Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Around Omaha

 Who wants to go sightseeing on a beautifully rainy day in Omaha? Really? Great! Let's Go!

First stop-Swanson Tower.

I was showing some of the more interesting mid-century buildings in my neighbourhood on Instagram, and though it might be interesting to readers over here as well. So  much of the Indian Hills and surrounding neighbourhoods were farmland until the 50s, it is like living in a time capsule of sorts. Many of the buildings are the work of the same architecture firm (Leo Daly) and they certainly left a mark on the area. The company is still in operation. 
(Not my photo)

The building in the top photo is the Swanson Tower where I hope to buy a unit when I'm elderly and have won a lottery because you're not moving to the Swanson Tower unless you're old and rich as a  three bedroom unit goes for upward of a million dollars. But I can dream. As a bonus, you're literally just feet from the emergency entrance to the hospital-which is perfect for the pensioner set. The towers were one of the first things built in the neighbourhood and while I'm sure no one could have anticipated how the hospitals have taken over the 84th street corridor, it isn't a bad thing living next to a hospital.  I live across Dodge a few blocks away, and can't tell you how happy I am to have Children's hospital nearby. Methodist hospital is next door, where Danny was born. They've since built a dedicated maternity hospital in the western part of the city. We didn't live here then, and had to drive in from our rural home. But imagine growing old feet from a hospital, a supermarket, a Walgreen's (chemist), a bank, and most importantly, an Amigos/King's Classic. Well, you have to eat, don't you? 

Yes, that's my rear-view mirror. I was stopped in traffic when I snapped the photo. It was a rainy day as I drove around, but as a non-professional photographer I find overcast days easier than bright sunshine. Personally, I think Omaha looks better on a grey day. 

Making our way up 84th Street...

At 84th and Pacific, there's the beautiful St. Andrews Episcopal Church built around the same time. I've seen the basement of the church (there's a thrift shop three days a week in the afternoons) but I haven't seen the sanctuary. It must be beautiful on sunny days with afternoon light streaming through the windows. After having not visited the thrift shop for over a year, I stopped on Friday to kill some time before picking Danny up from school. I came home with an antique ring with seed pearls (three dollars!) and four pieces of vintage Pyrex for .50 cents a piece. The lovely women ringing out my purchases were pleased to see someone buy the Pyrex because it is so useful. It absolutely is. A while back, there was a bit of a hysteria/urban legend floating around that the vintage Pyrex is poisonous because of the lead used in paints long ago. It has been repeatedly debunked, but the rumour is hard to kill. As a result, I'm able to purchase Pyrex for .50 cents a piece, though that's a rather exceptional price, online hysteria or not. Even if there were a bit of lead in the paint, unless you're licking the outside of the casserole, the amount of lead you're likely to encounter is negligible. You'd get more lead from touching the binding of old books. Anyway, the Nearly New Shop is open Thu-Sat and worth a stop if you're in the area. 

Another driving photo (I'm delivering the realism here). 
At 90th and Pacific we have the Pacific Hills Lutheran Church built in 1963. Westside High is located between the two churches on Pacific. I used to drop Dan at the Lutheran church in the morning, and pick him up at the Episcopal one in the afternoon. It worked out well as he could get a short walk, I could avoid the drop off/pick up chaos and he could get a little religion if he felt moved. Sadly, he hasn't felt moved, but the Lord works in mysterious ways I'm told, so we never know. If nothing else he got some exercise.  Then Covid happened and he never walks anywhere.
(Not my photo)
Look at that organ!!!
Don't laugh, but I like the landscaping. The trees mirror the  tall straight lines of the church and are standing there like worshipers heading off the church. They have an extremely retro Nativity they put on the lawn each Advent that probably came with the church. It is wonderful.
I also love the light fixtures. Lutheran churches always look so restrained from the outside and then you get inside and it is all high ceilings and stained glass. They've been doing extensive work on the building over the past year, and it will be interesting to see how it ends up. Such a stunningly beautiful Mid-Century church. 

Enough religion for now? 
Shall we visit Westside High School?

