Are you a longtime resident of North Omaha or a fan of unique architecture? Then you know the community is home to many distinct houses. However, the further north you go the harder it is to find them! One of those hard-to-find homes was tucked away in Ponca Hills. This is a history of the now-lost house and the family who built it.
The Fascinating McCandlesses
In 1932, a recent graduate from the University of Omaha named Kenneth McCandless (1898-2000) was a young journalist with the Omaha World-Herald, and then a recreation worked with the YWCA. Kenneth McCandless had a long and varied career, and he and his wife were frequently noted in the paper. In 1939, Kenneth McCandless was featured in the World-Herald as the head of the Omaha Consumer Council. In that role, he referred to a bill going through the Nebraska Legislature as “goose-stepping toward facism,” and was effective in having the bill defeated. It would’ve ended aid to poor people across the state, particularly in Omaha.
Yvonne McCandless (1902-1940) was a homemaker and gardener who spoke frequently at events in Florence about gardening. A late-comer to the Quakers, she believed brotherly love would “heal wounds of body and spirit and will eventually conquer war.” Mrs. McCandless, born in 1902, was a graduate of the Maryland State Teachers College. Her early life was a bounding cascade of adventures. After starting a career as a geography teacher in Maryland, she hitchhiked across the country to California in the 1920s, and when her school board in Maryland found out they fired her. Not held down, she left California for New England to hitch across that region, and in the winter she left for Canada, where she traveled by dog sled. In 1927, she was the author of a children’s book called The Big Indian: How He Came to Go to the Other World, and had several articles published in magazines. Teaching in Appalachian Kentucky in the late 1920s, she came to Omaha to teach adults in 1929. She and Kenneth had a single daughter, Sylvia.
Sylvia went to Ponca School from 1933 to 1940, making friends with kids throughout the area, and especially with popular architect Frank Latenser’s son, Nestor (1925-2006). Nestor’s family lived in a fine circular-shaped home at the top of the hill above Blue Windows, and the two children played together frequently.
Slumming It at the Newspaper
Leaving his career as a teacher, Kenneth had to take a job with the Omaha World-Herald as a journalist when the Great Depression started in 1929. Within a few years, the bottom fell out of the real estate market in Omaha and he and his wife bought land in the Ponca Hills to build their dream home.
After their home was completed, the couple had a daughter and lived in peace near the Ponca School and by many friendly neighbors, including the Price family, the Hollingsworths, Andy Flugum, and others. Throughout the Great Depression they lived in the calm, peaceful forest and enjoyed their custom home. In addition to her teaching, Yvonne was an avid gardener who taught others and enjoyed time with the Florence Oaks Garden Club, as well as teaching cooking classes, and sharing her love of nature by being an advisor for the Junior Park Rangers at Hummel Park. She was also an active organizer with Omaha’s League of Women Voters.
Building Blue Windows
After buying land in the Ponca Hills from the pioneer T.E. Price family farm along Ponca Road, in 1932 the couple worked with a young architect just getting started to design a unique home called Blue Windows. An old famous North Omaha brickyard was closing in 1932, and Kenneth hauled away the bricks they used to construct their kiln to use on his new house. He made double-thick brick walls for insulation with a huge fireplace with roughewn timbers from the surrounding forests.
In 1946, the home was described as a very rustic brick bungalow featuring a large living room with a massive fireplace. It had a single large bedroom and a large kitchen, and the addition was only partly finished. It sat on two acres and was priced at $3,500.
A friend of the family was Robert Fletcher Gilder (1856-1940), the longtime archeologist for the University of Nebraska at Lincoln who famously excavated Ponca Hills in the years before the McCandless’ built their home. He also worked at the Omaha World-Herald with Kenneth. In addition to his professions, Gilder was also a painter who specialized in landscapes painted in oils. He painted a portrait of Blue Windows that he wanted to give to Yvonne; however, his wife wouldn’t let him and today, the location of this painting is unknown to art collectors and Gilder fans alike.
Passing Away, Then Moving On
Yvonne died suddenly in 1940 from a cerebral hemorrhage. After an intimate naturalistic celebration of life, a ceremonial tree was planted in her memory at Hummel Park, which was near Blue Windows.
In the months after her passing, Kenneth began constructing an addition onto Blue Windows. In December 1940, Kenneth held a “roof warming” for the addition he built onto Blue Windows. With 125 guests coming despite “snow and cold,” McCandless gave each guest a copy of his deceased wife’s last book called Lotus.
Continuing his civic engagement, during World War II, Kenneth was the leader of the institute on public relations for the Omaha Community Welfare Council. Right after the war in 1946, he became the editor of The Pacific Northwest Cooperative, the official publication of the Pacific Supply Co-Operative in Walla Walla, Washington. He sold his custom home, Blue Windows, and moved away.
Blue Windows Disappeared!
The house is apparently lost today. Its location is even harder to identify, because apparently there was no address associated with Blue Windows! It was located on Ponca Road next door to the T.E. Price house and down the hill from the Frank Latenser house at 4014 North Post Road, which was on the hill above it. The Swanson Dairy Farm was across Ponca Road from Blue Windows, and the Ponca School was less than a quarter mile away from the home.
So mysteries persist, even 90-years after the home was built. According to Heather Russell, who is Kenneth and Yvonne’s granddaughter, today there is much that’s unknown about the house:
- Who was the young architect who designed Blue Windows?
- What was the precise location of Blue Windows?
- The house is seemingly gone today. What happened to it? When did it happen?
- What happened to Robert Fletcher Gilder’s painting of Blue Windows?
- Where is the Yvonne McCandless memorial tree in Hummel Park?
There are also some unknown people in the pictures above too, and lots of other details are missing.
Do you have any memories or information about the McCandlesses, the lost Blue Windows house, or other information related to this article? PLEASE share in the comments section!
Special thanks to Heather Russell for sharing her family history and photos with me!
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- A History of the Ponca Hills in North Omaha
I have a copy of The Big Indian, written by YVONNE McCANDLESS, 1927 EDITION. HOW MUCH WOULD OT BE WORTH?
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From my research, very little. They’re available on Amazon for $15.