Judges, teachers, decorated veterans, actors and singers, an Olympian and a Heisman Trophy winner are among its alumni. After opening in 1923, the last graduates were in 1984. Omaha Technical High School, also called Tech High, was located at North 30th and Cuming Streets. This is a short history of the school.
Before Tech High
Before 1920, there was one high school in Omaha. Almost all the other schools across the city offered eighth grade education, and that’s what most students ended school with.
In 1914, the Omaha school district established a unique facility among the 50 schools that were open then. The Fort Street Special School for Incorrigible Boys was located at North 30th and Brown Streets in the Miller Park neighborhood. As a school for boys who “had no interest in school at all,” the challenge was to teach them lifelong learning skills in engaging ways.
Installing a printing press, machining tools and drafting equipment, the students received a career and technical education that schools are striving to provide for learners today. However, after packing the building full, in a decade the Fort Street School was closed and the students were sent to a new school. The year was 1923.
Stenography and typewriting. Imagine going to a school where those are seen as primary subjects, and the rest of the classes are built around them. That was the vision of the Omaha school district when they opened the original Commercial High School. Opened before 1900, the school offered classes in carpentry, printing, auto mechanics, mechanical drawing, the gas engine, electricity and more. Commercial High was on the cutting edge when it opened because they had the district’s first committed Domestic Science teacher. Originally operating in several buildings downtown, a school was eventually built at South 17th and Leavenworth Streets. However, in 1923 it closed and students were sent to a new school.
After it was closed, in 1923 the building that housed Commercial High was re-opened as Washington School. It was demolished in 1926.
Welcome to the New School
The Omaha Board of Education was excited to solicit bids to build a grand new Commercial High School between Cuming and Burt, from North 30th to North 33rd Street. The architect, Jack Wyman, created the designs over three years starting in 1917. However, the initial designs for the Technical and Commercial High School weren’t accepted by the Board. Instead, it was redesigned and renamed to reflect its more specific mission as Technical High School.
The school was built on a creek that ran from today’s Gifford Park to Cuming Street, then south along Cuming to the river. Located at an east-turning junction, the school site was originally a dump for neighbors’ trash. The school’s construction came after the dump’s abatement by the city. Omaha Technical High School opened on 3219 Cuming Street on October 15, 1923, with nearly 2,400 pupils. It was a five-winged building with a huge football field large athletic field that covered on three city blocks.
The Most Modern School
When it opened in 1923, Tech High was named the largest and most advanced high school west of Chicago.
The school board intended to combine the knowledge taught at Commercial High School with the skills taught at the Fort Street School, and then pack the building with excited learners who were driven to become successful students. To do that, they packed the building with the latest learning tools, including an entire floor of dedicated home economics classrooms, extensive wood and metal shops, and highly advanced science classrooms that were unparalleled in the district and across the entire Midwest. There was also a well-equipped greenhouse and two large gymnasiums. There was also a deck with a canopy on the roof of the building that housed an outdoor exercise area.
Tech High also had the only swimming pool in any Omaha public school for decades.
When it was built, there were 124 rooms in the school. By 1940 enrollment had reached 3,684 students, with more than 200 teachers. Developed with high academic standards the school was a forerunner to today’s vocational education in high schools by offering students that largely choose not to continue on to college the opportunity to learn a trade or profession.
There was a high school radio station at Tech in the 1920s, whose call letters were KFOX. When it went on air in 1926, KFOX had one of the most state-of-the-art radio studios in Omaha.
Originally called the Quadrant, the Tech High yearbook was later called Liongate and the Reflector.
There were hidden tunnels and staircases throughout the building, a grand marble lobby and even an underground stream.
Throughout the years, many popular performers appeared in the school’s renowned auditorium. In 1928, John Philip Sousa’s marching band performed, and in 1926, The Metropolitan Opera Company of New York played there. A famous period actress Cornelia Ottis Skinner made her first high school appearance there in 1930, with other actors including Helen Hayes and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. performing there, too.
Tech Junior High
During the 1950s, the Omaha school district moved all seventh and eighth grade classes out of elementary schools to create the city’s junior high system. Starting in 1953, Technical Junior High School was located in a portion of Tech High School.
From the start, Tech Junior High was treated as a predominantly Black school. They worked especially hard to ensure that Tech Junior High be for Black students, sending nearby white students to other schools even when it cost a lot of money. In a 1968 Ebony magazine article, Ernie Chambers, then a community activist and not yet a senator, reported that the school was habitually underfunded because it was segregated. He noted statistics from the district around racial breakdown, and directly stated that racism caused massive disparities between Tech Junior High and Horace Mann Junior High (another Black school), and other junior highs in Omaha, all of which were kept predominately for white students.
