The Christian Specht Building is a rare extant example of a cast-iron facade in Nebraska. The front was designed by Omaha architects, Defrene and Mendelssohn, and fabricated in Specht’s own foundry, Western Cornice Works, which manufactured numerous galvanized metal building products. The three-story brick building, constructed as a warehouse with an open plan, is twenty-two feet wide. Its three-bay, symmetrical front has stylistic features associated with the Northern Italian mode of the Renaissance Revival, popular in cast-iron facades of the period. Richly detailed arched windows, Corinthian columns, massive corner pilasters, belt courses, and a projecting cornice visually animate the cast wall surface.
A product of the Industrial Revolution, cast-iron facades grew in popularity in the mid-nineteenth century as an inexpensive alternative to masonry materials like brick and stone. Factory prefabrication and rapid on-site assembly enhanced cast iron’s cost-effectiveness. Cast iron also combined innovation in structure and traditionalism in ornament. Slender columns replaced masonry piers thus creating larger window openings. Mass production provided ornate detailing that could be cast in utmost detail and was far cheaper than carved stone. Duplication of the ornament was facilitated by reuse of the mold. Despite these advantages, cast iron had certain limitations. It was strong in compression but weak in tension and bending. Strength was further compromised when it was subjected to extreme heat. With the introduction of the steel frame and concrete construction systems cast-iron facades became obsolete.
In 2001 a proposal for a downtown performing arts center included demolition of the block containing the Specht Building. It was ultimately spared and today it accommodates both commercial and residential occupants in a well-preserved specimen of a bygone era.
Kolberg, Persijs, “Christian Specht Building,” Douglas County, Nebraska. National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form, 1974. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC.