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Thomas Rogers Kimball


Thomas Rogers Kimball (1862-1934) is regarded today as the most influential and important Nebraska architect of his era. Born into wealth, socially well connected, and afforded an education that set him apart, ultimately it was Kimball's talent that propelled his career.

Kimball was born in 1862 in Linwood, Ohio, and moved to Omaha with his parents when he was in his teens. After graduating from high school in 1878, he attended the University of Nebraska Latin School, a college preparatory program. He then studied with a private tutor in Boston before entering the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he studied architecture until 1887. Kimball then moved to Paris, where he spent a year studying art at L'Ecole des Beaux Arts, an experience that was influential in his architectural design work.

Kimball returned to Omaha in 1892 and shortly after was awarded the commission to design the Omaha Public Library. As his talent grew, his contacts with wealthy Omaha clients began to pay off. He designed homes in Omaha's fashionable neighborhoods, and designed the Burlington Station. In 1896 he and his Boston based partner, C. Howard Walker, were appointed as Architects in Chief for the Trans-Mississippi Exposition held in Omaha in 1898. In this capacity they were responsible for the layout of the grounds, as well as the design of several buildings. Kimball went on to design the Electricity Building at the St Louis World's Fair in 1904.

Kimball's relationship with the University of Nebraska began with his work on the Administration Building, which he designed in 1903-04. He repeatedly expressed frustration the meager budget provided; clearly he was accustomed to working with more flexible budgets and clients with bigger wallets. He must not have found the client too objectionable, however, and was hired to design a new museum in 1905. This project would prove to be even more troublesome than the first.

At the time Kimball was designing the Administration Building, he was also designing one of the most important structures of his career, Saint Cecelia Cathedral in Omaha. The contrast between the projects in terms of cost, size, and clients, could not have been more extreme. At the time it was completed, Saint Cecelia was one of the largest cathedrals in the country, executed in Spanish Rennaisance Revival style. The Administration building, by contrast, was completed with a temporary roof due to inadequate funds; that temporary roof remained for nearly 15 years.

After the completion of the Museum, which Kimball fully intended to serve only as the beginning of a building, his relationship with the University deteriorated. Criticized for designing such an ugly museum, Kimball could only defend himself by emphasizing that the building was never intended to stand alone. Although the University had a history of not completing buildings (see Mechanical Arts), Kimball apparently trusted that his fully realized museum would eventually be built. When the supposedly "fire proof"? Museum burned in 1912, Charles Morrill, the Museum's benefactor, held Kimball responsible. When Morrill established a building fund for a new Museum in 1925, he was adamant that Kimball's old Museum should not be expanded. He described it as "a disgrace to the campus. It has two back entrances and no front entrance"?.

Whatever Kimball's relationship with the University, his career did not suffer as a result. He was appointed to the national Commission of Fine Arts, served as national President of the American Institute of Architects from 1918-1920, and from 1919-1932 served on the Nebraska State Capitol Commission. He is credited with designing the competition process that resulted in the selection of Betram Goodhue to design the Nebraska State Capitol.

Kimball was financially ruined during the Great Depression. He formed a partnership in 1928 with Steele and Sandham, and died following an appendectomy in 1934.

Source Information:
Omaha Landmarks website.
Thomas Rogers Kimball: was he a Nebraska architect? by David Batie. UNL Thesis, 1977.