Written by Brian Whetstone, Restoration Exchange Omaha summer intern
Another one’s on the list.
On July 24, the National Park Service officially designated the Fairacres neighborhood as a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places. The designation is the culmination of efforts that stretch back as far as February of 2016 when Restoration Exchange, Omaha City Councilman Pete Festersen and representatives from the city’s Landmarks Commission began meeting with homeowners in the Fairacres neighborhood.
Restoration Exchange researcher Matthew Pelz and neighborhood leaders conducted extensive research on the neighborhood, ultimately completing a comprehensive application that encompasses more 120 neighborhood properties. “We loved to working with the Fairacres neighborhood association to uncover the history of this area and the homes that have been are part of it for 50 years and more.” said Restoration Exchange Executive Director Kristine Gerber.
The neighborhood was originally platted in 1907 by the Dundee Realty Company. Operated by Charles S. George and his brother, Edward, the Dundee Realty Company was the entity responsible for the initial development of Dundee in the 1880s. Looking westward, the George brothers set their sites to the hilly land just west of Dundee. In designing their plat for Fairacres, the brothers consulted with landscape architect George Kessler.
Born in Germany, Kessler had risen to regional fame as a landscape architect after developing the Hyde Park suburb in Kansas City, Missouri, and the plan for the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. Much of Kessler’s design tapped into dominant City Beautiful and garden city ideals; each ideal called for unified, harmonious designs that incorporated the natural landscape into the finished design. With curvilinear roads and sloping lots, the plat for Fairacres had these ideals at its heart.
Infrastructural improvements like Omaha’s streetcar system allowed for a continual push west, but, to the brothers’ chagrin, the streetcar lines stopped just short of their new neighborhood. The poor quality of city streets made it increasingly difficult to continue pushing west. Not to be deterred by the area’s struggling infrastructure, the George brothers set to planning Fairacres as a neighborhood accessed primarily by the automobile. Such planning ensured that some of the city’s wealthiest citizens would make their home in Fairacres—only the elite could afford to purchase a car and make the four-mile-long commute from Fairacres to downtown Omaha. In promoting the neighborhood, the George brothers explicitly targeted automobilists, portraying the neighborhood as an automobile destination.
By 1910, large homes began popping up along Fairacres Road. These early residents paid to have the road paved in front of their homes; today the original brick on Fairacres Road survives. The 1920s and 1930s saw an increase in construction in the northern section of the neighborhood. Most of the homes were designed in revivalist styles such as the popular Tudor Revival. With the growth of the neighborhood came debates about annexing Fairacres into Omaha’s city limits. The city began debating Fairacres in 1924 but decided against it in the interest of available city resources. By the 1930s, city officials again hoped to annex the neighborhood. In 1933 and 1935, residents successfully fought off annexation, but were unsuccessful in 1941 when the city council unanimously voted to annex Fairacres.
Construction in the neighborhood stalled until the end of World War II until the empty lots were finally built on from 1949 to 1961.
Below, take a look at the neighborhood yesterday and today. (historic photos courtesy of The Durham Museum)