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 the late 1930s, the building was used for several other purposes, including as the Lake Theater in the 1940s. It was demolished in the early 1970s.
With 600 seats, the Ritz Theatre was a large segregated theatre at 2041 N. 24th Street. Opening in 1935, it was a North Omaha icon that lasted until 1955. It 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 1921.
The Alhambra Theatre was an early theatre that 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!)
An ad for the Suburban Theatre from the Omaha Bee newspaper circa 1914.
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.
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 the early 1930s, 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 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 40th Street Theatre, which originally opened as the Winn Theater in 1930 near North 40th and Hamilton. It reopened 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 Theatre Directory
In 2016, Chuck Martens shared much of the following list with me. I’ve created a directory of movie theatres and other performance spaces in North Omaha 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.
- 1908—Opening as the Diamond Moving Picture Company, the theatre at 2410 Lake Street was built this year. It operated as the Diamond, Lake, Finch; was demolished by Easter Sunday tornado, rebuilt and reopened in June 1913; and was not a theater again after 1958.
- 1909—Opening this year, the London Theatre was at 2211 Cuming Street.
- 1911—Alhambra Theatre was opened at 1814 North 24th Street this year. It closed in 1931.
- 1911—The Franklin Theatre was opened at 1624 North 24th Street. It stayed open into the 1930s.
- 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.
- 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. It stayed open until 1916.
- 1914—Ivy Theatre was opened at 2128 Sherman Street 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—Grand Theatre was opened at 2918 Sherman this year. It stayed open until 1931
- 1917—Opening this year, the Loyal Theatre was at 2406 Caldwell Street.
- 1917—Burt Theatre was opened at 4116 North 24th Street this year. It stayed open for less than a decade.
- 1918—Opening this year, the Suburban Theatre was located at 4414 North 24th Street. It closed within 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.
- 1925—Hippodrome Theatre was opened at 2514 Cuming Street. It was open for a year before being renamed the Capitol Theatre, and stayed open until 1928.
- 1926—Beacon Theatre was opened at 2910 Ames Avenue this year. It was open until 1966.
- 1926—The Corby Theatre was opened at 2805 North 16th Street.
- 1928—The Military Theatre 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.
- 1931—The Ritz Theatre 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.
- 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.
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