Despite its reputation, North Omaha has always been a place for extravagance, embellishment and architectural celebration. Dozens of homes are remarkable today for their illustration of various housing designs that aren’t present throughout the rest of the city, and they deserve to be highlighted. Following is some information about the history of architecture in North Omaha, and some descriptions of popular architectural styles in North Omaha.
North Omaha’s Architectural History
Before reading this, please understand that I am just a fan of architecture, and not an architectural historian or an architect. I have a deep appreciation for North Omaha’s architectural gems, which represent a lot of different designs and usages. I’m also fascinated by conversations about the oldest places in the community, especially the oldest house.
North Omaha has a lot of great history in it’s built environment outside of those places though. Since 1854 (and earlier) there have been notable mansions and estates, spectacular and mundane apartment buildings, significant churches, massive public housing projects, and lots of commercial buildings, including hotels and more. Its the everyday houses that really interest me though.
A lot of people have greatly impacted the community’s architecture. They include Nebraska’s first African American architect, ‘Cap’ Clarence Wigington. One of the most prolific designers in North Omaha was Everett S. Dodds, who worked with fine architectural craftsman Jacob Maag to fill homes with beauty. George F. Shepard and John F. Bloom were both stoneworkers in the community.
If you’re actually interested in North Omaha’s architecture, you should learn about redlining in Omaha, and about the historic neighborhoods that fill the community. No understanding of the community’s housing is truly complete without understanding the histories of streets, streetcars and industry though.
Following is are some details about the architectural styles throughout North Omaha.
Style 1. Eastlake – Stick
The Eastlake-Stick style was popular during the High Victorian era from 1860 to 1890. Making craftsmanship obvious and celebrating details, the Eastlake-Stick style of architecture layered homes with fancy woodwork on the outside and inside of the home. Dense hardwoods were used for clapboard and lattice, doorways and windows, as well as fish scale siding, twisted railings, extravagant cornices and much more.
Most of the examples of this style have been destroyed across North Omaha. However, one of the best remaining examples is the Edgar Zabriskie House in the Bemis Park Landmark Heritage District. It was built in 1889. Other elegant Eastlake-Stick style homes were once found throughout the Near North Side, along Florence Boulevard, Bemis Park, Orchard Park, Bedford Place, Kountze Place, Florence and many other neighborhoods.
Style 2. American Foursquare
North Omaha’s predominant historical housing structure style may be the American Foursquare. Popular from the 1890s through the 1930s, the American Foursquare style homes were simple, large homes for lower middle class families. Basically square, they were two and 1/2 stories tall with a very boxy design. Every American Foursquare house has a pyramidal roof. They featured a dormer in the center of the roof and often had a large front porch with wide stairs. Usually with arched entries between common rooms inside, they also had built-in cabinetry and Craftsman-style woodwork.
Many of the American Foursquare homes in North Omaha were built as Sears houses, with complete kits shipped straight through the community on the Belt Line Railway, and then trucked into the neighborhoods. These homes can be found in several neighborhoods, including the Minne Lusa, Miller Park, Saratoga, Kountze Park, Near North Side, Long School, Highlander, Prospect Hill, Walnut Hill, Orchard Hill, Fontenelle, and Belevedre, among others.
Style 3. Arts & Crafts and Craftsman
The Arts and Crafts style highlighted handmade elements within and outside houses that featured various woods and emphasized sturdiness and permanency. Simple, fine hand-crafter woodwork and other craftsmanship was everywhere in these homes, including the design as well as the fixtures, fabrics, furnishings and more. There are exposed beams the interiors of the homes, along with exposed rafter ends and eave brackets outside, holding up roofs with wide overhangs. Charles Storz’s North Omaha home was built in the Arts and Crafts style. Its located near North 23rd and Wirt Streets.
The entire North Omaha community was infilled with the popular, mass manufactured Craftsman style homes between 1910 and 1940, with one such example at 2448 Crown Point Ave. These homes, smaller than their Arts and Crafts cousins, were generally single-story, with many of the same features as the larger versions. However, they were mass-produced by the Sears and Roebucks Corporation, and have many repeating features. Other companies mass produced this style of home and those were built throughout North Omaha, too.
Style 4. Colonial Revival
As you drive along Florence Boulevard, many historic styles pop out. One of the most distinguished is called Colonial Revival. This style of house was most popular nationally during the 1940s. However, several in North Omaha predate that decade. Most of them have rectangular shapes and symmetrical appearances. They look like Colonial-era houses, bringing together columned entries, columns and more. Sometimes they will have full-width porches with slender classical columns, an front door that shines through and six or eight pane windows. This North Omaha example is on Florence Boulevard north of Ames Avenue.
