North Omaha is screaming full of history, and the new 24th and Lake Historic District is a tremendous example of why that is true, and why it matters.
Intro to 24th and Lake
After its first developments from the 1870s through 1900, the intersection of North 24th and Lake evolved to become a hotbed of the African American community. With several synagogues and many residents, it was also beating the heart of the Jewish community. Farmers came from across North Omaha to get their supplies here, and many other things happened around this area.
Its most notable for its jazz clubs and social scene from the 1920s through the 1950s. In the 1960s, a series of riots ate away at the storefronts, while over the last 50 years the City of Omaha has rampantly obliterated the surrounding neighborhood and many buildings that used to be in this district.
In 2016, 38 buildings were included in a new listing on the National Register of Historic Places. This article is an introduction to the powerful, poignant past of a large jewel in North Omaha’s historical crown.
Following are the buildings included as part of the 24th and Lake Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. They are mostly commercial buildings, with a few social halls, old jazz clubs, apartment buildings and houses included. There is also a section on important buildings that weren’t included in the listing as well as buildings that were demolished.
|The Jewell Building, home to the Dreamland Ballroom, is at N. 24th and Grant Sts. It was a fixture in North Omaha from the 1920s through the 1940s.|
The Jewell Building, including the Dreamland Ballroom, at 2221 North 24th Street was built 1923, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The Dreamland Ballroom ran for more than 40 years, and featured performances by many jazz and blues legends. Some of the performers there included Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, The Nat King Cole Trio and Lionel Hampton.
Webster Telephone Exchange Building
|This is Bertha Calloway standing in front of the Webster Telephone Exchange Building in the 1980s. The building is located at 2213 Lake St.|
The Webster Telephone Exchange Building, the former home of the Great Plains Black History Museum at 2213 Lake Street, was built 1907. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Omaha architect Thomas Kimball designed the building in 1908, and it survived the 1913 Easter Sunday Tornado. Right after the tornado, the Webster Telephone Exchange became a makeshift hospital and morgue. In the 1930s, the Mid-City Community Center moved into the building and set up a nursery, library, gymnasium, and medical and dental clinics. The community center merged with Omaha’s Urban League in 1934, and they stayed there until 1948.
That year, the Near North Side YMCA moved into the building, and stayed there until 1951. The building was converted to apartments that year. Bertha Calloway opened the Great Plains Black History Museum there in 1976. The museum moved out of the building in 2001 and has relocated, and White Lotus Development purchased it in 2014.
The Broomfield Rowhouse is located at 2502-2504 Lake St.
The Broomfield Rowhouse at 2502-2504 Lake Street was built 1913, and originally listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. Jack Broomfield was a shady African American lieutenant for Omaha’s political boss Tom Dennison. Broomfield and Billy Crutchfield hired North Omaha’s architect, “Cap” Clarence Wigington, to design matching duplexes, and Broomfield’s is the only one left. After he died, Dennison said of Broomfield, “He never failed a friend, and about the only enemies he had were those who owed him money.”
Omaha Star Building
|The Omaha Star Building is at 2216 N. 24th St. Photo courtesy of Joe Kenney.|
The Omaha Star Building at 2216 North 24th Street was built 1923, and originally listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. Architect George Prinz designed Allen Jones’ mortuary in 1923. In 1938, it was bought by Mildred Brown and S. Edward Gilbert, her then-husband, to house their new African American owned, operated and focused newspaper called The Omaha Star. In 1943, they divorced and she became sole owner. Running the paper until she passed in 1989, it continues today. Along the way, the paper has championed positivity and civil rights. Ernie Chambers, Charles Washington, and Cathy Hughes are among its past employees. The Omaha Star is the longest operating Black-owned newspaper run by a woman in the United States.
Micklin Lumber Company
|The Micklin Lumber Company Building is at 2109 N. 24th St.|
The Micklin Lumber Company Building at 2109 North 24th Street was built early in the 1910s. The building was originally used as a hay dealer, and moved out to let Micklin moved there in 1921. Offering all services related to wood, including planing and more, they moved their business from North 21st and Clark Streets to North 24th Street and stayed there for two decades. In 1941, Micklin moved to their large home improvement facility at North 19th and Izard Streets. The Micklin Lumber Company building on North 24th was used as a planing factory into the 1960s and as a ceramics manufacturer in the 1980s. Today, it is home to Wilson Custom Design Tile.
|Skeet’s BBQ Ribs and Chicken is at N 24th and Burdette Sts.|
Skeet’s BBQ Ribs and Chicken at 2201 North 24th Street was built around 1955. Harold Whiteside opened Skeet’s that year after becoming a successful businessman. The building has remained the same since then, even with Whiteside’s important roles in North Omaha as a member of the NAACP, the Iroquois Lodge No. 92 (Elks Club) and Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church. As a young man, he served in World War II as an Air Force corporal. Skeet’s is an institution in North Omaha, and still serves excellent BBQ today.
