Country Club Historic District
The Country Club Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2015, The Gombach Group.
The Country Club Historic District is located approximately 5 miles north and west of Omaha's central business district and encompasses approximately 27 square blocks. The district is situated south of the Northwest Radial Highway on the east side of the Benson downtown and neighborhood. The district is bounded by the Northwest Radial Highway and Blondo Street between 52nd and 56th streets; Grant Street and Decatur Street between 51st and 52nd streets; and Blondo Street and Happy Hollow Boulevard between 50th and 51st streets. The Country Club Historic District is an early 20th century planned residential community of tree lined streets, decorative street lights and buildings that exhibit a variety of architectural styles. The majority of buildings are period revival style single family houses. The district also includes a Gothic Revival church, a modern style house and apartment complex, four 4-unit apartment buildings and several duplexes designed to be compatible with the single family houses. The primary building material in the district is brick. The street system is a combination of two types of streets—those that extend the city's grid system and those that follow the rolling topography. The district has very high integrity.
Distinctive features of the setting of the Country Club District include Metcalfe Park, curvilinear streets (Country Club Avenue seems to follow an existing creek bed that appears on the original golf course layout), a wide terrace between the sidewalk and street, and ornamental lighting. North 51st Street, Country Club Avenue, and Happy Hollow Boulevard bound Metcalfe Park, triangular in shape with trees and open space. Originally planned as residential lots, Metcalfe Park is platted as block 27 of the Country Club District on the city plat map. In 1929 the City of Omaha acquired block 27 to be to be used as part of the park and boulevard system.
Construction in the district began shortly after the area was platted by the Metcalfe Company in 1926 and building continued through the 1940's. All of the contributing buildings were completed by 1949.
The majority of the houses in the Country Club district have some connection to the Tudor style as it was used for residential architecture in the early 20th century. These houses range in the number of elements that they exhibit that are associated with the Tudor style. The elements of the Tudor vocabulary found most often on Country Club houses include: multiple gables and cross gables; imitation half-timber infilled with stucco or brick, or brick patterns that mimic half timber; four-centered, pointed arches; prominent chimneys placed as design features; metal and colored glass exterior light fixtures to illuminate entrances; leaded glass windows in diamond patterns used for decorative accents; stone used for trim, sometimes in regular patterns and sometimes mixed randomly in the brickwork; semi-hexagonal projecting bays; portions of second floors that overhang the first floor; and, battlements. Almost every Tudor style house in the Country Club district has one dominant, street-facing gable. Often there is a secondary gable and sometimes twin gables.
The degree to which Tudor style elements were applied to houses in the district varies considerably. On one end of the spectrum is a 1-1/2 story house type that is quite common in the area and represents over 20% of the total structures in the district. It is referred here as the "swoop roof" type, because the roofline of its integral garage is a sweeping extension of the house's primary front facing gable. Houses in the district of this type tend to look quite similar. Besides its gable roof forms, this type generally exhibits only a few Tudor features. These might include stone trim surrounding the entry, a metal and colored glass light and perhaps a diamond-paned window or a hint of half-timber. Although few in number, a particular house form that is also mapped is noted as "Voysey" style, because its silhouette is reminiscent of the some of the work of English architect C.F.A. Voysey. These houses are rectangular in form with diagonally sloped roofs at each end.
In addition to Tudor revival, the Colonial Revival style was very popular nationally in the 1920's and 1930's. Approximately 6% of the houses in the Country Club district were built in the Colonial Revival style. 8 of the 24 Colonial style houses were architect designed. The earliest examples in the district were built in the late 1920's and often exhibit small porticos that shelter the front entrances. Supported by classical columns, some of these porticos were flat-roofed (originally with balusters, some of which have been removed) and some featured triangular pediments. Two of these early Colonials, designed by architect Charles Rosenberry, were included in a promotional brochure produced by the Metcalfe Company. The Country Club Colonial revival houses of the late 1930's—some of which were also architect designed—tended to be much simpler than those built in the 20's. While the later Colonials often have no porticos, the entrances are usually still treated with shallow pediments supported by classically detailed pilasters. The single work in the district by the notable Omaha architect George Fisher is a nicely proportioned Colonial Revival style house built in 1929 at 2001 North 55th Street. 11 of the 28 Colonial style houses in the district were built on 55th street, the premier street of the Country Club district.
