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Opportunity and vision create distinct event spaces from Omaha’s old buildings

October 25, 2017 Leave a comment

Another of my new MorningSky feature stories. This one highlights some of the more interesting event spaces in town, including venues in historic buildings that have been repurposed or rediscovered for public gathering uses. Each one of these sites has a story to tell in its own right. Each is an example of opportunity and vision meeting to create distinct spaces.

Every old building contains a story and reimagined spaces are writing new ones. Developers and business owners are capitalizing on character and history to craft new event spaces from Omaha’s aging structures.

Omaha developers and property owners are finding ways to preserve their buildings’ rich history and unique ambiance by converting these spaces into hot new gathering spots for meetings, business functions, and fun parties.

These event spaces run the gamut from auditoriums holding thousands, to intimate venues offering a hint of grandeur. Some of the most fascinating Omaha properties boast a certain character, age and history that make the stand apart from the rest.

 

Starlight Chateau

From secluded monastery to enlivened gathering space

Take the home of Starlight Chateau. The 35,000 square foot brick building at 1410 North 29th Street was constructed in 1903 as a Poor Clare Sisters monastery. The cloistered order restricts contact with the outside world. The nuns rang a bell to alert neighbors they needed something. When the whole works – enclosed chapel, living quarters, kitchen, plus outdoor courtyard – was bought by the Good Shepherd Sisters in 1971, it remained a private space the next two decades.

That inaccessibility and shroud of mystery continued once Covenant Life Fellowship Church acquired the building as a worship center. After being off-limits for most of its life, the structure turned event space in 2012 when real estate broker and developer Dave Paladino (Landmark Group) bought it, renovated it and leased it to Starlight Chateau owner Cynthia Jones.

Now, a building and grounds long reserved as a quiet sanctuary for prayer, meditation, Mass, work and sacrifice, is the site of weddings, graduations and parties filled with dancing, drinking and the sounds of raised voices and popular music.

READ the rest of the story at–

https://morningsky.com/…/opportunity-and-vision-create-distinct-event- spaces-from-omahas-old

 

40th Street Theatre:

Store-workshop-theater emerges from neglect

John Hargiss has recovered and reactivated a nearly intact former vaudeville house turned movie theater he didn’t even know he possessed when he purchased a block of buildings along Hamilton Street in 2012. He’d relocated his Hargiss Stringed Instruments in the former Martin’s Bakery at 40th and Hamilton and discovered in an adjacent building the long closed, covered-over theater, circa 1905, preserved, as-if-in glass.

“It was well disguised for about 60 years – hidden behind walls, beams, tied up in the drop ceilings of about 10 feet,” he said.

Dump-truck loads of debris and detritus were hauled out of the buildings.

He and girlfriend Mary Thorsteinson applied sweat equity to reclaim the theater and an adjoining outdoor courtyard. The spaces now host weddings, parties, meetings. As a nod to its past and his own arts bent, he also leases the theater for concerts, plays, burlesque and magic shows.

“I’m a part of the arts, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.

“Being a craftsman, being a musician, it truly does complement one another.”

READ the rest of the story at–

https://morningsky.com/…/opportunity-and-vision-create-distinct-event- spaces-from-omahas-old

 

Gallery 1516: 

Former livery stable gets new life after $1.7M renovation

South Downtown’s home to the hottest new space in the burgeoning Leavenworth arts corridor in Gallery 1516. The 10,000 foot venue emerged from the bellows of an 1883 livery stable courtesy a $1.7 million renovation. Local and national architects collaborated to create what founder-director Patrick Drickey said internationally renown designer Cedric Hartman of Omaha described as “industrial elegance at its best.” High praise indeed for a space previously leased by Avis car rental before its hidden potential got released.

