Swartz Printing Co.

Facade of Swartz Printing Co. building with vines

So these are not my best shots, but they do represent one of my more interesting subjects. I couldn’t even figure out the address at first because so much of the facade is obscured by seasonally tinged foliage, but thanks to Google street view, I did discover some background.

Have you been to Gallery 1516? It’s a beautiful gallery with incredibly high ceilings and one of those twisted wrought iron staircases. It sits between 15th and 16th streets (naturally) north of Leavenworth on the south edge of downtown Omaha. A few weeks ago, I went to a friend’s poetry reading there. But, arriving early in a strange place (unusual for this introvert), I decided to walk around outside in the last moments before dusk instead of going inside right away.

Just a block away from the swanky gallery lies a striking structure covered in creeping vines on the front, with the fall leaves spread like camouflage over the rust-colored bricks. The north side of the building, on the other hand, rises starkly whitewashed above an alley.

driscoll-leather-building-side-horzLooking for information about this building, I searched for “Driscoll Leather Co.” Google yielded many basic local listings but nothing that seemed current or substantial. One of the first results noted that “This building located on 15th between Leavenworth and Jones has plans for a rehab according to BVH Architects website.” But the corresponding entry on the BVH site didn’t seem relevant.

Poking around some more, I noticed a result for Swartz Printing Co. I figured this couldn’t be the same building, but it showed up again and again. Turns out this was in fact the Swartz Printing Co. for most of the 20th century, according to the City of Omaha Landmarks Heritage Preservation Commission. You just can’t see “The Swartz Printing Co.” etched in the limestone because of all the leaves (now that I look really closely at the last photo on this post, I can see it, but only because now I know it’s there!). NebraskaHistory.org has great historical photos of the building – because it’s on the National Register of History places. And the designation is well-deserved – the structure was built in 1910 and designed by noted Omaha architect Jacob Nachtigall.

The Omaha LHPC site notes that the building was acquired from Swartz Printing Co. by the Driscoll Leather Company in the 1970’s and occupied the space until 2005. In 2007, the Swartz Printing Co. building earned a listing on the National Register of History Places. Both the Omaha LHPC and the National Register of Historic Places Registration Form suggest that around 2007, it was or was to be converted into retail and/or residential space.

The appearance of the exterior – including the sign that warns the structure is unfit for human occupancy – suggest otherwise. But there is indeed a somewhat bizarre website for Urban Chiral condominiums, with a “condominium declaration” document dated 2008 (by way of definition, the home page notes that “an object different from its reflection is chiral.” Nice).

Has the place just been languishing since then, its rehabilitation stymied by red tape, a backlog of projects, or just lack of interest by potential condo buyers? Or maybe these kind of projects just move that slowly?

Most importantly, who is this jazzy guy on the window?

jazz-dude

I’ve always been the kind of person that asks too many questions. And I’ve been that way long enough to know that sometimes the answers aren’t as interesting as the mystery. Nonetheless, if anyone knows the latest status on this structure, please leave a comment! Either way, I’m coming back in the spring to see these vines go green.

Facade of Driscoll Leather Building (Swartz Building Co.)

Louis Grill and Bar – NW Radial Highway

Side of Louis Bar, Benson

Until mid-November of 2013, Louis Grill and Bar was one of the oldest such locales in Omaha. After more than 80 years in business, it closed on November 17, 2013, according to the Omaha World Herald. What’s left of it stands at the gateway to Benson, one of my favorite historic Omaha neighborhoods.

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I have been meaning to catch a photo of the sign before the new gas station starts building on the property. What could be more lame than a new gas station? Oddly enough, I have heard residents of the area complain about all the bars in the area (one of its draws, in my opinion) and say they wish a gas station or something would open. So I guess this makes someone happy. But not me.

On Friday, I was heading to happy hour with some work buddies, driving just past this old sign. The setting sun seemed like the perfect background for Louis (insert metaphor here.)

Louis Bar sign sunset

North of 14th and Nicholas

Old garage in north downtown Omaha

This is few blocks northeast of my workplace, where a year of tuition is more than my annual salary, and only 3 blocks north of a $128 million-plus baseball stadium.

Just to the east of the railroad tracks lies a muddy lot strewn with weeds, and this structure plopped in the corner: the onetime Wayne’s Auto something. It’s at that awkward abandoned building age where it’s not quite old enough to hold historical interest, and certainly isn’t architecturally interesting – it looks like a giant cinder block.  What is interesting about it, then, is that it isn’t very old at all, yet nature is already trying to reclaim it. The bright orange stripe on it’s bricks has hardly begun to fade, but already wild sunflowers and bushes are trying to overtake it.

Why did this place close? Why didn’t anyone want the building? Who decided to give up on even selling it? The dirt road that leads up to this structure seems like it was never paved. Maybe the place was built and never even opened.

There is another Wayne’s Auto Repair in Omaha. So I like to think this spot just didn’t work out for Wayne, but he is doing just fine. Maybe it was too close to the train tracks.

SunflowersOn the bright side, this lot has more wild sunflowers than I have ever seen.

North of 16th and Nicholas

Storz tower

I have seen plenty of memorabilia from Storz beer in local bars, but never this smokestack. I read about it in a World-Herald article and had to check it out.

Storz once sold half of all the beer in Omaha, long before they shuttered in 1972.  Now the legendary brand is making a comeback, hopping on the craft beer bandwagon that has gained steam in Nebraska.

The new restaurant and brewery where the beer will be served is on the riverfront within view of this smokestack.

 

16th and Izard

North side of old Omaha Fire Department building

Front of old Omaha Fire BarnHere’s another historical building, for sale. The Omaha Fire Barn comes with or without two 16-ton bank vaults. What a deal!

The Omaha Fire Department has been around since 1860. I’m not sure about the history of this building, but there’s a really old black and white photo of it, plus some cool history, at this site by OPS students.

Omaha fire barn side view in sepoa