Just 50 years ago, the intersection of North 24th and Fort Streets was the junction where three neighborhoods met. Miller Park, Saratoga and Florence Boulevard all bought groceries, went to drug stores, watched movies and ate and the diner or drank at the tavern. Houses started being built around this corner in 1905. It was going to be big stuff.
There were several grocery and drug stores; a variety store, a shoe store, a hardware and dry cleaning stores; as well as a bakery and a movie theater. Later, there was a barber and beauticians, a shoe repair shop, laundromat, a doctor, a dentist and a lawyer. Streetcars went along North 24th from Kansas Avenue to downtown Omaha, and earlier, they traveled along Fort Street to North 30th and up to Florence.
There were a lot of activities at this intersection throughout the years. Early it was a suburban junction between the busy Saratoga neighborhood and Florence. At one point, a brawl happened between strikers and Army soldiers here. “Jeggs” lit giant explosions to pry open safes in stores, and later there was OTB here. For several years, soldiers marched here, if only for a block. The annual service there was fantastic, and reportedly, everyone left in high spirits. Christmas lights lit the intersection for years.
Growing up here in the 1980s and 90s, I used to walk slowly in front of Jesse Irwin’s law office and wonder about the drug store old people said was there. I went into Mr. L’s office to give him his newspapers and wandered in awe at the roll of $20 and $100 bills he whipped out to pay his collections bill. Going to Pearl Church every week, I used to stand outside the Tabernacle that moved into Phil’s and listened to the gospel music and thunderous preaching that rolled out onto the sidewalk.
This is a history of the intersection of North 24th and Fort Streets.
In 1912, two new storefronts opened up on the southwest corner of North 24th and Fort Streets. In the next year, Adams and Haight Drug Company opened at 5224 North 24th Street, and operated there for five years. An establishment called the “Nebraska Store” was located at this address in the 1920s. The Burkerd Drug Store was located there from the late 1930s through 1953, when the Steier Pharmacy moved in. They were replaced in 1972 by Mike’s Pharmacy. Lowell Michael “Mike” Coil owned that drug store with his wife. However, he lost his pharmacist’s license in 1963 due to illegal prescription narcotics use. Managing the store into the late 1970s, Mike closed it permanently in 1974. That year, the Peterson Brothers Reality company sold the building for $18,500. They advertised it as having 2,300 square feet with a newer furnace and central air.
The addresses on this block shifted around a bit. H. O. Vierregger ran a hardware store at 5220 North 24th during the 1920s, and Arthur Uhlich ran a general store at 24th and Fort from 1922 to 1936. W. J. Mansfield had a hardware store at the same address before Vierregger, and in the early 1940s, 5222 North 24th was the Al Charleville and Son Hardware Store. Between the mid-1940s and 1950s, it was Weidner Hardware. The Malloy Heating and Pluming company was at 5218 North 24th in the 1950s and 60s.
P. K. Young sold tires at 5216 North 24th Street in 1919. There has continuously been a lounge, bar or beer garden at this location or next door since 1916. In the 1940s, Penny’s Bar opened there, and stayed into the 1970s. In the 1980s, Kirk Sims opened Kirk’s Lounge there, and that remains today.
In 1924, there was a Stelk Oil Company station near 24th and Fort, south of the intersection on the west side of 24th. In the 1960s, the Charm Dairy Bar was open on at 5124 North 24th Street, at 24th and Camden Avenue.
The southeast corner wasn’t built up until 1924. That year, the George F. Jones Company announced it would build seven new store buildings along the block, including five on North 24th Street and two on Fort Street east of 24th. The buildings were made of steel and brick with concrete floors.
In the 1940s, the Milow Drug Store was at North 24th and Fort, and by 1948,. was on the northeast corner starting in 1953 for more than 20 years. Young’s Drug Store was at 24th and Fort in the 1930s, and there was a shoe store along this section.
At the far end of the block at 5201 North 24th, there was a 2-story apartment building with a barbershop in the front of it. This was home to Ed’s Barbershop from 1945 through the 1950s. The small apartment building at 5217 North 24th was demolished as part of the City of Omaha’s routine clearance’s of historic properties in North Omaha in 1968. Dr. F. G. Albertson opened a dentist office at 5223 North 24th in 1935, and stayed open for more than two decades afterwards. Dr. Albertson was also an organist, and played at religious events citywide.
In 1962, Harry David Richman opened the House of Shoes Self-Service Store was located on the southeast corner of 24th and Fort at 5229 North 24th, staying there until 1975. Richman was part of famous retail family, and had several businesses after his North O enterprise.
Before that, the Phil Edman Company was at the same corner, but I can’t figure out what they did. Peterson Bakery was located on this corner in the 1950s, too.
