Enjoying architecture during a stroll through downtown Omaha

The Residence Inn hotel in downtown Omaha is located in an old federal building.

As Midwesterners know, when you get a beautiful, warm late-winter weekend day, you have to take advantage of it. We were also involved with a weekend walking challenge with our daughters, who were sightseeing in Hawaii. So, we thought we’d address both items with a sightseeing tour of our own in our hometown.

Downtown Omaha offers lot to see and do. On this day, we grabbed our cameras and set out to see what piqued our interests. It didn’t take long. Lisa wanted to check out three older buildings that were recently saved from the wrecking ball. A little background: Our city’s mayor and council supported spending $10 million to buy three older buildings (including one on the National Register of Historic Places), level them and donate the land the performing arts center, which, in turn, would turn the land into a parking lot or garage. This was to happen, because the performing arts foundation agreed to sell land (including their current parking lot) to another company, so their new headquarters building could be built there. Eventually, the performing arts foundation bowed out of the deal with the city, partly citing public resistance to destroying the three aged buildings.

Omahans are a bit sensitive to destroying functioning buildings, just for “progress.” The city leveled Jobbers Canyon – an old warehouse district – in the late 1980s for food manufacturer Con Agra to keep its international headquarters here, because they wanted a modern look along the Missouri River. Earlier this year, Con Agra announced it’s moving its headquarters to Chicago. Enough of city politics. On to the tour.

The Alvine Buidling, with a slice of the Specht n the background.

The three buildings in question are the Specht, Happy Hollow Coffee and Alvine Building. The Specht was built in 1884 and is the lone building in Nebraska with a cast iron facade. It is listed on Historic Places register.

The Specht Building – the only building in Nebraska with a cast iron facade.

The Alvine and Happy Hollow buildings were constructed in the early 1900s. The Alvine is next to the Specht. Happy Hollow sits a few feet north of the duo. All three buildings are presently occupied.

This building has housed coffee companies, apartments and other businesses.

As we continued our stroll downtown, we checked out the Pinnacle Bank building. It’s home to the iconic “Omaha” script sign that can be seen on national TV commercials and often during sporting events, including the College World Series and the NCAA basketball tournament. We love that sign.

One of our favorite signs in the city.

The Residence Inn by Marriott at 15th and Dodge Streets is located in a former federal courthouse building. During renovation of the facility, old wanted posters and safe doors were discovered. Those items are displayed for visitors to check out.

One of the most wanted posters found at the Residence Inn.

As we walked through the Old Market retail and entertainment district, it occurred to us that the area’s business is picking up. A January fire gutted M’s Pub in the old Central Supply building, as well as a few other businesses and apartments. The remains of the buildings are still being cleaned up. Plans call to rebuild.

Burnt remains from atop M’s Pub.

In the meantime, business dropped off in the Old Market. Some blamed the fenced off area around the affected buildings and the closing of a couple of streets. However, as the weather has improved, people have been out more often and the Old Market was bustling during our visit.

Parking is limited on a gorgeous day in the Old Market.

Lisa has wanted to dine at the Flatiron Cafe for a while. So, we have penciled in a date night there. The building resembles a larger one in New York City. Ours is home to the cafe and apartments.

The Flatiron Building.

The view from the Flatiron is impressive. You can see one of Omaha’s skyscrapers – the Woodmen Tower – from a corner. Across the street, a building’s windows provide beautiful reflections (as daughter Mallory points out – I love me some reflection photos).

A view of the Flatiron from a nearby window.

We had a wonderful time touring some of our older buildings. There are other self-guided tours listed on the internet that we plan to complete throughout the year. So much to see, so little time.

We encourage everyone to get out and explore their communities. You never know what you might see or learn.

For more information on Omaha attractions, please visit www.visitomaha.com.