Clark & Enersen was established on February 1, 1946. Now, 75 years later, we have a lot to be thankful for and plenty to look forward to—which we plan to share with you throughout 2021.
The 1960s were a period of enormous social change. America was in the middle of the Vietnam War, President Kennedy was assassinated, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. The decade began with a nation in recession, but gave way to one of the longest sustained economic booms on record. This boom affected the firm in several ways.
In the early 60s, Clark & Enersen began receiving work in new states and branching into new areas of specialization. With more work being done, our team of architects noticed communication with engineers from other firms was becoming challenging. To provide better service to clients, the firm added mechanical and electrical engineers to go along with structural engineering, which had been offered since 1952.
Luckily, engineers John Olsson, Max Burroughs, and Charlie Thomsen were located just down the hall from Clark & Enersen in the Sharp Building, and by 1962, the two firms had agreed to a merger. The name of the firm became Clark & Enersen, Olsson, Burroughs & Thomsen.
The job list for that era included numerous municipal engineering projects, including sewage treatment plants, water and sewer system studies, and swimming pools. Engineering played a vital role in the growth of the firm during the 1960s, with projects such as the Woods Park swimming pool and the St. Elizabeth Community Health Center, which featured a state-of-the-art total energy plant. “The system ran for 18 years straight with the power never going out once,” said John Olsson.
With the firm’s reputation growing throughout Nebraska, larger projects continued to roll in, many of which had a major impact on the City of Lincoln. Following are the stories around a number of these projects and how they helped to transform the city and the community.
1964: Lincoln Center for Community Services and Foundation Garden
With the top story reserved for a column-free, 200-seat auditorium and meeting rooms for 10 to 75 people, the Lincoln Center for Community Services offered an innovative building that was home to more than 20 charitable organizations. The building also included “one of the most significant architectural features in the city,” according to engineer Charlie Nelson. This feature was a 17,000-square-foot mini-park that is still used to this day by workers in downtown Lincoln as a spot where they can eat lunch, hangout, and listen to live music.
1965: The Folsom Children’s Zoo and Botanical Garden
In 1959, Arnott Folsom had a vision to create a family destination where thousands of children and adults could interact with nature. With a donation from himself and his wife, as well as the help from community leaders, Lincoln Children’s Zoo was founded. Larry Enersen worked closely with Arnott to create a zoo that ditched the oft-used concept of a “storybook land” and instead designed a place with walking paths, nature courtyards, and opportunities for anyone and everyone to contribute. They believed in order for children to have an understanding of nature, they needed to first recognize and appreciate the relationships that exist between animals, plants, air, water, and humans.
1966: C.Y. Thompson Library
In 1961, the Board of Regents at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln hired Clark & Enersen to design a new library on the agricultural campus. Chief designer Albert Hamersky developed a free-standing library building that would be described as “a modern representation of a classic Greek temple.” Three stories arranged around a central atrium provided over 50,000 square feet of space for a projected 265,000 volumes. Exterior walls were topped by 13-foot eaves and acted as a dominant design element. Walls were primarily steel and glass, allowing library patrons to view the “lush, peaceful setting of the campus.”
1967: City-County Building
In the mid-1960s, the firm was hired to design a new County-City Building that would replace the existing jail and Lancaster County Courthouse that were built in the late 1800s. The building brought multiple agencies together under one roof, including the courthouse, jail, and the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office.
The project was unique in that Clark & Enersen was hired by the city to complete the design for their side of the building, while another firm was hired by the county to design their side. The building was laid out so that if the city and the county ever parted ways, a partition could be constructed to create two buildings separated by a wall.
1969: Olin Hall of Science
The Olin Hall of Science on the Nebraska Wesleyan University campus was a state-of-the-art facility that was completed with no change orders, something that would be nearly impossible even with today’s advanced tools. The window units, which became load bearing, were prefabricated. This innovative idea freed up the brick shafts of the building, allowing them to be used as chimneys for the science laboratories. The structure became a mechanical, electrical, and architectural expression of the building.
Clark & Enersen put its name on the map with the completion of the new Hastings High School and auditorium, proving the firm was more than capable of successfully completing large, full-scale projects.
“Getting the Hastings project established us immediately as being capable of doing major work, and resulted in a substantial number of school and college commissions,” Clark said. “In the late 1950s, at one time in one day, we had 31 school projects in the office in various stages of development and construction!”
The firm’s education projects in the 1950s took them to every corner of Nebraska, from the Sandhills to the bluffs of the Missouri River. Clark & Enersen completed PK-12 or college projects in the communities of Alliance, Bridgeport, Broken Bow, Chadron, Gordon, Harvard, Lexington, Norfolk, Oshkosh, Peru, and Scottsbluff. In Lincoln, the firm’s reputation in education design helped them win projects for Lincoln Public Schools and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“New schools were needed everywhere in the post-World Word II era and more than 250 separate school projects were designed by the firm across the state in the late 1940s and 1950s.” Clark said.
