A History of the Central Park Neighborhood in North Omaha

Tucked away in North Omaha is a historic neighborhood that gets little attention. However, the people who’ve lived there have vibrant memories and meaningful stories that lasted a lifetime. The Central Park neighborhood extends from North 33rd to North 48th Streets, from Ames Avenue to Sorenson Parkway.

This area was settled in the 1870s and was called West Saratoga. With a schoolhouse and mercantile store, there were several of houses in the immediate area on large lots by 1879. In 1885, the West Saratoga School was built, and around the same time the area began to be called Cherry Hill instead. When the school was rebuilt later, it was called Central Park School, and the neighborhood was called Central Park after that. Its disassociation from Saratoga was complete by then.

It was never an incorporated town like its neighbors in Irvington or Benson. A lot of the oral histories of the area talked about it being a rural community, surrounded by farms and fields, orchards and more. Rising from cornfields and hills, the Central Park neighborhood has a long history starting in the 1880s.

Here are some of the details I could find.

 


Houses

Some examples of the beautiful historic homes in North Omaha’s Central Park neighborhood.

Starting in the 1870s, farmers and visionaries began building their houses in a community called West Saratoga, and later Cherry Hill. Around the time the last cherry tree in the area was cut down in 1912, a developer rolled into the area and started developing homes en masse. Despite being far from Omaha, he started calling the neighborhood Central Park, maybe because it was located in what was then the middle of nowhere.

Bordered by the Monmouth Park neighborhood, Central Park’s original houses were mostly large farmhouses with Victorian and Eastlake details. Those early homes were built in the 1870s and 1880s, and few exist still today. The first big building blitz in the Central Park neighborhood happened in the late 1890s, filled many of the predominant streets with solid working class homes. The two-story homes were simple foursquares, while the one-and-a-half-story houses were generally 1,000 square feet or less, which was affordable then. By the 1950s, the last of the holdout farmers in the neighborhood subdivided their farmers into affordable lots. From my research, I’ve determined the Central Park neighborhood was completely filled in by 1954.

 


Central Park School

This is the Central Park School as it appeared in the 1920s. It was built in 1912 at 4904 North 42nd Street in North Omaha.

The original Cherry Hill School was opened as part of District 38 in the 1870s. Starting in 1888, a four-room school sat on an acre with a white picket fence surrounding it at Located at North 42nd and Grand Streets. Students rode horses to school, and boys and girls weren’t allowed to play together outside. After several additions were made to the school, in 1912, a new building opened with 13 rooms. This is the school that still stands. In 1966, an addition including a multi-purpose room and auditorium, a school cafeteria, additional classrooms, a kitchen, and several classrooms were added.

There is a time capsule at front entrance corner of the building that sits unopened to this day since its placement in 1912.

 


Golden Hill Cemetery

The Golden Hill Cemetery is at 5025 North 42nd Street in North Omaha’s Central Park neighborhood.

The Golden Hill Cemetery never stood alone. Sitting on a hill on North 42nd and Browne Streets, by the time Chevra B’nai Israel Adas Russia bought land there in 1888, there were already several homes and buildings in the area. It was largely seen as a rural cemetery into the 1920s. Today, its address is 5025 North 42nd Street, and it is a small cemetery with no new burials in it. In 1998, Nebraska Furniture Mart founder Rose Blumkin was buried there.

 


Central Park Improvement Club

 

Central Park, North Omaha, Nebraska
An ad for lots in Central Park from 1886.

 

Active since the 1890s, the Central Park Improvement Club was an advocacy group that lobbied for positive changes within the neighborhood. Calling early on for graded streets, getting streetlights installed through the neighborhood, lobbying the streetcar company to extend a line to the neighborhood, and getting the school district to add onto the school building were all activities led by the club. They also advocated for the development of Fontenelle Park, and against the dumping of dead animals in a pit at North 42nd and Fowler. Leaders with the club were also active in representing the neighborhood in citywide activities, too.

 


Central Park Congregational Church

The Central Park Congregationalist Church was built in 1925 at 5001 North 42nd Street in North Omaha’s Central Park neighborhood.

 

Sunday School classes started in the Cherry Hill area in the 1870s, and were held at the school. In 1886, Rev. George Pelton founded the Saratoga Congregational Church congregation near North 24th and Ames Avenue. However, it was moved and renamed the Cherry Hill Congregational Church by 1912. In 1916, this second building was demolished. It’s basement was roofed over and used for several years, and in 1925, a new Spanish Renaissance Style building was opened at North 42nd and Saratoga Streets, with many additions since then. It was called the Central Park Congregational Church. Located five miles from downtown Omaha, the Congregationalists called it “the church of the laity,” which was also called “the country church in the city.” Located at 5001 North 42nd Street, the Congregationalists moved out in the 1990s, and today the building is home to True Vine Baptist Church.

 


Businesses, Churches and More

A collection of businesses huddled around Central Park School and the Central Park Church. The homes in the neighborhood were for working class people, and many of the businesses were for everyday families to use. In the 1920s, the Central Park Improvement Club succeeded in securing a streetcar line to the neighborhood, too. The streetcar company established a turnaround point in the area because it was the end of the line. Along with that, the neighborhood in-filled with homes and businesses sprung up.