Style 5. Commercial Vernacular
One of my favorite styles of buildings in North Omaha is called Commercial Vernacular. Old commercial style buildings in North Omaha were built between 1860 and 1910, with flat roofs, flat fronts and few details or ornamentation. This example is located at N. 30th and Evans Street.
Style 6. Italianate
From the 1870s through the 1890s, the Italianate style was all the rage in Omaha for houses and commercial buildings. In homes, they were either square, rectangular, or L-shaped. They had two-stories with low-pitched roofs and wide eaves and tall narrow windows. There were usually small front porches, and sometimes a cupola on the roof. Few of these homes remain in all of Omaha. One of the hotbeds is Fort Omaha, where the officers quarters were in this style. The example here is North Omaha’s General Crook’s house.
Style 7. Late Gothic Revival
Built like the European churches and castles of the Middle Ages, the Late Gothic Revival style brought major English and French work to the United States. Heavy buildings, these schools, houses and churches, often used heavy bricks and other masonry. They can look like mini-castles, and often have towers or other battlements. The Sacred Heart Catholic Church is a perfect example of what this looked like in North Omaha at N. 22nd and Binney Streets.
Style 8. Neo-Classical
Built in 1897, The Sherman apartments were one of Omaha’s first apartment buildings. Built just a few years after the monumental Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, they were designed in the Neo-Classical Revival style. Made to echo the ancient Greek and Roman architectural orders, there are pedimented porticos, large-scale columns, and frequent arches throughout. The Sherman is symmetrical, as are more Neo-Classical Revival styled buildings. Buildings are usually symmetrically arranged and are often of large proportion. Other buildings in the area in this style include the former Calvin Presbyterian Church building along N. 24th Street, and the John E. Reagan house in the Kountze Place neighborhood.
Style 9. Prairie School
North Omaha’s St. John’s AME Church is a stellar example of Prairie Style architecture. With low, horizontal proportions and sheltering overhangs, the church has a stone belt course that highlights the horizontality of the building’s design. The Bethlehem Baptist Church at N. 21st and Browne reflects this style, too.
Style 10. Queen Anne
The Queen Anne style sought to exude opulence and success. With turrets, dormers, a number of chimneys and wide, wraparound porches, they were obvious and immodest. One of the most lavishly designed homes in North Omaha, the John P. Bay House, is a prime model of the Queen Anne style. Its asymmetrical, picturesque and uninhibited. Popular in the late 1800s, Queen Annes showed the world how successful families were becoming.
Style 11. Romanesque Revival
With semi-arched windows and doors, the Romanesque style was popular in the late 1880s and early 1890s. With a massive, solid feel, the use of turrets added to the strength of this style. The Holy Family Catholic Church is pictured here. I also like the houses on Izard at N. 18th Streets. Beautifully designed, they are late 1890s and proud of it.
Style 12. Spanish Renaissance Revival
Tucked away in North Omaha’s Florence neighborhood is a fine residential example of the Spanish Renaissance Revival Style that was all the rage across the U.S. in the 1920s. The style includes curvy gables, small niches around the buildings, tile roofs, and decorative carvings and moldings. Houses are generally stucco-walled with tile roofs. The Fred M. Crane House at 6141 Florence Boulevard has a Spanish Colonial design that is distinct in the community. There are other fine examples scattered across North Omaha, including the Minne Lusa neighborhood and others.
Style 13. Art Deco & Art Moderne
Art Deco takes its name from a French expo in 1925 where architects started using its stylized approaches in residential, commercial and public uses immediately. In North Omaha, one linear of this style is located at N. 25th and Ames Ave. on a former commercial addition. The geometric lines, rounded corners and subtle details. The former fire station at 2202 Ames Ave. was designed in the Art Deco style, too.
Style 14. Mid-Century Modern
Popular in Omaha from the 1940s through the 1970s, the Mid-Century Modern style was futuristic and functional. Every part of the home was affected by this style, including the interior design, furniture and decoration, and the actual mechanics of the home, including central vacuums and air conditioning. While many west Omaha developments encapsulated Mid-Century Modern in every home, this style was relatively rare in North Omaha, and the remaining structures in this design are few and far between. The Mid-Century Modern style is obvious in North Omaha’s St. Richard’s Catholic School and Rectory and in an exceptional ranch style home located at 1815 John A. Creighton Boulevard.