United States Post Office Station A
|This is the USPS Station A at 2205 N. 24th St.|
The United States Post Office Station “A” at 2205 North 24th Street was built 1948. Since 1894, there has been a post office near North 24th and Lake Streets. Located on the corner in 1901, it was at North 24th and Erskine during the 1913 Easter Sunday tornado. In the 1940s, the “expanding business in the community” in North Omaha required a new building, and it opened in 1948 at 2205 North 24th Street. It was opened into the early 2000s. Today, Salem Baptist Church uses it for a food pantry.
White Rose Gas Station
|The former White Rose Gas Station, part of the National Refining Company, is at 2323 N. 24th St.|
The White Rose Gas Station at 2323 North 24th Street was built around 1920. Part of the National Refining Company, also called EN-AR-CO, this was one of at least three White Rose stations in North Omaha. Its classical features include study columns and clear signage areas, and its easy to picture where the pumps were. It was a Mobile station for several decades, and then home to the United Cab Company for a few decades, and has been an automotive garage for a long time since.
|The F. J. Carey Block is at 2401 N. 24th St.|
The F.J. Carey Block at 2401 North 24th Street was built in 1914. A neighboring building to the massive Edhlom and Sherman Laundry plant, the F.J. Carey Block was originally home to the Carey Cleaners. Edholm and Sherman Laundry moved into the space in the 1940s, staying there until they forced out of business in the 1950s for their racist hiring practices. Automotive body shops operated in it during the 1960s, and Esquire Shining Parlor and Swift Shine Parlor were there in the 1970s. Today it is home to Simple Simon Day Care.
Lion Products Building
|An artist’s conception of what the Lion Products Building at 2423 N 24th St. will look like when Union for Contemporary Arts’ renovations on the space are complete.|
The Lion Products Building at 2423 North 24th Street was built in 1918. That year, the building began its life as an automotive garage. The Crosby and Smith Garage, Pep Service Station and New L Garage all occupied the space until 1945. The next year, Lion Products Inc. began selling farm machinery there. Lion left the building in the late 1960s. In the early 1980s, it became part of the renovated The Blue Lion Center.
Blue Lion Center
|This is the current Blue Lion Building at 2425 N 24th St. At this point in the 1930s, it was home to McGill’s Blue Room and other businesses on the first floor. There were professional services on the second floor, including a real estate agent.|
The Blue Lion Center at 2425 North 24th Street was built in 1913. Its a two-story brick building that has been occupied by dozens of businesses over the last century, including restaurants and a club, professional offices and medical services. The most famous business may have been McGill’s Blue Room, a jazz club from 1939 to 1960. Magrum’s Cafe and the Loyal Diner Café were located on the first floor, too, until the 1960s. For the next few decades, it served as the Waiters and Porters Headquarters. Many of the professionals who kept offices in the building were African Americans, including dentist Dr. Craig Morris; Dr. J. H. Hutten; lawyer John Guilford Pegg; and Dr. William Solomon, who had an office in the building from 1936 to 1977. Many of these professionals were dedicated to African American empowerment in the community, and volunteered much of their lives to struggle for Civil Rights and against racism. Other businesses in the building included a confectionary, Gate City Printing, a clothing store, a variety store, and a soda jerk shop.
In early 1980s, the building was renovated with its neighbor to become the Blue Lion Building. Designed by an African American-owned architectural firm called Ambrose Jackson Associates, the building opened in 1983. Today, it is being redeveloped to become home to The Union for Contemporary Art.
Paul B. Allen’s Showcase
|Paul B. Allen’s Showcase Lounge at 2229 Lake Street.|
Paul B. Allen’s Showcase Lounge at 2229 Lake Street was built in the late 1930s. A tavern owned by Carl Rabes opened here in 1941. In the in the 1950s and 1960s, Paul B. Allen, Sr., his brother Jesse and his son Paul Jr. ran the Showcase lounge here. Fats Domino, Red Foxx, Dionne Warwick, Sam Cooke, T-Bone Walker and James Brown all performed there, along with new musicians including local great Buddy Miles. It has been home to several other clubs and restaurants since then.
