Romance of Omaha, Chapter XI

Bricks and mortar, lumber, steel, concrete, marble and granite are in themselves, perhaps, the least romantic of things. They are too substantial to lend themselves individually to the subtle spirit of adventure.

Yet, welded together, these very bricks and mortar, steel, concrete and lumber, tell more vividly than anything else the thrill and historic story of the development of Omaha from a frontier village to a great city.

From the days when the first log house was erected on the Omaha plateau, to the present time when magnificent structures mark the city's skyline, the progress of Omaha has been milestoned by its buildings.

Logs secured from trees felled on or near the site of Omaha formed the material from which the first buildings were constructed.

Later on lumber was brought from the south on river steamboats or sawed out of native timber and frame buildings arose in the new town.

Brickyards Appear

Shortly after the dawn of the frame building area, brickyards were established and Omaha-made bricks entered into the building scheme of the new city.

Business blocks became more substantial, but they were all one and two-story structures. Business men, lawyers and doctors refused to move off the ground floor. They were convinced no customer or client would climb up even a single flight of stairs. But after a time it was discovered that the sentiment against two-story buildings was not general and lawyers and doctors and dentists moved to the second floor.

The first three-story building presented another problem, but some enterprising lawyer discovered that he was so popular that clients would climb two flights of stairs to see him. That discovery, the ancient annals say, was the beginning of the modern high building.

For years the three-story building marked the height to which Omaha builders were willing to go. It was not until the 80s that the first building of any size was erected in the city.

Enter the Opera House

One of the earliest of the substantial structures was Boyd's opera house, completed in 1881 and situated on the northeast corner of Fifteenth and Farnam streets.

The following year the old Omaha National Bank building on Thirteenth street, between Farnam and Douglas streets, was erected.

Omaha's first "sky-scraper" was finished in 1889. It was the New York Life Insurance Company building, Seventeenth and Farnam streets, the present home of the Omaha National bank. This building is said to have cost $900,000. For years it was the pride of Omaha. Strangers were taken to see it and it was a great curiosity in this western country.

The Peters Trust building, formerly the Bee building, was finished the same year as the New York Life. The year before the Paxton block, Sixteenth and Farnam streets, had been erected.

Prejudices Disappear

Omaha was becoming a modern city. Its buildings were taking on a metropolitan appearance, elevators had been installed in several buildings and the old prejudice against offices above the ground floor or second story had disappeared.

The first of the really tall structures to be erected in this city was the City National bank building, Sixteenth and Harney streets. Later came the Woodmen of the World building, the Union Pacific Headquarters building, the Brandeis buildings, the Fontenelle and Hill hotel buildings, the First National Bank building, the Northwestern Bell Telephone building and others.

Within the last 10 years there has been spent in the city more than $100,000,000 in 20,000 buildings of all kinds. More than half of them were one-family dwellings for which permits totalling $43,000,000 in value were issued.

Big Building Program

These figures are hard to grasp but when it is realized that the one-family residences erected within the last 10 years, if placed one on a lot or 12 houses to a block, would cover the district extending from Leavenworth street on the south to Lake street on the north and from Sixteenth street on the east to Fortieth street on the west, some idea of the residential building program since 1918 may be had.

Building permits issued by years in Omaha since 1918 are as follows:

Year No. Permits Total
1919 1,959 $19,022,647
1920 1,359 11,435,970
1921 1,765 11,386,000
1922 2,740 11,242,915
1923 2,853 13,008,899
1924 2,852 12,268,858
1925 2,884 11,624,450
1926 1,600 10,052,338
1927 1,035 4,522,216
1928 1,200 (estimated) 11,000,000
Total (10 years) 20,187 $108,564,295

Types and Values

Divided according to classification of buildings, in the order of their total value, the foregoing building permits represent:

Type of Building Number Value
Dwellings (one family) 10,675 $43,923,820
Office buildings, stores and hotels 959 20,195,120
Factories 296 10,105,234
Schools 42 8,567,453
Apartments 151 5,678,125
Dwellings (two family) 307 2,896,600
Theaters 18 2,728,550
Churches 78 2,264,800
Private garages 4,882 1,289,205
Miscellaneous 3,779 10,915,388
Totals 20,187 $108,564,295

The foregoing figures do not represent the total value of the new buildings constructed during the last decade. Building permits cover nothing but the bare cost of construction and almost every building costs more than was originally planned.

New Record Year

This year is well up with the 10-year average, if not slightly greater.

If several large buildings planned for 1928 had been started the building permits for the last 12 months probably would have set a new record for the city.

More costly buildings are being erected in Omaha now than ever before. More money is being put into individual homes. Year by year the type of building in the city is growing higher.

Prospects for the future are bright. Contractors expect 1929 to be another big construction year.

A new Union depot planned to unite the present Union station and the Burlington depot will cost some $3,000,000. It probably will be started next year.

Plan New Hotels

Two or three large apartment hotels to cost $1,000,000 are being planned.

The new county hospital will cost $650,000

Buildings for which permits have been or will be issued this year, the construction of which will extend over into next year, include the Joslyn memorial, the new Union Pacific building, the Paxton hotel, Barker block and Farnam block.

When it is considered that the total value of all Omaha buildings is estimated at $300,000,000, and that more than $100,000,000 worth of buildings were constructed in the last 10 years it is easy to understand how buildings have been the guidepost of Omaha's growth.

Chapter XII
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