By Kylie Kinley
This article first appeared in the January-February-March 2017 issue of Nebraska History News. Illustrations are from Sky Park’s promotional brochure.
Once hailed as a building with “a thrilling tingle of excitement for those who share in its luxurious appointments,” Lincoln’s Sky Park Manor is now listed on the National Register for Historic Places. With its basement fallout shelter, 1960s glamour, and significant architecture, the building at 13th and J Street preserves an important time period. Janet Jeffries of Berggren Architects wrote the nomination.
“If you were living in Lincoln at the time, this was the place,” Jeffries said. “I love reading about their marketing.”
A promotional brochure from Sky Park Manor boasts facilities with the Mad Men-like hyperbole and suave: “Amid beautifully landscaped surroundings—including a sun-dappled patio and velvet putting green—the regal building proudly displays its distinctive exterior with marble and marble chip mosaic panels and handsome precast concrete grills. Spacious balconies with colorful ‘privacy panels’ hint of the unhurried living for which these apartments were so carefully designed.”
Advertisements in the Omaha and Lincoln newspapers from the 1960s also boast about the building’s amenities.
“Skypark was so far ahead of its time with these conveniences,” Jeffries said. “They even said ‘We have a fallout shelter in case you need it.’”
Located in the southwest corner, the fallout shelter is currently the building’s event space and multi-purpose room. Jeffries wrote in the nomination that “the 1968 Lincoln Telephone Directory listed Sky Park’s shelter capacity as 1,295 occupants, so clearly the building was to also serve as a neighborhood shelter. The city of Lincoln took the threat of nuclear attack seriously, being located just 50 miles from the Strategic Air Command in Bellevue, a potential target.”
Jeffries wasn’t sure how the city planned to gather the neighborhood into the shelter.
“If the bomb goes off, do you go ringing the door for the door guy to let you in?” Jeffries asked.
A doorman was just one Sky Park’s luxuries. Ceramic mosaic tiles and Italian marble lavatory counters were standard in all bathrooms, while vinyl wall coverings and Formica countertops were installed in the kitchens. The lobby and spacious corridors were decorated with textured vinyl wall coverings, plush carpet, and elegant light fixtures. Until the 1990s, soft music played in all public areas.
Sky Park Manor has first floor and basement parking areas, storage lockers, and one- to three-bedroom units, all with at least two balcony access points. The second floor features a “Fun and Sun Deck” with a pool. Floors ten and eleven contain penthouse apartments designed specifically for owners Solheim and Olson. The twelfth floor houses other penthouse units, boiler room, laundry room with access to the Solar Terrace, a Finnish sauna with dressing room and shower, and a restroom. The first floor originally housed a cigar stand, beauty salon, and a manager’s apartment with private patio. While much of the first floor has been re-purposed, most of the building’s features are nearly the same as when the building opened in 1963.
“The original textured, vinyl wall coverings, light fixtures, and wall-mounted cigarette receptacles are in place in the public spaces on all floors—creating a veritable time-capsule,” Jeffries wrote in her nomination.
Each floor had a theme for its light fixtures and wallpaper, from white-painted wrought iron and crystal light fixtures, to bronze wall sconces and flowered wallpaper.
Sky Park resident Carter Hulinsky, who helped with the nomination process, fully embraces the mid-century modern vibes of Sky Park. He’s even outfitted his apartment with period furniture.
“I live here because it’s a novelty,” Hulinsky said.
Hulinsky collects books, records, furniture, and Civil Defense items from the 1950s and 60s, and he often thinks about what living at Sky Park when it was new would have been like.
“They advertised it as a little island of paradise,” Hulinsky said. “You could get your hair done, you could get your candy and smokes. You had a doorman, a salon; your neighbors were the uppercrust of Lincoln.”
As Jeffries wrote in the nomination, “The $1.5 million apartment building was planned with the affluent Lincolnite in mind. The targeted tenant was one who desired a lifestyle devoid of home maintenance, and also wanted the convenience and enjoyment of living in a vibrant downtown. Lincoln professionals and businessmen and their families, retirees, and Nebraska lawmakers were among those who resided there.”
“The units rented for $175 a month in 1963, which would be $1,300 a month in 2016 dollars,” Hulinsky said.
Now that the building is on the National Register, Jeffries said the owners plan on taking advantage of tax credits that come with the program, repairing and restoring components “to retain the architectural integrity of the building.”
Resident Carter Hulinsky at Sky Park Manor. Photo by Kylie Kinley
(Updated 4/18/22 to fix photos and add captions.)