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Heydays of the Hayden House

by Charles Reed

Hayden House
Hayden House
Hayden House
Hayden House
Hayden House
Hayden House

On Oct. 8, 2010, UNO's new Welcome Center was unveiled with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Around $1 million had been invested in restoring what had most recently been the home of the Goodrich Program. With the renovation of the former-Engineering building to make-way for the new College of Public Affairs and Community Service (CPACS) building, Goodrich had new home and something needed to be done with a building that, frankly, had too much history to get rid of.

Built in 1926 for $80,000 (about equal to the cost of the renovations adjusted for inflation), the building, which had become to be known as the "Hayden House," is the only remaining annex of a six-fold acquisition made by the university in 1970. According to a CPACS newsletter from 1979, six homes were purchased to provide temporary housing for the college. These included Annex 24 (the Hayden House), Annex 15 (demolished and rebuilt into the Thompson Alumni Center), Annex 20 (the Madden House), Annex 23 (former home of the School of Social Work), Annex 26 (former home of the Criminal Justice department) and Annex 27 (former home of Public Administration and Urban Studies).

Serving as the home for not only the Goodrich Program, but also the School of Gerontology and the offices of the CPACS Dean at one point, the Hayden House is not only unique in that it is the only remaining structure of that acquisition, but in that so many elements of its original design, restored during the Welcome Center renovations, are still in tact.

The "Hayden" in Hayden House comes from Edward Hayden, the third of three brothers who owned the popular Hayden Bros. department store in downtown Omaha during the turn of the century. He had two daughters – Mary and Ophelia. According to a 1981 Gateway article, Mary and her husband, Adolph Storz (son of famous Omaha brewer Gottlieb Storz), occupied the Storz Mansion at what was Annex 15 while Ophelia, who never married, occupied Annex 24, which was built after Edward Hayden died, with her mother. After her mother died, Ophelia Hayden continued to occupy the home until her death.

No matter the decade, the Hayden House is an architectural marvel. According the CPACS newsletter from 1979, the home was built "in an old English architectural design of solid masonry construction, the house has exterior walls of solid brick with a finish of brick veneer … The exposed chimneys are decorated with brick detail. The roof is of tile.

"In the interior, sidewalls and ceilings are plastered. Oak floors are found on the ground level and wide maple flooring on the second and third floors. Dining and living room areas are paneled in mahogany. The entry foyer is open to the second level with an ornate, curved, open stairway to the second floor. Windows have leaded panes with stained glass inserts."

And that's just describing your first steps toward and into the house.

Once inside you are greeted with an expansive living room with tall windows, leading into a dining room, sunroom, and kitchen. These rooms are now filled with desks, chairs, podiums, and flat-screen televisions. But each room is framed by large, arching walkways and beautifully hand-carved wood paneling. On the second floor there is more of the same and, on the third floor, in what used to be a party-room, there are now staff offices. Throughout the years both Ophelia Hayden and UNO have given the mansion a unique history. For example – when the home was built in the mid-1920s, prohibition in the United States was already seven years in and showed no signs of its eventual repeal in the 1930s. As a result, Hayden had small shelves built in a secret compartment in the side of one of the archways to hold bootleg liquor. Similarly, the upstairs banquet-and-party room was used frequently because it only had two windows, making it much easier to lookout for police who might raid the building.

An intricately-locked safe also exists in the home and has not been opened since, at least, Hayden's death. As long as UNO has owned the property, no one has been able to open the safe and, as a result, no one knows what might be in it.

Some other interesting features of the house that remain are elaborate walk-in closets (now print rooms), a heated towel rack in the kitchen and two fireplaces that connect to four chimneys – each one uniquely designed.

But the interesting stories and quirks don't stop there. After UNO acquired the property in 1970 and, several years later, moved the Gerontology Department into the building, the top floor and basement were often inhabited by squirrels, pigeons and snakes.

One story that is particularly interesting is that, according to another Gateway article, in 1982, UNO began discussing the creation of a child care center. Before it's eventual home in Annex 47, next to the Alumni Center, was acquired due to further expansion by the campus, Annex 24's basement was floated as a location for the facility. However, then-director of Gerontology, Dr. James Thorson, objected to the idea, writing in a letter to the editor on Oct. 6, 1982, that the basement was a "dungeon" and not suitable for providing any kind of child-care service.

Over the years there had been much discussion of demolishing the buildings, as was the original plan according to the 1979 CPACS newsletter, but faculty members in both Goodrich and Gerontology were adamant about keeping the building around. Today the building is considered a city landmark by organizations like Landmarks, Inc. even though it isn't technically registered as such.

It's landmark status is solidified, however, in the hearts and minds of those on the UNO campus. More than 80 years after its initial construction, the Hayden House remains not only standing, but looking as-good-as-new in its updated role. Even more importantly for the university, the Hayden House provides, for many, their first glimpse at what elements UNO has to offer. And, thanks to the Hayden family, it can be said with confidence that excellence, vision, and a sense of tradition will be among them through the distant future.

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