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An Ideal Life

It Takes a Village: The Possibility

Part 3 of 3
Lyric Building (now Woodman Tower) in Omaha Nebraska
Published on August 19, 2012 : 13 comments

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It Takes a Village is a 3-part series about downtown Omaha by Christine Lind. Click here to read part 1 and part 2.



The Possibility

I pull up the blinds of my window and see a city with possibilities. Looking out to the streets of downtown from my apartment, my Himalayan cat, George, jumps up on the window sill and together, we look down and watch the people walking with somewhere to go. I see students with back packs, men and women with brief cases, and some, toting everything they own in a plastic bag.  

The poet, Paul Scott Mowrer wrote: There is nothing like walking to get the feel of a country. A fine landscape is like a piece of music; it must be taken at the right tempo. You’ll never get the right tempo driving a car through this village with its one way streets and parking meters. As I get the feel of this old country with its fine new landscape, I will walk it just like I did as a young girl.

I have errands to run. I need stamps and some cream for my coffee. While I’m out, I’ll stop and see my daughter’s new puppy and return library books. It’s so natural for me to walk to where I need to go, and I enjoy the flowers the merchants have planted in front of their shops. I grab my purse and library books and ride one of the original elevators to the first floor.  

The Greek style columns are the only grandeur remaining of the old store, as the main floor has been renovated for retail and office space. Apartments and condos now exist where, once upon a time, the art of selling retail merchandise reigned. I think the Macy’s store depicted in the 1947 movie, Miracle on 34th Street, describes the Brandeis perfectly, department store Santa, and all.

Once outside, the landscape surrounding the Brandeis has changed dramatically since the 60’s. The Woolworth’s and Penney’s stores no longer reside across the street on 16th; both were torn down and replaced by the First National Tower, the skyscraper whose lights shined our way home on Thanksgiving. And the famous tunnel under Douglas that connected Woolworth’s to Brandeis is permanently sealed off. My grandmother, Louise, first worked at Brandeis at the lunch counter in her teens, and then Penney’s in the drapery department, eventually running her own drapery business out of her home.

As I walk east on Douglas, I pass the massive Union Pacific building.  My great-uncle Antonino and his brothers repaired rail cars at 9th & Davenport, now the Century Link compound. Jobs at UP and back-breaking work in the city’s sewer system awaited them in Omaha when they arrived in America. Later, they would groom my grandfather, Carl Marino, their baby brother, to become a political force in their community. I have a copy of a roster from the Hotel Fontenelle in 1957, electing my grandfather as Grand Venerable of the Sons of Italy. Such names as Caniglia, Vacanti, Piccolo and Orsi are just a few of the members present in the room. The Hotel Fontenelle fell to the wrecking ball in 1983.

Next door to UP on Douglas is the current Omaha World-Herald. But the printing presses originally cranked out the news a block north on 14th & Dodge. A plaza now graces the area where the old building once stood. They left the original stone entrance of the old World-Herald as a monument. I assume this large stone arch is where my late uncle Sebi Breci entered to go to work as a photographer for many years.  I picture him now, his cocked hat and handsome face, compiling his photos for the newspapers picture page, cigarette permanently attached to his lips.

After dropping my books off at the library, I grab my cream at Patricks on 14th & Howard. I get out in record time and head east on Howard to the Old Market. I meet my daughter and point out the historical Hotel Howard, presently converted to apartments, once the boarding house my ancestors called home. My daughter is more interested in her dog’s obedience training than her family history right now, but I silently wonder what it must’ve been like for my great uncles to live in the rooms above Amad’s and Mr. Toad’s, a shelter after their hard work at the rail shops and sewers.

Walking back home north on 16th Street, I pass Omaha’s very own Orpheum Theater. The marquee displays “Wicked” in lights. This downtown staple, now the venue for the Omaha Symphony and Broadway Plays, originally operated as one of the major movie theaters in town. When my husband and I were dating, we’d made the mistake of announcing to my dad that “Five Card Stud,” starring Dean Martin, was playing at the Orpheum. I’ll never forget the three of us standing outside waiting in line at the ticket booth, my father completely oblivious to the disgruntled look on the face of his future son-in-law!

My last errand is the post office on Farnam, past 16th street. Opera Omaha is on the corner.  My grandmother’s sister, my great aunt Connie Battaglia, another master seamstress, left her mark as one of the founders of the Craftsman Guild, and one of the last surviving board members till her death in 2008.  

Dance RecitalDance Recital at Hotel FontenelleYou can’t miss the Woodman Tower up the street with its expansive parking garage. If I use my imagination, I can envision somewhere between layers of concrete floors and parked cars, my grandfather’s shoe repair shop. His business and many others occupied the Lyric Building demolished in 1966 to make room for the Woodman, including Polly Pennington Dance Studio located on the entire second floor where my brother and I took ballroom and modern jazz above my grandfather’s shop.