26th and Lake Streetcar Shop
|This is a 1916 picture of the Omaha & Council Bluffs Railway Streetcar Barn at N. 26th and Lake Streets. It looks mostly unchanged today.|
The 26th and Lake Streetcar Shop at 2606 North 26th Street was built in 1905. The Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway Company was a huge company that employed hundreds of people in North Omaha. They also had more than 100 streetcars that serviced the area, and needed a facility just for them. In 1905, they constructed the facility at North 26th and Lake Streets to do just that. In 1957, when the streetcar company went out of business, the City of Omaha took over the facility. Eventually, it became the Fleet Management Facility where City vehicles were stored and repaired. In 2016, the City began moving out of the facility and its future is unknown.
Jones and Chiles Building
|2314 N. 24th St. is the Jones and Chiles Building.|
The Jones and Chiles Building at 2314 North 24th Street was built in 1914. In 1916, an African American undertaker named Allen Jones moved into this building. Jones and Reed were morticians here afterwards Chiles left. Herman Friedlander opened a grocery store here by 1926. For the next thirty years either a grocery store or restaurant occupied the first floor. For a short time in the early 1960s, a family doctor named Dr. George B. Lennox had an office on the second floor. Today, the barber shop on the main floor is called Unique Cuts; they are cited across the internet for handing out free condoms.
|The J. D. Lewis Mortuary was at 2310 N. 24th St. for two decades.|
The Joseph D. Lewis Mortuary at 2310 North 24th Street was built around 1926. An African-American, Lewis stayed there until the middle of the 1940s. In the late 1940s, Webster Young and beauty shop owner William King moved in, and by the late 1950s the building was converted to apartments. It has been home to many North Omaha residents since then.
|The former Terrell Drug was just up the street from the Omaha Star at 2306 N. 24th St.|
Terrell Drugs at 2306 North 24th Street was built in 1914. It was first home to Terrell Drugs, and was used as a drug store from the 1910s into the 1960s. African-American pharmacists E. A. Williamson and Dr. Price Terrell were the first operators, followed by Thomas Ross, Joseph Owen and then Milton Johnson.
- This is the Safeway store at 24th and Lake in 1969 when it closed.
Built in 1963, the former Safeway Store at North 24th and Lake Streets was supposed to be a beacon of business in the neighborhood. After demolishing more than two dozen buildings on the block, the Safeway company built a new store. In 1967, it was targeted by protesters during rioting, and again in 1968. The store closed permanently that year, and the chain left Omaha in the early 1980s. After having several businesses located in it, in 1983 it reopened as the Omaha Small Business Network home that’s today called the Business Technology Center.
|The Ideal Hotel building is at 2522 N. 24th St.|
The Ideal Hotel at 2522 North 24th Street was built in 1914. One of the early homes of the USPS Station A, the building has been home to several professionals, including Drs. Paul Rasmussen and Bill Peebles, who were dentists, as well as Dr. Charles Lieber and J. A. Henske. The Ideal Hotel was located here in the 1950s and 1960s. The rest of the building was also home to Ideal Furniture and Hardware, a barber, a billiards hall, and paint stores. Today, its the home of Style of Evolution and several professional offices.
Boston West Laundry
|This is 2414 Lake St., current home to Big Mama’s Sandwich Shop.|
The Boston West Wash Laundry Building at 2414 Lake Street was built around 1913. Today it is home to Big Mama’s Sandwich Shop owned by Patricia “Big Mama” Barron. The longest businesses to stay in the building included Boston West Wash Laundry and the Metz Mansion Cigar Shop. The A&A Music Shop, owned by Paul B. Allan, was there from the 1950s through the 1960s, until they moved to 2508 North 24th Street. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Muhammad’s Mosque was located there, and then the Family Housing Advisory Services, which became Comprehensive Housing Counseling Agency. Big Mama’s moved in almost a decade ago, and as of fall 2016, is moving out soon.
|The Elks Club is at 2420 Lake St.|
The Elks Club in the Columbia Hall at 2420 Lake Street was built in 1919. Opened as a social hall for North Omaha’s African American community. It hosted political rallies and was home to the Omaha Colored Commercial Club, which served an as employment bureau that helped hundreds of African American workers get jobs in their new city. The Iroquois Lodge 92 of the black Elks started meeting there in 1929. They’d been meeting in North Omaha since 1905, and by 1939 they were helping lead the national organization by hosting a major conference. In 1964, Malcolm X spoke at the Elks Hall, with the Omaha World-Herald reporting that he demonstrated “considerable tolerance toward other Negro rights groups.” Today, the Elks Hall continues to host rallies, dances, fundraising meals, and other events. Throughout the years, the Elks have been standard bearers in local parades, too, with a marching band, color guard and drum corps active in throughout the decades.
