North Omaha’s most popular, historically important and hopeful intersection is easily at North 24th and Lake Streets.
Over the course of a century, its been the bellwether for the entire community. At its height, North Omaha flourished; at its most segregated, North Omaha was sliced in pieces. More than 50 years ago, white people fled the area entirely, wholly divesting in the heart of Black North Omaha.
In the past 15 years though, there has been a convergence of resources, energy and vision focused on rehabilitating the commercial intersection of North 24th and Lake Streets. This is a summary of the recent history of development around the intersection.
In 2003, the City of Omaha opened Dreamland Plaza as a tribute to North Omaha’s jazz history. Located at North 24th and Erskine Streets, its a park covering a single lot, the area is a well-groomed plaza. The featured element in the park is a 9 foot tall statue called “Jazz Trio.” Created in 2005 by nationally recognized sculptor Littleton Alston, it features a jazz trio with a trumpeter, sax player and female singer performing. The plaza is named for the Dreamland Ballroom, explored earlier in this article.
In 2003, the City of Omaha upgraded the N. 24th Streetscape. Spending more than $750,000, they added new brick sidewalks, ornamental diamond-shaped street lights and new trees. The project extended from Ohio Street on the north to Cuming Street on the south.
A new housing complex was built at North 24th and Blondo Streets in 2007. As part of the project, senior housing was designed for Catholic Charities and moderate-income units were built for the New Community Development Corporation. Built as rowhouses, there is also a community building in the development. The senior housing there is called Fair Deal / Village East Senior Apartments, and it serves as a 40-unit senior complex.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Cornerstone Memorial
In 2006, the City of Omaha finished installing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Cornerstone Memorial at the northwest corner of 24th and Lake Streets. Today, there is a beautiful mural on the north wall next to the park. Trees, benches and other materials fill the memorial’s site, too.
Union for Contemporary Art
The most recent substantial project along North 24th Street opened in January 2017. The Union for Contemporary Art renovated and moved into the Blue Lion Center at 2423 North 24th Street then. The Union for Contemporary Art is a non-profit organization that provides opportunities for artists to exhibit and learn; opportunities for neighborhood youth to learn and create; and opportunities for the community to build, grow and share through social justice and civic engagement.
Imagine a Black-owned bank at the high point of de facto segregation in Omaha, when African Americans weren’t allowed to use white banks. In the 1950s, that’s exactly what the Carver Savings and Loan was. Located at 2416 Lake Street, the bank operated as a vital institution in the neighborhood for several years. In 2010, the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts renovated and reopened the space as Carver Bank. Serving as an art space and event location, the bank is now an investment in the well-being of the future of North Omaha. There are several artists-in-residence and exhibiting artists associated with the space, as well as numerous community partners.
Love’s Jazz and Art Center
Founded in 2005, the Love’s Jazz and Art Center is becoming an iconic venue. Located at2510 North 24th Street, LJAC offers African American art exhibits and live jazz, as well as cultural and historical preservation of African American contributions to music and art. Students learn about jazz, Preston Love, Sr., and the history of jazz around the intersection of 24th and Lake.
Lake Point Center
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 the agency as well as office and commercial kitchen space to several tenants. There are also meeting and event facilities for rent. Organizations and businesses in Lake Point Center include Omaha 100, Inc., Lutheran Family Services, Family First: A Call to Action, Orr Psychotherapy, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Metropolitan Omaha and the Omaha Rockets Kanteen, a soul food cafe.
Fair Deal Village MarketPlace
Opened in 2016, the Fair Deal Village MarketPlace is located at 2118 North 24th Street. The new Fair Deal provides micro-retail opportunities in a dynamic environment designed with the architecture firm Alley Poyner Macchietto for the Omaha Economic Development Corporation, or OEDC. This pop-up retail space is an arrangement of adapted shipping containers, scaled to house about eight micro-businesses as well as a café and healthy food store. As of February 2017, businesses housed at the Fair Deal Village MarketPlace are:
- Fair Deal Grocery Market
- Hand of Gold Beauty Room (nails, pedicures, makeup)
- Fashun Freak (women’s clothing and accessories)
- LikeNu Resale & Exchange (women’s clothing boutique)
- Mike’s Custom Creations (tennis shoe cleaning and customizing)
- Divine Nspirations (gift shop)
- 402Printz & Itz Poppin’ (printing services and gourmet popcorn)
- Shadez of US (hair supplies)
Perhaps most importantly, the MarketPlace is home to a new version of the Fair Deal Cafe! They serve heaps of soul food, provide a beautiful environment to enjoy it, and facilitate some of the old-time culture-building and community weaving that Charlie and Denny Hall did back in the day.
