Entrepreneur infuses new life into old building
Jamie Olmer was only 21 when she bought a building in her hometown of Creston.
It had tar paper covering the plaster walls and sunlight shone in through the roof. Most of the boarded-up windows were broken and others were bricked over. A part of one wall had caved in and the building had significant water damage.
But all she saw was potential. “I knew I had to try to save it,” she said.
PURCHASING THE BUILDING
Olmer was working at Mark’s Custom Woodworking in Creston in the summer of 2011. Owner Mark Korth also owned the former Citizens State Bank across the street. He bought it in 2005 when Central Valley Ag closed.
He no longer had use for the building and was thinking of tearing it down.
Olmer — who was studying history in college — was saddened by the thought. She had always admired the building and wished someone would use it. Her mom, Lynn Olmer and grandparents, Nancy and the late John Scheffler, were also passionate about their town’s history and knew the building was worth saving.
Olmer asked Korth for the keys to get a look at the inside of the building. It was definitely in rough shape, but she decided to ask if he would be interested in selling it.
“After all the years of hoping someone would use the building, standing inside it that day, I realized that I could do something about that,” she said.
A year later, the keys and building were hers at a cost of $5,000. But it would have to wait a while for those much-needed repairs. Olmer had a few more years of college. Then she traveled with the national service program AmeriCorps for three years. After that was graduate school and a then full-time job in 2020.
During that time, Olmer had been researching and getting estimates for the repairs, so she knew that it was going to be an expensive project. Now that she had a steady income, it was time to get back to the building eight years after buying it.
CITIZENS STATE BANK HISTORY
Citizens State Bank was established in 1898. It grew rapidly and broke ground for a new building in 1920, holding an open house in 1921.
The new bank was “one of the most modern and up-to-date bank buildings in this part of Nebraska,” according to the Creston Statesman. It featured mahogany and marble throughout its interior. The bank also featured a terra cotta exterior. By the 1920s, terra cotta was becoming more and more popular with architects because it was fireproof, economical, and lightweight. It was also easier and cheaper than carving stone.
But the bank’s opulence and customers could not save it from the Great Depression and it closed in 1931.
The bank continued to own the building until 1940 when it was sold by public auction to the Village of Creston for $102.50. It had a variety of uses until 1946 when it was purchased by a local family and turned into a meat locker. Farmers Cooperative Oil Company bought the building in 1964 and used it for feed storage. Korth bought it in 2005 along with some adjoining buildings. It was unused and empty.
Right after buying the building, Olmer began steps to get it listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
She visited the Nebraska State Historical Society and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). Olmer explained that she was trying to dig up information on a building in a really small town. A SHPO employee there said they had an inventory of historically significant buildings throughout the state and they may have information.
“Not knowing how rare and unique of a building this really was, I was sure they would not have a file on it,” Olmer said. “I stressed that this was a building in a very small town.”
But as soon as she said “Creston” she learned about the significance of her small-town building.
“The wedding cake?” the employee exclaimed and got the attention of everyone in the office who wanted to know her plans for the building.
Olmer learned that the bank was designed by famous architect Frederick W. Clarke of Omaha.
“There are plenty of buildings clad in terra cotta, but this one has two full sides, an enormous amount of detail, and color,” Olmer said.
Most other terra cotta buildings in the state, such as Union Station (now Durham Museum) in Omaha are monotone. The Creston bank is mostly white, but with striking color accents.
The façade features colorful lions’ heads and floral swags. A large arch and columns flank the front door. “The details for the lions and the eagle are just amazing,” Olmer said.
In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic gave Olmer the extra time to begin restoring the building.
The obvious first step was a new roof which involved replacing the north wall of the building. Then came the fun stuff — tearing out 18 inches of cement and filler on top of the original floor that was put in for the meat locker.
“After we took it all out, we did the math to find it was 72,500 pounds of concrete that we removed,” she said.
Then she put in custom windows and a new front entrance.
The work is still getting done in spurts, with Olmer driving from Omaha on the weekends. She has help from family and friends.
“It’s getting to be a long list, but my mom is almost always there working on it with me,” Olmer said. “My uncle, Jim Scheffler, and cousins Anthony and Austin Bruhn, and boyfriend, Daniel Primi, have put in a lot of hours as well.”
After the major repairs, she began to work on designing the interior spaces. She sent a survey in Creston residents’ water bills asking what use they envisioned for the building. She also posed the question on social media. The overwhelming response was a small event venue.
Others mentioned the need for an Airbnb rental, a library, and a gym.
Olmer plans to merge the ideas — creating an event venue on the main floor with an Airbnb on the mezzanine. She also wants to include a free library with bookshelves lining the walls. Once that is done, she would like to create a gym in the basement.
But all this comes at a significant cost. “At this point I have $193,000 in this building and it still is not usable,” she said.
Of that, the majority is a personal loan. The rest she has funded herself or paid for through donations.
Olmer was surprised at the number of people who wanted to donate to her private project. They even asked if she’d do a fundraiser.
“I told them, ‘If you want to donate to a privately owned building, then your name is going to be in there,’” Olmer said.
From that, she got the idea to sell tiles. For donations of $100 or more, Olmer custom designs and engraves 3-inch by 6-inch ceramic tiles. She has made more than 100 tiles so far and they will be installed on the west wall.
“Funding is obviously one of the biggest barriers in a project like this,” she said. And that’s why the completion date is uncertain.
But it has been worth it and Olmer is looking forward to the day when an old building will finally have new life.
“People have often been surprised by my willingness and determination to take on such a daunting project,” Olmer said. “I joke all the time that someone does have to be some sort of crazy to try to do something like this.”
But in all seriousness, she said her work is really a reflection and continuation of her family’s dedication to the community of Creston.
Her grandparents, John and Nancy Scheffler, were involved in starting the Rescue Unit, served on various boards and community groups, started the annual 4th of July fireworks display, and volunteered countless hours for community celebrations and events.
“I grew up volunteering right alongside them along with many other family members,” Olmer said. “This is just another way the Scheffler family is giving back to Creston. I am so excited for the day when the community can use this beautiful building again.”
READ MORE: The Rise and Fall of Citizens State Bank
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Visit “The Vault on Main – Creston, NE” on Facebook to follow Olmer’s progress on the building.