A Liechtenstein Legacy in the American Heartland

One may be surprised to learn that there is a rich Liechtenstein legacy located in the American heartland. Traveling through the streets of Omaha, Nebraska, one will undoubtedly feast one’s eyes upon the works of Liechtenstein native and architect John Latenser (born Laternser).

John Latenser (center).

Born into a family of architects in Nendeln, Latenser trained at a polytechnic college in Stuttgart, Germany before immigrating to the United States. He spent seven years employed as a draftsman in Chicago before moving to Omaha in 1886. It was in Omaha where he so impressed city leaders that he was hired to design the Webster Street schoolhouse, despite having been in Omaha only for a short period of time. Latenser would establish an esteemed architectural practice in the city, even gaining the attention of then President Grover Cleveland, who appointed him superintendent of construction for the post office located at 16th and Dodge Streets in Omaha. Other notable projects of Latenser include the Scottish Rite Masonic Center and Central High School. By introducing a neo-classical architectural style based on stone, Latenser ushered a new era into Omaha, at a time when most buildings were constructed out of brick and wood.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Center in Omaha.

Even after his death in 1936, his legacy would live on through his son John Jr. who was also an accomplished architect and built upon his father’s body of work by constructing several prominent buildings including the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the Douglas County Courthouse, and the city’s St. John Greek Orthodox Church. By the 1930s, virtually all the city blocks in downtown Omaha featured a building that had been designed by John Latenser & Sons. Recently, the organization Restore Omaha provided tours and held a reception at the Scottish Rites Masonic Center, as part of an effort to encourage awareness amongst the public of some of Omaha’s older buildings. There are currently more than a dozen buildings on the National Register of Historic Places that are creations of the senior John Latenser. It’s no surprise then that this son of Liechtenstein, whose work has so greatly influenced his adopted American city, has been given the moniker by locals of “Omaha’s architect”.

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