Tillotson’s Vinton Street shows just how neighborly an elevator can be

Story and Photo by Ronald Ahrens

So many elevators are in small towns that visiting one in a big city is a bracing experience.

Tillotson’s Vinton Street elevator is at the bottom of a hill right in the midst of an Omaha residential neighborhood. The concrete silos stretch two whole blocks from Vinton on the north to Valley Street on the south.

The southernmost of the annexes leans hard against Interstate 80’s westbound lane.

To the east are bungalows and yards and gardens on the downslope from 32nd Street to 34th Street.

And the resident of any of the houses to the west, going uphill from 35th Street, get a whole faceful of imposing grain elevator.

Viewing Tillotson’s Vinton Street elevator from the ground up in Omaha

Story and photos by Ronald Ahrens

One word stays in mind after my May 10 visit to Tillotson Construction Company’s Vinton Street elevator in Omaha: mighty. This elevator exudes mightiness.

The headhouse soars to an exaggerated height, towering above the residential neighborhood and looking down upon Interstate 80, which is just 100 yards to the south. 

The delicately rounded corners present a contrast to the otherwise stalwartly rectilinear character of the tower. From the look of it, I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn there were offices up there: people tapping away at keyboards, making trades, issuing policies.

It looks modern and well-designed and I can imagine how proud the Tillotsons were when they completed it.

I don’t know what year this was built. During my first twenty-one years, which were spent in Omaha, I passed this elevator umpteen times without having any idea that my grandfather’s company had built it.

Now knowing what I do, finding the manhole covers with the company’s name was a thrill.

Not knowing many other things, it would be interesting to learn the answer to questions about the elevator’s various fixtures and appurtenances. What is that big jobbie-do at the very top and when was it set there? Why are the windows located where they are?

Of course the Vinton Street elevator has received national attention because the annexes have become the canvas for a public art project; the nonprofit organization Emerging Terrain has commissioned artists to create themed banners that have been draped over the silos, and in fact a crew was just finishing up the last hanging when I arrived.

It’s a pity to see the elevator in disrepair, and I found myself wishing it would receive some attention, too.

Oh, what a fresh coat of paint and new panes of glass would do for the appearance!