Drickey’s owned the building and two connecting ones for some time. He knew when he bought the 1516 it contained elaborate wood trusses installed in 1925 by International Harvester. The interlocking span of full growth Douglas firs was obscured by false ceilings added by subsequent owners. He knew exposing the trusses would create a stunning open space, He used part of it as his commercial photography studio. It wasn’t until Avis left this lifelong art collector went all in on  converting it into a gallery devoted to the exhibition of Nebraska artists. Because he’s also a music lover and the space just happens to have fine acoustics, he’s  made it a center for music, lectures, readings. The space can accommodate 200 guests. A retractable door opens to let the gallery meet the bustling street-scape. He and wife Karen reside in an attached loft apartment.

BVH Architects of Omaha, along with Jim Olson of  Olson Kundig in Seattle, headed the main design team, Paul Schlachter of Apollo Design Studio in Seattle fashioned the new facade. DeMarco Bros. Co of Omaha put in the new terrazzo floor. Ronco Construction of Omaha did the remaining build-out.

READ the rest of the story at–

https://morningsky.com/…/opportunity-and-vision-create-distinct-event- spaces-from-omahas-old

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Creative to the core: John Hargiss and his handmade world

June 30, 2016 3 comments

John Hargiss comes from a long line of Southern Missouri craftsmen who would never have thought to call themselves creatives, but that’s precisely what they were for the things they made with their hands and for the music they played with those same rough-hewn mitts. The owner of Hargiss Stringed Instruments is a chip off the old block who handmakes custom guitars, violins and mandolins with Old World care and craftsmanship. With those same hands, he makes and does a lot of other things, too, including repairing instruments. He took things to a whole new level recently by restoring an early 20th century vaudeville turned movie theater he discovered laying frozen in time in the complex of adjoining buildings he owns in North Omaha, one of which houses his business. The meticulously restored theater is now hosting live theater, music and assorted other events. Hargiss feels a deep connection to the people and the life rhythms from whence he came. He has found a home for himself and his work in North Omaha. This is my new Omaha Encounter Magazine profile about John and his creative life.His passion for making community in that neighborhood he moved lock, stock and barrel to from Benson is one of the angles I took in an earlier profile I wrote about Hargiss, for The Reader. Link to that earlier story at–

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/12/26/entrepreneur-and-craftsman-john-hargiss-invests-in-north-omaha-stringed-instrument-maker-envisons-ambitious-plans-for-his-new-hargissville-digs/

 

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Creative to the core: John Hargiss and his handmade world

©by Leo Adam Biga

©Photos by Bill Sitzmann

Appearing in the July-Auguat 2016 issue of Omaha Encounter Magazine (http://omahamagazine.com/category/publications/the-encounter/)

Master craftsman and stringed instrument maker John Hargiss learned the luthier skills he plies at his North Omaha shop from his late father Verl. In the hardscrabble DIY culture of their Southern Missouri hill and river bottom roots, people made things by hand.

“I think the lower on the food chain you are, the more creative you become. I think you have to,” Hargiss says.

He observed his late father fashion tables and ax handles with ancestral tools and convert station wagons into El Camino’s with nothing more than a lawnmower blade and glue pot. Father and son once forged a guitar from a tree they felled, cut and shaped together. The son’s hands are sure and nimble enough to earn him a tidy living at his own Hargiss Stringed Instruments at 4002 Hamilton Street. His shop’s filled with precision tools (jigs, clamps_, many of vintage variety.

Some specialized tools are similar to what dentists use. “I do almost the same thing – polish, grind, fill, recreate, redesign, restructure.”

Assorted wood, metal and found objects are destined for repurposing.

“I have an incredible way of looking at something and going, ‘I can use that.’ Everything you see will be sold or used one way or the other.”

In addition to instrument-making, he’s a silversmith, leather-maker and welder.A travel guitar he designed, the Minstrel, has sold to renowned artists, yet he still views himself an apprentice indebted to his father.

