Minne Lusa Residential Historic District
The Minne Lusa Residential Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2014, The Gombach Group.
The Minne Lusa Residential Historic District is comprised of small to mid-sized homes planned and built by developer C.W. Martin, with designs for many homes attributed to architect Everett S. Dodds. Platted within the Omaha City Limits, the development filled the space between the north edge of Miller Park and the southern edge of Florence, between 24th and 30th streets. Homes are set on gently rolling hills that slope down to a central boulevard. The neighborhood is mainly comprised of bungalows and craftsman house forms. Primarily built between 1915 and 1927, 39% of the homes are less than 1,200 sq.ft.
Developer C.W. Martin, most likely chose the name Minne Lusa for this development to capitalize on the positive associations people had with the near-by Minne Lusa water works. A popular tourist destination, the pumping station was constructed in 1889 and considered an architectural gem. It could be reached by bike or street car and tours were available throughout the facility. One of the early officials objected to calling the facility simply "the pump house" and suggested the name "Minne Lusa" instead, claiming it derived from the Sioux words for water-running-good.
By 1915, the Omaha City limits had been extended several times. Held in check on the east by the Missouri River, the city had grown in every other direction; particularly north and south along the terraces that parallel the river. The development of Minne Lusa was an extension of this trend, enlarging the settled area of Omaha to the north. Set between Miller Park, which was established in 1891, and the north edge of the 1915 city limits, streets in Minne Lusa follow a traditional grid pattern. In an arrangement similar to many other Omaha neighborhoods, blocks are oriented east/west. Within this, the developer introduced a meandering boulevard carved north/south through the center. This distinct design feature was named Minne Lusa Boulevard. The grid was overlaid onto gently rolling hillsides. Overall, both sides slope down to the center boulevard, with slightly steeper hills on the east side of the boulevard.
When first laid out, the developer marketed various features of the development through advertisements in the Omaha World-Herald and Omaha Bee. Foremost in these, the neighborhood was promoted for its adjacency to Miller Park, which was described as "the most friendly and diligently used of all the parks", according to a 1915 Omaha Bee article. Residents also had ready access to two street car lines, linking them directly to downtown Omaha and Florence. The developer built on these advantages by introducing concrete sidewalks and pedestrian scale street lighting to enhance the attractiveness of the neighborhood. Martin further included such improvements as gas, water, sewer, grading, and trees in the lot price. Covenants that Martin defined for the Minne Lusa neighborhood included a 40' setback for the homes and no requirement to finish the homes in brick (stucco and wood siding were encouraged). With a low lot price and affordable homes encouraged, sales went quickly and most homes in the neighborhood were constructed by 1927.
Many of these physical features are still evident in Minne Lusa today. Neighborhood ties to Miller Park remain strong. Although street cars no longer serve the neighborhood, 24th and 30th streets remain major thoroughfares and still provide quick and easy access to downtown Omaha and Florence. The overall feel of the Minne Lusa neighborhood persists as intimate, with those same gently rolling hills focusing streets towards the meandering center boulevard.
Charles Martin was responsible for the development and construction of the Minne Lusa neighborhood. At that time, it was one of the largest tracts ever platted within the city limits. He promoted Minne Lusa as an affordable neighborhood, citing less expensive lots, economical siding materials and the bungalow house form as key features of his development. His company, the C.W. Martin Company, was exclusively responsible for the construction of the homes in the Minne Lusa neighborhood, and he oversaw sub-contractors for the grading, excavating and road construction throughout the neighborhood.
Plans for some of the homes Martin constructed appear to have been designed by Everett S. Dodds. In 1913 and 1914, many of Dodds' home designs were published in a weekly feature of the Omaha World-Herald. Dodds stated in one of the first published plans that the design was provided to a home builder and constructed in several places. Others were also clearly constructed as photos are used for illustrations instead of Dodds sketches. In 1914, selected versions of these and other designs were printed in a book, Build a Dodds Home: Comfort, Beauty, Durability. Of the 20 designs published in the book, examples of 17 can be found in Minne Lusa. Few are exact replicas of the published designs. Most are variations on these designs, incorporating different choices in siding and dormers.
