant of the founding family of Central Market and a regular diner at the Blackstone. It was said that the sandwich was made at the request of Mr. K., and when it was placed on the menu, for the lack of a better name, "Reuben" was used.

Another Omaha institution, the Rose Bowl on Saddle Creek Road, also claimed to originate the Reuben. Although all I know is hearsay, my impression was that the sandwich and the name were long established before the Rose Bowl came to be. Since both dogs in this fight are long gone, it's doubtful that the disagreement will ever be satisfied.

The view above shows the closed former entrance to what was the Golden Spur, one of the Blackstone's dining establishments.

Anyway, the once tres elegante Blackstone is mostly offices and has been for some time. Kiewit now controls and manages the building.

Across Farnam to the north from the Blackstone lies a revitalized strip once dominated by the Blackstone Pharmacy.

The Crescent Moon Ale House occupies the northwest section, the former entrance to the pharmacy.

The lower level has become the Huber Haus, a beer-garden venue for special events. As I was shooting the Blackstone and Kiewit Plaza area, the sound of an OOM-PA band was emanating from the area.

Max And Joe's (looks like another special event hall) and Beertopia round out the scene.

The connected buildings to the east host a frame shop ...

... and Tommy Colina's.

Tommy Colina's is on my must-try list, but it just hasn't happened yet. It's said that it's "contemporary casual" in theme, featuring burgers, melts, wraps, salads and the like, with a recently-added breakfast buffet.

West of 36th. on the north side of Farnam are a couple of surviving Gold Coast Era mansions.

This particular mansion, although at one time a residence, was the long-standing home of the Fitch McEachron & Cole Mortuary.

During the 1940s, the stretch of Farnam Street from roughly 32nd. to 37th. or so was colloquially known as "Mortuary Row", due to the preponderance of undertaking businesses.

Another surviving early 20th. century mansion is the Storz House, just west of the intersection of Farnam and 37th.

Gottlieb Storz, a local brewer, built the mansion in the early 1900s and it remained in the family until the 1980s. It is once again under private ownership.

It's been said that Fred Astaire used the ballroom on the upper level to rehearse, his father being an employee of Storz and the Storz family supporting Astaire's up and coming career.

The Storz Brewery on 16th. Street had an almost-100-year career from 1876 to 1972.

Storz Beer, the brand, disappeared in the mid 1970s.

I only remember having Storz Beer once, at a political rally for a local candidate, for whom I had done some volunteer work. They had a small stash of Storz Triumph squirreled away for an important event.

The lineage of Storz Beer survives, to an extent, but the bloodline has now been diluted and polluted to the degree which surely has Gottlieb and Adolph Storz perpetually rolling in their graves! Storz was acquired by Grain Belt in the mid 1960s, which continued to produce both brands. Grain Belt was then taken over by G. Heileman (Heileman's Old Style) in the 1970s which dropped the Storz label. Heileman then merged with Stroh's in the 1990s, which was subsequently taken over by Pabst.

As we approach 38th we come upon Joseph's College of Barbering, which I assume is a spin-off of Joseph's College of Hair Design in Lincoln.

I'm guessing that the building once housed either a neighborhood hardware store or small supermarket.

We have a surprise on 38th! Thrift shop, that is. :)

When I lived in the Turner Park area, this used to be the Post Office.

McFoster's Natural Kind Cafe graces the southwest corner at 38th. Street. The architecture, evidence of doors for service bays, indicates that this most likely was a very stylish service station at one time.

For some reason I get the impression that prime rib is not on the menu. :)

They aren't mansions, but several larger detached and attached homes remain on the south side of Farnam heading west of 38th. Street

The sign on the entrance of 3817 piqued my curiosity.

Turns out that this is an Oxford House, one of several in the area.

An Oxford House is a self-run, self-supported "safe house" for those recovering from drug and/or alcohol issues.

Residents are welcome to live in an Oxford House as long as they feel the need, and as long as they remain drug and alcohol free.

