Pacific Street Memories
by Oliver B. Pollak
Paris has the Champs Elysees; New York, Broadway and Madison Avenue; Chicago boasts Michigan Avenue; and Los Angeles has the Sunset Strip. Streets in Lincoln and Council Bluffs are featured in two recent books, A Street Named 'O' by Mary Jane Nielsen and Council Bluffs: Broadway by Richard Warner and Ryan Roenfeld. Omaha has Dodge Street with its expressway, but my flight path is Pacific Street.
I have taken Pacific Street from Southwest Omaha to the UNO campus for over thirty years, accounting for about 5,000 round trips, 100,000 miles, and 150 days in the car. In the mid-1970s I hitched rides until two whacked out painters picked me up. I was so relieved to exit the vehicle. That experience resulted in purchasing a second vehicle and indirectly inspired my study of daylight savings time.
In the mid-1970s Omaha barely reached 144th Street. Midtowners joked about crossing 72nd Street, they might need a passport. Today the ribbon development of malls, hospitals, car dealerships and the residential roof line stretches beyond Elkhorn.
Transport to UNO included a 1969 VW Karman Ghia with the smell of gasoline in the cabin and a 1970 VW van with an inefficient heater, and 1974, 1980, 1986 (ran it to 209,000 miles), 1989, 1999, and 2004 (38 mile to the gallon) Toyotas. Gas went from 30 cents to $3 plus per gallon.
The sun was in my eyes in the morning heading east and in the evening heading west. I make all the lights about twice a year. There have been no tickets despite the occasional speed trap, no flat tires, or collisions, though some narrow escapes, including sheering of my right rear view mirror after jousting with an orange traffic cone. I purchased gas at 72nd and Pacific on May 6, 1975, shortly before the F4 tornado touched down.
For years much of Pacific was one lane in each direction with stop signs at 132nd, and further west. Cubic yards of concrete contributed to widening, retaining walls, and sidewalks.
Pacific has many houses of worship. St. Wenceslaus, removed from South Omaha, rose in former corn fields. The Montessori complex temporarily included the Jewish Day School on the site now occupied by Beth Israel Synagogue. A church at 120th and Pacific made way for a business park.
I have gone to St. Robert Bellarmine for a wedding, Beth Israel and St. Andrews Episcopal Church for funerals, Pacific Hills Lutheran Church for a Trans-Mississippi Exposition Society meeting, and the Countryside Community Church with its Marge Durham Bell Tower for a Nebraska Humanities Council sponsored presentation on the Villisca Ax Murders. The only church I have not entered is Sunset Hills Baptist Church.
There are very few pedestrians on Pacific except near schools. The sidewalks are narrow and cars are noisy. Schools include Millard North and Montessori (where both my children went) Westside High and Loveland Elementary school. Freshly painted crossing zones announce the beginning of the school year.
Refurbishment and beautification, like home improvement, is never ending, witness makeovers at Westside High, Regency Lodge and Countryside Village. Broadmoor Market has been constant though its interior changed dramatically.
One Pacific Place, an upscale disguised strip mall, adjoined the Enron scandal and the Witherspoon Mansion.
Merchants rise and fall. 7-11 went bankrupt and became Kum and Go. A wood-fired pizza restaurant became a funeral home. A Mediterranean restaurant became a shoe store. Fish and spaghetti turned into California Pizza Kitchen. McFarlands became N.P. Dodge real estate. A German deli went from a fireplace store to hair stylist. A Chinese restaurant now houses a chiropractor. A gas station became Gandolfos. Gallaghers is Naughty's. Garden Café went through bankruptcy and is Wheat Fields. B Pigs, became Carnavale then Fernandos. Baskin Robins is now Edward Jones. Dunkin Doughnuts became Pizza Hut. McKenna's Blues Booze and BBQ survived bankruptcy. Arthur Treacher fried fish became an ATM. El Bashas, in the face of Methodist Hospital's expansion on Dodge moved to Pacific.
The aroma of Big Fred's is still omnipresent. Market Basket survives with Suzie Thorne on Fridays. Caniglia's Venice Inn still stands.
Independent drugstores became Starbucks and Pepper Jax.
First Federal Lincoln made way for the Bookworm, moving from Regency to replace the Village Bookstore.
There are no supermarkets, hardware stores, McDonald's, Burger King, or Taco Bell; there is one Pizza Hut delivery, and a Godfather's. Bars are limited to the Interlude Lounge and Michael's Rusty Nail. Spirit World, following the 1975 tornado moved from the north to south side of the street, and in 2006 reduced its liquor square footage to accommodate a day spa.
Environmental improvements include the Keystone and Papio bicycle paths passing under Pacific and the H&R Block Cancer Survivors Park.
Crabapple and magnolia leaf in spring. A mile of Pacific is Boys Town, renamed Boys and Girls Town. Deer and wild turkeys appear magically distracting speeding passers by. Boys Town hospital opened in 2007. The loss of leaves marks the season.
Aksarben's pungent stables now house UNO's south campus and the Shoppes at Aksarben. The brutal rape and murder at the southwest corner of Elmwood Park, and the villain's execution are not forgotten.
Morning drive time radio comprises KIOS National Public Radio. Bob Adams, Susan Stamberg, Ketzel Levine, Cokie Roberts, Linda Wertheimer, and Terri Gross have been my traveling companions, frequently providing material to start my class, for which I give attribution. Going home at night I listen to Bible thumping preachers, gospel, country and western.
This is anecdotal not definitive. Others will experience Pacific differently. We all see change. How much energy, global warming and carbon footprint would have been saved by car pooling or taking a bus.
Dr. Pollak holds the Martin Chair in History and has taught at UNO since 1974. He and UNO archivist Les Valentine co-authored the recently published photo book University of Nebraska at Omaha.
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