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Luebbe plans to retain history of Hoffman building

Luebbe plans to retain history of Hoffman building

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ASHLAND – A high tech business is planning a move to one of the most historic buildings in Ashland.

Bob and Christy Luebbe, owners of Linoma Software, bought the Silver Street Square building in downtown Ashland recently and are currently remodeling the second floor to house the business.

“It will be the future new headquarters for Linoma Software,” Luebbe said.

The building has a rich history, and Luebbe plans to keep as much of its historic charm intact as they complete the remodeling project. For example, there are thousands of cherubs in the tin ceiling that look down on the second floor auditorium.

“We plan to preserve all that,” Luebbe said.

The building was constructed in 1917 after a fire two years earlier destroyed the Commercial Hotel that was on the same site. Oscar Hoffman operated a general merchandise store in the newly built structure for decades.

According to the book, “The First 100 Years: Ashland, Nebraska: 1857-1957,” Oscar Hoffman, father of Oscar Harvey Hoffman, opened his first store at the age of 16 in East Ashland in 1884. Because Oscar Hoffman was so young, the store had to be put in his father’s name, George Hoffman, because the younger Hoffman was not old enough to sign the legal documents. The store moved to North 14th Street four years later.

For a short time, Oscar’s brother, John, became a partner in the store, and the name changed to Hoffman Brothers. But in 1908 Oscar bought out his brother’s interest and the business officially became “Oscar Hoffman, General Merchandise.”

In 1917, Oscar built the large, two-story brick structure on the busy corner of 14th and Silver streets. He operated the business for 54 years until his death in 1939. His son, Oscar Harvey, grew up in the business and took over after his father’s death. The store became “Oscar Hoffman’s Store” in his father’s memory. In the 1940s and 50s, the general merchandise line of stock was phased out.

While the Hoffman family operated a successful store on the building’s first floor, the upper floor was the center of social life in Ashland. According to the book “Ashland’s Main Streets Remembered,” published by the Saline Ford Historic Preservation Society in 2004, Hoffman’s upstairs auditorium held Saturday night dances featuring famous performers such as Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. Churches produced plays on the auditorium’s tiny stage as fundraisers.

A few weeks ago, Luebbe led several members of the Ashland Historical Society on a tour of the building. Many of the people in the tour were of the age that they remembered attending dances there, going to Girl Scout meetings and seeing plays on the stage.

Marilyn Wright was among those who were privileged to go on the tour. She made a beeline for a spot just off of stage-right, looking for a drawing on the wall that she remembered from her childhood.

“Every time I came up here I looked for Diane Robinson’s pencil sketch,” she said.

It was dark, but Wright poised her camera toward the wall and snapped a photo. The flash illuminated her childhood memory.

After reminiscing about the drawing, Wright said she spent many wonderful moments of her childhood in the auditorium.

“I have great memories of this place for sure,” she said.

While the group was in the auditorium, Luebbe and Dirk Zwart, a technical writer for Linoma Software, were excited to unveil a surprise.

The stage to the auditorium had been left virtually untouched since plays were last performed there. However, pipes for steam heat had been run through the stage area years earlier. These pipes were installed beneath several stage backdrops that hung from the ceiling.

Luebbe had removed the pipes and now was able to unroll the backdrops. The tour group was the first to see them in decades. One scene, which hung against the back wall of the stage, showed a path through trees. This canvas had some water damage. Another depicted a city street. It was professionally made, however, another scene had been painted on the back that looked like it was done by someone who was not as well trained.

Luebbe and tour group member Rod Reisen unrolled one backdrop that had a large white rectangle in the middle. Speculation is it was used to show movies.

Luebbe and Zwart laid the final backdrop out on the floor of the spacious auditorium. The group gathered around to examine the large painting. “Twin City Scenic Co., Mpls, ‘18” was painted in the corner, indicating it was made in 1918 in Minneapolis. The canvas, depicting a lake and mountain scene, also had water damage, but was in remarkable shape given its age.

Also remarkable were the many small details that remained preserved in the auditorium. The tin ceilings, showing a few coats of paint, were still in place. Stenciling on the walls remained. The wood floor was also in good condition.

Luebbe said there is a lot of work to be done on the building, but they are planning to keep as much of the historical character and detail as they can as they complete the remodeling. He said after learning that he bought the building, many older Ashland residents have told him of the great memories they have of the building.

“We really want to preserve that history as much as possible,” he said.

The stage and auditorium are areas where as many details as possible will be protected while making the room functional. It will be the room where the majority of Linoma Software’s employees will be located. Luebbe said he has told his architect, Architectural Design and Associates of Lincoln, that the maple floors, tin ceilings and stage area are not to be removed.

“We really want to preserve the essence of those areas,” Luebbe said.

Luebbe is still working on a way to store and preserve the stage backdrops. He called the theatre department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for advice.

Luebbe not only wants to preserve the historical items that remain in the building, he also wants to bring back some of the building’s personality that was removed over the years. He plans to restore the 14th Street entrance, which was once the Hoffman store’s main entrance. Using photographs of the building, they will remove the metal tiles that are now on the building, and replace it with a door surrounded by glass.

“We will return it to the way it looked when the store first opened,” he said.

Photographs of the store and auditorium shared by those who enjoyed the building’s glory days will also be displayed throughout the building once the work is completed, Luebbe said. (See sidebar.)

Luebbe does not have immediate plans for the basement, which spans the length of the building. It still holds remnants from the Hoffman era. The freight elevator used to carry inventory from the basement to the first floor is still there. While it still operates, Luebbe said they do not use the elevator because it does not comply with today’s safety standards.

Wooden signs still hang from the rafters, with hand painted lettering indicating where items like cans of pork and beans were to be stored. Old photographs of unknown people, perhaps members of the Hoffman family, lay on a table.

The basement also holds signs of the building’s more recent past. MJ and Dennis Jeffrey owned the building since 1995 before selling it to Luebbe. They ran a photography studio in the first floor, which also housed a gift shop for a few years.

The Jeffreys’ dark room remains in the basement, with the metal sinks and tables still lining the walls. Dennis Jeffrey also constructed a pulley system that allowed him to move things from one end of the expansive basement to the other. He also built a staircase that led directly to the photography studio above.

Luebbe said Dennis Jeffrey gave him a detailed tour of the building before turning over the keys.

“He showed me the nooks and crannies of the building and what places in the building were used for,” Luebbe said.

The Jeffreys were history buffs, and gathered a lot of background on the building, which they shared with Luebbe. With that in hand, plus information shared by the Ashland Historical Society, Luebbe said he has started doing his own research.

The renovations on the building will be done by the end of 2013, according to Luebbe. The first floor tenants, The Brickhouse fitness center, will remain there throughout the project and after.

“It’s been great to have them here and we definitely want to keep them,” Luebbe said.

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