With the Greyhound Bus Depot relocated, and the Fontenelle Hotel and Lyric Building gone, it’s comforting to see The Rose Theater still anchoring the corner of 20th Farnam—a landmark that grounds you in the new landscape and ties the past with the present among the disorienting new parking garages. The Rose is unique in that it’s always operated as a theater—only its name has changed. I take my grandchildren to The Rose; my husband and I went to the Astro; my father took my mother on dates to the Paramount; and my grandparents enjoyed stage plays at the Riviera. It became a different name for each generation of my family!

For me living downtown is a mixture of the past with the present. It’s like a special time machine allowing me to live in both worlds at the same time. It will take many walks to see it all; I’ve just arrived and I’ve only begun to explore. I hear even more is coming to downtown so that everything we’ll need will be right here.

For me, I’ll literally take it one step at a time. I’ll walk the winding paths of the Leahy Mall and Heartland Park. I’ll walk to the library, the cleaners, the post office, and okay, buy a Hershey bar at Patrick’s Grocery Store. I plan to walk to the Orpheum to see the Nutcracker this year and anywhere else my feet will take me.  

No longer haunted by the possibilities—I’ve come full circle within myself and my village. A village I call downtown Omaha, Nebraska—my ideal life.

ChristineLindChristine Lind writes about downtown Omaha and makes the best biscotti cookie in town.

Comments

Lynn Hosek (not verified) says:

January 29, 2013 : 3 years 34 weeks ago

Lynn Hosek's picture

Christine, I can’t believe how much we have in common and the memories. I grew up in Florence a little more north of miller park on 30th and Weber. I went to school at St Philip Neri. I loved downtown and spend most my youth there. I worked at Goldstein Chapmans for 5 years and Brandeis for 3 years. I knew every inch of downtown. Spent alot of time at Paxton Billiards and
became a hippie in the old market. I have troted all over the world once I left in 1971. From Alaska to Iraq and currently in San Antonio. I miss those golden days and think of them often especially as I get older. Best years of my life and thanks for the memories…….

Christine Lind (not verified) says:

January 29, 2013 : 3 years 34 weeks ago

Christine Lind's picture

Well Lynn, guess what? We have more in common!

I grew up in Florence before my family moved to the Miller Park area when I was in the 5th grade. I also went to St. Philip Neri and actually was attending the year the school burned down. That was a lot of drama!

I lived on Sheffield Street and walked to school and delivered papers to the Florence Home with my brother (I cried a lot in the winter it was so cold!). I went to Notre Dame High School after graduating from Blessed Sacrament and worked at Harold’s Cafe (who hasn’t!). My husband took me on our first date to Florence Days…

In February I’m writing another article about downtown, so check back. I know it takes an effort to comment, so thank you. It really was an Ideal Life.

Lynn Hosek (not verified) says:

January 29, 2013 : 3 years 34 weeks ago

Lynn Hosek's picture

Christine thats amazing, I moved to florence from 30th and ames (Holy Angels) and went to one year in the old School before we moved into the new bldg. My twin sister went to Nortre Dame also she graduated in 1969. I went to Rummel which is now Roncalli joined up with ND. Harolds is owned by a family that had a daughter in my class Halsteads. My sister worked at the Drug Store Bolgarts across the street. Christine what was your maiden name?
I knew alot of kids at blessed sacrament. What years did you attend there?

Christine Lind (not verified) says:

January 29, 2013 : 3 years 34 weeks ago

Christine Lind's picture

Lynn,
I attended Blessed Sacrament from 5th to 8th Grade. I would have graduated from Notre Dame in 1969 but instead ended up at Benson High School for Junior and Senior year. I loved the dances at Rummel - us Notre Dame girls used to go to the dances to meet boys.

Also, Judy was in my class - so that means: We were in the same class? My maiden name is Marino.

I think we need to get a cup of coffee somewhere!

Lynn Hosek (not verified) says:

January 29, 2013 : 3 years 34 weeks ago

Lynn Hosek's picture

OK this is getting really strange, know any of these people…
Lori Furey
Nancy Story
Susan Mctaggart
Linda Hosek (My Twin)
Ruth Hemmingston
Vicky ? (she lived right next to the school)
Sharon Adler
Cathy Stahl
Elanor Bridgford
Patty Dawork
Dick Cuva
Ron Headly
Danny Alley
Mike Gogan
Steve Froseth
Dennis Mcfarland

Christine Lind (not verified) says:

January 29, 2013 : 3 years 34 weeks ago

Christine Lind's picture

I recognize all of them! I went to Philip Neri in 3rd and 4th grade - only two years, but those names are engraved in my mind. I can’t place their faces, and I’m sorry, but I don’t remember you or your sister. I think the parish priest was Father Manelli (sp), he would water ski with my dad.

I hope you will be able to visit Omaha some time. What fun this has been going down memory lane with you.

