|A view from Belvedere Point looking east towards Iowa circa 1950, courtesy of Craig Reisser.|
Maybe, possibly and potentially, in 1806 Lewis and Clark stood on top of a prominent point in present-day North Omaha and looked across the river valley below them. Taking in the massive, shifting and brown water they were traversing, they would have seen trees and fields spread out below them. They might have seen their own camp’s fires and maybe the fires of hunting groups of tribes up or down the valley. They would have been standing on Belvedere Point.
Standing at Miller Park in the 1920s, the City of Omaha Parks superintendent Joseph Hummel called the high bluff to the west the city’s highest peak. He wasn’t exactly right, but it was the best view. At 1,200 feet above sea level, it’s definitely among the highest points in the city.
|The Belvedere neighborhood was platted on this 1885 map, and looks like included lots from Kansas Avenue to Redick Avenue. The lots here and extremely long.|
Platting the Peak
Originally slated to be bordered by Curtis and Kansas with giant lots, the City of Omaha broke up those hopes for at least a few blocks. Wanting to connect Minne Lusa Boulevard with the end of Fontenelle Boulevard, the City condemned the properties and ran the curving Belvedere Boulevard up the hill.
As the center point of the Belvedere Point neighborhood, today the boulevard runs through the neighborhood. It is bordered by North 30th on the east, Fontenelle Boulevard on the west, Curtis Avenue on the north and Laurel Avenue on the south.
Laying Out the Streets and Neighborhood
|I’ve highlighted the Belvedere Point neighborhood in pink on this 1878 map. This map doesn’t show Curtis Avenue.|
Before 1883, the area north of Fort Omaha and south of Florence was farmland. Dr. George Miller, whose park graces the neighborhood to this day, didn’t acquire his land, including the neighborhood named after his park, until after the late 1880s. However, the Belvedere Point neighborhood was platted by 1885.
As the map towards the top of this article shows, the neighborhood was originally only platted from present-day Kansas Avenue to Redick Avenue, and didn’t include Curtis Avenue in that 1885 plat map. In an 1887 map by the McCague Brothers, Redick Avenue, Curtis Avenue and “Hunter Avenue,” now known as Kansas Avenue, are all visible. Its obvious that the J. J. Redick, who owned land along the street of his name, influenced the naming of his avenue. The state-named streets (Nebraska and Kansas Avenues) are obviously named. However, I cannot find the source Stone, Arcadia or Curtis Avenues.
By 1890, the Middletown Addition along North 34th was platted, and the houses in the neighborhood were actually being built. After that, the Belvedere Addition was replatted; the Curtis and Stone Addition included Stone Street for the first time; and the Arcadia Addition included it’s hallmark street. Sidenote: Early in its development, builders installed stone pilasters at North 30th and Stone as a formal entryway to the homes along that street. The boulevard was built soon afterward.
|An ad from an 1908 Omaha Bee edition shows lots in the Curtis and Stone’s Addition selling for $300 to $350 apiece.|
The churches along North 30th Street were built after 1900. The Miller Park Overlook Addition was built after the boulevard was installed, and the Belvedere Vista Addition was the late-comer in the neighborhood, with its development happening during World War II and into the 1950s.
The Belvedere Boulevard
|Looking east on the Belvedere Boulevard toward North 30th Street and Miller Park around 1917.|
In 1889, a proposal for a boulevard through the Belvedere neighborhood was discussed by the City of Omaha Park Commission. This was before they bought the land that became Miller Park and Fontenelle Park. They wanted to stream traffic to these newly developing areas of the city, along with the Forest Lawn Cemetery, which was laid out in 1885. However, their vision lapsed.
In 1916, the City condemned the properties between Curtis and Kansas Avenues. Present-day Fontenelle Boulevard began its life as Boulevard Street in 1892, after landscape architect H. W. S. Cleveland designed the city’s park-like roadway system. More than 20 years later, the City intended to connect Boulevard Street to Florence Boulevard, which then included Minne Lusa Boulevard. That year, Miller Park’s Birch Drive also was finished to wind through the park from Minne Lusa to Belvedere, connecting at North 30th Street.
Their plan took the form of Belvedere Boulevard, which was formed from property the City took along with a stretch of Kansas and Curtis Avenues, and North 34th Street. However, Belvedere Boulevard was originally laid out to include the entire length of Fontenelle Boulevard from Curtis Avenue to Ames Avenue. That was changed in 1917, and that section was renamed to its current name.