In 1899 a group of prominent Omaha businessmen developed 120 acres to the east of Benson and created the Omaha Country Club and Golf Course. The general location was between North 56th Street on the west, North 52nd Street on the east, Maple Street on the north, and Blondo Street on the south. There was also a "back pasture" that extended southeast to present day 51st and Seward Streets. The majority of club members lived near downtown Omaha and traveled "to the country" to relax and socialize with their peers. Some club members built homes on the west side of the golf course on Rose Hill Avenue, now North 56th Street. At the time, Blondo and North 52nd Streets were unpaved roads in poor condition but North 56th was paved in brick similar to Omaha city streets. The brick street is still visible today and is the only brick street in the historic district.
The annexation of Benson in 1917 into the City of Omaha included the Omaha Country Club and Golf Course. A reported four-fold increase in property taxes followed and the city was rapidly surrounding the club's remote countryside site. By 1922, club president Glenn Wharton announced, "Our present acreage is too valuable for further holding as golf course and country club." Many members thought the City of Omaha would buy the course and open it for public use. With a newly planned Benson High School at 52nd and Maple Street on the horizon, eventually Theodore Metcalfe and the Metcalfe Company purchased the 100 acres in 1926 for a reported $250,000 and subdivided the area into 510 residential lots for development. Plans for the addition called for large lots, winding boulevards lined with flowering shrubs, ornamental lighting, and a community center at the original golf course clubhouse and tennis courts. A fire damaged the clubhouse, however, and the building was eventually razed in the 1930s.
The Country Club Historic District is a fine example of the large, planned residential neighborhoods that were developed in the 1920's and 1930's. At that time, real estate entrepreneurs such as J. C. Nichols, developer of the Country Club District in Kansas City, were being referred to as "community builders." Developers like Nichols strove to attain a consistently high level of quality in both architecture and the neighborhood environment. Transportation, building materials and design, site planning and landscaping, as well as proximity to shopping, schools, civic buildings and religious facilities, were all important considerations. Deed restrictions were employed to help ensure quality.
Theodore Metcalfe, developer of the Country Club neighborhood in Omaha, clearly shared the philosophy of the community builders and even described himself as such in his promotional brochures. Quality was implied through such phrases as "Beyond Comparison" and "The Show Place of Omaha" and was backed up by deed restrictions that required "a brick veneer dwelling house ... and the cost of same shall be not less than $5,000.00."
Early promotional materials advertise the trip from downtown to Country Club as 20 minutes by street car and 15 minutes by automobile. Country Club is one of the earliest developments in Omaha to fully accommodate the automobile. [See: Early Automobile Suburbs] Each house featured some type of garage, most of which were attached. The majority of houses had single garages, although two car garages were built with some of the larger houses.
The streets in Country Club are a combination of those that extend the surrounding grid system and those that follow the gentle slopes of the old golf course. The Metcalfe Company brochure for Country Club speaks of providing "beautiful homes sites for the discriminating buyer" and "sightly views." The street layout made this possible. The most picturesque and visually interesting locations in the Country Club development are those places where the irregular streets intersect with each other and with the grid system. These areas provide very prominent house sites and present opportunities for additional landscaping by defining islands and lots with large front yards. The street pattern also creates interesting visual experiences for those traveling through the neighborhood. The curvilinear streets often direct the view of a driver or pedestrian to a particular lot where the house serves as a focal point.
As community builders, the Metcalfe Company marketed the Country Club neighborhood as a place that offered the potential homeowner many advantages related to location and amenities. Metcalfe suggested that the area was so desirable that the lots would sell themselves and that it was only a question of who got them. The area's attraction was stated in terms of beauty and amenities. The beauty was the setting and architecture—the curvilinear, tree-lined streets, the decorative streetlights served by underground utilities, and the picturesque houses. The amenities included the proximity to streetcar lines, garages for automobiles and nearby schools.
