A gazebo believed to be the only existing structure remaining from Omaha's Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition looks as charming and inviting in its new setting at Lauritzen Gardens as it did on opening day of the exposition in 1898.
The exposition was a kind of world's fair of products and industries from states west of the Mississippi River. Kountze Park in north Omaha was home to the event.
Omahans Tim and Karen Conn began restoration work on the gazebo in June and finished in time for Lauritzen's Fall Chrysanthemum Show, which opens this weekend.
Visitors who want to see the gazebo ought to hurry. Parts of the gardens, including where the restored gazebo is located, will be inaccessible after Oct. 14 while the city continues its sewer work.
Before it came to the gardens, the gazebo had begun deteriorating in the backyard of the Storz mansion at 37th and Farnam Streets.
The mansion's owners Wayne and Rhonda Stuberg offered the gazebo to the botanical center, which provided an ideal setting with its Victorian garden filled with symmetrical plantings and decorative architectural elements from old Omaha buildings.
Lauritzen Director Spencer Crews invited input on the gazebo's restoration from the Conns, who had experience with their own home restoration.
The gazebo is a 10-by-10-foot hexagonal shelter with a metal, domed roof. The walls are a vertical birdcage of wooden spindles that meet from top to bottom to form a window frame. The frame itself is intersected by a wood pattern similar to the British Union Jack.
Although the Conns had no photos from the exposition era, some early photos of the gazebo on the Storz mansion grounds do exist and served as reference for the couple.
Karen Conn said a screen door and chicken wire weren't original. The gazebo was “open-air, had no screens and no door, and was kind of like a bandstand.” She thought it probably had bench seating inside.
As important as determining what was original and what came later was the authentic repair and replacement of wood pieces.
The Conns were able to save most of the gazebo's wood, and where pieces were needed, wood of the same age was used.
Other parts of the restoration were removing lead paint and restoring the gazebo to its original gray-green color. The couple then topped the gazebo with a galvanized steel roof, painted brick-red. The color was based on the deteriorating original metal roof. Marks and indentations indicated to the Conns that a cupola originally had been on the gazebo's roof.
So they created one — a mini-gazebo made of solid panels and topped by a spire. And now the top of the gazebo looks a bit like a German helmet worn by Kaiser Wilhelm II, a logical reference point for the German-born brewer Gottlieb Storz, patriarch of the Storz family.
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