While it has absolutely no active movie theaters today, the North Omaha community has been home to at least 25 movie theaters over the last century. This is a short history of those theaters. Its really incomplete, as information has been hard for me to find. Following is what I’ve collected so far!
Lincoln Motion Picture Company
Before I share anything about any theaters in Omaha, its absolutely vital to highlight the Lincoln Motion Picture Company. Today, it is considered the first all-black movie production unit in the United States, with everything they produced aimed directly at African American viewers. Important, pioneering movies were made by African Americans in North Omaha. THAT is a big deal.
Founded in 1916 by brothers Noble and George Johnson, the company made and distributed five films, which were generally limited to “special showings” for African Americans in churches and small assembly halls. These feature films became known as “race movies.”
According to BlackPast.org, after moving to Los Angeles hoping to make inroads, the brothers’ business failed. Production expenses, minimal sales, and other barriers limited their ability to make more movies.
Early Theaters in North Omaha
There are few records of North Omaha’s earliest movie theaters available. One reader has pointed out that they were mostly just a fabric sheet posted against a wall with a few dozen folding chairs in front of them – not very romantic or lasting. Much of what is included in the following paragraph was deciphered from old advertisements in the Omaha Bee newspaper, as well as city directories from the 1910s and 1920s.
Early theaters in North Omaha included the Alamo Theatre that was located in my old neighborhood at North 24th and Fort Streets in 1914, as was the Victoria Theatre. One of the reasons I started this blog was to uncover its history, and this is another great find. The Frolic Theater was located at 4116 North 24th Street in the same year, and he Ivy Theatre was at 2128 Sherman Avenue, next to several large apartment complexes, in the 1910s.
A theater called the It Theatre was located at 2910 Sherman Avenue in that decade, while the Joyo Theatre was in the Florence neighborhood during the same period.
The Cass Theatre at 500 N. 16th Street was near the Fern Theatre, which was at 716 North 24th Street. The Fern was destroyed in the 1913 tornado. The New Star Theatre was at 2906 Sherman Avenue for just a year or two.
Pictured above is the Grand Theatre built by the McFarland Moving Picture Company. Opened in 1906 on the block at N. 16th and Binney Streets, today its the Mount Vernon Church.
Records show that one of the first movie theaters in North Omaha was the Diamond Moving Picture Theatre at 24th and Lake Streets. Diamond was one of several segregated theaters in North Omaha that showed films for blacks. Opened 1910, this theater showed films regularly.
In 1913, the Diamond Theatre was destroyed by the notorious Easter Sunday Tornado. Since it was a theater, huge numbers of people were rumored to have been killed there by the tornado. However, that was just a rumor and there were no actual deaths there. The theater may have been rebuilt after that, but I cannot locate much information about it. Above is an ad from the July 2, 1915 edition of the Monitor newspaper. In a 1920 paper, there was an ad showing the theater playing films by the highly influential and pioneering African American director Oscar Micheaux.
After the Diamond closed in 1923, the building became the Lake Theater in 1926. After iconic local entertainer Dan Desdunes operated it as a segregated theater until 1929, it was several other businesses and never a theater again. It was demolished in the early 1970s.
With 600 seats, the Ritz Theater was a large segregated theatre at 2041 N. 24th Street. It was built by North Omaha theater operator Harry L. Taylor, who owned and operated it until he died. Opening in 1935, it was a North Omaha icon that lasted until 1967. The Ritz was demolished in the 1970s.
The Loyal Theatre was at 2410 Caldwell Street and sat 300 people. In 1921, the Loyal was advertised as “the first and only colored theatre in Nebraska.” Charging .15 for admission, the Loyal promoted itself as having the same photo-plays as shown downtown for 50% less.
Other segregated movie theaters existed in North Omaha. The Royal Theater was located in North Omaha, too. With 398 seats, the theater was open in 1921. There’s no mention of it after 1940.
Franklin Theater was at 1624 N. 24th Street, and was open in 1909. It was opened by Frank E. Goff, widely recognized as “Omaha’s pioneer showman.”
Goff also owned and operated the Alhambra Theatre, which opened at 1814 North 24th Street around 1911. After its closure, the building became a roller rink, a grocery store and a miniature golf course before burning to the ground in 1936.
Theaters on Ames Avenue
Another theater in North Omaha was the North Star Theatre at 2413 Ames Avenue. Built it 1926, the theater sat 500 when it opened. Just like most neighborhood theaters at the time, North Star had one screen. The building was laid out in an L-shape, with a lobby around the corner from the screen. The building was renovated in 1946, with the front looking like the picture above. The theater was closed by the 1960s, and has been used as a warehouse since then.