Most homes in Minne Lusa do not exhibit enough details to be categorized with an architectural style. Instead, these are practical residences where the form itself is the dominant feature. They illustrate how a popular architectural style was simplified for mass production to an eager public who could not afford the original; much like haute couture is simplified and mass produced for department store sales. Just over 80% of the houses in Minne Lusa can be categorized as one of three house forms; bungalow, craftsman or cube. These were arguably the most popular forms during the second decade of the twentieth century. Variations in porch profile, dormer shape and placement, and overall massing create a number of sub-types of each.
When Minne Lusa was platted in 1915, there were 5,469 automobiles registered in Douglas County. By 1923, there were 23,352 cars registered in Omaha. This number jumped to 35,950 by 1926. Thus, as Minne Lusa developed, the need for vehicle storage developed as well. The increasing need for garages to store automobiles is illustrated in the maps, photographs and advertisements for Minne Lusa. Photographs of the neighborhood from 1917 illustrate a handful of smaller buildings among the larger number of residences that may or may not be garages. According to the 1918 Baist map of Omaha, none of the early houses in Minne Lusa were built with detached garages. A review of the 1918 Baist and Sanborn maps of the greater Omaha area indicates that garages were not prevalent anywhere in Omaha, possibly due to the low rate of automobile ownership at that time. Furthermore, early advertisements for Minne Lusa tout its adjacency to two streetcar lines, and advertisements for individual homes do not discuss detached garages. This situation did not last and photographs of the neighborhood from 1924 illustrate that many residences had curb cuts and garages. In fact, by 1934 Omaha Sanborn maps indicate that most homes in the neighborhood had constructed garages.
The timing of the development of Minne Lusa coincided with the transition from a reliance on streetcars to the independence inspired by the automobile. In the early years of its development, most homes were built without driveways or garages, as cars were still not affordable for most residents. However, as the price of automobiles dropped and the middle class income rose, more and more white collar workers began to own cars. Curb cuts and garages began to appear in Minne Lusa on a more regular basis, and by the time the development had reached capacity, almost all of the homes featured a drive and garage, including many of those originally constructed without one. Thus, from its beginning through its development, Minne Lusa evolved from a Streetcar Suburb to an Early Automobile Suburb.
Miller Park, located directly south of Minne Lusa, was established in 1893. Many early city officials could not envision the transformation of this area from a corn field with several deep ravines into a vibrant city park. However, Dr. George L. Miller and nationally renowned H.W.S. Cleveland certainly could. Over the next several years, stands of pines, curvilinear drives and a lagoon with an island appeared, likely from Cleveland's plans. Slightly later improvements included the Miller Park pavilion constructed in 1908 and one of the city's oldest golf courses, laid out in 1912. The park also benefited by its location one block off Florence Boulevard. When established in 1895, this boulevard was immediately popular with all types of transportation because of its scenic views of the river valley and its level grade.
In Minne Lusa, the success of Martin's marketing campaigns to the growing middle class is apparent in a review of the initial residents. The first owners of residences in a sample area of two platted blocks were analyzed. These blocks were selected based on how well the homes on these lots represented the area as a whole. Blocks 4 and 28 are located away from Redick and Minne Lusa Boulevard, and contain a large percentage of contributing homes, many of which are bungalows. Of the 57 properties researched, 90% were owner-occupied. This confirms that Minne Lusa was seen as a place to personally invest in, not as an investment opportunity where additional income could be generated from rental properties.
Most residents were white collar workers in middle management positions. Accountants, Bookkeepers, Buyers, Clerks, Comptrollers, Contractors, Dentists, Department Managers, Engineers, Foremen, Lawyers, Managers, Mechanics, Small Business Owners, Physicians, Postal Clerks, Salesmen, Secretaries, Stenographers, Travel Agents and Company Vice Presidents fill the neighborhood directory. Together they represent Omaha's middle class.
An analysis of the initial resident's length of occupancy shows that while 37% of the first tenants moved out 5 years or less after moving in, 24% stayed longer than 15 years. Two related trends were noted during this analysis. The first was that extended families often moved into the neighborhood; at first living in one house together, and later splitting into nuclear families in homes relatively close to one another. The second was that there are 11 houses in the neighborhood that have been passed from one generation to the next over the last 60 years. The longest has now been in the same family for 92 years. Shorter term residents tended to be salesmen, secretaries, carpenters and contractors; people whose jobs often required them to move. Longer term residents were most often managers, foremen, draftsmen and clerks whose occupations allowed them to put down roots.