26th and Lake Garage
|This is the garage at 2526 Lake St.|
The garage at 2526 Lake Street was built in 1946. Car repair shops have been there on and off since it opened, including Bob’s Cleanup Service and Charlie’s Services. Before the 1940s, there was a two story building on this site that had a number of different Black-owned businesses, including barbers, second-hand stores, restaurants and tailors.
- This image from 1928 shows a streetcar in front of the building on the northeast corner of N. 26th and Lake Streets. Notice the streetcar shop across the street. This two story building was home to several Black businesses, including barbers, clothiers and more.
Other Important Buildings
The 24th and Lake Historic District was a bustling commercial district for almost 50 years before becoming the African American cultural and economic hub in Omaha. Waves of new residents started building there in the 1870s, long before the city of Omaha had good economic footing. Several wealthy people built country estates in the area around the intersection. Afterward, the area filled in with homes, businesses, churches, synagogues and more.
There are currently other buildings within and right on the perimeters of the 24th and Lake Historic District that are important, too, but didn’t get included on the National Register of Historic Places. Some of them are listed here, and all of the ones included are still standing.
St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church
|Originally St. John’s A.M.E. Church, this building at North 25th and Grant Streets became home to the St. Benedict the Moor parish in 1923.|
In 1921, St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church was opened as the St. Benedict Community House. Two years later, it was opened as a Black parish at 2423 Grant Street. Since then, the parish has provided a variety of services for the community and held a strong congregation the entire time. Their grade school operated for several decades starting in 1929, and the parish got a new church in the 1950s. Despite suffering the closure of their school, the forced retirement of longtime activist priest Rev. Ken Vavrina, they continue boldly into the future. Today, St. Benedict’s is the only Black Catholic parish in Nebraska.
|The former Carnation Ballroom is located at 2700 N. 24th St.|
The Carnation Ballroom is on the northeast corner of North 24th and Miami Streets, and was built in the 1910s. Originally home to the Forbes Bakery, it became the AmVets Club in the 1930s and The Savoy nightclub in the 1940s. In the 1950s, Omaha Star publisher Mildred Brown opened her Carnation Ballroom there. As an alcohol-free all ages venue, the Carnation booked a lot of blues and R&B stars who were little-known artists who later became household names.
O’Bee Funeral Home
|This is the one-time Obee Funeral Home, still standing as a residence at 2518 Lake St.|
The O’Bee Funeral Home at 2518 Lake Street has an illustrious history in the neighborhood. North Omaha’s architect “Cap” Clarence Wigington designed this house for African American mortician G. Wade Obee as a funeral home in before March 1913. In the picture above, mourners pour in for a funeral after the Easter Day Tornado that year. The Western Undertaking Company moved into the building in 1917, when Obee moved his business to Cuming Street. The first Myers Funeral Home opened here in 1922. Around 1927, Myers moved to 2416 North 22nd Street. After that, the house was then used as a family home, and remains that way today.
Murray the Tinner’s Building was at 2520 North 24th Street was built in 1914. It was home to Ideal Hardward for many years. The Basket Grocery at 2518 North 24th Street was built in 1916. Nesselson’s Grocery was at 2514 North 24th Street, and was built circa 1910. Tomasso’s Restaurant at 2510 North 24th Street was built circa 1916. The Huba Meat Market was at 2506 North 24th Street, and was built circa 1910.
Around the corner, the Carver Savings and Loan Association at 2412 Lake Street was built in 1913. At 24th and Grant, Sig N Archur’s at 2302 North 24th Street was built circa 1959. Harry Frazen’s Confectionary was next door to the Omaha Star Building on the southwest corner of 24th and Grant at 2218 North 24th Street, and was built in 1915. The only houses in the district are the McDonald House at 2225 Lake Street that was built in 1898, and the Paulsen House at 2206 Lake Street was built in 1880. The McDonald House was demolished in 2016.