With 551 black students and 48 white students, the last class at Tech Junior High was 91% African American. It closed after the 1971-72 school year.
In 1973, the United States Department of Education took Omaha Public Schools to court over its segregationist practices, and the former Tech Junior High was cited extensively as an example.
Leaving Many Marks on History
Throughout its history, the school graduated more than approximately 25,000 students. Its most important graduates included military officers including Captain Alfonza W. Davis, a Tuskegee Airman; and Brigadier General Kenneth Walker, US Army Air Corps, posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor in World War II, and pioneer in military aviation. Several politicians graduated from Tech, including Roman Hruska, former US Senator; Johnny Rosenblatt, former Omaha mayor; James Dworak, former Omaha mayor; and Sen. Ernie Chambers, the longest-serving ever member of the Nebraska State Legislature.
The school also graduated many of the 20th century’s most important Nebraska athletes, including Bob Gibson, Baseball Hall of Famer for the St. Louis Cardinals; Louis Hartz, former American political scientist; Jim Houston, national rodeo champion; Johnny Rodgers, former college football superstar and Heisman Trophy winner; Bob Boozer, a college and professional basketball player and Olympic Gold Medalist in 1960; Jack Urban, former professional baseball player (Kansas City Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals); Les Webster, college and professional football player for the Cincinnati Bengals; Lucille Wilson, 3x United States women’s track team in the Olympics; Phil Wise, college and professional football player; and Ron Boone, a professional basketball player.
Actor John Beasley also graduated from Tech.
Carl Palmquist was a longtime principal at Tech who had many admirers and detractors. He worked at Tech during the 1950s and 60s. His efforts in leading the school through racial tension and advocating for students who’d been kicked out of other schools are still admired. However, he was criticized during his tenure for racist practices and discriminating against some student populations.
In 2016, longtime coach John B. Morse was inducted into the Omaha Public School Athletic Hall of Fame. According to Morse, the Trojan baseball team’s only only state championship happened in 1966.
The last Metro Champion football game was played between Tech High and Creighton Prep in 1971. That year, coach Richard “Dick” Christie coached the team. Throughout the entire season, the team never kicked an extra point or a field goal until the last 9 seconds of the game to beat Creighton Prep 9 to 6.
- L. R. Rusmisel
- Dr. Dwight E. Porter
- Dr. Carl Hansen (1945 to 1947)
- Carl Linn (1947)
- Lloyd W. Ashby (1947 to 1950)
- Carl Palmquist (1950 to 1971)
- Dr. Odra Bradley (1971-1984)
White supremacy enacted through racism ensured Omaha Technical High School would be closed; for Omaha Public Schools it was simply a waiting game to decide when.
Housing equality became a primary issue in the late 1950s for the civil rights movement and redlining and forms other discrimination had to end. White people in North Omaha generally didn’t want to live near African Americans. So, from Cuming northward to Ames and from 40th east, North Omaha emptied out of white families rapidly in part of a nationwide trend called “white flight.” Race restrictive covenants that were signed by a lot of middle class homeowners became illegal to enforce, and white people didn’t want to live by African Americans.
Becoming a de facto segregated “black school,” Tech also became Omaha Public Schools’ center for mentally handicapped students. The pressures drove school performance down, further pushing away students.
By the mid-1960s, Tech’s student population was down to 800 students. As part of its desegregation plan, the district implemented a magnet school program in the 1970s that brought students back. In 1972, the Omaha school board approved an extensive renovation of the school. It featured new science labs, a radio/television center, painting and more in the classrooms and halls, along with new light fixtures and new classroom furniture. In 1972-73, the student population was 94.5% African American. By 1974 the population was back up to 1,500 students.
However, even with all the money and promotion, it wasn’t enough to sustain a mixed race student population and white students left Tech en masse again. By 1983, the student population hovered around 700, with African American students making up at least 60% of the student body. The district didn’t want to maintain a successful school for Black students, and Tech High was closed. After graduating thousands of students over 60 years, the school was permanently closed in 1984.
Soon after it closed, the building was repurposed with architects refurbishing and restoring much of Tech High in the early 1990s. The original lobby features polished marble and ornate moldings. During renovations, Omaha Public Schools converted the football field into a parking lot and moved the main entrance to the building to the east side, with a three story atrium greeting guests. Architects used the high ceilings in the two original gymnasiums to create two floors of office space, while leaving the original auditorium and other features largely intact.
Working over a decade, alumni continue restoring the building’s 2,200-seat auditorium. A group called the Tech High Auditorium Restoration Committee is coordinating donations and work. The original lobby, which has been preserved, is an elegant structure of polished marble and ornate moldings. The main entrance to the building is now on the east side. Stone steps to a former second story entrance were removed and a new first floor entrance was built for easier access. A three story atrium is featured inside the east entry. Architects used the high ceilings in the two original gymnasiums to create two floors of office space in this area.
