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Omaha Magazine

The 100 Block

Apr 22, 2014 08:00AM ● By David Williams
Rob Schlautman has an enviable commute—a mere 18-step descent down a staircase, to be exact.

The manager of Lidgett Music in Council Bluffs has lived above the store for 12 years. His balcony overlooking the once stagnant thoroughfare has been the perfect perch for him to witness the dramatic changes all along the historic 100 Block of West Broadway.

“We see a lot more people from Omaha now,” Schlautman says of the neighborhood that now rivals Benson and Dundee as a trending cultural, dining, and entertainment hotspot. “The 100 Block has gone a long way in battling the misplaced stereotype of Council Bluffs being the wrong side of the tracks. There are beautiful old homes here, great public art all over the city, and all kinds of amazing things happening here, especially up and down this street right here.”

Most of the block’s buildings date to the period between 1850 and 1928. Magnificently restored examples of Italianate, Romanesque Revival, Neoclassical, and Mission styles of architecture line the street that in pioneer days boasted such wild west enterprises as a land office, saddle maker, general store, and saloon.

A partnership between the Iowa West Foundation, the City of Council Bluffs, the Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Council Bluffs (now known as Bluffs Downtown), and a host of investors and stakeholders has been the driving force in making the old new again in the city originally known as Kanesville.

“The beautiful thing about the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro,” says Joshua Barbee, executive director of Bluffs Downtown,  “is that it is a globalized city known for its creative class, young professionals, and strong economy. That’s the sort of mix that leads to growth, and the 100 Block is now a great destination in a metro full of great destinations. Neighborhood by neighborhood, the metro is becoming a more vibrant place, and we’re excited to be part of that.”

The redevelopment of the Hughes Iron Building, Barbee says, was the catalyst that accelerated the rebirth of the 100 Block. That building is now home to the Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce and Dixie Quicks, the Southern-style eatery that has been featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins & Dives. “Dixie Quicks was an important anchor,” he adds, “and so was Barley’s.”

“There aren’t a lot of turn-of-the-century Downtown areas left,” says Matt Johnson, a Council Bluffs native and owner of Barleys. He also owns the building built in 1889 whose many incarnations have included life as a boot company and a shooting gallery. “We do our best to preserve history here in Council Bluffs, and excitement is growing with each new development. For most of my life here it seems that the city suffered from a bit of an identity crisis. Now pride in our city is soaring. The 100 Block, I think, is a big part of that.”

Sean Lidgett, owner of Lidgett Music, sees the 100 Block from a perhaps unique perspective, one that can be traced along the branches of his family tree. Lidgett’s ancestors came from England and first settled here in 1850, two years before Kanesville became Council Bluffs. Kanesville was already known as the starting point for the Mormon Trail, but Conestoga wagons would soon yield to the iron horse in the decades to come as the city began a railroading legacy that made its switchyard the fourth busiest in the nation.

“Our family has owned several businesses over the generations on the 100 Block,” says Lidgett, whose store—opened in 1988—now has the distinction of being the longest tenured of any of the entities operating on the city’s new street of dreams. “It’s important to me to be here,” he continues. “This town means a lot to me. This street’s story is, in many ways, the story of my family history.”

On that theme of family, calendar-watching has begun as the 100 Block gears up for another season of family-friendly, crowd-pleasing events, including a weekly farmers market and a series of street dances.

“There was a time when people began their nights in Omaha and ended them in Council Bluffs,” Johnson says of an earlier era when Nebraska bars closed an hour earlier than those in Iowa. “Now we have almost everything you, could want in order to begin and end your evenings not only in Council Bluffs, but right here on the 100 Block.”

In the meantime, Schlautman awaits the arrival of new neighbors—the 24/7 kind who yearn for an urban, “no car, no problem” sensibility.

“Living here means that we’re talking about being only steps away—a few doors down—from a lot of my favorite things,” he says. “There’s tons of prime space down here for apartments, and there will soon be all kinds of great places to live. If you haven’t checked out the 100 Block lately, you’re in for a nice surprise.”


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