Between 1924 and 1926, the intersection of North 42nd and Grand Avenue was completely filled with buildings and businesses. A Hinky Dinky store anchored the intersection, with a beauty shop and drug store on the same block. The Hinky Dinky later became an IGA. A candy store called Edith’s candy was located on the southeast corner, featuring homemade candies where you could buy a bag of broken mints for a penny. According to neighborhood native Terry Beals, there were two other stores at the intersection, O.P. Skaggs and Hadley’s Grocery Store.

According to one-time resident Elaine Brazzle, the intersection of North 42nd and Grand Avenue was packed with businesses in the 1960s. First owned by Ed and Stella Woodworth, Elaine said that by the 1960s the variety store on the southwest corner was owned by Fran and Anne Veylupek. At the same time, there was a flower shop on the southeast corner. Dr. Carl Walvord kept an office next door to the Central Park Pharmacy, where the doctor saw patients on a first come, first serve basis. There was a shoe repair shop just north of Hadley’s Grocery Store. Later, in the 1960s, Pinky’s Pizza Palace was on the southeast corner of the intersection.

Churches in the neighborhood include the New Covenant Church of God in Christ at 5325 North 42nd Street, which was built in 1945 as Gethsemane Lutheran Church. The Shiloh Church of God in Christ, also called the Smith Temple Church of God in Christ, is located at 5416 Fontenelle Boulevard, was built in 1930. Mount Olivet Baptist Church was located at North 38th and Grand Avenue for several decades, and in the 1990s, a Vietnamese Buddhist faith community called Quoc An Temple opened at 3812 Fort Street.

 


Central Park Pharmacy

Located at 4136 Grand Avenue, North Omaha’s Central Park Pharmacy was open at this intersection for more than 50 years.

 

In a league of its own, the Central Park Pharmacy was located on the northeast corner of North 42nd and Grand Streets at 4136 Grand Avenue. It was open for more than 50 years. In the photo above, you can see signs everywhere around the building, including “Harding’s Ice Cream”, “Cook’s Paints,” and a Coca Cola ad, as well as features in the store including courteous service, glass, sodas, fresh candies, prescriptions, Kodaks and films, toilet articles, as well as ice cream and malted milk.

Cherry phosphates and a penny candy corner stock at the pharmacy many peoples’ memories today. Located katty corner to the Central Park School, the pharmacy was the location for many students’ afterschool and weekend trips to buy comic books, candy, sodas and more.

While it was owned by George Cox for almost three decades from the 1930s, he offered a warm place for streetcar riders to wait, and later, bus riders. The streetcar turned north onto North 42nd street, then backed up onto Grand to wait for passengers. From there, it turned around and went south on North 42nd. He also kept the store in great condition.

Jim Geisler and Jim Luke Coniglio bought the business in 1961 and were the last owners of Central Park Pharmacy before it closing it permanently in the 1980s. Don Jacox, a manager at the store, ordered general merchandise, cut glass, mixed paint, cut keys, ran the soda fountain, and did almost every non-pharmacy activity at the store.

 


White Flight

Starting in the 1970s and earlier, white flight struck the Central Park neighborhood drastically. US Census data shows white families moving from this area en masse between 1970 and 1990, with the majority of the population made of people of color now. With white flight, it should be no surprise that the value of the homes has not kept pace with national averages, either.

This trend is typical throughout North Omaha, with white flight dominating the cultural landscape since 1919. Through a series of policies, local and federal governments have supported white flight. Central Park joins neighborhoods including Miller Park, Saratoga, Kountze Place and others that have emptied out of white people since the 1970s.

While these white families have moved to west Omaha and elsewhere, it should come as no surprise that they left faltering schools, toxic pollution and social instability in their wake. Meanwhile, Central Park and other neighborhoods have become predominantly low-income and strategically targeted by the City of Omaha, banks and others to keep maintenance low-income people in North Omaha through low rents, poor public transportation, and strategically placed businesses for families that can’t afford to shop elsewhere. This trifecta has left Central Park in a challenging position for rallying to maintain the sense of community and place-based loyalty it enjoyed for a century.

 


Today

The Central Park School continues to be a bedrock of the neighborhood. Almost all of the businesses have left the neighborhood though, and many homeowners have transitioned out of the neighborhood. White flight struck the Central Park neighborhood late, with white people fleeing only in the 1980s. Today, the majority of the neighborhood is occupied by people of color, and is owned by absentee landlords.

The future of the neighborhood maybe uncertain, but if the past is any indication, the future might be outstanding.

 


Related Articles

 


Bonus Pics!

 

The 914 was the O&CB Streetcar that went from downtown Omaha to North 42nd and Grand Avenue.

 

 

The Central Park neighborhood had many landmark institutions, including the Central Park Pharmacy, Central Park School, Central Park Congregational Church and the Golden Hill Cemetery.

 

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