“He just made all kinds of things and taught me how to use and sharpen tools. Being around that most of my life it wasn’t very difficult for me to be like, ‘Oh, that’s how that works,’ For some reason my father and I had a connection. I couldn’t get enough of that old man. He was a mill worker, a mechanic, a woodsman. When he wasn’t doing that he was creating things. He was a craftsman. Everything I know how to create probably came from him. Everything I watched him do, I thought, ‘My hands were designed to do exactly what he’s doing.’ On his tombstone I had put, ‘A man who lived life through his hands.'”

Hargiss also absorbed rich musical influences.

“You were constantly around what we don’t see in the Midwest – banjo players, violin players, ukulele players, dulcimer players. There are a lot of musicians in that part of the world down there. Bluegrass. Rockabilly. Folkabilly, That would be our entertainment in the evenings – music, family, friends. Neighbors would show up with instruments and start playing. Growing up, that was our recreation.”

He feels a deep kinship to that music.

.”The roots of country music and the blues come out of being suppressed and poor,” he says. “All those incredible sad songs come from the bottom of the barrel.”

His father had a hand in his musical development

“My daddy was a good musician and he taught me to play music when I was about 9. By 11 I was already playing in little country and bluegrass bands. I can play a mandolin, a guitar, a banjo, a ukulele, but I’m pretty much a guitar player. And I sing and write music.”

Hargiss once made his livelihood performing. “I like playing music so much. It’s dangerous business because it will completely overpower you. I knew I needed to make a living, raise my children and have a life. so playing music became my hobby. I worked corporate jobs, but I kept being pulled back. It didn’t matter how hard I tried. I’d no more get the tie and suit off then I’d be out in the garage making something else. The day I quit that job I went to my boss and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore, my heart’s not in it. I’m going to start building things.”

It turned into his business.

Hargiss directly traces what he does to his father.

“I watched him repair a guitar he bought me at a yard sale. The strings were probably three inches off the finger board. I remember my daddy taking a cup of hot coffee and pouring it in the joint of that neck and him wobbling that neck off, and the next I knew he’d restrung that guitar. I think that’s when I knew that’s what I’m going to do.”

The memory of them making a guitar is still clear.

“The first guitar I built me and my daddy cut a walnut tree, chopped it up and we carved us a dreadnaught – a traditional Martin-style guitar. I gave that to him and he played that up to the day he died.”

 

Hargiss Encounter III

 

Aesthetics hold great appeal for Hargiss.

“I’m fascinated by architectural design in what I create and in what I make. I study it.”

He called on every ounce of his heritage to lovingly restore a vaudeville house turned movie theater he didn’t know came with the attached North O buildings he purchased five years ago. The theater lay dormant and unseen 65 years, like a time capsule, obscured by walls and ceilings added by property owners, before he and his girlfriend, Mary Thorsteinson, rediscovered it largely intact. The pair, who share an apartment behind the auditorium, did the restoration themselves.

The original Winn Theatre opened in 1905 as a live stage venue, became a movie theater and remained one (operating as the Hamilton and later the 40th Street Theatre), until closing in 1951. Preservation is nothing new to Hargiss, who reclaimed historic buildings in Benson, where his business was previously located. At the Hamilton site he was delighted to find the theater but knew it meant major work.

“I’ve always had this passion for old things. When we found the theater I remember saying, This is going to be a big one.”

Motivating the by-hand, labor-of-love project was the space’s “potential to be anything you want it to be.” He’s reopened the 40th Street Theatre as a live performance spot.

Hargiss is perpetually busy between instrument repairs and builds – he has a new commission to make a harp guitar – and keeping up his properties. Someone’s always coming in wanting to know how to do something and he’s eager to pay forward what was passed on to him.

The thought of working for someone else is unthinkable.

“I get one hundred percent control of my creativity. I’m not stuck, I’m not governed by, Well, you can’t do it this way. Of course I can because the sound this is going to produce is mine. When you get to control it, then you’re the CEO, the boss, the luthier, the repairman, the refinisher, the construction, the engineer, the architect. You’re all of these things at one time.”