The Colonial Hotel has been a landmark of the area for decades.

When I worked in this area, late 1980s, the Colonial had slid from its grand standing and at the time was one cut above that of a flop-house.

However in recent years it's been cleaned up quite a bit and now houses a mixture of permanent residents and nightly guests.

The Brothers Lounge is another fixture in the neighborhood.

"Brothers" refers to the Firmature Brothers, the family being noted in a previous posting for operating several bars and restaurants in the area, including the Gas Lamp and the Regency Sidewalk Cafe.

Having spent a number of evenings in the "Sisters Room" at Brothers, I did happen to pick up on one bit of neighborhood trivia which may not be well known.

North of Brothers, this otherwise unassuming six-flat, the Lash Apartments, holds a certain distinction.

This building was the long-time home of the late Alice Buffett, for whom the Buffet Award for Education is named.

Uh-huh, another one from >>THAT<< Buffett family! :)

We now pass 38th. Avenue heading west. Remember that in Omaha, numbered avenues usually run parallel to the same numbered street, and usually one block to the west. Such is the case with 38th. Street and Avenue.

Brite Ideas is a year-around business dealing exclusively in holiday and decorative lighting. Their showroom and production facility occupies this former telephone company garage at Farnam and 38th. Avenue.

Brite Ideas was the victim of a devastating fire in 2005, noted briefly in a previous posting. At first glance, the building appeared to be close to a total loss!

They completed renovations and moved back just in time for the holiday season of 2006.

I've always considered the Tudor Arms, just north of Farnam on 39th. Street, to be one of the most attractive apartment buildings in the Omaha area.

Several other well-preserved and well-maintained apartments are dotted about Farnam in the 38th-39th. area.

Others, such as this row of four, are not so well-maintained.

Another area mansion, along with an attached commercial building, houses Katelman Antiques.

Katelman's is on the northwest corner of 39th. Street and Farnam.

I admit that I've forgotten far more than I remember about the block of Farnam between 39th. and 40th. Streets. The block now has a definite well-worn and rough around the edges air to it.

The commercial buildings on this block have so much potential! Hopefully the energy of Midtown Crossing will spread westward as the economy continues to recover.

The Icon Salon occupies the eastmost section of the north-side strip, and appears to be healthy.

Kaufman's Bakery is what I most remember about this block, but I'm actually uncertain about which building it was.

The sign of Oxide Graphic Design looks somewhat like it may have been made from the old Kaufman sign, but the more I think about it, the Oxide building may have been a long-closed hardware store with a similar sign.

The quintessential neighborhood bar, Sullivans, is the best preserved of any of the businesses on this block.

Across Farnam to the south, a modern facade breathes a sign of life into this otherwise-vacant strip.

I remember this corner bay as Jasper's, a popular Friday "Beer For Lunch" and attitude-adjustment bar and grill during the 1980s.

Now vacant, in recent years it's developed a particularly bad reputation as Cheaters Lounge, notorious for shootings and gang activity.

The northeast corner of Farnam at 40th. was a very long standing Rexall pharmacy, complete with luncheonette, known as Green's, Rice's, and Beaton's, over the decades.

It appears to be vacant, unfortunately, with signage for The Reading Grounds, a coffee house and sandwich place, probably closed only recently.

Catercorner to the southwest, the commercial scene fades as the Medical Center campus begins, with a tattoo parlor (sorry, not my style!) and a few others.

Just north of Farnam on the west side of 40th, the only sign of recent activity is this Middle-Eastern restaurant which appears to be closed.

That's it for today, gang! Hope you've enjoyed joining me on this venture.

I've enjoyed doing it, and I assure you that I intend to be posting far more frequently than I have in the recent past. I have two other items in the works, so please stay tuned! :)

Technical information:

Olympus Stylus Zoom, Fuji Superia 200
Yashica D, Fuji Provia 100, cross-processed in C41 chemistry
Kodak 4530 digital