Exchanging Land for Buildings
May 30, 2019 12:24PM
By Anthony Flott
Chances are, most Omahans have never heard of George Prinz, but chances are just as good that they have seen his work.
Whatever his anonymity is today, Prinz built a name for himself in the first third of the 1900s as one of Omaha’s foremost architects. His legacy endures in places where Omahans still work and worship, live and play, including:
- The triagonal Flatiron Hotel, completed in 1912 and today housing luxury apartments.
- First Presbyterian Church at 216 S. 34th St., where congregants still gather 102 years after its dedication.
- The historic Omaha Country Club.
Prinz helped build Omaha with designs for many of the ornate homes that dot Omaha’s well-to-do neighborhoods—Fairacres, Blackstone, Elmwood. He designed commercial offices and warehouses, an early Methodist Hospital, and more.
“And he could do that in a bunch of different styles,” says Jennifer Honebrink of Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture. Gothic, Romanesque, Italian Renaissance, Georgian Revival. Always using materials that were timeless.
It is no wonder, then, that several Prinz works are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, such as the seven-story Farnam Building at 16th and Farnam streets, once a gathering place for Omaha financiers and lawyers, now residential apartments.
Honebrink says Prinz’s works stand the test of time because the architect designed them carefully.
“All of his buildings had a rhythm to them,” she says. “He had thought behind them. Regular progressions.”
A Nebraska State Historical Society biography notes that Prinz was born in 1864 in Ohio and educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After studying in Europe and working for a time at a Boston firm, he came to Omaha in 1901 and joined the firm of architect Thomas Kimball. Prinz started his own outfit eight years later. He also served on the Omaha City Planning Commission from 1916-1939. Prinz died in 1946 at 82 years old.
Some of his homes still stand, among them one he designed in 1915 for brewing magnate Charles Metz at 37th Street and Dewey Avenue. UNMC’s Phi Chi medical fraternity owns and maintains it today. Less fortunate was the Arthur Metz mansion down the street, which was demolished in 2015 to make way for new apartments.
Prinz also designed workplaces for Northwestern Bell, OPPD, MUD, the Omaha Fire Department, Pittsburgh Plate Glass, and Chicago Lumber.
His most notable, certainly his most visible, work was the Livestock Exchange Building, opened in 1926. An early building directory, still displayed, testifies to the hustle and bustle that flowed through it with offices for more than 60 commission agents, 40-plus livestock dealers, three banks, more than a dozen “packers and slaughterers,” and rooms for government officials, a coffee shop, a barber shop, telegraph and post offices, and a World-Herald bureau.
The caravan of cattle trucks eventually slowed to a crawl, and one by one, offices went vacant. In 1999, the same year the building was designated an Omaha landmark, the Union Stockyards closed. But the building would be renovated, not razed.
“They tore it down to the bone,” says Don Manion, who has maintained the building for 15 years for property manager Seldin Co. Now, he notes, “It’s serving a lot of people.”
Martin Kluck, also of Alley Poyner Macchietto, worked extensively on the building, his favorite Prinz work. His biggest challenge was making the main entrance one floor lower, because the bridge that once led to what is now the second floor was torn down. They saved what they could—tile floors, plaster molding, and balconies that surrounded the original lobby—but couldn’t save Prinz’s original skylight. “It must have been really magical back in the day to walk into this room that was just sun-drenched,” Kluck says.
The renovation was completed in 2005.
Today’s building directory notes One World Community Health Center clinics and offices as occupying the first three floors. The next six have 102 one- or two-bedroom apartments. The building is topped by a ballroom used for wedding receptions and events.
Jim Pounds, a 1968 South High graduate, used to frequent the ballroom for Friday night dances. Now he lives a few floors down from his former stomping ground.
“I love the view,” he says, pointing to the unobstructed vista out his corner windows.
The Livestock Exchange was built because of cattle—but it was built for people. That’s one of Prinz’s hallmarks, Honebrink says. She points to his designs on the stately Federal Building, opened in 1932 on south 15th Street. Today it is a Marriott hotel.
In many buildings, she notes, the back-of-the-building service stairs were steep and narrow. Prinz gave the service staircase in the Federal Building a normal-depth rise, an extra two feet of width, and beautiful handrails. “Those are nice stairs,” Honebrink says.
He also designed the building in a U-shape. “Everyone gets a window,” Honebrink notes. “Everyone gets daylight. He could have put in all electric lights and said, ‘Go to work; I don’t care about you, IRS.’”
“He had a lot of consideration for people,” she says.
People he did not know. But Honebrink and others know George Prinz.
This article was printed in the June 2019 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.