How did you come across my article?

Lynn Hosek (not verified) says:

January 30, 2013 : 3 years 34 weeks ago

Lynn Hosek's picture

Two ships passing in the night, I arrived to Philip Neri in the 5th grade from Holy Angels. I think Father Myers and Cross were the two priests when I arrived and a janitor named Louie. Sister Ignatious was the boss. I remember the No 6 buses from downtown. I had the choice of 30th street or Florence Blvd or MinaLusa no 6. I remember when the Brandeis Apts were being opened, I wanted to move there like you, but my wife was against it, we ended up in oregon. It was strange how I found your article it was like I was guided to it, I was just googeling downtown omaha and ran across it. I have the same memories as you and we become so melancholy as we get older. I also hope we can meet some day, this has been a real pleasure…..

Christine Lind (not verified) says:

January 30, 2013 : 3 years 34 weeks ago

Christine Lind's picture

Thank you Lynn - yes, it’s been a pleasure going down memory lane with you. This is why I wrote the article… so many have expressed to me their fond memories of their little villages they grew up in and their travels by bus to the Emerald City (downtown); we’re not alone.

The article you read is Part 3; you might be interested in Parts 1 and 2 (I write about taking the bus downtown). You should be able to click on these posts at the beginning of this article.

I write regularly about downtown so please check back!

Anonymous (not verified) says:

September 25, 2013 : 3 years 1 day ago

Anonymous's picture

Downtown Omaha? Wow, does this bring back memories! My Mom & great aunt would take my sister &I downtown. We would have Salmon Salad Sandwiches at Northrup Jones. I think there were raisins in the salmon salad. Always went to Brandeis & Kilpats. And loved to have lunch also at Brandeis Cafeteria. They had the best chocolate cake! And Hamburger Heaven. I loved that. Standing behind the people sitting on the stools so we could grab their seats when they left. Then people would stand behind us to do the same thing. That would drive me nuts today! And the Christmas windows and toy store and Santa on the top floor at Christmas time.

Oh, the memories. When in high school, my friends & I would catch the bus at Countryside Village at 87th & Pacific, go downtown, shop, have lunch at Harkert’s, & always end up at Cosgrave’s to buy additions to our holy card collections, then catch the bus on the corner to ride home.

My Dad’s parents were from Lentini. My grandfather had a shoe repair shop on 40th & Ames. Grew up in North Omaha, then west Omaha (117th & Pacific, out in the sticks LOL)! Reading your articles brought me back to all that. Really enjoyed reading them! Will bookmark Omaha.net!

Christine Lind (not verified) says:

September 25, 2013 : 3 years 1 day ago

Christine Lind's picture

I also traveled shorter jaunts from North Omaha to Hested’s on 30th Ames. I remember buying my mother costume jewelry for Christmas clasping my babysitting money, knowing my chariot (bus) would stop by every 20 minutes to carry me safely back home before dark (are you done? That’s okay, I’ll be back, take your time!).

And downtown. The independence and freedom we experienced shopping there as teenagers (with only bus money and a curfew), gloriously gave us the respite from our daily structure of school and church. A little pocket money and the Emerald City awaited!

Thanks so much for sharing!
Christine Lind

John King (not verified) says:

May 16, 2015 : 1 year 19 weeks ago

John King's picture

Thanks for sharing wonderful memories of Omaha. When I was a grade-schooler, my bus rides downtown were similar, from Dundee to 18th and Douglas, then I’d walk over to the Omaha Public Library. I was amused to read about the underground walkway between Brandeis and Woolworth’s; I remember it very well. There was, as I recall, a newsstand on the incline between the stores, where the best hot dogs were sold. Do you have any recollection of that?

John King (not verified) says:

May 16, 2015 : 1 year 19 weeks ago

John King's picture

Thanks for sharing wonderful memories of Omaha. When I was a grade-schooler, my bus rides downtown were similar, from Dundee to 18th and Douglas, then I’d walk over to the Omaha Public Library. I was amused to read about the underground walkway between Brandeis and Woolworth’s; I remember it very well. There was, as I recall, a newsstand on the incline between the stores, where the best hot dogs were sold. Do you have any recollection of that?

Christine Lind (not verified) says:

May 16, 2015 : 1 year 18 weeks ago

Christine Lind's picture

Hi John,

So glad you like the article. I do remember the newsstands! I don’t remember the hot dog vendor, though. (Making me hungry for one now!) I remember the lunch counter at Woolworth’s only. But I remember the newsstands and how the tunnel was on an incline.

The tunnel under Douglas Street is still in use at the Brandeis Building today. Even though it is renovated and barely recognizable from that wonderful era, you can utilize the tunnel to get to the First National Bank Building (the bank stands where Woolworth’s and Penny’s used to be between Dodge and Douglas)from the Brandeis Food Court.

Thanks for traveling down memory lane with me. Those were the days…

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