(Not my photo)

There's Westside now. Home of the Warriors and a "Nationally Recognized Show Choir" which I know because it says so right on the side of the building. The high school was built in 1961. The front hall and cafeteria are the only part of the building with windows. The rest is a windowless, carpeted, three story cube like so many mid-century brutalist buildings. It is dire inside. The hallway layout is vertigo-inducing as well. But the front hall is nice. Heaven help you if you're there for a meeting and get caught in the landing during a passing period-that was intense! Oh, and they have Modular Scheduling, which is absolutely as bonkers as it sounds. I'm glad I'm not a student today-I'd never make it to the right class. 

Leaving Westside behind for now, let's drive up 90th Street towards Dodge Street to visit one of my very favourite spots in Omaha, the Swanson Library. Click the link to take a virtual tour of the main floor of the library. 

The Swanson Library (like the Swanson Tower) named for the Mr. Swanson of frozen dinners fame who hailed from Omaha. Originally, the new library was to be built near the high school on Pacific, but the Swanson family donated a plot of land they had a disused house on. It is an awkwardly shaped parcel of land and how they managed to angle a library onto it is a feat of drafting (I suppose free land did make it worth trying). From the outside, the library looks like a concrete block, but unlike the high school, it is light and beautiful inside. The reading room at Swanson is one of my favourites in our library system. 
Not my photos: In season the planters to the left are always blooming with something. The Master Gardeners from the Extension office keep it beautiful along with the rest of the gardens around the building. 

See how light and beautiful it is inside? To the left is the children's department which is just a fantastic place to spend an afternoon. 
This mural is in the basement where the Friends of the Public Library Book Sale used to take place every week. I cannot wait for that to resume again once the pandemic is under control. The volunteers are like family and I miss them all so much. 

I saved the best for last...
This is Christ The King Church across the street from Westside High. It was also built in 1961. I love this building so much. 
(not my photo)
The stained glass was recently restored. How absolutely gorgeous is that?! I don't want to go to mass (sorry) but if you did want to go to mass, I imagine that would be a spiritually uplifting place to do it. I do honestly feel that there's something to be gained from just sitting and taking in the environment of a house of worship, no matter the denomination. The places are built for quiet contemplation. 

Interesting use of breeze-blocks! It certainly doesn't scream, "Catholic Church" does it? The absence of spires and arches must have raised a few eyebrows at the time. Sixty years on, it still looks striking and original. 
I will try to do a few more of these, perhaps as walking video tours as the weather warms up. There's so much to see and I've only just started. I hope you enjoyed the tour. 



Vronni's Style Meanderings said...

Well, I certainly enjoyed the trip around Omaha. I'm not a fan of modern churches but you're right; inside they were all stunning and looked like the perfect places for quiet contemplation - if you were so moved. I loved your library, they are always my most favourite places no matter what the outside looks like. The books; the smells and the memories...

I never knew that about pyrex dishes; I can't buy anymore even at 50 cents as I have no kitchen storage room left!

bahnwärterin said...

totally enjoyed!
thank you - goody!
especially as modern/mid century churches are a rarity around here...... the youngest are 120 y.o. - but most stand since 300 - 500 years...... which is ineresting too but in an other way.
i really like midcentury modern architecture - the clean lines, the huge glass fronts, the pure materials. if i would have to switch house from an 120 y.o. one to a new build home it should be a bauhaus bungalow.

Emily said...

Congratulations on your thrifting finds! Any time you can buy an antique ring for three bucks, it's amazing. And the Pyrex? What a steal.

So those concrete blocks with the holes in them are called breeze blocks? I never knew that. I grew up seeing them quite a bit when I lived in scorching-hot South Florida. I never see them here in Portland, though, but it's a much older city and much of it was built before the midcentury when breeze blocks became popular. And really, they wouldn't be practical anyway, as it rains so much here and anything made of concrete would just grow mold and moss every year. Imagine trying to clean that from an entire wall of breeze blocks. It would be like cleaning verdigris out of brass filigree jewelry.

Your library is beautiful. I bet the teenagers love coming here for the spacious views and sunlight after being inside the nearly windowless high school.

Funny story about Dan and the two churches. The way you tell it, it really does sound like a spiritual test of some kind, LOL.

Polyester Princess said...