As our school portfolio continued to grow in the early 1950s, business truly picked up when Clark and Enersen were awarded a $2 million dollar project for a new high school in Hastings, Nebraska.
The project included 25 classrooms, science/laboratory classrooms, physical education and athletic facilities, an auditorium, industrial arts shops, a kitchen, cafeteria, administrative offices, and a host of other functional-type rooms. The campus’s 800-seat gymnasium was the home court for legendary Husker Football coach Tom Osborne and his high school basketball teammates, who promptly won the 1954 Class A state championship.
The high school’s design incorporated an ample amount of windows and glass, introducing an early energy-saving innovation in the form of natural day-lighting that took into consideration heat gain and heat loss.
“The engineering consultant suggested that he could reduce the size of the boiler by half if we would put in insulated glass,” said Clark, adding that they approved the idea. “That was one of the first times anyone paid attention to energy conservation in design, as energy in those days was relatively inexpensive and seemingly in abundant supply.”
The auditorium building was connected to the principal wing by an enclosed bridge and an underground tunnel. Even without an acoustical consultant, the auditorium achieved excellent acoustics, so much so that the facility received enthusiastic praise from the Dallas Symphony, Harry Belafonte, and several other performers.
The son of Czech immigrants, Albert Hamersky was born in 1924. He began his college education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) but left during World War II when he was called into service in March 1943 and assigned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Pacific. In this role, he prepared maps and surveys for the construction of beach installations during and after invasions of the islands of New Guinea, New Britain, the Philippines, and Japan. The maps are stored at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
When he returned from the war, Hamersky finished his bachelor’s at UNL and pursued his master’s through an MIT program that crossed over with Harvard. After graduation, he accepted a design position with Chicago firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.
In 1952, Clark convinced him to return to Nebraska and he was hired as the head of the firm’s design department. He brought with him ‘Post World War II Architecture’ of the highest quality to the Midwest and served as one of the primary forces behind the introduction and implementation of the ‘Modern Movement’ of architecture in Nebraska.
Hamersky spent the next 40 years with the firm, serving as president from 1977-89 and chairing the board from 1989-92. Some of his most notable work includes the C.Y. Thompson Library on UNL’s East Campus and the St. Elizabeth Community Health Center. In 2010, he was awarded the Harry F. Cunningham Gold Medal for Architectural Excellence in the State of Nebraska. The Gold Medal is the highest honor that AIA Nebraska can bestow and is awarded in recognition of the most distinguished achievement in architecture or service to the profession of architecture in the State of Nebraska.
Although Clark & Enersen’s first project was considered a success, it didn’t lead to an immediate boom for the firm.
“We were young and naive enough not to realize that one project was ‘not a going firm to make,’” Clark said. “Although we had some residential projects, including largely the making of open porches into enclosed dens or libraries, the recession of 1947 resulted in our clients being extremely slow in paying our fees.”
Needing guaranteed income, Enersen moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1948 after accepting a teaching position at the University of North Carolina. However, each summer between his teaching obligations, Enersen and his family would drive more than 1,200 miles to Lincoln, rent a house, and help Clark, who remained in Nebraska year-round and kept their practice going.
It wasn’t until 1952 that Enersen and his family moved back to Lincoln for good after the firm landed its first multimillion-dollar project.
Following World War II, the Lincoln Air Force Base (LAFB) faced a housing crisis. The Lincoln Jet Scoop newspaper said “Lincoln realtors often ran ads to help those (enlisted men) find housing in the city. Of course, the commute was long and the temporary nature of airmen and officers meant that long term purchased housing was much less attractive than rental properties.”
In order for the LAFB to be a proper, permanent base, it needed closer housing that could be managed by the Air Force. In the early 1950s, a 400-unit development was designed by Lincoln architect Selmer Solheim to help meet the growing demand.
These homes were filled instantly and the need for on-base housing remained. Clark and Enersen were then hired to design another 600 units, establishing a 1,000-unit housing area for the base. The houses were made up of eight basic designs, each with a red-brick exterior and either carports or garages. Most of the homes were duplexes, but a small number of 4-plex units were also included. The connected pedestrian walkways throughout the development reflected Enersen’s special interest in landscape design.
Work on the project not only helped keep the firm afloat in the early years, it also led to additional projects. Following its completion, architects from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill asked Clark and Enersen to work with them on a 1,000-home project for the Air Force Academy in Colorado.
Kenneth Clark and Lawrence Enersen’s journeys to Harvard University were similar, both were born and raised in the Midwest, received their undergraduate degrees at in-state schools, and attended the Ivy League’s most prestigious school.