Style 15. Period Revival Styles
North Omaha is also packed with Period Revival style structures. Built between the turn of the century and World War Two, they were built to look like buildings from across the U.S. and around the world, both in modern times and older ones, too. These houses, and others, include unusual and picturesque appearances, with different shapes and materials projecting different effects as the builder thought was important. Styles throughout the community include some of the following:
- The Buford House at 1804 N. 30th Street was built in an adapted Tudor style, along with the Miller Park pavilion further north on N. 30th St. A smaller version of the Tudor style is called the Minimal Traditional, with a prime example located at 5337 North 25th St.
- The Margaret Apartments along N. 16th are a simplified example of Jacobean style.
- A Dutch Colonial Revival house is located at 5024 Florence Boulevard, with several others in the neighborhood surrounding it.
There are a few neighborhoods that offer a mix of all of these, or several. Perhaps the jewel for mixing them is the Minne Lusa Historic District, which includes more than 400 homes built before WWII. It has a tremendous wealth of beauty and utility, and is affordable for many modern families. For a more historical example of how these home styles mixed, check out my Wirt Street Home Tour. This summary of North Omaha’s architectural styles can offer students of history, architecture and sociology an interesting study. With affordability, a premier location and spectacular construction, there is hope for all these buildings and many more than weren’t included. I hope you’ll take initiative and discover more of North Omaha beyond this entry – then write to me and share what you’ve found!
Please leave any comments, including ideas and criticisms, below! Thanks.
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MY ARTICLES ON THE HISTORY OF ARCHITECTURE IN NORTH OMAHA
GENERAL: Architectural Gems | The Oldest House | The Oldest Places
PLACES: Mansions and Estates | Apartments | Churches | Public Housing | Houses | Commercial Buildings | Hotels
PEOPLE: ‘Cap’ Clarence Wigington | Everett S. Dodds | Jacob Maag | George F. Shepard | John F. Bloom
HISTORIC HOUSES: Mergen House | Hoyer House | Campion House | North Omaha’s Sod House | James Comey Mitchell House | Charles Storz House | George F. Shepard House | 2902 N. 25th St. | 6327 Florence Blvd.
PUBLIC HOUSING: Logan Fontenelle | Spencer Street | Hilltop | Pleasantview | Myott Park aka Wintergreen
NORMAL HOUSES: 3155 Meredith Ave. | 5815 Florence Blvd. | 2936 N. 24th St. | 6711 N. 31st Ave. | 3210 N. 21st St. | 4517 Browne St. | 5833 Florence Blvd. | 1922 Wirt St. | 3467 N. 42nd St. | 5504 Kansas Ave. | Lost Blue Windows House
HISTORIC APARTMENTS: Historic Apartments | Ernie Chambers Court, aka Strehlow Terrace | The Sherman Apartments | Logan Fontenelle Housing Projects | Spencer Street Projects | Hilltop Projects | Pleasantview Projects | Memmen Apartments | The Sherman | The Climmie | University Apartments
MANSIONS & ESTATES: Hillcrest Mansion | Burkenroad House aka Broadview Hotel aka Trimble Castle | McCreary Mansion | Parker Estate | J. J. Brown Mansion | Poppleton Estate | Rome Miller Mansion | Redick Mansion | Thomas Mansion | John E. Reagan House | Brandeis Country Home | Bailey Residence | Lantry – Thompson Mansion | McLain Mansion | Stroud Mansion | Anna Wilson’s Mansion | Zabriskie Mansion | The Governor’s Estate | Count Creighton House | John P. Bay House
COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS: 4426 Florence Blvd. | 2410 Lake St. | 26th and Lake Streetcar Shop | 1324 N. 24th St. | 2936 N. 24th St. | 5901 N. 30th St. | 4402 Florence Blvd. | 4225 Florence Blvd. | 3702 N. 16th St.
RELATED: Redlining | Neighborhoods | Streets | Streetcars | Churches | Schools
Here are some of the catalogue pages for Sears Catalogue houses that can be found across North Omaha. They reflect many of the styles mentioned above. These homes arrived in the community between 1908 and 1940, they were ordered through the mail and sent to Omaha via railroad. Coming as completely cut, ready to build packages, they would travel along the Belt Line Rail Road, and then be trucked to the neighborhoods.
Love this roundup of architectural styles! Thanks for the information!