New Schools in the Old Tech
Today there are three parts of the former Tech High. At the east end is the Teacher and Administrative Center area, or TAC. In the central part of the building is the auditorium which hosts a variety of public events now. On the west end is the Career Center, where more than 700 high school students learn technical and career skills.
In 1996, the Skinner Magnet Center, named for Tech graduate and the first African American school leader in Omaha Eugene Skinner, opened in the former Tech High. Focusing on performing arts, technology and math, it hosts a small cadre of students from across the district in a small section of the building. In the late 1990s, the Omaha Public Schools Career Center opened at Tech High. Offering a variety of skilled and technical sciences courses, it is a modern version of the original purpose of the building. Courses include automotive technology; automotive collision repair and refinishing; construction; electrical systems technology; construction; electrical systems technology; motor sports repair; welding; professional services; commercial design; culinary skills; digital video production; photography; health science; emergency medical technician; and health occupations. There are also innovation partnerships at the Career Center that have resulted in the University of Nebraska Medical Center High School and the Zoo Academy, in partnership with the Henry Doorly Zoo.
The future of Tech High continues to reveal itself, and with the leadership of the Omaha school district’s board and staff, the building should live long into the future.
You Might Like…
- FREE! Download a sample chapter of North Omaha History Volume 3 about the history of Omaha Technical High School here!
- A History of Cuming Street In North Omaha
MY ARTICLES ABOUT THE HISTORY OF SCHOOLS IN NORTH OMAHA
GENERAL: Segregated Schools | Higher Education
PUBLIC GRADE SCHOOLS: Belvedere | Cass | Central Park | Dodge Street | Druid Hill | Florence | Fort Omaha School | Howard Kennedy | Kellom | Lake | Long | Miller Park | Minne Lusa | Monmouth Park | North Omaha (Izard) | Omaha View | Pershing | Ponca | Saratoga | Sherman | Walnut Hill | Webster
PUBLIC MIDDLE SCHOOLS: McMillan | Technical
PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOLS: North | Technical | Florence
CATHOLIC SCHOOLS: Creighton | Dominican | Holy Angels | Holy Family | Sacred Heart | St. Benedict | St. John
LUTHERAN SCHOOLS: Hope | St. Paul
HIGHER EDUCATION: Omaha University | Creighton University | Presbyterian Theological Seminary
MORE: Fort Street Special School for Incorrigible Boys | Nebraska School for the Deaf and Dumb
Listen to the North Omaha History Podcast on “The History of Schools in North Omaha” »
- Omaha Technical High School webpage on classcreator.com
- “History of the Skinner Magnet Center” by Omaha Public Schools
- Omaha Public Schools Career Center official website
- “Technical High School” by the Gifford Park Neighborhood Association
- “Omaha principal to reach 50 year mark” by KETV about the illustrious Gene Haynes, who coached and taught at Tech. When I was at North he used to say, “Hit the bricks Brotha Sasse!” every time I walked by him. I thought that was unique until the Internet told me he said that to everybody, and always remembered our names.
The basketball team picture labeled for 1960 was actually 1974.
Hi, I’m trying to find info on Gene Lee Coon who attended Omaha Tech High for a period in the 1930’s. And was a member of their marching band. He later had some success writing and producing the original Star Trek as Gene L. Coon. Please e-mail me at Justt79623@aol.com Much info would be appreciated. Thanks.
Hey Justin, if you haven’t done it right, you should definitely check in with the Omaha Tech High facebook page.
You should include the only state championship baseball team of 1966 that tech ever had in its history!
Thanks John – I’m quoting you in the article!
Coach Richard “Dick”Christie coached the last Metro Champion football team for the class of 1971. The greatest game for us was we never kicked an extra point or a field goal until the last 9 seconds of the game to beat Creighton Prep 9-6. The Trojans lost to Prep 6-0 in the same Metro Championship game the year before. Trojans were Champions!
I’ll add that to the article – thanks for sharing Donald!
Do they have any pictures of cheerleading and J squat from 1980-1983
I’m not sure where you’d even look for those Bernadette – You might check the Omaha Tech High Alumni page on facebook.
Bernadette I don’t have a year book from the 80s. I do however have a yearbook from 1957 lol
LikeLiked by 1 person
5 of 7 children I my family graduated from Tech High:
1956, 57, 59, 66, 69
My husband (45 years) graduated in 68
I was a miniature cheerleader for Tech (1 think from 54-57) and was pictured in the 1957 yearbook….
Since two of my sisters were cheerleaders they taught me all the cheers!
GREAT school, great memories
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for sharing that Becky – what a great legacy!