Among the earliest houses in the district are those that were featured in a brochure "Beyond Comparison," produced by the Metcalfe Company as a promotional piece. The variety and quality of the houses that developer Theodore Metcalfe intended to build are best described in Metcalfe's own words from the brochure. "These beautiful new homes now being built or finished in the Country Club District are indeed 'the talk of the town' ... a studied effort has been made to get away from the sameness in styles of architecture and the different types and styles found in this development are proof of the success of these efforts. Metcalfe Company has had the co-operation of nearly every builder in Omaha in building up this addition and we expect the demand for lots to continue until every available lot is occupied with a beautiful new home."
The brochure goes on to say "Every home in the Country Club District is as well built in construction as it is beautiful in architecture." It is clear that the quality that Metcalfe described in his early promotional materials was in fact carried out and that his development has stood the test of time. The quality of construction and materials, the pleasant setting, and the variety of picturesque houses are the reasons the neighborhood continues to be very desirable today. The district's high integrity is due in large part to quality construction and the use of lasting materials such as brick.
The Metcalfe Company's promotional brochure for Country Club featured 28 houses, all of which were built in the first two years of development, 1927 and 1928. Metcalfe used North 55th Street as the primary showcase for the first houses in his development, along with portions of North 53rd Street and two prominent corner lots at the intersection of Country Club Avenue and Decatur Streets. Of the 28 houses in the brochure, 14 were architect designed. Nine were by Charles Rosenberry. These first houses were intended to set the tone for the neighborhood. Phrases such as "beautiful new English type home," "high and sightly location," "distinctive and original" and an architect designed "French Home ... designed especially to fit" on an irregularly shaped corner lot were used to convey to the future homeowner that they were going to get a unique, high quality product. Metcalfe built a large house for himself in the district in 1929, designed by Rosenberry.
One of the first impressions a viewer has of the Country Club neighborhood is a sense of homogeneity. Particular elements tie the neighborhood together and give it a sense of place. These include a common vocabulary of materials, the predominant use of the Tudor style, uniform setbacks, tree-lined streets and the cast iron streetlights. However, Country Club is not a monotonous, cookie-cutter neighborhood. No two houses are exactly alike. There is a vast amount of variety in the way in which the Tudor style is utilized. Colonial and other Period Revival styles are interspersed among the Tudor structures. Architects and builders utilized a wide range of forms and details to make the area interesting visually. The Country Club district achieves that desirable balance between uniformity and variety that is present in notable historic neighborhoods.
A striking exception to the predominantly brick Revival style houses in the Country Club Historic District is the two story Art Deco style concrete residence at 2043 North 53rd Street). Located on a prominent triangular shaped lot, it was constructed in 1933 as a model home by the Omaha Junior Chamber of Commerce in commemoration of the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, A Century of Progress. Similar to the model houses at the Chicago Fair, Omaha's "House of Tomorrow" was intended to represent the latest technology in home building, from the exterior materials to interior furnishings and mechanical systems. Eleven model homes were constructed at the Fair that represented the use of new and innovative design and technology.
Omaha's House of Tomorrow was constructed as a fundraising project of the Junior Chamber of Commerce to raise money for the organization through admission fees, and to promote local awareness of the Fair. The House of Tomorrow is also significant architecturally as a rare example of the Art Deco / Moderne style executed for a residence.
Property types other than single family homes that contribute to the significance of the Country Club district are several multiple dwellings (duplexes and apartment buildings) and Saint Paul Methodist Church. Each of these was built during the Country Club, these properties compliment the predominately single family nature of this early twentieth century planned community.
Occupational information gathered from city directories indicates that new Country Club houses were purchased by primarily white collar workers and professionals. A sample from the listings includes physicians, dentists, attorneys, a civil engineer, accountants, clerical workers, high school teachers, salesmen, postal and telephone company workers, and bank and insurance company employees. Some residents owned their own businesses. Others worked for major Omaha companies such as the Union Pacific Railroad or the Omaha Union Stockyards.
Information from building permit cards was used to gain a general picture of who designed and built the structures in the Country Club district. The following architects designed homes in the area: Oscar Bowles, Everett Dodds, Leo Dworak, George Fisher, Bert Hene, Reinholdt Hennig, Frederick Henninger, John Hyde, Jr., Birger Kvenild, Charles Rosenberry, Ernest Schreiber, Edward Sessinghaus, and William Sype. Building permit information indicates that while a considerable number of houses were designed by architects, a substantial number were by people employed by builders and real estate development companies. Nothing is known about the nonarchitect designers. However, judging from the quality of the houses, their work was usually as good—and sometimes better—than that done by the architects.
