Skip to main content

Omaha Magazine

Standing the Test of Time

Feb 22, 2024 01:16PM ● By Claudia Moomey
home march april 2024 historic blackstone home architecture

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

Along 38th Street in the Blackstone district of Omaha, a historic manor sits on the crest of the hill, its red brick exterior overlooking the street as if it’s queen of the city. A plaque embedded in these bricks next to the front door reads: “This property has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior.” Since its erection in 1910 by Liechtenstein-born architect John Latenser, the residence has retained most of its original flooring, walls, fixtures, and architectural flourishes.

“This house has really stood the test of time,” said Tim Reeder, a historical real estate specialist and president of Preserve Omaha, an advocacy group of “old building lovers,” which calls attention to historical buildings in the city. “It is an amazing piece of architecture, and it’s in extraordinary condition.”

The 7,409-square-foot property took minor damage from a tornado, which hit the area in 1913 and took out the house’s back wall. Kim Isherwood, the current owner and a Preserve Omaha board member, claims her home got lucky that year, as the rest of the area was devastated by the natural disaster. 

“The back wall was damaged, but that’s it—the rest of it miraculously survived. The next door neighbor’s house was completely destroyed, and Joslyn Castle (a short distance away) had so much damage,” she explained.

Isherwood bought the eight-bedroom, six-bathroom house in 2020. “We redid the kitchen when we bought the house,” she said. “It was very dated and inefficient. We put heated floors in here because this room is freezing cold, and we tried to keep it old-looking, unlike most modern kitchens that are stark white and have quartz countertops.”

Next to the kitchen lies the original butler’s pantry, complete with cupboards lining the walls and a closet that stored detachable leaves for the dining table. The pantry also hides the end of a laundry chute that begins on the second level. This built-in convenience allowed the family (or hired help) to complete laundry chores without having to trek the staircase.

This main staircase features a curved set of steps at the base, a simple yet eye-catching detail. “Back then, they wouldn’t have had electric tools,” Isherwood said. “So, all of this is hand-made.” 

There is no air conditioning on the main level, as it is naturally cooled from the way air flows through the center of the building. This is a prime example of why Reeder believes in saving such buildings. 

“We want to preserve them as long as we can so we can learn from the architecture,” he reasoned. 

“In the summertime, you can feel cold air drop, and it comes down and this floor stays very cool,” Isherwood added. “They really did know what they were doing.” 

At the top of the old wooden stairs, which have retained their integrity for over a century, the bedrooms boast a 1910’s-era charm with original lighting and fixtures. The slanted walls complement the adjacent accent walls that Isherwood herself painted. “I wanted them to look like wallpaper, but I didn’t want to have to deal with wallpaper,” she laughed. Her solution was simple (although the design isn’t): break out the brushes and stencils.

Excluding one, all of the bathrooms have their original fixtures and flooring. One features an authentic, fully functional ship window that acts as the building’s compass, pointing due north. “It’s the only round thing in the house,” Isherwood chuckled, alluding to the square, angular theme the rest of the building follows.

When asked about her favorite feature of the building, Isherwood said, “People ask me that question all the time,” pausing with a sigh. “This ceiling is clearly amazing,” she said, referencing the white, intricately molded patterns that look down upon the common living area. “I try not to take it for granted because it is so unique and special. And of course the butler’s pantry is breathtaking,” she added.

“Not every home or structure can stay standing forever,” Reeder lamented. “Preserve Omaha is really just about recognizing something that’s beautiful and taking care of it until its eventual death. We need to appreciate what we have when we have it.” 

To learn more about Preserve Omaha, visit preserveomaha.org.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of Omaha Home magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

 

Evvnt Calendar