Suburbs need social clubs, and social clubs need swingin’ good fun! North Omaha’s Viking Ship was that place for more than 50 years before turning into a quasi-community center. Here’s the history of the Viking Ship, aka Birchwood Club aka The Prettiest Mile Club.
As Omaha grew, it grew suburbs. The first master planned development in the city in North Omaha. It was called Minne Lusa after Spanish fur trader Manuel Lisa.
Owned and built by Omaha investor Charles Martin, the community was designed by architect Everett S. Dodds, he also designed the majority of houses in it. Martin wanted a social hall for his neighborhood, and Dodds conceived of a Spanish Colonial Revival style building at the intersection of Redick and Minne Lusa Boulevard.
Opened as the Prettiest Mile Club in 1916, for almost the last 100 years the building has been host to all sorts of activities, including a dinner club, social clubs, Scouts, card clubs, fraternities, sororities, conferences, football teams, cheerleading clubs, and conventions, weddings, reunions, parties, and much, much more.
When I was a youth, there were a lot of things I got involved in at the Viking Ship. There was a time when my dad was a janitor for the building, spending his energy cleaning the messes from parties and laboring over the decrepit old shell. I tried boxing for a little while when I was 12, following my brother there several nights a week for a few hours. Old Gus held the punching bag and barked orders while my brother laughed at my sorry attempts to become Rocky. I remember my sisters taking gymnastics there for a while, and more than one organized dance being held in the main part of the building for youth. I remember seeing behind panels at hidden old parts of the building and wondering what was there, all the way back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
This is my homage to the curious mind I had back then. Please share your memories, thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.
The Prettiest Mile Club
Located at 2680 Redick Avenue, the three-story building is 48 wide by 80 feet long. It originally included a gym, bowling lanes and a card room; a dining room, general parlor, and two small rooms for women’s parties, and a full kitchen. The third floor was an enormous wood floor ballroom with two chimneys, and there was a gorgeous oak spiral staircase winding upwards. Clubs and fraternities, sororities and associations from across Omaha would meet there to enjoy the atmosphere, the view of Miller Park lake and the exclusivity of their suburban dreamland known as The Prettiest Mile Club.
The Birchwood Club
In 1930, the Prettiest Mile Club was purchased by a fraternal organization that ran it for a number of years. It was renamed the Birchwood Club, and operated under that name through the 1960s. A swimming pool and outdoor lounge area was also added during this time. At this point, the Birchwood Club started acting like a recreation center for families.
The swimming pool had remodeled locker rooms that were connected to the pool area. The pool had a large deck area, umbrellas, landscaping and a decorative fence.
On the basement floor, four bowling alleys and another lounge were added. They were are available to members for open bowling and for league play. A new bar and tables were also added.
During this era, the dinner club at Birchwood Club was managed for a time by Dave Hayden. Hayden also ran restaurants at the Omaha Airport and Union Station, both called Hayden House, and Hayden himself was highly respected.
In 1957, The Omaha Press Club held its first dinner show at the Birchwood Club. This was a typical event in those years.
The Viking Ship
After the building was largely abandoned for a period of time, June Blair and her family purchased it in the 1970s. After remodeling it they renamed the building The Viking Ship. The ballroom became a gymnasium for gymnastics; the main floor is rented out as a party hall. The basement was remodeled once as a workout gym and a boxing club. Cheerleading and community meetings happened for a long time there, too.
Today the Viking Ship struggles to survive. June Blair, who has owned the building with her husband since the late 1970s, was on a television news interview recently to declare the building is in dire straits. The same interview shared the story of the boxing gym moving out, and showed the building in an abysmal state.
Searching the internet, I found a past fundraising effort that apparently secured $650 out of $40,000 needed to reroof the building. It had pictures of the building falling apart on the interior and exterior.
So this post is to help the world see what the Viking Ship has been, and hopefully to inspire people to consider what it could become. What do you think?
You Might Like…
- A History of the Minne Lusa Historic District
- A History of the Miller Park Neighborhood
- A History of Social Clubs and Social Halls in North Omaha
- A Biography of Everett S. Dodds