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Omaha Magazine

La Bella Casa in Midtown

May 27, 2021 04:25PM ● By Hannah Amrollahi
facade of red brick italian house

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

“We Don’t Coast” may be the Greater Omaha Chamber’s latest slogan, but at the turn of the 20th century, Omaha’s Gold Coast was the place to be. Today listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, the elite neighborhood sprung up on hills overlooking downtown in the 1880s and housed the bustling city’s financial and cultural leaders of the day.

Reinhold B. Busch, vice president of the steam, gas, and water business Crane Co., joined the neighborhood in 1908 after hiring architect John Latenser, Sr. to build him a house on 38th Street. Connected to downtown by Dr. Sam Mercer’s electric streetcar, the mansions, single-family homes and, later, apartments were built “out west” by business owners, doctors, and other professionals looking to escape the noise of the city.   

Heather Gomes and Mac McLaughlin bought the historic home for their growing family in 2012.

  “People who live in this neighborhood love and appreciate the history of these homes,” McLaughlin said. “[Ours] was well built, well designed, and well taken care of over the years.”

The house has 5,762 square feet spread over 14 rooms, including six bedrooms, and sits on a half-acre corner lot. Despite two-lane streets on two sides,
the home’s formal garden, with high hedges and mature spruce trees, obscures noise and provides privacy. A faux carriage house acts as a detached garage, and the back patio sits above an additional parking garage added later. 

The home’s brick masonry with limestone quoins, or larger bricks used to accent corners, is typical of the Italian Renaissance style for residential homes. The symmetrical facade is dominated by three bays on the ground floor and a centered balcony with balusters, or ornate columns topped by a rail. The hipped roof is lined with a decorative parapet, or low wall, that imitates the square pattern atop a defensive castle. These classical details brought elements of Italian architecture—especially those of the Medici in Florence—into new buildings in America.

Architect Latenser quickly established himself in the U.S. after emigrating from Liechtenstein, moving to Chicago, and eventually opening his own firm in Omaha. Over his 50-year career, he shaped the Omaha cityscape, helping design Central High School, the Douglas County Courthouse, and other prominent buildings.

Latenser incorporated metalwork into the Busch home’s revival style, most evidently in the ornate porte cochere, or large, cast-iron overhang that protects guests unloading from a carriage from the elements.

The massive cornice, with block medallions and dentils, or teeth-like stone moldings, is the dominant feature of the home’s facade. The limestone panels and quoins contrast with the red brick, as does the architrave, or molding framing the door. The central jack arch window is framed by freestanding, detailed columns whose simple capital soften the facade. 

Growing up in the home, Jackie Novatny, daughter of Phyllis and Francis Kirby, remembers ice skating parties in the backyard and evenings in front of the fireplace with her 13 siblings.

“The detail in the house we didn’t appreciate as children...[Not] until you get in your own house and you think, is that all?” Novatny said.

Details such as the diamond-paned transom windows, floral- and shell-patterned door hinges, decorative corbels, and keystones on arches add more interesting elements to the facade. 

“You have a lot of modern amenities [in this residence],” said real estate agent Corky Grimes, the only man to sell the house twice, “but over the life of the home it never lost
its character.”  

This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of Omaha Home. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.