Omaha has its fair share of celebrities born here, but the city has only one president to claim as a native son: Gerald R. Ford. He didn’t live here for long, but there is a gated area in the city dedicated to celebrating the President Ford and his wife, Betty. If you visit the Ford Birthsite, you may want to explore the rest of the neighborhood, so here are my suggestions on what to see and where to eat.
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Where is the Gerald R. Ford Birthsite & gardens?
Gerald R. Ford was born Leslie King, Jr. on July 14, 1913, at 3202 Woolworth Ave. in Omaha, Nebraska. His name changed later when he was adopted by his stepfather.
The Ford Birthsite is located just west of Downtown Omaha near Hanscom Park at 32nd and Woolworth streets. The area is residential. The home where he lived is no longer there (it was torn down in 1971). In its place a colonnade and rose garden reminiscent of the White House – where he spent about 2 ½ years as president. The garden was an addition to the birthsite memorial, and was created in honor of Betty Ford.
It’s managed by the city of Omaha.
What to expect at the Birthsite
Here are the expectations in short: Everything to see at the birthsite is outdoors. It is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and free to visit. It is wheelchair accessible.
As far as presidential monuments and historical sites go, I’ll be honest with you: The Ford Birthsite in Omaha is underwhelming. While some of the gardens are fairly well tended, other areas show a hint of neglect. Maybe neglect is too strong of a word. Maybe just ignored.
There are memorials in place marking each U.S. president that includes the date of their inaugurations and their home states. It hasn’t been updated since President Obama took office.
Nearby, there is a memorial listing all of the Nebraska governors. It hasn’t been updated since Governor Heineman.
There is a small exhibit inside the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center located right next door; however, the conservation center is not open to the public, nor do they do public tours. You’ll need to schedule an appointment to visit.
Artifacts and memorabilia on display
If you’ve come to the Ford Birthsite to learn a little more about our 38th president, be sure to visit the small gazebo-like area with displays of artifacts, photos and memorabilia. One display is of his childhood, another of his time in the office, and yet another of recreational pursuits.
There’s also a display for his wife, Betty Ford, and her influence on the national discourse. Betty personally dedicated the rose garden to the people of Omaha in July 1980.
There are audio recordings of President Ford that can be played. One recording in 1975 is of Ford describing the symbolism of the birthsite and gardens.
Is there a time capsule there?
Yes. I didn’t know this until I walked around during a recent visit.
In 1976, officials sealed documents, momentos and other items they thought best showed how life was in Omaha and the U.S. during the nation’s bicentennial. The plan is to unseal everything in 2076, placing the items on display. The display will be temporary as things will be resealed for another 100 years, with added items chosen to represent Omaha life in 2076.
Ford birthsite neighborhood
This part of Omaha is, admittedly, one I haven’t explored very much. I’m most familiar with the nearby Hanscom Park. It has a large dog park that we’ve visited a few times, as well as a great playground near a small lake.
On my recent morning spent in the area, I discovered International Bakery Cake & Donuts. The bakery has grown in popularity in recent years and I think this new location is evidence of that.
The draw is the super fresh pastries – many if not most lean toward the Latin American variety like pan dulce and orejas. All are affordably priced between $1 and $3.
I bought a selection that just appealed to me, including a gigantic donut (for only $1.90!), one churro, some interesting stuffed croissant-but-not-a-croissant thing, and a savory pastry that was a surprise to me.
It’s totally worth stopping by and getting a few things to sample. Just grab a tray and tongs and then start piling your treasures onto the tray.
If you don’t have a sweet tooth…I’m totally judging you. That’s weird.
But if you don’t want a sweet treat, perhaps a pint of local beer will do the trick? Vis Major Brewing Co. is also near the President Ford birthsite. They do have snack food and pizzas on the menu, as well.
- Hanscom Park, 3201 Woolworth Ave.
- International Bakery Cake & Donuts at 1052 Park Ave., suite B
- Vis Major Brewing Co., 3501 Center St.
More restaurants near President Ford’s Birthsite
If you’re looking for more substantial options for a meal, there are several restaurants nearby in the Field Club and Hanscom Park neighborhoods. I’m most familiar with Dinkers Bar & Grill and Greek Islands Restaurant.
Dinkers is the epitome of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant but the unassuming place serves some of the best burgers in Omaha.
The family-owned Greek Islands Restaurant serves Greek food, obviously. I recommend trying the sampler appetizer to get a good variety of classic foods like Tiropita, Spanakopita, and Keftedes. Or if you like a little show, order the flaming saganaki.
If you’re visiting in the morning, there are two possible breakfast spots for you to choose from: Sunnyside on Center and the woman-owned bakery, Carter & Rye.
- Dinkers Bar & Grill, 2368 S. 29th St.
- Greek Islands Restaurant, 3821 Center St.
- Sunnyside on Center, 3528 Center St.
- Carter & Rye, 3544 Center St.
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