Downtown Omaha’s Woodmen Tower is a dominant feature of the Omaha skyline.
And it’s been that way for 50 years.
No matter what you call it — The Woodmen, The Tower, that big white building downtown — the building celebrated its golden anniversary Thursday with a block party.
The Tower helped revitalize downtown Omaha
In the 1960s, Woodmen of the World wanted a new headquarters. Company leaders could have moved west, but a consulting firm suggested they keep their headquarters downtown at the same spot as their existing building at 17th and Farnam Streets. Leo A. Daly suggested something bold, a building tall enough to make a mark on the Omaha skyline.
“The construction of the Woodmen Tower was the key to the rebirth of downtown Omaha,” Al Thomsen told The World-Herald. Thomsen was on the tower’s building committee and later served as the tower’s manager under his own company until 1999. “I don’t know what type of downtown we’d have if it weren’t for the Woodmen Tower.”
Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc. broke ground on May 23, 1966. The building opened on April 4, 1969, and was officially dedicated June 6.
Falcons call the Woodmen home
Since 1988, the Woodmen Tower has been home to a group of peregrine falcons. The falcons live in a nest on the 28th floor.
Falcon populations plummeted in the 1950s, but falcons, which typically live on cliffs, flourish in cities with tall buildings.
You can learn more about the dozens of falcons that have been released from Woodmen Tower and watch the FalconCam, which looks in on their nest, at the WoodmenLife website.
Workers from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Fontenelle Forest’s Raptor Recovery put bands on three falcon chicks just this week.
Omaha’s tallest building (for a while)
Woodmen Tower was the city’s tallest building from its completion in 1969. And that designation remained for more than 30 years.
The 30-story building is 478 feet tall.
When the First National Bank Tower, down the street at 16th and Dodge Streets, opened in 2002, it had the Woodmen beat. That building is 634 feet tall with 45 floors.
Before the Woodmen Tower opened, the tallest building in Nebraska was the State Capitol at 400 feet.
The Woodmen is a movie star
Pretty much any time a character comes to Omaha in a movie, the Omaha skyline appears. And with the rest of the skyline is the Woodmen.
But it took a big role in the film “About Schmidt.”
Director Alexander Payne decided to take the Louis Begley novel of the same name, where the title character works at a Manhattan law firm, and relocate it to his hometown of Omaha.
The film opens with a quiet series of staid Omaha scene-setters. The shots, made on a cloudy and gray day, slowly coalesce on the Woodmen Tower.
It’s a dreary sequence, but it’s perfect for the film. Jack Nicholson’s Warren Schmidt character is about to retire after decades working for Woodmen of the World. And Schmidt feels more than a little directionless, especially when he later revisits the tower and sees all his files, the accumulation of his life’s work at the company, thrown in the garbage.
Omaha's tallest buildings
Omaha’s landscape is marked by buildings new and old reaching toward the sky. Here are Omaha’s tallest buildings. Note: Building height, construction data and other information from Emporis.com. All listed heights are architectural.