520 Oakland Avenue – J. Chris Jensen
J. Chris Jensen, Council Bluffs architect, considered himself a privileged man. In a Nonpareil interview on his 75th birthday, the designer of 773 buildings “ sat in his favorite chair in his apartment, put out his cigar, laid down his book and stated quietly: “I’ve lived a long time and I’ve done everything I wanted to do.”
Born in Denmark in 1869, Jensen came to Council Bluffs with his family at eight years of age. He served as an apprentice in the H. P. Wind planing mill from age 13 to age 17 and then worked the lumber mills along the west coast, eventually returning to Council Bluffs. While riding on a train one day, he overheard a conversation regarding the possibility of a contract at an institution. According to the interview, he landed the contract and – at age 18 – became a contractor.
Jensen founded his own firm, Jensen Bros. Co., in 1893, at age 24. His first major project was the Woodward candy factory, built gradually over a period of years. His last “great triumph” was the new city hall. Among his many other works are Thomas Jefferson and Bloomer schools, Jennie Edmundson Hospital, 300 Safeway stores, the pool and gym addition to the old YMCA building at 628 First Avenue and the Chevra B’nai Yisroel Synagogue at 618 Mynster Street – both listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is also believed that he designed the house at 137 Glen Avenue for his brother, cigar manufacturer Peter Jensen, featured in this column on May 27, 2012.
J. Chris Jensen and his wife, Sadie, lived in this home at 520 Oakland Avenue, where they raised four sons and five daughters, through at least 1940. The two-story Arts and Crafts-inspired bungalow features a front-gabled roof with a wide eave overhang and exposed rafter ends, a large front-gabled porch with a wide eave overhang open to the rafters on the interior roof with king-post trusses exposed, and an unusual sleeping porch extension out from the second floor on the south side (visible on the left in the photo). A carriage entrance from a shared driveway mirrors that of the entrance to the house next door. The property also includes an Arts and Crafts-inspired pergola at the side walk entry and a magnificent view of Council Bluffs (looking west) and the Omaha skyline.
The property is located within the Lincoln Fairview Historic District – which includes the Ruth Anne Dodge Memorial and the Lincoln Monument – and is near the historic Fairview Cemetery.
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, Council Bluffs Community Development Department, homeowners, family members and individual research.
Preserve Council Bluffs is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote and preserve the heritage of Council Bluffs through its architecture, sites, and people.
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