Just down the block from the North Star was the Beacon Theater at 2910 Ames Avenue. Open from 1927 to 1967. The theatre offered Saturday Matinees for kids and families. In the 1940s, movies cost 10 cents. The Beacon, as many others did around that time, showed series of films, like a Roy Rogers western that continued each Saturday. Other stars included Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, and Tom Mix. There was a wooden floor stage beneath the screen. Each Saturday, they would have a drawing of your ticket number and they would call them from the stage during Intermission. The Beacon was built with a “Cry Room” at the back of the theater where mothers with crying children could sit and watch the movie through a large glass and a soundproof room. (Special thanks to Mary Lou Hawkins for sharing her memories with me!)
Before both of those, though, was the Suburban Theatre, with 350 seats, was at 4414 North 24th Street in the first part of the century. The Suburban, opened by Charles Jacobsen (1863-1945), was the first theater in Omaha located outside the downtown core.
Other North Omaha Theaters
The Corby Theatre was located in a wealthy commercial district at the intersection of Sherman and Lothrop Avenues. Opened in 1926, the theater building had three storefronts in addition to the lobby entrance. There were 600 seats for the single screen. The address was 2805 N. 16th Street. In the 1930s, local performers sang and danced for audiences here to supplement the movies. The building was also home to Tut’s Cafe, J & G Bakery, and Letha’s Beauty Shop, and was an example of a grand destination theater in North Omaha.
Another destination theatre—a place people would travel longer distances to get to and spend more time around—was the Military Theatre at 2216 Military Avenue. Opened in 1928, it sat almost 1,000 people. After closing in 1974, the building became a church, and remains that today.
From 1914 to 1955, the Lothrop Theatre was located at 3212 N. 24th Street. Seating almost 500 people, it was built by Sydney Goldberg (1895-1969), an investor who owned a few other theaters in Omaha.
Opened in 1926 and closed in 1959, the Minne Lusa Theatre was located at 6720 N. 30th Street. The center of a community commercial district, the theatre sat almost 400 people. With first run movies, the theatre included a “crying room” for mothers with young children, as well as modern acoustic devices and projectors.
Other theatres in North Omaha included the Hamilton Theater, opened at North 40th and Hamilton Streets in 1916. It was renovated and re-opened as the Winn Theater in 1930, and renovated and re-opened as the 40th Street Theatre on November 11, 1944 with 500 seats, and after closing afterwards, its being renovated right now. In the same area, in addition to The Military mentioned earlier, the Clifton Theatre was opened at 2201 Military Avenue in 1915. It was open for less than a decade. The youngest of all North Omaha theaters was the North Hampton Theater, which was located at N. 58th and Sorenson Parkway in the 1970s and 1980s. After closing, it became a church that continues there today.
North Omaha Theater Timeline
I created this timeline of North Omaha’s movie theaters and other performance spaces over the years, and I hope you enjoy it!
- 1888—The Coliseum was opened at North 20th and Grant. It became the AkSarBen Den in 1906, and burned down in 1926.
- 1900—The Diamond Theatre opened as a vaudeville at 2410 Lake Street. It was demolished by a tornado in 1913, and replaced by a new theatre.
- 1900—Opening this year, the Suburban Theater was located at 4414 North 24th Street. It closed permanently in 1927.
- 1909—Opening this year, the London Theatre was at 2211 Cuming Street.
- 1909—The Franklin Theatre was opened at 1624 North 24th Street, and stayed open until 1926.
- 1911—Alhambra Theater was opened at 1814 North 24th Street this year. It closed in 1931.
- 1911—The Palace Theatre was open at 2303 Davenport Street.
- 1912—Park Theatre opened downtown at 516 North 16th Street in 1912 and ran until 1937.
- 1912—Frolic Theatre was opened at 4116 North 24th Street this year. It stayed open for less than a decade.
- 1913—The Diamond Theatre was replaced by the Lake Theatre after the Easter Sunday tornado. Later it was renamed the Finch, then the Lake again, then closed permanently by 1958.
- 1914—The Star Theater opened this year at 1814 North 24th Street. It closed within the year.
- 1914—The Lothrop Theatre at 3212 North 24th Street opened this year, and operated until 1955.
- 1914—It Theatre was opened at 2910 Sherman Avenue this year, and stayed open until 1916.
- 1914—Ivy Theatre was opened at 2128 Sherman Street (16th and Burdette) this year. It stayed open for less than a decade.
- 1914—The Benson Theatre was opened at 6084 Military Avenue in 1920, it became the Benalto Theatre, and in 1927 it was renamed the Benson Theatre. It stayed open until 1953.
