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Omaha Magazine

Pretty as a New England Picture

Feb 26, 2021 11:59AM ● By Houston Wiltsey

When James Hauschildt and his family moved into the iconic Porter-Thomsen house in July 2020, he had a few reservations.

“We were just a little bit worried that it might be like the house Tom Hanks moved into in The Money Pit,” he said, jokingly. “But we were in love with it and decided that this is where we wanted to put down roots for the foreseeable future.” 

The home, designed by famous Omaha-based architect Frederick A. Henninger, was commissioned by Dr. Elmer and Mary Porter in 1902 and has seen at least eight owners in its lifetime; among them, the home’s other namesake, Nebraska district court judge Arthur C. Thomsen.    

  Perched atop Lincoln Boulevard and overlooking Bemis Park, this Omaha designated landmark oozes style—many of them, in fact. 

“Like a lot of houses of the time, it doesn’t stick to one style,” said Mark Hinchman, a professor of architecture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “The mass of the building appears to be prairie style,” he continued, referring to the home’s clean, horizontal lines and hipped roof—a style made popular by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright at the start of the 20th century. “However, the columns and decorations speak to a classical sensibility. It’s a lot like the summer cottages in Rhode Island, and not the small ones, I mean the ritzy vacation spots.”

To accentuate the home’s unique styling, as well as prevent water damage from the hillside drainage behind it, Hauschildt is making upgrades to the home’s yard and exterior. “We’re putting original-era stones in flowerbeds, stripping away wall in order to expose the original red brick, and adding retaining walls to divert [rain] away from the house, specifically its foundation,” he explained.

Hauschildt is most excited about the potential for upgrades to the home’s outbuilding horse stall (also known as a carriage house), which is attached to the home’s main floor.

“We are thinking of creating a guest room, but in a style that pays homage to the structure’s original purpose,” Hauschildt said. “Maybe that includes adding a bed that looks like a carriage, or a kitchenette that brings to mind a watering hole for horses. We’re trying to get creative while also being period-specific.”

Hauschildt is bringing the same spirit of preservation to the home’s interior.

Inside, the main draw is the beautiful hand-painted murals of castles and landscapes along the Rhine River in Germany that adorn the walls, for which the Porters paid German-born artist and friend Gustav Fuchs a reported $5000 to create.

“It was funny because every contractor that came through the house would comment on how beautiful the paintings were, but when we asked them to connect us with someone that could help preserve it, they all drew a blank,” Hauschildt said. “We’ve learned that the key to caring for [the murals] is to control the humidity. That was one of the main reasons we decided to install a new HVAC system.”

Hauschildt, who moved to Omaha to serve as president of Clarkson College, is looking forward to showing off all the property’s features when entertaining alumni, faculty, and donors. 

“I just love sharing what I’ve learned about this home,” he said. “We hope we’re doing everything we can to commit to our underlying theme of protecting and preserving it, and that includes passing on the history.”

With the care the Hauschildts are putting into the Porter-Thomsen home, it would not be surprising to see their name tacked on with a hyphen when they decide to move on from this Omaha landmark. But that is not in the plans anytime soon.  

This article first appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of Home Magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition.