I was approached in June 2016 by Sara Kay, executive director of The American Institute of Architects of Nebraska, about a gift the foundation wanted to present to the people of Nebraska for the state's 150th birthday book featuring a like number of Nebraska's landmark buildings.
The idea was perfect. Nebraska has a rich heritage of landmark structures, with hundreds of sites in the National Register of Historic Places, I had places in mind, places I'd visited before, and I was already mapping out trips to them. The book would practically write itself. However, putting together a book of 150 Nebraska landmark buildings to commemorate the state's 150th birthday was more difficult than one might expect.
So many criteria could be used in how a building could qualify to be featured in the book--its age, its association with a famous Nebraskan or a famous architect, or its representation of a particular style, industry, or region of the state were all valid points.
We soon decided that this book could not be a "best of" collection, as architecture can be a highly subjective art, and while this would be a book from the architectural community, it could not be one about or for that community.
Creating a collection of the "most historic" buildings in Nebraska history wasn't the path, either, as many of those buildings have been torn down, destroyed by fire or storm, or simply decayed. Quite often the history of a building is not the events or the personalities associated with it, but the lives lived in that church business, or home or the statement they wanted to make with its construction.
Initially, there was the hope that we could have a building from each of the ninety-three counties, or one from each year of statehood. Following both paths would, of course, have eliminated remarkable structures for purely arbitrary reasons.
Ultimately, it came down to what buildings survived to help tell the story of Nebraska, its people, and the built world they created for themselves. In compiling the entries for the book, the goal was to highlight the rich diversity of the land, the people, and the traditions of Nebraska through its architecture. Our hope was to cover as broad a geographic area, to highlight as many social groups and industries, and to recognize as many citizens who brought fame to the state as possible. Finally, to close the book, we highlighted the architectural gems and wonders built in our own time that impact lives today.
There will naturally be criticism of worthy projects not being included, or of too much emphasis on the major cities (or on just one of the cities). I've followed Nebraska history long enough to know that's been a criticism on nearly every issue since Nebraska became a state!
Nonetheless, I think much of what we do have will please and delight the readers for our Nebraska sesquicentennial year.
July 30, 2017
Putting this book together was one of the most joyful experiences in my life, and I have a number of people to thank for helping me find that joy and hopefully sharing in it.
First of all, my thanks to Bruce Carpenter, president of the Architectural Foundation of Nebraska, and to Sara Kay, director of the American Institute of Architects-Nebraska Chapter I've known both of these fine individuals for many years and worked with them on several projects. The opportunity to tell the story of the state we love through its buildings was a unique and wonderful challenge that they offered, and their confidence and support through the process of creating this book will always have my appreciation. My thanks to Nate Ehmke, also in the AIA-Nebraska office, for his constant efforts in keeping us on track and working together.
Bob Ripley, capitol administrator of the Nebraska State Capitol, and Matt Hansen, preservation architect of the capital, were of great assistance and particularly in aspects of the career of Thomas Rogers Kimball. We have all been great fans of Nebraska's greatest architect, but their professional insights and advice were invaluable. I've known Bob since my association with the Nebraska Hall of Fame in the early 1990s, and it was more than a pleasure to be able to work with him again.
Marty Shukert, former city planner for the City of Omaha, also was a helpful adviser, especially in highlighting the work and impact of the late Neil Astle. Nebraska has a rich architectural history, and Marty helped me gain an appreciation of this innovative master.
Randa Zalman of Canary & Coal loaned her marketing agency's research capability, and her intern Kyleigh Smart tracked down information on the more current projects featured in the book. Thank you, Kyleigh, and thank you, Randa, for your ever faithful friendship and advice.
This is my third book with Barry Haire of Donning Company Publishers and our best book to date. Barry is always a great partner, with both first-time publishers and those who have done a few. He's become a good friend over the years, and I think Bruce and Sara will say they valued the time of working with him as well. I also want to thank my editor Heather Floyd at Donning; she provided excellent editing and follow-up advice, and mostly kept me on track in completing coverage of 150 sites. Likewise to Terry Epps at Donning for his great work in building the book and my heartfelt appreciation to Tom Kessler, Sarita Hollander, Craig Chandler, and Andrea Terryberry for their last-minute photo assistance.
My thanks to Mom and Dad—it's because of them that I was born, raised, and will always be Nebraskan. They gave me an appreciation of the history and heritage of the state and continue to support my work.
Finally, my gratitude and love to my wonderful wife Susan for seeing me through another book. This one is a bit more special in that it was through this book's most spectacular building that we met, she as a capitol tour guide and I as an unpaid student reporter for a Sand Hills radio station. She's the one who suffers under the inevitable rants and interruptions to family time when I'm doing these, but she also shares in the excitement when they're done Patience is a virtue and a blessing and I am blessed to have her with me.
October 8, 2017
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