Art Deco design and the Durham Museum, Omaha, NE

Hello dear blog readers!
I promised you a few weeks ago I would post more photos of the Durham Museum in Omaha, Nebraska.  Tonight’s the night!


The Durham Museum was originally Omaha’s Union (train) Station, which was designed by architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood and completed in 1931.  Gilbert Underwood used Art Deco design to enhance Union Station.  Union station was used from 1931 until it closed its doors to silence in 1971, after the last Union Pacific train departed.  The building remained vacant until 1975 when the Western Heritage Museum moved in.  At that time it was already in need of repairs.  In 1995 the building was closed for construction for more than a year.   In 1997 the building reopened, having been restored to its original glamour.  The building was re-named the Durham Museum, after Magre and Charles Durham, who were instrumental in organizing business leaders and philanthropists to help fund the restoration.

Art Deco Design:

Architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood used Art Deco design for the exterior and interior of the Durham Museum.  Many skyscrapers built in the 20’s and 30’s used Art Deco design. There are many hallmarks of Art Deco design that can be found inside and outside the museum.  Some features of Art Deco are: vertical designs, terraced-form sides, and exterior and interior stylized decorations.  High ceilings, cathedral windows, and pillars are all samples of vertical design and are all used in the museum.  In Art Deco buildings, geometric shapes were used to stylize plants and animals.  And the use of a sunburst was very popular then.  You can find zig-zags, squares, and lines in this type of design.  Another Art Deco characteristic is the use of metallic materials.  Architects used aluminum and stainless steel to give their buildings a modern, futuristic feeling.  In the Durham, natural stones were used: limestone for the interior walls, highly polished black marble for wainscoting and trim, and a terrazzo floor in a checkerboard pattern, interspersed with three large stylized sunburst patterns.  For the ceiling Underwood used gold, silver and aluminum leaf to accentuate decorative elements.  Another characteristic of Art Deco is the use of the chevron pattern.
Underwood also used bronze in the spandrels at the top of the windows, which are glazed in a rose tint.  It’s fun to look for these design elements in the museum….

Notice the chevron > > pattern and other geometric shapes

More geometric shapes and in the center, note the sunburst design....

  There is a stylized bird on each side of the clock.  (hard to see)  The detail under the clock is wonderful, too…

This is a close-up of the ceiling, aluminum, stainless steel leaf. There is a chandelier hanging from the center

Here is the border in the same room. More gold, aluminum, steel leaf. On the ceiling you can see a raised chevron >>>pattern.

This is the floor in the main (former) passenger waiting area.  The sunburst design is considered “stylized” and repeats on the building exterior and inside too.  The floor here is terrazzo.

I know this was long……thanks for hanging in there!  I hope you learned something about Art Deco and the Durham Museum!  If you’d like to learn more, here are some links:

Durham Museum           Art Deco

Good night all!  Judy     

All images are copyright © 2005-2012 and are the exclusive property of Judy Johnson (unless otherwise indicated). All Rights Reserved. All Images are protected under United States and International copyright laws. None of the images on this site are in the Public Domain.


22 thoughts on “Art Deco design and the Durham Museum, Omaha, NE

  1. Thanks for the share. I am information richer 🙂
    I absolutely adore that chandelier and the ceiling border – with GOLD nothing less!
    such grandeur !!!

  2. Beautiful pictures and an excellent description! I hope one day to visit it! Thank you Judy for sharing!! I enjoy learning about local histories. Often we focus on grand, world histories, and we neglect the small city or town ones. This is a wonderful tribute to such an interesting museum! 🙂


    • Thank you Elyas. I agree with you about smaller towns or cities. I love to visit the museum when we visit our kids in Omaha. It has such a rich history and it’s just a beautiful space to be in. Thanks again. 😉

    • Yes, demonsking….it’s very cool inside. And downstairs there’s two, full-sized train sleeper cars from the old days….really fascinating!

  3. Judy, your photos are fab!
    I hate to even say this, but I haven’t been in that building since, ahem … 1969!! I was a child and my parents took all seven of us kids on a Union Pacific train to California. One of our only vacations as children. Both of my folks worked at the UP at the time. I love design and wish I would have been think about that at the time. Alas, California was on my mind! Thanks for the great post!

    • I’m glad you saw this MJ. You are welcome….and thank you for your comments! That’s an awesome story, riding the Union Pacific from east to west…cool! Thanks for stopping by!

  4. I love trains and am always intrigued by the elaborate structures railroad companies often erected. This one is nothing short of amazing. Since I’m 1,500 miles away, I’m grateful you have the equipment and, more importantly, ability to capture these wonderful images. It really is a throwback to how life used to be before cars and planes became the dominant form of transportation.

    • I agree. After visiting the Durham I began to think about visiting and shooting some of our great train stations. I think it would be fun.
      Thanks for your great (and kind) comments!

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