Three years can change everything.
Just ask the people who live across 13th Street from where Rosenblatt Stadium once stood.
At this time of year a few years back, the portion of the Deer Park neighborhood that runs along 13th and 14th Streets, between King Kong restaurant on the north and Kavan Street on the south, would have been overrun with people attending the College World Series.
Homeowners and businesses would be renting out their yards or empty lots for parking, earning as much as $15,000 over two weeks. Streets would be clogged. Parties would go on until early morning.
But the CWS and its crowds have moved downtown.
This past week, a walk through the old Rosenblatt area found a quiet neighborhood with people gardening, mowing lawns, washing cars and simply leading their lives. Children played in their yards and even congregated on streets.
For some, the loss of Rosenblatt still stings. Kelly Conklin, who lives on 14th Street, misses friends who came back year after year. Kelly and her late husband got married on their lawn in 2002 with CWS visitors in attendance.
Greg Pivovar owns the Stadium View sports cards and memorabilia shop on 13th Street. This year, on opening day, he'd seen only two people by mid-afternoon.
Some homeowners don't miss the CWS at all. Gerri Duda, for one, is happy to have peace restored and an end to trespassers. She grew up on Pasadena Avenue, and in 1955 she and her husband built the house on 14th Street where she still lives with one of her sons.
But most are somewhere in between — at least philosophical about the change. Ted Drefs doesn't miss the people who didn't respect property, but the loss is bittersweet. “I come from a baseball family. It's in our blood.” His father played in the minor leagues, and Drefs once played a game in Rosenblatt when he was in high school.
The loss of the College World Series hasn't been the death of the neighborhood by any means. P.J. Asta, a neighborhood booster, is eager to see what the big plans of the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, which bought the Rosenblatt land, will mean for the area over the next decade.
Signs of the times
Houses along 13th Street, which may have benefitted most from the CWS, have become permanent rentals, stand empty and are for sale or rent. One has an old vending machine in front and piles of stacked chairs sitting unused inside the enclosed porch. It's not all quiet, though. Starsky's bar keeps things hopping.
It's not the College World Series. Neighborhood residents are most upset about the closing of Zesto's at 13th and D Streets. Many were shocked to learn it hasn't reopened at its old location this summer. Owner Mike Kelley said a heater went out over the winter, which led to broken water pipes and serious flood damage. He can't say for sure what the future holds, but for now reopening isn't a sure thing. “It depends on a lot of things.”
What you see Think green. There are big old trees — maples and pines are recognizable — lining the streets, and lots of green grass and bushes as summer begins. Some of the houses along 13th Street had paved-over yards instead of grass (they were better for parking during the CWS). It has worked out well for Rex Hill, who now rents one of the houses. He's in a wheelchair, and it's easy for him to get around.
Many homes have nice landscaping or gardens with irises, peonies and roses providing swaths of color. Virgin Mary shrines or other yard ornaments add a touch of character here and there.
Friendly people, quiet streets, moderate house prices, nearby park.
Some of the older houses are in need of some TLC.
Many of the people interviewed were thankful to the zoo for its Rosenblatt commemorative area, Infield at the Zoo. The Rosenblatt sign is still visible through the trees. “When Rosenblatt existed, I'd love to get up and read the paper,” said P.J. Asta. “I would look across the street and see the flag in front of the stadium. Now (the flag) is back. I'm glad.”
Just to the south of the area is Spring Lake Park, which has a swimming pool, tennis courts, walking trails and a golf course. The park, established in the 1870s, will get a major revitalization in conjunction with the sewer separation project, which will restore ponds and provide recreation opportunities. Work is scheduled to begin in summer 2014.
Who lives here?
Census data covers a larger area — the Missouri River to 24th Street, Interstate 80 to Missouri Avenue — than the neighborhood a World-Herald reporter walked.
» Median age: 30.6 years, but Deer Park Neighborhood Association President Oscar Duran thinks the small area we are covering skews older.
» Racial makeup: 50 percent white, 45 percent Hispanic.
» 65 percent of households are families with children. Duran thinks the older residents have fewer children at home.
» 65 percent of homes are owner-occupied.
» Median house price: $75,000
» Average house price: $76,471
Duran appears to be right — these particular streets of the Deer Park neighborhood seem to have mostly older residents. Ted Drefs' grandparents built his home in 1903, and his uncles built several of the nearby homes. Drefs and many of the people we met on our walks would be classified as senior citizens. But young families are moving into houses that come up for sale or rent, said Duran. They also seem to be people who care about the neighborhood, he said. About 30 percent of the association's membership live in the blocks we walked.
People are about equally divided between those who think their neighbors are great and helpful and those who don't know the people who live around them.
“The neighbors are nice — when we see them,” said Celio Silva, a seventh-grade teacher at Norris Middle School, who was cutting weeds in an empty lot next to his home of 10 years. “We just don't see them that often.”
An influx of Hispanic residents who speak limited English may account for some of the disconnect between people who have lived in the area for many years and the newcomers.
They range from very old (1880) to post-World War II. There's a mixture of one- or 1˝-story clapboard or shingle-covered bungalows and brick houses. Some two-story homes are scattered among them. The non-brick houses are mostly white, with a smattering of yellows and grays. Kelly Conklin's house adds a bright splash of purple.
Most of the empty lots appear trimmed and neat, although some are more weeds than grass and some still have parking rate signs, nostalgic reminders of the CWS.
The old Rosewater School has been converted to apartments and is a stately presence in the neighborhood.
The area has several old brick streets and streets with names like Kavan, Garfield, Pasadena and Atlas, which may not be familiar to people who live outside the neighborhood. Most of the roadways seem to be in fairly decent repair, although some neighbors think the city doesn't care so much about upkeep since the CWS left.
Ted Drefs remembers when most of the neighborhood streets were dirt roads, which he doesn't miss.
Some of the corners have unusual and rather ornate decorative brick street posts, but no one we talked to remembered why they were created.
You'll see lots of birds, squirrels and rabbits; some critters wander up from park areas, especially in the evenings. No roaming dogs; in fact, not much barking is heard. And if cats were wandering through the area, they were good at keeping themselves hidden.
Of course, all kinds of animals live across 13th at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.