331 Park Avenue – John T. Oliver
One would never guess this spacious Colonial Revival style home on the hillside where Park Avenue meets Pomona began its life as a one-story house. The original house was built in 1872 for Scottish emigrant John T. Oliver, an early pioneer and one of the city’s leading businessmen.
John T. Oliver was born in Scotland in 1826. His wife, Isabella Graham, was born in 1835, also in Scotland. They were married there, and came to Council Bluffs in 1853. The 1870 U.S. Census lists the Olivers as living in Council Bluffs with four daughters and a baby son. Oliver owned several properties and was the first merchant tailor to open a shop in Council Bluffs. (A merchant tailor not only made clothing but also offered fabrics for sale.)
Isabella Oliver was the sister of Andrew Graham, a tireless volunteer on the parks commission for more than four decades. He was responsible for most of the land acquisition and development of Fairmount Park.
John Oliver died in 1910 at the age of 83 and is buried in Fairview Cemetery. Isabella continued to live in the house until 1921. Subsequent owners were their daughters, Blanche Welsh and Elizabeth Gleason, who sold the property to Harry Searle Jr. in 1930.
The Searle family lived in the house until at least 1940. The nomination of the Park/Glen Avenues Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places describes it as a large two-story dwelling, U-shaped in its current configuration formed by a main side-gabled roof flanked by two front-gabled ells. The front door in the center of the recessed area of the U-shape features an exaggerated Colonial Revival-style scrolled pediment. A small gabled wall dormer is above the door. Other features include the cornice returns and wood gable screens in the front-gabled ells and the small rectangular decorative windows that flank the front door. The second story and the Colonial Revival details were added after Harry Searle purchased the older home.
Searle was the president and general manager of Mona Motor Oil and, later, Searle Petroleum Company.
According to the National Register nomination, when Harry Searle was president, he oversaw the change from the original Monarch Manufacturing Company, established in 1895, to the new Mona Motor Oil to capitalize on the growing automobile industry. The company saw the new medium of radio as a means to further their progressive image and advertise their products. The “OIL” in KOIL was a marketing tie-in. The first broadcast was on July 10, 1925. Its 165-foot twin towers were located high on a bluff known as “KOIL Point” in Fairmount Park. The studio was housed in a building at Park and Huntington Avenues adjacent to the park.
The building is said to have been the first in the nation constructed with the specific purpose of being a radio station. Known as “The Radio Station on the Hill”, KOIL was the second station licensed to the Omaha/Council Bluffs area. It was the first ABC affiliate west of the Mississippi River, and the second NBC affiliate west of the Mississippi River.
In the summer of 1937, Mona Motor Oil sold the station to Central States Broadcasting group and the KOIL radio station moved to Omaha. The building became a private residence and exists today as apartments. KOIL Point in Fairmount Park is still known by that name.
Preserve Council Bluffs acknowledges the following sources of information for this series: National Register of Historic Places nominations, the reference department of the Council Bluffs Public Library, the auditor’s office of the Pottawattamie County courthouse, homeowners, family member, individual research and, for this article, Dr. Richard Warner.
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