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.
Looking 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?
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.