Located in the Minne Lusa neighborhood of North Omaha, the Henry B. Neef House displays an outward appearance that blends in with the craftsman and period revival architectural styles of the residences in the residential district. The two-story structure is an eclectic version of the Tudor Revival style as revealed in the steeply pitched roof with cross gables, walls clad in dark red brick veneer on the first story and buff colored stucco on the second story, and a prominent chimney adjacent to the brick entrance tower. What is not readily visible is the steel structural frame that distinguishes the building as Nebraska’s earliest and best example of a “steel house.” It is a product of the late 1920s, when the innovative concept of steel framing for dwellings was viewed as a serious competitor of wood construction. In contrast to Richard Neutra’s well-known Lovell House in Los Angeles, also completed in 1929 and often described as the first steel frame house in the U.S., Neef and his architect, Bilger Kvenild, did not believe a building’s structure should generate its style. Here, rather than deploy the principles of the newly emerging International Style, they hewed closely to the popular historically influenced styles.
Neef’s early interest in steel products developed during his time as a draftsman and manager at Mid-West Iron Works in Omaha. Later he co-founded and managed the Gate City Iron Works. It is likely that he intended his house to demonstrate the possibilities of building with steel products and to potentially expand the business. While other designers of steel frame houses at the time were emphasizing modernism and standardization, Neef focused on fabricating products that displayed artistry in ornamental iron. This is evident on the Neef House exterior in the window guards, ornamental balcony, and wrought iron grills at the peaks of the gables, arbor, fence, and gate. An overall traditional appearance is maintained in the interior as well and the steel structure is only visible in the basement. Interior products designed and fabricated by Gate City Iron Works include light fixtures, doors, and stair rails.
Today the house remains in private hands, its legacy of structural innovation undiminished.
Nebraska State Historic Preservation Office Staff, “Henry B. Neef House,” Omaha County, Nebraska. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 2009. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington D.C. http://www.nebraskahistory.org/histpres/nebraska/douglas/DO09-Neef-House.pdf.