Besides, he can’t help making things. “There’s a drive down in me someplace. Whatever I’m working on, I first of all have to see myself doing it. Then I go through this whole crazy second-guessing. And then the next thing I know it’s been created. Days later I’ll see it and go, ‘When did I do that?’ because it takes over me and it completely consumes every thought I have. I just let everything else go.”

Creating is so tied to his identity, he says, “It’s not that I can’t find peace or can’t be content” without it, “but by lands I like it.”

Visit http://www.hargissstrings.com.

Entrepreneur and craftsman John Hargiss invests in North Omaha: Stringed instrument maker envisions ambitious plans for his new Hargissville digs

December 26, 2012 4 comments

 

 

 

John Hargiss is doing something that a lot more people need to do – he’s investing in North Omaha.  He’s actually moved his successful stringed instrument business from booming Benson to a rough trade section of northeast Omaha in need of some love and reinvestment.  His faith in the area is strong and it’s just what that community needs, that and people like Hargiss who put their money where their mouth or senitment are.  Hargiss is a cool cat who straddles the edgy and contemporary with Old World craftsman values.  His new digs include an old theater he plans to restore into a live performance center.  It would be a great boon to the area.

 

 

 

 

 

Entrepreneur and craftsman John Hargiss invests in North Omaha

Stringed instrument maker envisions ambitious plans for his new Hargissville digs

by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

The subtle twang in the voice of stringed instrument-maker and roots musician John Hargiss betrays his southern Missouri Ozarks origins. As a boy he learned acoustic guitar under his musician-craftsman-woodsman father’s instruction. As a young man he mastered constructing guitars under “that old man,” the wood harvested from walnut trees the father felled and the son hand-shaped. He feels part of a “lineage.”

Hargiss is the only one in his family who left those backwoods foothills for new horizons. After years scuttling about, working river boats and toiling in factories down South, he settled in Omaha. He worked 9 to 5 jobs, married and raised kids but he always moonlighted making things with his hands and playing in bands. Then he stepped off the establishment wheel to start his own business.

What began in his Country Club home’s garage he built into Hargiss Stringed Instruments in Benson. In a building he owned free and clear on the Maple Street strip he offered a full service luthier shop featuring his hand-made guitars, mandolins and banjos. Customers for his patented traveler’s guitar, The Minstrel, include Grammy-winners Norah Jones, Carly Simon and Judy Collins, the late rocker Dan Fogelberg and Omaha’s own Conor Oberst. His shop survived Benson’s lean years to become an anchor retail presence in that revived business district. He’s led Benson preservation and improvement efforts.

 

 

John Hargiss, ©hearnebraska.org

 

 

But just as that resurgence has peaked he’s picked up and moved to a ragtag northeast Omaha neighborhood that’s seen violent crime and struggled to attract businesses. His new digs at 4002 Hamilton Street include five connected buildings he’s purchased for a song. He’s spent most of 2012 restoring them, including the former vaudeville and movie theater, The Winn, at 4006 Hamilton, whose interior shell he’s made his temporary living quarters. He plans converting one of many potential spaces in his new dwellings into a finished apartment for himself.

His vision for the 35,000 square feet he possesses goes beyond his corner store and workshop to encompass a school for chartered apprentices, a live performance venue and a courtyard. He pictures a hub for artisans of all types. He calls his mecca, Hargissville, which fits his ultra laid-back Jimmy Buffett-like persona.

“A place like this has got the potential to do anything you want to do,” says Hargiss. “If it doesn’t pan out I’ll turn it into a haunted house.”

Why leave a sure thing in Benson for a transitional neighborhood?

“When I see all this area, I was meant to be and do this for this area,” says Hargiss. “I love this area. I belong here now, I know that.”

He describes how when prospecting the run-down, long-vacant properties he had an epiphany this was the right spot. But that inspiration was tinged by the hard reality of what it would take to get it all in shape.