The builder, C.W. Martin, touted the affordability of this development. In addition to the savings gained through planning aspects of location and economy of scale discussed earlier, Martin made the homes themselves affordable. He achieved this through the choice of materials allowed in the development, the size of the homes and the form of the homes.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the average house size in America was between 700 and 1,200 sq. ft., according to the National Association of Home Builders. In Minne Lusa, the median house is just above this range at 1,300 sq. ft. Within a footprint of this size, most homes would feature separate living, dining and kitchens, as well as at least two bedrooms and a full bath. The efficiency over many home forms of the previous century was in their smaller room sizes and in the elimination of large hallways, instead allowing most rooms to flow into one another.
At 704 sq. ft., one of the smallest homes in the neighborhood is 2717 Newport. It was completed in 1923 for Charles Martinson, a superintendent at the Universal Millwork Company. This 22' x 32' home squeezes in a second story by capturing 8 feet across the width of the house under the tallest portion of the roof. Tucked neatly together in a two-thirds, one-third arrangement, a wide living room and bedroom (formerly a dining room) line one side of the first floor, while along the other a bedroom, bathroom, staircase and kitchen are stacked. An average sized home in the neighborhood is represented by 2418 Titus. Completed in 1922 for photographer Simeon H. Arnold, this 1,100 sq. ft. home is slightly deeper than it is wide. The second floor is again long and narrow; an 8 foot wide strip running the width of the house. Split down the center, one side of the first floor contains a sun porch, dining room, kitchen/hall/stair, and a bedroom. Running down the other side, the front porch and living room sit in front of the bathroom and second bedroom. The largest home in the neighborhood is the 2,797 sq. ft. residence at 2S86 Vane. Completed in 1920, it was originally the home of Lucie C. Harding (aka Mrs. Randall Pollock). In addition to owning and running the Woodmen cafeteria and the Seven Oaks poultry farm, Ms. Harding was the Secretary of the Board of Trade and the business manager of the Board of Trade building. The home was completed in the craftsman style and features a long, low silhouette, a clipped gable roof, exposed rafter tails and symmetrical facade with porches on both ends. On the interior, the simplicity of the floor plan equals that of many of the smaller homes in the neighborhood. On the ground floor, room after room opens onto the next, without any interior hallway. This floor contains the living room, dining room and kitchen, as well as an open patio and three-season porch. At the top of the central stair connecting the two floors, a short hallway provides access to four bedrooms and a full bathroom on the second floor.
As architectural styles become popular and are reinterpreted for smaller budgets, details are often lost and elements are reduced to only the most key features. Minne Lusa is a well-kept example of this process. By promoting the most popular house styles of the period, Martin allowed entry-level home owners to feel as if they were obtaining the status that they aspired to. At the same time, his repetition of the same design, his construction of efficient floor plans, his use of minimal detailing and purchase of mass produced materials reduced the original high style architecture to a popular building form.
Within all of his developments, Martin consistently promoted and built bungalow and craftsman house forms as one means of keeping the prices as reasonable as possible. Instead of sacrificing quality, these house forms created savings by eliminating wasted space. They did this by developing a floor plan that opened from room to room, eliminating large hallways. In many cases bedrooms opened directly into the living room or dining room. In other cases, bedrooms opened onto a short hallway that fronted the bathroom that separated them. Additionally, with no domestic staff and assorted modern appliances, the bathrooms and kitchens were reduced to spaces just large enough for a single person to use.
There are 78 residences in the Minne Lusa Residential Historic District attributed to local architect Everett S. Dodds. Although they could represent the substance of his mid-career work, an evaluation of his work indicates that he did not rise to the level of Master Architect. Although well designed, works attributed to him do not have the sophistication and refinement associated with work at that level. Most could have been built by a skilled craftsman.
Dodds' book, Build a Dodds Home, built on the plans published in the local newspapers as well as introducing new designs. Slightly more than half of the plans in the book are for bungalow and craftsman form homes. Presented among these are plans for cube form homes as well as several revival style homes. Approximately one out of nine homes in Minne Lusa are very similar to the plans presented in this book or are variations on these plans. It is unclear if these variations are a result of C.W. Martin customizing the plans himself, or if Dodds played some role in their customization. Listings in The Construction News September 4, 1915 and in The American Contractor July 19, 1919 do confirm that Dodds provided at least the initial plans for some of Martin's homes.
† Jennifer Honebrink, AIA, LEED AP, Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture, P.C., Minne Lusa Residential Historic District, Douglas County, NE, nomination document, 2013, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.