OEDC Projects 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:
- Jewell Building, 2221 North 24th Street, which was renovated to serve as the OEDC headquarters;
- Old Post Office, 2205 North 24th Street, renovated to for the Salem Food Pantry;
- Long School Marketplace, 1500 North 24th Street, which is an approximately 23,000-square-foot strip shopping center. As of February 2017, there is a Family Dollar store, Dorsey Insurance, Jackson Hewitt Tax Services, and North End Teleservices housed there, and;
- Learning Community Center of North Omaha, 1612 North 24th Street, which is an approximately 20,000-square-foot early childhood educational center. The $4.9 million building houses high quality early childhood development.
Mildred Brown Memorial Strolling Park
In 2008, the Mildred Brown Memorial Strolling Park was dedicated at North 24th and Grand Streets next to the Omaha Star newspaper office. Featuring a bust of Mildred Brown made by Littleton Ashton, the park is a popular attraction in the neighborhood.
North Omaha Business Park
Located at North 24th and Clark Streets, the North Omaha Business Park is a joint effort of the Omaha Chamber of Commerce and the City of Omaha. Located on the former site of the Logan Fontenelle Housing Projects, its a 15 acre development. It is home to several businesses, including Signs & Shapes; Wes & Willy’s; Omaha Habitat for Humanity; Cintas Corporation; Jobosh, Inc. and; Armored Knights Company.
Omaha Business and Technology Center
The Omaha Small Business Network, or OSBN, runs the Omaha Business and Technology Center at North 24th and Lake Streets. The Center provides below market-rate commercial office space to new and existing businesses. In addition to space, the OSBN provides services to tenants and OSBN loan recipients including administrative support, training facilities, a computer lab and conference room spaces at no additional cost. OSBN also provides referrals, upon request, to low cost providers for bookkeeping, financial planning, marketing and communications services.
24th and Lake Historic District Murals
Since 2000 and before, the intersection around North 24th and Lake Streets has been graced with a number of artistic and historic murals.
“Living The Dream”
In September 2001, a a nonprofit community center in North Omaha called Heart of Care facilitated about two dozen youth as they designed the history mural on the northwest corner of 24th and Lake in the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Cornerstone Plaza. According to the Omaha World-Herald, the mural reflects some of the history of the community which the students researched. Measuring approximately 109 feet across by 30 feet high, the mural was supported fiscally by the City of Omaha, Omaha’s Weed and Seed Strategy, the Creighton/St. Joseph Partnership and contributions from businesses and individuals. It was also supported by the Conestoga Community Homeowners Association. The development and installation of this mural was the culmination of the memorial’s creation starting in 1998. The original title of this work is “The Art of Freedom: Walls of Respect,” and it became “Living the Dream” by the time it was completed. This mural is still intact.
The “Same Gang” mural was painted in the 1990s in the alley behind the Bryant Resource Center at 2417 Grant Street. Featuring the epithet “We Are All In The Same Gang,” the mural features an urban setting with a variety of buildings and a street that’s similar to North 24th Street. In 1992, it was painted on the backside of the North Side Senior Center that was located there. The United Catholic Social Services Summer Youth Program facilitated the piece with the theme as “Mentors” and it was designed and painted by the students. The piece was advised and guided by Bemis artist Chris Connell, and was approximately 33 feet by 27 feet. This mural is still intact.
The original home of the Union for Contemporary Arts was at 2417 Burdette Street. On the side of that building, artists Alicia Reyes McNamara and Betni Kalk painted a mural called “Untitled” in honor of the community. While the Union has left the building, the mural is still there. Founder Brigitte McQueen Shew originally hoped the mural moves to their new facility, located on the corner of 24th and Lake in the Blue Lion Center, but has accepted that’s not going to happen. The new Union location did get an indoors mural created by Christine Stormberg in 2016 that is still intact.
Created in 2014, the Love Mural is on the alley side of the Love’s Jazz and Art Center at 24th and Lake. Conceptualized and led by Cye Adams, a Bemis artist, its a celebration of North Omaha’s Preston Love. Adams worked with local youth and local artists Dereck Higgins, Ben Jones, Aaryon Williams and Olivia Groth. Along with Love’s JAC and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, the project was supported by the Omaha Public Art Commission. It is still intact.
Internationally recognized aerosol artist Chor Boogie created a mural on the side of the Salem Food Pantry at 2205 North 24th Street in 2012. Invited by the Kent Bellows Studio and Impact One Community Connection, the piece reflects the neighborhood history. It was created by Boogie in collaboration with youth from Impact One. It is still intact.
Several blocks away from the intersection, in 2016 muralist Maggie Weber partnered with youth to paint a mural at the Hope Center for Kids at 2200 North 20th Street. The mural is in memory of the center’s founders, Ty and Terri Schenzel, who died in 2015. I don’t know the status of this mural.
