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Jim McKee: Tall building in Lincoln is full of stories

September 2, 2018

A casual observer would undoubtedly put the limestone building on the northeast corner of 13th and N streets in the list of Lincoln’s tallest 10 buildings and if you count the number of stories, it would easily qualify, but if you calculate the height in feet, it seemingly falls off. Lincoln’s Historic Preservation Planner Ed Zimmer does say it “helps frame the ‘urban canyon’” along 13th Street and it is certainly a beautiful example of Greek Revival architecture.

Edward R. Tuttle and Talmadge Crandall (Crandell) formed the Crandall & Tuttle Lumber Co. in 1871 at an unspecified location and two years later built their lumberyard on Block 38 on the northeast corner of 13th and N streets. Just to the north on O Street the city extended east only to 13th Street. A newspaper ad in October of 1873 read “Crandall & Tuttle at the big Lumber sign! East O Street, office corner N & 13th Street.” Crandall’s home sat just east of the lumberyard on N Street, and Tuttle’s house was one block east on the north side of N Street just east of 15th. Another ad of the same year pointed out the lumberyard was well east of the city, in the “first block east of the Clifton House” Hotel on the northwest corner of 12th and N. The firm became Tuttle & Doolittle in 1876 and moved to the northeast corner of 10th and M in 1880 as Doolittle & Gordon which, by 1882, called itself “the oldest established lumber business in Lincoln.”

By 1915 the northeast corner of 13th and N was developing as a series of one and two-story small businesses while the Federal Insurance Company, organized by Carl E. Reynolds and Ira Atkinson, officed in the 1909 Ganter Building on the northwest corner of 12th and O streets.

Atkinson, born in 1866 in Indiana, graduated from the University of Nebraska’s Medical College in 1888, practiced in University Place and Fremont before returning to Lincoln where he became interested in insurance, first establishing the United Insurance Company, later becoming Security Mutual Insurance Company.

The Reynolds and Atkinson duo incorporated the Federal Trust Co., Federal Securities Co. and Federal Insurance Co. and, in 1926, acquired the lots on the northeast corner of 13th and N, then hired the architectural firm of Meginnis & Schaumberg to design an office building for the site. Olson Construction Company then built the Federal Trust Building whose entrance was at 134 South 13th Street. The finished, 77,000 square foot structure was described as a Gothic Revival building, 12 stories of reinforced concrete covered with brick, terra cotta and limestone with a marble lobby, two elevators and basement safe deposit vault. Original tenants included Frey & Frey-Floradale, Olson Construction Co., Meginnis & Schaumberg Architects, Gilmour-Danielson Drug Store and Woods-Copeland Refrigerators next to the drug store. Federal Trust, the major tenant, advertised themselves as having paid up capital of $100,000 and trust funds of $3,600,000, offering investments, loans, insurance and safety deposit boxes.

In 1935, after the Great Depression, the building was renamed the Federal Securities Building with doctors, attorneys and insurance companies as the major office tenants with Gilmour-Danielson Druggists on the main floor. Ira E. Atkinson MD became the president of the United Insurance Company, with its offices in the Stuart Building, not the Federal Securities Building.

When the building was acquired by Lincoln Benefit Insurance Co./Allstate, the name changed to Lincoln Benefit Plaza and the chiming clock was installed on the southwest corner of the structure. The insurance company’s 350 employees slowly filled the major portion of the building while the safe deposit vault became a carpenter’s shop/maintenance facility for the building with the huge round vault door intact but fixed in the open position.

In 2000 Lincoln Benefit moved to its new campus east of 84th Street and sold the 13th and N Street building to Gerard Keating, who performed a $2 million renovation, then sold the structure to Triad Investment Co. of California for a reported $5.75 million.

In 2002 the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places with its most visible tenant the First National Bank of Omaha. When the new two-hotel building on the southeast corner of 9th and O streets is completed it has the potential of being the third tallest building in Lincoln, definitely knocking the Federal Trust Building, as it is again known, well off the 10 tallest list but remaining one of the most beautiful and significant structures in Lincoln.

Lincoln buildings that have made history

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