We are having our 60th Class Reunion from Tech High this year…where can I get this publication on Tech High and how do I get it? Wonderful information and done well.
Hi Judy, and thanks for writing! I’ve posted this history of Tech High, which is a chapter in a book I’ve written, for free at https://northomahahistory.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/noh-chapter-103-technical-high-school-by-adam-fletcher-sasse.pdf
Hope that’s useful!
I have several Grand and probably Great-Grand relatives from both mother’s and father’s side of the family originally from Nebraska…. I can’t find any direct link to Omaha though. The point of this note, however, is that my Mom has three 1924 “The Quadrant” year books that she got from her father (Frank J. Wolf 1902-1986). My grandfather, Frank, didn’t graduate from OTHS so I’m puzzled as to why he had them. There is a March 1924 Graduates Volume VI, No. 3; a June 1924 Seniors, Vol VI, No.4; and a Dec 1924, Vol 7, No. 3. I didn’t recognize any names in any of the books so I can only assume that my grandfather must have known someone who attended or taught there.
I would be interested in donating these artifacts to a credible historic society dedicated to preserving the legacy of this school. Please assist me with this effort.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I’d suggest you contact the Douglas County Historical Society by calling (402) 455-9990 during business hours.
Thank you very much.
LikeLiked by 1 person
My mother, Ruth W Corson was a 1936 graduate of Omaha Tech and just passed away on Aug. 4th. She would have been 100 on Nov. 9th ,2018.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Adam F.C.Fletcher, why do you say falsities in this article on Tech High closing ? You know fully well I would bet that Tech was not closed because “the district did not want to maintain a segregated school, ” as you stated in this article. Tech was not a segregated school at the time. Perhaps on ade facto basis only , but that w because all too many whites were bigoted white supremacists who thought they were too good to attend schools that had black people in them.
Come on Mr. Fletcher, please give us the real reason that Technical High was closed ? It was closed of course for the very same reason that Technical and vocational schools in black neighborhoods all across America were closed: To economically cripple black boys as future skilled laborers and providers for their families. It was done to establish black people as a future permanent underclass. You should pay attention to the authorship of Dr. Uma Johnson. Enough said for now.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you for teaching me Nathaniel Declared Jr. Please feel free to keep going — I want to learn and share the history more honestly.
wish I could of attended tech high ,closed my 10th grade year,maybe my life wood be better?tech is a good quality school ,I think of how many important people attended .love basketball.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you for such a beautiful memory of the greatest High School the city of Omaha has ever had! I attended Tech Junior High and Tech High and graduated in 1964. We were a very accomplished athletic program at Tech but also turned out a great number of scholars. Please mention the 1963 State basketball Championship featuring High School All-American Fred Hare (RIH) and All-State player Joe Williams. Thank you again
Bobbi Mac just read Email Rod back a Lotta Lotta good year remembrance Bobbi I can remember playing sports with you and Ronnie Johnny A Rudy Ross Reggie youngThen watching the grade basketball team Harold Crow Rodney Boone of course Fred hate Joe Williams Charlie brown waltgarrison John Mackey Do you know it was never any racism it was just good clean fun and friends enjoying high school well I hope you get to read this
I am Reverend Dr. Diane Harris Johnson, a 1969 graduate of Omaha Tech High School. All 11 members of the Harris Family graduated from Tech High. After graduation I attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and was the first African American to be selected for the Mortar Board (membership based on scholastic achievement) and I believe the first or second African American female to graduate from UNL with a BS degree in Physical Education. I was the first African American DGWS Volleyball referee in Nebraska.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I like to get a Tech High School year book for the class 1969. Can someone please help with this?
Hello Tech High Trojans!!! I went to Jr. High at Tech. It was a wonderful high school. I went to Tech in 1967 & 68. I am proud to be a Trogan from the past!!! I was born in North Omaha & my Heart will always be there…….P. S. I would visit with the Broom Man when I had to hunt him down for one or two of his Awesome straw brooms!!! I was Probally only 7 or 8 then so that would of been aprox. 1961-62. I Love Tech High & North Omaha!!!
LikeLiked by 1 person
The Tech Jr. High Basketball Program had one of the Greatest Coaches Ever Mr. Frank Catania in Trojan’s Basketball History he won so many championship as the Head Coach of the ( 8th-9th ) grade teams featuring so many of the Trojan’s legends he was a Great Coach,Person,Mentor,Friend,Man “ RIP” Coach Mr.Frank Catania Trojan’s 4LIFE ❤️✊🏾👍🏽🙏🏿
LikeLiked by 1 person
Adam, not sure we can talk sports at Tech without mentioning Coach Alexander, who himself was a two time All American at UNO.
LikeLiked by 1 person