Enersen, five years Clark’s senior, studied landscape architecture in Harvard’s School of Design and graduated with his master’s in 1935. During his graduate study, he worked part time in the office of Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., widely regarded as the founder of American landscape architecture and known for designing the grounds of New York City’s Central Park and the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Upon graduation, Enersen was awarded the Charles Eliot Traveling Fellowship in Landscape Architecture—the highest honor Harvard’s landscape architecture program bestows on its graduates—and embarked on a 10-month tour of Europe. The study-travel stint took him throughout the continent, from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia to England.
The two first met through Harvard and, according to files obtained from the Nebraska Board of Engineers and Architects—first collaborated when Clark the student worked with Enersen the teacher via his private practice 1939-40. After graduating from Harvard, Clark returned to Nebraska and resumed designing for Davis & Wilson. In just a few short years, he got the itch to open his own practice.
The timing could not have been better. Enersen, back from his naval service and looking for work in December 1945, couldn’t resume teaching since the academic year was in full swing. That worked in Clark’s favor—with an upcoming housing project in hand, he convinced his friend to move to Nebraska from Wellesley, Massachusetts, and strike up a partnership.
“In late 1945, I was with Davis and Wilson and was given full and complete responsibility for part of a floor of the Stuart Building, which was to be devoted to a radio broadcast station,” Clark recalled in Issue No. 1 of The Clark Enersen Partners’ 50 Years of Design (1996). “When the project was completed, my employer was invited to attend the celebration dinner, and I was not. I asked myself then, if I was going to do the work why didn’t I also get the credit? More than anything else, that incident probably convinced me to try it on my own.”
As Ken Clark set out on his own, he was asked to help plan a dozen small houses in Lincoln, Nebraska. This project, which became known as the Lindale Subdivision, was the firms first job and was used by Clark as a way to persuade Larry Enersen to leave Wellesley, Massachusetts and join him in Lincoln.
Located next to a small city park, a shopping center, and the planned Lefler Middle School, prices for the 1,550-square-foot homes were set between $9,500 and $11,000. The homes were based on three floor plans that featured modern, open layouts with basements and garages. Each plan could be rotated to place principal rooms on the east and south making it possible to obtain privacy on the lots that were 50 to 70 feet wide. Sales in the subdivision started slowly but gained momentum, with over 30 additional homes completed through the 1950s.
The subdivision was featured in several magazines, including American Home and Progressive Architecture, while the Inspiration House inside the subdivision was named the “House of the Year – 1948” by House Beautiful magazine.
KENNETH BOWHAY CLARK (1914-91)
Ken Clark was born in the tiny village of Liberty, located 90 minutes south of Lincoln, NE. He completed his education in the Lincoln area, first attending Capitol School and then finishing his education in Havelock, Nebraska.
Clark enrolled at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) in 1932. By chance, he sat with three architecture students in his freshmen year French class and was drawn to their books. The students invited him to meet the head of the architecture department, Harry Francis Cunningham. Known for his work on the construction of the Nebraska State Capitol, Cunningham established UNL’s first school of architecture and became an AIA Fellow.
Just moments after meeting Cunningham, Clark changed majors: “He said, ‘Can you draw?’, and I said, ‘Well, I’m not too bad at drawing, I guess.’ He said, ‘Let’s find out,’” Clark recalled in Issue No. 1 of The Clark Enersen Partners’ 50 Years of Design (1996). “When I got out of there I was registered for architecture.”
Clark graduated with his bachelor’s in architecture in 1936 but continued taking classes in UNL’s College of Engineering through 1937. He then enrolled at Harvard in 1939. After graduating with his master’s in architecture in 1941, Clark returned to Lincoln and worked with Davis & Wilson, serving as a draftsman from 1942-45 before becoming a registered architect in 1945-46.
LAWRENCE ALBERT ENERSEN (1909-83)
Founder, Landscape Architect
Enersen was the grandson of Norwegian immigrants, who, after the end of the U.S. Civil War, moved from Oslo, Norway, to southern Minnesota. His father was a lawyer, and eventually a judge, while his mother worked in the community. In a 1993 interview with the University of California, Berkley’s Bancroft Library, Enersen’s older brother Burnham recounted childhood family trips every summer, taken to ease their father’s allergies: Isle Royale on Lake Superior, Yellowstone National Park, Pikes Peak, and a road trip down the West Coast from Seattle to San Francisco.
Enersen attended Carleton College, a private school in Northfield, Minnesota, before studying at Harvard from 1931-35. After graduating, Enersen participated in study-travel throughout Europe from 1936-37 and spent the rest of the 1930s working for various design groups in Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia. Enersen briefly returned to academia as an instructor at Harvard, during which time he met Clark, who was pursuing his master’s. However, when the U.S. entered World War II, Enersen joined the U.S. Navy and served as an officer from 1942-45.