Hunger pangs challenged his attention. Entrenched in a serious game of poker with his weekly gambling mates, Reuben Kulakofsky couldn’t take himself away from the table. So the Omaha businessman ordered the chef to make him something to eat. But, not just anything. He didn’t want the usual hotel fare. So, the Blackstone Hotel chef explored the kitchen, searched for the right ingredients. Soon afterward, a sandwich was delivered to Kulakofsky. Thick with corned beef, topped with sauerkraut and with a drizzle of Russian dressing, the sandwich was a hit. Thus, the Reuben sandwich was born. In Omaha. In the early 1900s. At the upscale Blackstone Hotel, in the heart of Omaha’s southern edge of the Gold Coast.
The birth of the Reuben sandwich, which Omahans proudly claim as their invention despite the claims of a New York deli, is one of the stories you can learn about during the “Millionaires & Mansions South Gold Coast” tour, as part of the River City Tours through Durham Museum. The museum sponsors a variety of tours showcasing Omaha’s history. Tours include a look at Omaha’s bootlegger days of prohibition, Mansions on the North Gold Coast, and historical city parks, as well as sites of the 1989 Expo fair and the city’s jazz clubs. A new tour in 2020 – “Remember the Ladies” – focuses on some of Omaha’s famous women, including Anna Wilson, a former madam turned philanthropist. The museum also features private tours of the attractions.
In touring Omaha’s south Gold Coast, you can see where some of the city’s wealthiest citizens lived and played. From the Storz Mansion on Farnam Street to the current location of the Mutual of Omaha headquarters area, the Gold Coast was home to the truly elite of the elite. The hourlong tour takes you around what is known as the Blackstone area. Today, the area is home to restaurants and bars, as well as classic-style homes. What was once considered a mansion a little more than a century ago, now passes for a nice older home. They are a far cry from the super houses in west Omaha. But, they are full of history.
The Storz House, near 37th and Farnam Streets, was built by brewery magnate Gottlieb Storz. The German immigrant founded the Storz Brewing Company in the mid-1870s. The house – a mansion – was built in the Jacobethan style, and features 27 rooms. The architect used limestone for the exterior because the stone was known to last. Hollywood star Fred Astaire, an Omaha native, danced in the house. His father sold beer for the brewery. The Storz House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the mid-1970s.
The former Turner Manson is now home to the Mutual of Omaha insurance company’s headquarters. Turner Park at Midtown Crossing, a few blocks east of Blackstone, was named after Charles Turner’s family.
Tour guides do an excellent job of sharing information about the area, such as the fact that President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and comedian Bob Hope each stayed at the Blackstone Hotel. The hotel, currently under renovation to serve as a hotel again, was once Omaha’s premier hotel.
Here is the schedule for the River City trolley tours:
Remember the Ladies Tour – May 10, August 11 and September 20
This tour takes you to several historic buildings, areas and businesses that were owned and/or ran by early Omaha women, as well as current buildings that employed hundreds of women in manufacturing, railroading and entertainment. During the tour, you’ll learn about some of the city’s best-known women, such as Catherine B. Nash, real estate executive, Rose Rosicky, of National Printing Company, Anna Wilson, Omaha’s notorious madame and successful businesswoman.
Last Call for Alcohol: Omaha’s Bootlegging History – June 16, July 14 and October 11
The 18th Amendment to the Constitution did not stop people’s thirst for alcohol. By the time prohibition was the law of the land in 1919, Nebraska had been “dry” for two years. Organized crime syndicates owned the illegal alcohol scene in Omaha. Local and federal authorities spent years putting together a case that ultimately brought down the “kingpin” of Omaha’s crime scene, Tom Dennison. As you tour the area’s key spots, you’ll learn about Dennison’s grip on Omaha and how he was brought down.
Parks and Boulevards – June 7, September 15 and October 18
Did you know Omaha’s parks system and boulevards date back to the late 1800s? Your tour will take you along tree-lined streets and some of the city’s most-beautiful areas, such as Elmwood and Hanscom Parks and Happy Hollow and Lincoln Boulevard.
Millionaires & Mansions North Gold Coast – June 28, July 26 and October 4
Your trolley tour takes you to classically-beautiful neighborhoods north of Dodge Street in mid-town Omaha. You’ll learn about local staples Mercer Mansion, Joslyn Castle and the Louis Nash residence. The trolley will drive on the first curved street in the city. You’ll see several stately homes in the original “West Omaha.”
Millionaires & Mansions South Gold Coast – July 24, July 5 and August 30
The tour takes you through the Blackstone district in Midtown, south of Dodge Street. Several of the landmarks, including the Blackstone Hotel, the Storz House and Brandeis house, date to the early 1900s.
From Expositions to Jazz Musicians – August 2 and September 6
In 1898, North Omaha hosted the Trans-Mississippi International Exposition, which celebrated technology and showed that life was civilized west of the Mississippi River. Following the Exposition, stately homes, parks and jazz halls made this area a cultural center of Omaha. Your experience includes a tour of the Florence Mill.
Private River City History Tours – Available year-round for groups of up to 42
A private tour is perfect for a work outing, friends’ day out, or a family adventure, and you have Ollie the Trolley (or friend) to yourself. Dates and times are subject to availability. For more information, contact the Durham’s education department at 402-444-5071.