Buildings Long Gone
|A comparison between 1963 and 2013 shows dozens and dozens of houses, churches, and commercial buildings gone from the 24th and Lake Historic District.|
|This is looking west along the southwest corner of 24th and Lake Streets in the 1950s. Duffy Drugs is located on the corner at 2401 Lake St.|
24th Street Liquors
|This is looking north along the northeast corner of 24th and Lake in the 1950s. 24th Street Liquor is the business on the corner.|
2505 Lake Street was on the northeast corner of the intersection of 24th and Lake. While today its home to the Omaha Small Business Network, it was originally a Safeway store that was only built in 1964, and only stayed open for five years. Before that, there was a large two-story building on that corner that is pictured above. There were also at least five other, smaller buildings on the block that were demolished to make room for the Safeway.
Omaha Wet-Wash Laundry
This is the Omaha Wet-Wash Laundry, located at 2519 North 24th Street. The business was open from approximately 1911 through 1925. After they left, Batt’s Grocery Store was there through the 1930s. The Buggy Plumbing and Heating Company opened at the back of this address in 1886. They moved out in 1956. That same year a real estate broker from Lincoln named George Randol moved into the offices here with the intention of building new houses in the Near North Side neighborhood. An introductory article in the Omaha World-Herald said he was working together with the Urban League to ensure Blacks got better housing options. W. W. Cramer had a hardware store in the same building for several years. A two-story building, an African American attorney named Ray L. Williams had offices in the 1950s and 60s. In the early 1960s it was demolished along with the rest of the surrounding block to make room for the new Safeway store, which I explore elsewhere in this article.
Diamond Moving Picture Theatre
|2410 Lake Street is pictured here as the Off Beat.|
The Diamond Motion Pictures Theatre lot was important to 24th and Lake for many years. Although its an empty lot now, 2410 Lake Street was been home to many businesses throughout its existence. Starting as the site of the Diamond Theatre in 1911, the original building here was demolished by the Easter Sunday Tornado of 1913. After being rebuilt, the Diamond Motion Picture Company operated the theatre here for approximately another 20 years. Jim Bell’s Club Harlem opened here around 1935. The Lake Street Bowling Alley opened in the late 1930s, and in 1938 the * Swingland Cafe opened here. Pictured above, the Off Beat Supper Club was opened here in 1938, and the Harlem Nites Cafe in 1939. In 1940, the Savoy Cafe was open, and by 1944, the building was home to the Victory Bowling Alley. The Lake Street Theatre was operating here in 1949, and the Lake Street Bowling Alley was here in 1950. The illustrious Cotton Club was open in 1957, and the building was demolished in the 1960s. One of the major employers in the area was once the Ash Grove Lime and Portland Cement Company, which was at North 26th and Lake Streets.
In the last 15 years, there has been a convergence of resources and energy in rehabilitating the intersection of North 24th and Lake Streets. This is a summary of the recent history of happenings around the intersection.
In 2003, the City of Omaha opened Dreamland Plaza at North 24th and Erskine Streets. That same year, the City also upgraded the N. 24th Streetscape. Spending more than $750,000, they added new brick sidewalks, ornamental diamond-shaped street lights and new trees. A new housing complex was built at North 24th and Blondo Streets in 2007. Catholic Charities and the New Community Development Corporation now manage 47 rowhouses along the street.
The most recent substantial project along North 24th Street opened in January 2017 when the Union for Contemporary Art renovated and moved into the Blue Lion Center at 2423 North 24th Street. Another converted art space called Carter Bank was started as Carver Savings and Loan at 2416 Lake Street more than 60 years ago. Founded in 2005, the Love’s Jazz and Art Center is becoming an iconic venue, and is located at2510 North 24th Street.
A nonprofit organization called Family Housing Advisory Services opened a $3.3 million building on the southwest corner of 24th and Lake in 2003 called the Lake Point Center. It houses he agency as well as office and business space.
Opened in 2016, the Fair Deal Village MarketPlace is located at 2118 North 24th Street. Its one of the latest projects by the Omaha Economic Development Corporation, or OEDC, on North 24th Street. In addition to the Fair Deal Village MarketPlace, several other recent projects along North 24th Street in recent years have been developed by the OEDC. They include the Jewell Building; the Old Post Office; the Long School Marketplace, and; the Learning Community Center of North Omaha.
- “North 24th Street Walking Tour” by Restoration Exchange Omaha
- “24th and Lake Historic District application,” National Register of Historic Places