I totally enjoyed tagging along with you and seeing some amazing Mid-Century and brutalist architecture in the process. The churches in particular are absolutely fabulous, and I'm completely bowled over by the modern stained glass in Christ The King Church. Inventive use of breeze-blocks too, that is simply stunning. I do love vintage Pyrex too, and I don't think the lead paint rumours made it over here. 50 cents is a total bargain! xxx

Anonymous said...

What an interesting tour of your local buildings . So much of it seems familiar to me . In our town , where I live now , a suburb of Philadelphia , some very smart and motivated women started our little local library in 1955. It features a similar building style to yours but on a much smaller scale . We are so lucky to have it . Our librarians are wonderful and always helpful when it comes to searching for reading / research materials.

There is something intriguing about a church thrift shop. Especially when it is in the basement. Kind of like exploring an ancient Egyptian tomb. Who knows what you will find. So glad you had some fun.

Gail from Pa.

Vix said...

I loved the tour of Omaha, all those sharp angles and clean lines, such an interesting place for a wander.
Modern churches are wonderful inside, I remember being rendered speeches by Liverpool cathedral, so much light. xxx

Bibi Maizoon said...

Thank you for the mini tour of Omaha! I always forget how many Fortune 500 & 1,000 businesses reside in Omaha.
Just looked at the Modular schedule, ???? Are they kidding???
I have only recently begun to appreciate Mid Century architecture.As you pointed out, it can be graceful and filled with light or like a high security prison. I am in awe of how sturdy those 50s & 60s buildings are, and as functional as they are today.

Señora Allnut said...

So interesting tour, and so many interesting Mid-Century buildings, I love particularly the use of light, the stained glass!. And obviously, I love the library. It makes me remember my hometown's library, also a brutalist building with an amazing light inside!, a happy place!

Anonymous said...

Hi! Loved the tour of Omaha. I've never been to Nebraska. I live in NJ. Love your blog. Can I ask you something? You have so many clothes! Where do you put them all? I guess you have a walk in closet? I envy people who have those. All of my clothes (and believe me, I don't have anywhere near the clothes you have!) are squashed into my small closet. I do have another closet in a spare bedroom but it's for clothing that is either for another season or dresses for more formal occasions. Anyway, I really enjoyed seeing those mid century churches. Thanks for posting them! Arlene from NJ

Goody said...

When Dan was small we'd go to the library and he'd declare, "I smell books!" I think you'd both get along well. Libraries are to me, almost liminal spaces on the edge of reality. I love them, but experience them as something quite apart from the day to day world.

You have such a lovely home, it would be hard to liv in a modern one with such shoddy construction. Our home has shared walls with neighbours and it is just so loud if they drop a pan next door, we hear it.

If I saw breeze blocks in places like Florida or California it would at least make sense. The front of a church in Omaha is definitely different.
This library branch used to have a community puzzle out at a table that you could spend some time working at. I'd see homeless people and children sitting and happily doing puzzles together, which was lovely. I hope after Covid they bring the puzzles back as it was such a nice thing.

I feel bad for all the people that threw out their vintage Pyrex.
I'm glad you enjoyed the tour!

Yes, the church thrift store is quite appropriately crypt-like. I love how even the smallest towns will have a library, even if it has to be in a strange place-we have a rural library out here in an old bank building and they put the reference items in the old vault. It is a shame more people don't cherish their libraries because it is so much more than books.

I adore the Liverpool Cathedral (no calling it the "Wigwam" from me)! I know people are still divided over it after all this time, but how can you not love all that strangeness? It reminds me of a spaceship ready to blast off. Sigh, who knows when we'll be able to travel again? I am applying for a new passport anyway (mine expired a few years ago) in a spirit of optimism. I'd really like to come back to the UK again, this time with the kid in tow.

Right?! That schedule was even crazier when they were doing in building/at home rotations during the pandemic school year. Dan just keeps his schedule on his phone or he'd never get to class.
We have so much cool architecture. Definitely enough for a regular feature. And then there's Council Bluffs just across the river.

@Senora Allnut
Libraries are so cool. I always enjoy seeing the fascinating buildings in your town.

I do have a lot of clothes. Most of it is stored in boxes in our large basement but I've also taken over my son's bedroom closet for things like jackets and blazers. He wears the same 5 shirts and trousers all week long and sweats on the weekend. They're just regular closets though, but the basement is like a wardrobe department.