Many of the architects designing Country Club houses were also doing houses for the nearby Happy Hollow subdivision, which developed at approximately the same time. Architects working in both areas were Dworak, Hene, Hennig, Henninger, Hyde, Kvenild, Rosenberry, Schreiber, Sessinghaus and Sype. Together, these ten architects did more than 160 houses in the two areas.
Charles Rosenberry designed the most houses of the architects working in Country Club. He is listed in city directories as practicing between 1923 and 1937. During that period Rosenberry designed over 50 houses in Country Club and nearby Happy Hollow, with the number of houses approximately equally split between the two areas. Rosenberry and Frederick Henninger were both prolific designers of houses. Henninger was probably the busiest residential architect in Omaha history. Once labeled as "House a day Henninger," much of his work was done in the late 1800's and early 1900's. In addition to his many houses, Henninger was responsible for several of Omaha's earliest apartment buildings. He was also the designer of the former U.S. National Bank Building (built 1914; non-extant) and Securities Building (National Register of Historic Places, 1996) in downtown.
Henninger's only home design in Country Club is the fine brick and tile roof structure built for Edward Costello at 2012 North 55th Street in 1928. Another notable early Omaha architect to design a single work in Country Club was George Fisher. From 1893 to 1913 the firm of Fisher and Lawrie designed many important structures including Sacred Heart Church (National Register of Historic Places, 1983). Near the end of his career and on his own, Fisher designed a colonial style house in 1929 for Demetrie Siampaus at 2001 North 55th Street.
Architect Reinholdt Hennig is responsible for the two most modernistic buildings in the district, the "House of Tomorrow" and the Country Club Apartments. He also designed several more traditional Tudor style houses in the neighborhood. The style of Hennig's work ranged considerably over his career. Among his early works are some of the finest Tudor style houses and apartments in the city. In the 1930's and 40's his work included houses that were simpler versions of his earlier, more elaborate, Tudor style designs as well as modern style structures. In addition to the modernistic style Country Club Apartments in the district, he also designed the Selby Apartments at 37th and Marcy Streets in central Omaha, a three building concrete complex designed in the Prairie / Usonian style. The Selby Apartments have been determined eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
Among the contractors that built homes in the district were Fred Burglund, J. Louis Campbell, M. A. Christensen, Ruben Eckstrom, Alex Gustafson, Emil Holstrom, Herman Hult, Carl Johanson, Oscar Johnson, Frank Kurtz and Edgar McCarville. Building permit cards often listed builders as the architect and owner as well as being the builder. In many cases the builder or some other non-architect was the designer. In other cases information showed that one of the architects listed above was the actual designer even though builders often listed themselves as the architect on the permit card. In cases such as this the builder apparently entered their name in every blank when they filled out the building permit application form. The map labeled "Contractors" indicates when an architect was also involved in a particular house.
Building permit records indicate that particular architects and builders tended to work together. For example, ten of Charles Rosenberry's house designs were built by Alex Gustafson. Five Reinholdt Hennig houses and three Leo Dworak houses were built by M. A. Christianson. Fred Burgland built three of the four Country Club houses known to be designed by Birger Kvenild. Architect Oscar Boyles used builder Frank Kurtz for four of his houses.
Real estate developers involved with the development of the area were F. B. Campbell, Amos Grant, Paul Kazakes, Theodore Metcalfe, Oscar Olson, George Schroeder, and Conrad Rasp. George Schroeder's business, the Schroeder Investment Company, was responsible for a large amount of construction in the district. Metcalfe and Schroeder were responsible for the majority of early houses. Building permit information indicates that Schroeder didn't use architects for his earliest houses. Metcalfe did, apparently to help set a high standard for design for his new development. Later, Schroeder used the architect John Hyde, Jr. for seven houses and Hennig for one house. The fact that Schroeder didn't use architects for his earliest houses didn't diminish their quality.
† Lynn Meyer, Omaha Preservation Administrator, Omaha City Planning Department, Country Club Historic District, Douglas County, NE, nomination document, 2004, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.