Today, it waggles and winds up the hillside and through the neighborhood, successfully connecting its longer siblings, and yet, featuring its own unique beauty.
The roadway winds through two S-curves up the hill, joining N. 34th Street, shooting north for a few blocks and then is actually co-signed with Curtis Avenue until it joins Fontenelle Boulevard, which formally ends at this point, although the street continues as Martin Avenue.
The First Houses on the Peak
|A view of the home on the peak shortly after its completion in 1950, courtesy of Craig Reisser.|
Maps of the city of Omaha showing the Belvedere Point neighborhood in the 1880s. However, it wasn’t until 1942 that the neighborhood was filled in and houses were built on top of the peak.
The builder for the Belvedere Vista subdivision finished the first home on the ridge at 3302 Nebraska Circle for himself. It might have been the first subdivision in Omaha with a cul-de-sac; however, instead of concrete, he planted turf and a flower bed in the center.
This same developer built well-designed wood frame homes with individuality, and didn’t repeat the same design within the view of any other similar home. 3302 Nebraska Circle is a home with a curving bay window.
W. Robert “Bob” Reisser (now 93) and Kathryn Poole Reisser had the home on the peak, pictured above, custom built in three stages – 1950, 1964 and 1977. According to Craig Reisser, the son of the original owners, it has only been sold once since then.
|Saint John’s is now the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection.|
Built as Saint John’s Episcopal Church, in 1986 the congregation at 3004 Belvedere Boulevard merged with Saint Phillips to become the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection. It was built in 1927 and proudly continues operating today.
The former Miller Park Presbyterian Church at North 30th and Redick Avenue is now home to the World Fellowship Christian Center. Blessed Sacrament parish was founded in 1919 on the northwest corner of North 30th and Curtis Avenue. After operating a school, convent and outreach programs for years, the church closed in 2014. Second Advent Church of God in Christ is on the corner of N. 30th and Arcadia.
Trinity Lutheran Church continues to operate across from Miller Park on North 30th Street. The church celebrated their 100th anniversary recently. The Second Advent Church of God in Christ is at 5960 N 30th Street.
Perhaps one of the most important landmarks in the Belvedere Point neighborhood is the Nelson Mandela School at North 30th and Curtis Avenue. Originally opened as the Blessed Sacrament parish in 1919, today’s school includes the former church and school. Blessed Sacrament started in a wooden building that originally served as a church at Fort Omaha. Moved from there to the new site, the church built its first permanent structure in 1921. After operating a school, convent and outreach programs for years, the church closed in 2014.
Businesses in the neighborhood are limited to the section along the west side of North 30th Street, and co-mingle with the churches listed above. They include a former bicycle shop and grocery that’s now a childcare facility at North 30th and Kansas Avenue; the Lutheran Service Corps facility near 30th and Curtis, and the new Nelson Mandela Elementary School, a private school in the former Blessed Sacrament building. The one-time Miller Park YMCA is now empty after hosting a daycare for several years.
|Located at 3775 Curtis Avenue, the original Belvedere Elementary School opened in 1924.|
The Belvedere Elementary School opened in 1924, and was added onto in 1946, 1950, 1957, and 2002. Built as a suburban elementary in a white neighborhood, it has been continually redeveloped to meet the expanding needs of become a more integrated learning environment reflecting its diversity.
Today, the neighborhood wrestles with abandoned houses owned by bad lenders and other challenges facing all of North Omaha. However, it is also a bastion of hope for surrounding neighborhoods. Since 1977, the Belvedere Point Neighborhood Association has been building the neighborhood, and there are places their pride shines through.
When I was growing up, I remember walking through Belvedere being in awe of all the nice houses near mine. Going up the stairs at Stone Street to Belvedere Point was a highlight of walking to and from school and McMillan, which is several blocks away.
Mostly though, I remember standing at that point and looking out, wondering what all those cool old rooftops were to the south, throughout North Omaha. In a way, Belvedere Point is partly responsible for this whole blog. Go stand there sometime and drink in the view.
- Belvedere Elementary School by Omaha Public Schools
- “Belvedere Point Lookout” by Historic Florence
- “Get to Know Miller Park and Belvedere Boulevard” from Omaha By Design
- “Omaha Parks and Boulevards National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form” from the National Parks Service.
- “Omaha’s Parks and Boulevard System,” (1992) by the City of Omaha and archived by the EPA.