“Pride of the Past… Spirit of the Future”
North of the intersection of 24th and Lake at 3116 North 24th is a large mural covering the south side of Goodwin’s Spencer Street Barber Shop. In 1998, the Heart of Care Community Center organized this mural as a tribute to local freedom fighters, incorporating images of civil rights activists Charles Washington, Dorothy Eure and State Senator Ernie Chambers along with a reference to Malcolm X. At approximately 15 feet by 52 feet, the theme is “Pride of the Past… Spirit of the Future.” It was facilitated by Littleton Alston, Charles Bryant, Pamela Conyers-Hinson, and Ano Pea working with a group of two dozen youth. Demolished buildings in the mural include Lothrop Elementary School, Lothrop Theater, Reed’s Ice Cream and a medical office. Buildings shown that still stand include the Urban League, Lothrop Drug, Sacred Heart Catholic Church and Evans Towers. Funding for the project came from the Nebraska Arts Council, Omaha’s Weed and Seed Strategy, Fighting Chance for Children, All Our Kids and donations from businesses, community organizations and individuals. The Brotherhood of Midwest Guardians also supported the project. In 1998, this mural received third place in the Governor’s Youth Mural Contest. Today, this mural is intact.
Several murals once at 24th and Lake have been lost though. For instance, a mural was finished in 1997 at the corner of North 24th and Grant Streets. Heart of Care sponsored it, also, and it traced the jazz experience from Africa to America. The building was demolished and the Mildred Brown Memorial Strolling Park was installed in its place.
Finally, the last lost mural I’ll reveal that celebrates the history of 24th and Lake was never meant to be installed at the intersection in the first place. In 2007, Vaughn Chatman launched the Omaha Black Music Hall of Fame. At his inaugural event in Omaha, Chatman paid paid tribute to North 24th Street and the musicians and community leaders who have fought to keep pride in the north side by commissioning a canvas mural with the theme, “We Must Go Back in Order to Move Forward.” The 30-by-5-foot mural featured North 24th Street from Cuming to Ames Avenue, with a scene from the street’s nightlife that included the Dreamland Ballroom, Skeets, Ritz Cab service, the Showcase Lounge, Duffy’s Drugstore and the Omaha Star newspaper. The mural was auctioned, with bids starting at $35,000. There’s no word on what actually happened to it, whether it was auctioned and whether its publicly displayed today.
In recent years, a few streets around the 24th and Lake Historic District have been renamed in commemoration of civic leaders in the neighborhood.
In February 2016, Bertha Calloway was honored with a sign at the intersection of 24th and Lake. Calloway, 93, was North Omaha’s leading historian for dozens of years. She was also an activist who fought segregation and taught Black history. She is the founder of the Great Plains Black History Museum.
Other commemorative renaming projects around 24th and Lake include Lizzie Robinson Avenue, which was designated in 1992. In 2004, North 25th Street was renamed from Lake north to Wirt in honor of long-time Omaha Opportunities Industrialization Center director Dr. Bernice Stephens Dodd.
The future of North Omaha’s 24th and Lake Streets is still unwritten. There are plans on horizons and challenges ahead. However its written, in the coming years, continuing to recognize the history of the area will become integral to its success. Other necessary steps will include ensuring the safety and security of businesses, customers, residents and others in the community; securing ongoing economic investment by private investors; attracting diverse businesses, customers and others to the community; and restoring the historical integrity of the surrounding neighborhoods.
By continuing my North Omaha History project, I support the ongoing development of 24th and Lake. How do you support it?
North 24th Street Recent History Tour
- North Omaha Business Park, 1421 N. 24th St.
- Long School Marketplace, 1500 N. 24th St.
- Learning Community Center of North Omaha, 1612 N. 24th St.
- Dreamstreet Townhomes, 2000 N. 24th St.
- Fair Deal Village MarketPlace, 2118 N. 24th St.
- Salem Food Pantry at the Old Post Office, 2205 N. 24th St.
- OEDC at the Jewell Building, 2221 N. 24th St.
- Mildred Brown Memorial Strolling Park, 2222 N. 24th St.
- Dreamland Plaza, 2322 N. 24th St.
- Family Housing Advisory Services, 2401 Lake St.
- Blue Lion Center and The Union for Contemporary Art, 2423 N. 24th St.
- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Cornerstone Memorial, 2502 N. 24th St.
- Omaha Business and Technology Center, 2505 N. 24th St.
- Love’s Jazz and Art Center, 2510 N. 24th St.
- Carver Savings and Loan, 2416 Lake St.
- Bertha Calloway Avenue, N. 24th and Lake St.
- Lizzie Robinson Avenue, N. 24th and Erskine St.
- Dr. Bernice Stephens Dodd Avenue, N. 25th Street and Lake St.
- History of 24th and Lake Streets
- History of 24th Street
- History of Near North Side
- History of Long School Neighborhood
- “Omaha Streetscapes: Visit North 24th Street” OmahaByDesign
- Revive Omaha! Magazine website
- Love’s Jazz and Art Center official website
- Omaha Small Business Network Omaha Business and Technology Center official webpage
- “Jazz Trio” Public Art Omaha webpage
- Jewell Building Wikipedia article
- Tim Trudell (10/10/2015) “Tour gives glimpse into Omaha’s African American history“, The Walking Tourists
- Village East Senior Apartments official webpage
- Omaha Habitat for Humanity official website
- Omaha Economic Development Council website