Jim McKee: Mansions, families part of Lincoln history

December 3, 2018

As the city of Lincoln quickly expanded east from its original 17th Street plat, the south side of N Street between 25th and 26th sprouted three “mansions” by 1900, two of which still stand, but their original owners William Murphy, L. C. Pace and Albert Jensen are virtually unknown today. Subsequent owners are, however, more universally known, and their names are associated with streets, subdivisions and a world class art museum.

Although accounts do not agree, the first “mansion” to be built on the south side of N between 25th and 26th streets was probably the Pace house. Lewis Clark Pace was born in 1835 in Virginia. After schooling he was ordained a Methodist minister and with the Civil War, first entered the Union Army as a chaplain but later moved to the military division becoming a colonel. Pace arrived in Lincoln in 1873 and established a temperance newspaper called variously the Lincoln World or the Western World. Later, when he said he was forced to close the publication as he was “unable to live on air,” the paper sold, briefly becoming the Lincoln Tribune while he established the printing firm of Pace, Williams & North.

After being elected to the Lincoln City Council in 1887, Pace along with the balance of the council and Mayor A. J. Sawyer, was briefly jailed in Omaha with the case against them ultimately settled by the U. S. Supreme Court, which established the principle of Home Rule. His house at 2545 N St., on the southwest corner of the intersection, was also built in 1887. In 1890 Pace’s daughter Louise “Clarkie” Clark married Mark Woods, one of the original Woods Brothers, explaining where the three Pace Woods’ names originated. L. C. Pace died in 1925 with the house remaining a private residence until becoming the Harmony Nursing Home.

Perhaps the most visible of the mansions is the William and Sydney Murphy house at 2525 N St., built in 1889 on land bought from their son-in-law Albert Jensen. The house was purchased in 1900 by George Sheldon, whose daughter Mary Frances was born in Vermont in 1892, attended Lincoln public schools and graduated from the University of Nebraska. After her father died in 1936, Frances took over his businesses and investments while continuing to live in the house.

When Frances visited the Nebraska Art Association’s gallery in Morrill Hall in 1950, she was vocal in referring to it as “a miserable place.” After this rather negative experience Frances formed a bequest to underwrite a new home for the art association leaving the details to her brother Adams Bromley Sheldon, who was interested in farms and lumberyards in Lexington, Nebraska.

The requirements stipulated for the proposed gallery had numerous details attached including the size of the land it would sit on, that none of the monies could be used to acquire artworks and that the building not include classrooms. As the Sheldon family continued to donate art works and the size of the bequest continued to grow under Bromley’s guidance, no pressure was extended to hasten the project. When Bromley died in 1957, he not only transferred $921,660 from Frances’ bequest but also $675,000, or about 40 percent of his own assets to the gallery project.

The Nebraska Art Association then commissioned Philip Johnson, one of the most respected architects in the United States, to design the amazing white travertine marble building originally named the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery on the University of Nebraska campus on the northwest corner of 12th and R Streets. It has been said that the building, completed in 1963, was at that time “the most expensive building in the United States [at] $6 a square foot.”

After Frances’ death in June of 1950 the house remained a private dwelling with several owners until Robert and Victoria Northrup bought it for their firm Northrup Designs. The two and a half story Queen Anne mansion and carriage house were then restored including replacing the twice-stolen stained-glass windows, then placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

Albert and May Jensen built the last large house on N Street on the southeast corner of 25th and N in 1890. During the mid-20th century the house became Styer Funeral Home until sitting empty in 1960, after which it was razed for the site of the 82-apartment Cadco Building in 1963.

The Pace House was linked to the much smaller Lally house to its west and is now an abuse crisis center. The Murphy-Sheldon house and carriage house is currently an office building while the more modern building on the 25th Street corner is the Capitol City Villa Apartments.

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