“I knew it when I first came in. I just didn’t want to do the work.”

Months into a project that’s seen him do most of the restoration himself and that’s taken a toll on him physically – “It’s wiped me out, it’s been stressful” – he says, “I still think to myself, ‘You belong here more than you’ve ever belonged anyplace. This is why you’re here.’ I think it’s what I’d been slowly waiting for. A sign.”

There were times he second-guessed it, especially after undergoing bypass surgery and then weathering another health scare, all the while taking little time off.

“I became my worst enemy because I was trying to keep that (Benson) business running, trying to make this move over here, trying to get this place cleaned out. I mean, the cleaning part was just outrageous.”

He embraces the idea of being more than a custom instrument maker, repairer and restorer “to being able to provide other types of services. That’s exciting.” Offering a community short on amenities a welcoming cultural oasis like a fully functional live entertainment space and a place for craftsmen to play their trades has him stoked.

“My goal is to put this back to a performance center for live theater, music, arts, crafts,” he says picking his way through the in-progress theater, which features a 20-foot high ceiling and many intact architectural elements.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doing the work largely himself and funding it entirely on his own has proven a beast but he figures the tradeoff is worth it. He’s saving on the restoration cost and preserving his independence. He estimates between the purchase price and the rehab he’s into it for “a couple hundred thousand dollars.”

“I really haven’t put a lot in because I’ve done the labor and everything has been here to work with,” he says. “Anything you see has been all reclaimed. I’m using 100 percent recycled goods out of this building.”

The original tin-stamped ceiling tiles from the theater now adorn the ceiling of his new music store and workshop, which for many years housed Martin’s Bakery and most recently was home to a carpet and an appliance repair store.

He’s accepted some assistance but he resists being beholden to anyone.

“Habitat for Humanity has been an asset to me with discounted supplies,” he says. “There are grants available to restore. I wish I had some foundation donations to do this. But you lose something when you do that. I think you’re obligated to someone else when you do that. Eventually that catches up with you.”

He’s all in with this venture and for the long haul, too. And make no mistake about it, he’s doing it his way, just the way he approaches his luthier work.

“I’m not stuck, I’m not governed by, ‘Well, you can’t do it this way.’ Of course I can. Because the sound that this is going to produce is mine,” he says, fingering a guitar in his Old World workshop filled with vintage tools. “When you get to control it and you wear all of these hats, you’re the CEO, you’re the boss, you’re the luthier, you’re the repairman, you’re the refinisher, you’re the engineer, the architect, you’re all of these things at one time. So it lets me express my creativity 100 percent, and I think you have to. You reconnect with it. God, I hate to say it, but you do become a part of it.”

Since moving his business he’s discovered North O’s bad reputation is overblown.

“I think I had convinced myself I need a bulletproof vest, some guns and dogs because this is going to be bad. Well, I’ve lived here over two months and it’s the most peaceful place I’ve ever lived in in my life. Some of the nicest neighbors you’ll ever met. They’re working class people. You have your share, same as Benson, of panhandlers but for the most part they’re nice people. They stop in regularly.”

He hopes other creatives make their way to North O to invest there the way he’s done. “What would excite me most is to get them to follow me on up here.” He thinks the area’s poised to blossom the way Benson has. “When I got there it was really going down the tube. You had like 10 thrift stores and some bad bars. Nobody would come to Benson because it just wasn’t a nice place to come to. In the last six years it’s exploded. Once a small group of business owners got on the bandwagon the others were like, ‘We’ve gotta get this building cleaned up.’ Now it’s party central.”

He’s not missing out on all of the Benson boom. He still owns a building there and leases it at a premium. But he simply ran out of room for his dreams there. “Then this opportunity came up on 40th Street and that took care of that problem. It’s the ideal place.”

For updates on his plans visit http://www.hargissstrings.com.

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