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Omaha Magazine

A Classic Residence For Future Residents

Feb 24, 2023 12:49PM ● By Hannah Amrollahi

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

A historical marker, slightly sunken into the grass on the corner of 37th and Dewey streets, reads: “Historic District/Gold Coast.” Just behind it on the lot sits a piece of Gold Coast history—the Charles E. Metz Mansion. Built in 1915 by the titular brewer for $175,000, and worth over $5 million today, the 37-room home is a prime example of classic architecture in the Blackstone neighborhood. 

“Blackstone is the only neighborhood I can identify that you have incredible examples of architecture styles that start in the 1890s and go to today,” said local historian Kristine Gerber. “You can see the architectural history of our city in this one neighborhood.” 

The three-story home was designed by George Bernhard Prinz and has been categorized as a Georgian Revival (with touches of Italian Revival) and designated an outstanding example of the style as far back as 1948 by the University of Omaha. It has a low-pitched, hipped roof with ornamental cornice including modillions and dentils. An elaborate porch entrance is flanked by Corinthian columns, topped by two windows, and surrounded by a baluster-rich porch. 

The nearly symmetrical facade uses Bedford limestone trim and detailing throughout, including windows that diminish in size and decoration on each floor. This distinct exterior contrasts with the red brick typical of original architecture in the neighborhood. A solarium with bay windows sits off the west side of the home, while the east side houses the main chimney.

Since 1949 it has been home to the Omaha chapter of the Phi Chi Fraternity at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “I’ve had such positive experiences and memories, and I wanted to make sure the house could be that for students for another 60 years,” said Phi Chi President Nathan Hogenmiller, on caring for the home.

Exterior additions, including a fire escape on the rear side of the home and a basketball hoop hung in the gardens, hint at its current use and evolution. These blend with its classical elements, such as the limestone porte cochere (a covered entrance for vehicles). 

 The carriage house, which once housed a gymnasium and the servants’ rooms, has additional quarters on the second floor. The garage below was built with a large turntable so cars never need to back out. 

“I can remember being a little girl and going up the stairs and seeing the [turntable] switch on the wall,” Babs Weinberg said. Weinberg visited the home under care of her mother, the bookkeeper for the Omaha Hearing School; her uncle, Dr. Robert Lovgren, and wife Dorothy were also part founders of the school. The second floor of the carriage house was home to the academic endeavor rent-free for its first six years, beginning in 1952. 

The house remains an example of detailed brickwork and masonry that can be difficult to recreate today due to a shortage of skilled craftsmen. 

“[These homes] have the rhythm and the style of their time. It’s a tie to the past that does’t exist otherwise,” said Omaha historian and author Adam Fletcher Sasse. “[A] connection to the past, and purpose right now.”

The Charles E. Metz home can be seen from the Cottonwood Hotel and was recently included in a neighborhood tour of historical architecture organized by the Blackstone Neighborhood Association. The Phi Chi fraternity plans to continue renovations on the home and potentially list it as a local landmark. 

“If it wasn’t for the house, [Phi Chi] would cease to exist,” Hogenmiller said. 

His focus on improvements to the house have contributed to the fraternity home reaching full capacity for the first time in his tenure. “It’s been such a great place to live,” he added. “We’re trying to give it the respect it deserves.” 

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2023 issue of Omaha Home magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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