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Gallery 9 will begin its 25th anniversary celebration with an opening reception on First Friday, July 5, from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. The show will be an invitational group show celebrating 25 years with art by current and former gallery members. The show will continue through July 28.

Once at the Mission Arts Building, 124 S. Ninth St. — home to Gallery 9 — you’ll enter through a heavy wrought-iron gate where you'll see a beautiful brick-lined courtyard hosting multiple vines, flowering plants and trees, and an overflowing fountain. The courtyard consumes you with a sensual overload — brightly colored flowers with variations of sizes and shapes, a pleasing floral scent and the soft gurgle of water in the fountain. As you continue along the brick walkway, you find the entrance to Gallery 9 about midway down.

Inside, paintings and sculptures adorn the walls, and pottery, polished woods and jewelry abound. At the front door, Murray, the gallery’s corgi/mascot, greets you with a howl. Murray is the third Corgi at the gallery in the past 25 years and pads around like he owns the place. And, he’s full of tricks — if you have treats.

The Mission Arts building gets its name from its history. The building was the Lincoln City Mission for about 75 years – but that was its more recent past.

Lincoln designated as the state capital

When the first plat of Lincoln was created, the property known as Lot 13 (124 S. Ninth St.) was sold in 1868 for $1,500 to Lenuiel A. Scoggin. He was a city councilman and built the first structure on the lot.

In 1873, Mary Elizabeth Wallace bought it for $3,000. Wallace used her real name on legal documents, but she used the name Lydia Stewart in her business when placing listings in the city directory and responding to census questions.

Due to the state capital designation, Lincoln’s population quickly rose from 30 to 800, and Stewart was among those who were “new” in town. Like many female entrepreneurs, she saw an opportunity for money and adventure, and the structure at 124 S. Ninth St. soon became known as “Lydia’s House.”

From 1876 through the 1890s, Stewart ran one of Lincoln’s most successful “sporting” houses — or, as we call them, “bordellos.” In 1877, she had enough money to purchase a portion of lot 14 for $500 and added a beer garden. When Stewart died in 1893, she was almost 49 years old, and her personal belongings were valued at over $30,000.

By 1910 Lincoln needs a City Mission

Five years later in 1897, the property was sold by Stewart’s heirs to Rose Dillon, who was in the same business as her predecessor. Somewhere between 1899 and 1903, the old frame structure was torn down and replaced with a two-story brick building. This brick building is the front half of the current Mission Arts building.

By 1910, Dillon was married and became Grace May Stern. She sold her property to Howard E. Arthur for $15,750 — and he sold it five days later to the People’s City Mission.

Later in 1910, the Mission board had difficulty repaying the loan, and another woman, Angeline Boynton-Learned, donated the remainder of the money that was owed. At this point, the Mission board renovated the building to accommodate about 52 men. Services were targeted mostly to the Russian/German immigrants settling in Lincoln.

Under the direction of the Rev. Hinkin from 1928-29, the building underwent its most substantial alteration — nearly doubling in size with a two-story addition in the back. Other renovations, such as painting the brick white, were undertaken. By the 1930s, there were 75 beds for men and an average stay of three nights (about 10,000 men per year).

In 1942, George and Margaret Chenot became co-directors of the Mission, and in the 1950s, the women’s dormitory was expanded to three apartments and the men’s dormitory was reduced to 60 beds. The Chenots’ ministered to the Native American population in the 1960s — and by the ‘70s there were increasing numbers of homeless families in Lincoln.

Due to the Recession, there were so many low-income families that the building was in great need of expansion and repair after almost 80 years of hard use. The board decided to build elsewhere and closed the Mission at 124 S. Ninth St. in 1987. The building sat empty for over five years.

From Mission to Gallery 9

In 1993, Judith Andre was an empty-nester ready to start the next phase of her life. She had noticed the Mission Arts building before and thought it would be a fun building to redo. When she learned it was for sale, she bought it and quickly started renovations.

Accustomed to hard work, Andre did most of the design and physical labor herself. She instinctively knew the space in the Mission Arts building would work well for art-oriented people. This is what truly drove her. She had long recognized the value of having like-minded “creatives” nearby to bounce ideas off each other.

“Working by yourself can make it hard to stay motivated and keep going,” Andre said. “But having an independent gallery within the building would provide both social interaction and community involvement with those who appreciate the arts.”

While renovations were in progress, a group of artists interested in the gallery space began to form a cooperative. This group recruited other artists, then rented and established the space known as Gallery 9.

Celebrating 25 years of Gallery 9 – 1994 to 2019

The beautifully remodeled space of the Mission Arts building contains two apartments (one for Judith and Murray), 10 studios (one for Judith … and Murray?), a large main gallery and side hallways for exhibits of Gallery 9 members.

Even though gallery members come and go, the building hasn’t changed much in the past 25 years. There have been changes to keep it modern and updates for technology – and, of course, the maintenance and upkeep required for an older building. But it continues to draw thousands of visitors every year.

The gallery has been hosting First Friday events every month since its opening — in total, more than 350-plus events. Now Gallery 9 celebrates its 25th anniversary with an exhibit of current and past members’ latest creations.

This Mission Arts building is registered on the National Historic Registry and has a colorful past. The future of Gallery 9 is as bright and colorful as its courtyard, and as exceptional as the artwork found inside.

Gallery 9 hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Free parking is available on First Friday evenings and weekends in the lot east of the building. For more information, call 402-477-2822 or visit gallerynine.com.

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L Magazine editor

Mark Schwaninger is L magazine and Neighborhood Extra editor.

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