- 1915—Alamo Theatre was opened at 5303 North 24th Street this year. It closed within a decade.
- 1915—Clifton Theatre was opened at 2201 Military Avenue this year.
- 1915—The Joyo Theatre was opened at 30th and Tucker Street this year.
- 1915—The New Star Theatre at 2906 Sherman Avenue opened this year. It closed within a decade.
- 1916—Hamilton Theater was opened at 4006 Hamilton Street.
- 1916—Grand Theatre was opened at 2918 Sherman this year. It stayed open until 1931
- 1914—Opening this year, the Loyal Theatre was at 2406 Caldwell Street.
- 1916—The Star Theater was re-opened at North 16th and Locust.
- 1917—Burt Theatre was re-opened from the old Frolic Theater at 4116 North 24th Street this year. It stayed open for less than a decade.
- 1923—The Victoria Theater opened at 5303 North 24th Street this year, and became the Victoria International Theater in 1931. It closed in 1938.
- 1925—The North Star Theatre at 2413 Ames Avenue opened this year. It operated until 1949, then became the Ames Theatre.
- 1914—Hippodrome Theater was opened at 2514 Cuming Street. It was renamed the Capitol Theatre, and stayed open until 1928.
- 1926—Beacon Theatre was opened at 2910 Ames Avenue this year. It was open until 1968.
- 1926—The Corby Theatre was opened at 2805 North 16th Street.
- 1928—The Military Theater opened January 8th of this year at 2216 Military Avenue.
- 1929—The Minne Lusa Theater opened at 6720 North 30th Street this year. It operated until 1958. Today it is home to Heartland Family Service.
- 1930—Winn Theater was re-opened after it was renovated from the original Hamilton Theater at 4006 Hamilton Street.
- 1931—The Ritz Theater opened this year at 2043 North 24th Street. It closed in the 1960s.
- 1939—Fort Theatre was opened at 5303 North 24th Street this year. It stayed open until 1945.
- 1944—40th Street Theater was re-opened after it was renovated from the Winn Theater at 4006 Hamilton Street.
- 1954—Airport Drive-In Theatre was opened at near 11th and Locust. It closed in the 1970s.
- 1971—The Afro Academy of Dramatic Arts was opened at 4424 North 24th Street in this year. In 1972, it moved to 1001 North 30th Street and stayed open until 1976.
- 1978—The Omaha Opera Company operated at 4515 Military Avenue this year.
- 1978—Opened this year, the Northampton Four Theaters at 56th and Redick. It became Country Club Four Theatres, and closed in 1990.
- 1983—The Circle Diner Theater was opened at 6064 Maple Street this year.
Interactive Map of Historic North Omaha Theaters
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MY ARTICLES ON THE HISTORY OF THEATERS IN NORTH OMAHA
LOCATIONS: Grand Theater | Beacon Theater | Ritz Theater | Minne Lusa Theatre | North Star Theater aka Ames Theater | Corby Theater | Alhambra Theater | Suburban Theater | Military Theater | Diamond Theaters
PEOPLE: Frank E. Goff | George P. Johnson
During the Depression, many theaters had “dish night”. I still have the sauce dish and bread and butter plate my mom got at the Beacon Theatre. At one time these clear pink grape-embossed dishes were worth $150 apiece, but the market seems to have gotten saturated since I tried to sell them in the past year or so at a flea market. There were several different patterns; the lady who stopped to see what price she could get me down to knew the name of the pattern, but had no idea of the dish night moniker or history.
For whatever reason, the Lothrop Theater is not shown.
Its been really hard to find a picture of the Lothrop Theatre, Leon. I did highlight it in the text though, along with other Black theatres in North Omaha. The routine segregation of African Americans from Omaha’s entertainment venues was ridiculous then, and still is today. Thanks for your note.
I remember going to a theater on 24th an Spencer. I thought this was the Gothic. There was a social spot on the corner across from the Black tailor. The theater was next to the bar on the Nort side.
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There’s a bunch of us who could tell stories of the Minne Lusa Theater in the late ’60’s when it was Ray’s Raceway. Action Alley was right next door with what some of us would call “classic” pinball machines.
Went to Ray’s Raceway quite often and had quite a selection of slot cars. Ray was the nicest guy and he also had a raceway at 24th & Vinton is South Omaha.
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This is terrific! Just doing some research on a relative of mine… a Lowell L. Finch who listed on his WWI Draft Reg Card (5 June 1917) his occupation as “Motion Picture machine operator; employed by O. S. Finch, 2410 Lake Street, Omaha.” Searching for theatres in Omaha I came across your site. I see that the Diamond was indeed operated as “The Finch”. Thanks for the info and pictures!
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