Wayne and Rhonda Stuberg had plenty of “This Old House” experience. But the Storz Mansion was like taking on a rundown neighborhood, not just a house.
At least three times the space of their home at the time, the mansion had 27 rooms, all looking tired and dated, with some rooms in dire condition.
Ceilings were falling in. Plumbing needed repairs. The roof leaked. Years of neglect left the walls and woodwork a smoky brownish gray. Bronze fixtures and dark-stained woodwork had been painted. The most recent kitchen update was in the 1950s or '60s.
But the couple saw promise in the landmark at 3708 Farnam St., as a home, as a possible private party or wedding reception site and perhaps, someday, as a bed and breakfast.
Built for the Gottlieb Storz family in 1905, the mansion is in the Jacobethan Revival style and is one of the stately homes in Omaha's Gold Coast area.
Storz emigrated from Germany and established his fortune through the Storz Brewing Co., which he founded in 1876. The mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997 and is one of the few Gold Coast mansions that has remained a single-family dwelling.
When Art Storz, the last of the Storzes to live there, moved to a nursing home, Michael Gaughan bought the house. Gaughan gave it to Creighton University in 2002.
The Stubergs are several years away from retiring, but their children are grown. Like many empty-nesters, they considered downsizing.
That was until they found out Creighton University would consider selling. Initially, the university had planned to refurbish the building and use it as an alumni center.
“We thought we wanted to do one more house,” Wayne said. “We made an offer and got it.”
After a walk-through and thorough inspection, the Stubergs put in a bid of $450,000, which was accepted. The couple would find they had no shortage of projects to tackle.
Years of neglect had led to three interior leaks. Leaks led to crumbling ceilings. All of the windows needed new sash ropes. And there was the issue of updating. The kitchen and bathrooms dated back to what may have been the mansion's glory years — the mid-1950s — when it was the scene of an opulent party celebrating the movie, “Strategic Air Command.”
Guests at the mansion included Jimmy Stewart, June Allyson and Strategic Air Command Commander Curtis LeMay.
That era of pink tiled bathrooms and pale blond woodwork was when the clock seemed to stop in the grand old mansion.
But the Stubergs found much to appreciate: Hand-painted murals; hand-carved fireplace surrounds and stained glass windows as brilliant today as they would have been more than a century ago.
Light fixtures in the foyer are bronze. A massive chandelier still sparkles in the music room, the first room guests see when they enter the home. Of the six fireplaces, three are on the main floor and show the skilled hand of wood carvers and mosaic tile layers. (Layers of paint, added later, hid the natural oak of the trimwork.) Now, the paint has been removed and the wood has been restored to its natural warm gold.
After the purchase, and in the year their house on 68th Avenue was on the market, the Stubergs went to work on the mansion in their spare time, pulling up threadbare carpeting, refinishing floors and stripping woodwork. They did most of the restoration themselves but hired contractors as needed.
The first to go were the curtains and carpets. They were beyond help. And anyway, the floors were beautiful, or would be, after refinishing. And the windows, with their stained and leaded glass, were as beautiful as those in any cathedral.
Next on the list was stripping woodwork. It had been given a whitish, pickled finish often found in 1950s colonials on suburban cul de sacs. Paint covered the original honey-colored, quartersawn oak throughout most of the first floor. The library was particularly handsome with its dark walnut woodwork and pocket doors.
Wayne also pulled away molding to make repairs and strip paint. The Stubergs cleaned and stripped paint from drawer pulls, door knobs, keyholes and switch plates.
Stripping the dentil molding — small rectangular, wood blocks that project like teeth from fireplace mantels and cornices — was a nightmare, or would have been, Rhonda said. That was one of the few areas they contracted out.
Possibly the worst nightmare of all was the kitchen, and that wasn't contracted out. For nine months, the Stubergs made do with a microwave and refrigerator plugged into the dining room wall while the most important room in the house was gutted to the studs. Wayne installed stainless steel appliances, new counters and tile backsplashes. A friend installed Arts-and-Crafts-style cabinets and Wayne stained them. He also filled in a doorway, making the kitchen more functional.
Wayne, associate director of the Munroe-Meyer Institute and director of physical therapy, is self-taught in home-remodeling and is passionate about the hobby. He credits the Restore Omaha program for some of his know-how and trouble-shooting skills. The program is an annual series of workshops held in early March for and by owners of older properties.
The Stubergs have furnished the home comfortably, using pieces from their former home, antiques purchased since their move and a few furnishings that came with the house, including the dining room table and chairs.
Today a wide and busy Farnam Street sends traffic flying past the mansion, which is more visible from the street now that the Stubergs have replaced overgrown hedges and cedars with beds of roses and tulips.
“There's a lot more to do,” Rhonda said, “we're not at the B-and-B stage yet. But now it feels like a home.”
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