During the 1940s and 1950s, Omaha was the location of several Cold War initiatives outwardly intended to keep the country safe from nuclear war, but ulteriorly designed to frighten and captivate a passive populace. With sparse housing around it but proximity to a major metropolitan area, a location at North 72nd and Highway 36 in far North Omaha was an ideal location for an outpost. Located at 11000 North 72nd Street, it was built in 1950 as the Omaha Air Force Station. This is a history of the facility known as the North Omaha Radar Station.
Fighting the Cold War in North Omaha
With exactly 40 acres on the intersection of North 72nd and McKinley Drive, the North Omaha Radar Station was part of a Cold War-focused radar network. In the late 1950s, the radar started being used for the national FAA radar network. The US Army 6th Missile Battalion, 43rd Artillery moved in in 1960. Their mission was to operate the Cold War-era Nike-Hercules air-defense missiles located across eastern Nebraska and western Iowa.
The station was designed to be a model military installation. It featured barracks and family housing, as well as a canteen, commissary and many other buildings in addition to the radars.
In 1968, the North Omaha Radar Station was officially closed and fully transferred to the Federal Aviation Administration. It was listed as federal surplus property afterwards.
Over the years, lots of people had schemes for the place.
According to The Lincoln Journal, in 1969, Omaha Mayor Eugene Leahy’s office submitted a proposal to the State of Nebraska Governor’s Crime Commission. They suggested the State apply to the federal government to take over the inactive station and operate it as a state law enforcement training center. The center was denied to Omaha though, and was sent to Grand Island instead.
Nebraska’s Governor at the time, Norbert Tiemann, was asked to consider the station for a jail and educational purposes. The Douglas County Board thought it could be a prisoner work-release center or a juvenile “halfway” house and correction farm. The 40-acre radar station was turned down Friday as the site for the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center.
In 1971, possession of the North Omaha Radar Station went to Omaha Public Schools. In 1973, the State of Nebraska Department of Health, Education and Welfare began lobbying for the Indian Centers Association to take over the site after OPS didn’t do anything with the facility. However, in 1974, ownership reverted to the federal government.
Losing the Military
The US Army Corps of Engineers managed the station starting in 1974. The Construction Laborers Local Union #1140 has kept offices there since the 1980s, and there’s still a hall there that hosts events regularly. The CLBC Flea Market was been located on the site from the 1970s, with indoor and outdoor stalls. The Companion Dog Club of Omaha and Council Bluffs has been located there since at least 2005.
Locals report that its been a training facility for the Omaha Police Department, and was a “haunted barracks” for a local radio station around 1990.
As of 2014, the radar station was an FAA site that used the Air Force AN/FPS-66A radar as part of an international missile tracking program. Apparently though, the FPS-66A radar was removed that year and serves that purpose no more. It is still operated as an FAA site though.
The Station Today
In 2018, neighbors of the buildings raised concerns with the City of Omaha and other entities about the blighted buildings. A local news station featured the history I wrote here without crediting the site, and showed the current conditions of the buildings.
Nothings changed since then though. The City of Omaha had a demolition order against the owners of the buildings, including the Construction Laborers Building Corporation. That organization doesn’t have the money to demolish the building, and the City doesn’t have money to demolish them. So they still stand.
Today, there is no recognition of the historical significance of this Cold War installation or its buildings, and there are no plans to restore them. They will likely be demolished soon.