Mister L was a barber at 5223 North 24th from the 1970s through the 1990s. According to many former residents, he was also a bookie and and ran a jitney service there. Rumors persist that Mister L ran prostitutes, drugs and other malfeasance from there for more than 15 years, too. I remember handing Mister L his newspaper for a few years when I was a paperboy for the Omaha World-Herald.
This entire block of buildings was entirely demolished in the early 2000s, and today sits empty.
In 1913, an early local grocery man named O. E. Erwin opened his first Omaha-area story on the northeast corner of 24th and Fort at 5301 North 24th Street. His business lasted almost a decade until his operation was bought by a new national behemoth called Piggly Wiggly. Opened in 1922, this was the brand’s second store in the Omaha market. In 1923, yeggs blew up the safe there are stole more than $600 cash. “Yeggs” were safecrackers. They struck the store twice that year, and several times afterwards. After several break-ins, safe explosions and more in Piggly Wiggly stores around Omaha, a group of six store managers and others were arrested for running a safecracking ring. They were robbing their own stores.
Piggly Wiggly was hellbent on citywide domination that lasted until 1935. They built a new store at the intersection in 1927. That year, the holding corporation switched brands and renamed all their Omaha stores Safeway, including the building on the northeast corner of 24th and Fort. That year, the Owl Grocery bought the building, liquidated the store fixtures and boarded up the windows.
In 1913, three lots were sold to Rosarie Caniglia on Fort Street, just east of North 24th, and houses were built there. Two out of three of these houses were demolished in the early 1990s, and the last one is boarded up and awaiting demolition today.
In 1945, the Star Manufacturing Company moved into the address. Its not clear what they manufactured by they were closed by 1949. A business called City Wide Appliance opened up there next, and stayed open until 1958. The Around the Clock Laundromat opened at the northeast corner of 24th and Fort in 1959, and stayed open into the 1980s. The building was demolished around 1989.
In May 1914, the Alamo Theater opened at 5303 North 24th Street. A new innovation was featured in the building, which was a sloped floor that allowed “people in the back just as good a chance to see the pictures as the ones in front on the aisle.” The Miller Park neighborhood must have been packed with progressive women, because suffragists gave a few talks at the theater in the 1910s while they were preparing to launch related protests.
In 1931, it became the Victoria International Theater and was initially dedicated to showing art films and international movies. It was the first of its kind in Omaha. The theater made headlines in 1933 when it installed a state-of-the-art sound system, and again in 1936 when the front and inside of the building were renovated. In 1934, Edward Crowell was a film projectionist who was burnt badly while handling the film at the theater. During this time it was owned by Lawrence Krasne. In 1939, it was reopened as the Fort Theater. It closed in 1945. Along with a plumbing company, there was a residence at 5315 North 24th Street in the 1940s. These buildings were both demolished in the 1980s.
In 1972, the building at 5309 North 24th Street was advertised for sale as a 25-year-old brick building with 3,600 square feet. That year, a business called Sasco Industries bought the building at 5309 North 24th. It was there that they were featured by the Omaha World-Herald in 1972. That company bred 20,000 rats at a time in the building, which were eventually sold for research and commercial uses across the U.S.
J. J. Hess built a two-story building on the northwest corner of 24th and Fort in 1906. Later that year, the Patty-Young Drug Company opened at 2402 Fort Street and stayed there through the 1930s. In 1928, Patty-Young made headlines when the company joined with 10 other stores around suburban Omaha to form the Price-Rite Drug store chain. Jesse F. Patty, secretary of the organization, was determined to compete with drug stores in downtown Omaha. Member stores bought in and advertised as a group, bought store supplies as a group, shared uniform colors, and carried a common logo. The Patty-Young Drug Company wasn’t advertised again after 1934, and I assume it was sold to another company.
The Roduziner Grocery opened at 2404 Fort Street in 1913. Open for only five years, they were replaced by the Saratoga Market in 1918. The longest-standing store at this intersection, the Saratoga Market was open through 1957. During its existence, the streetcars became popular and faded away from usage; the suburban Miller Park neighborhood became urbanized; and the liveliness of the neighborhood peaked.
Not to be left out of the good times, in 1954, Hinky Dinky bought the northwest corner of 24th and Fort Streets, expanded the store and put in a small parking lot. When they closed in 1966, a Baker’s Super Market opened there, and stayed open until 1981.
Phil Morrison opened Phil’s Foodway at 2404 Fort Street in 1982. While it was there, my family moved into the neighborhood. We shopped at Phil’s regularly, and many of my candy-filled memories were there. When the store closing happened in 1989, I took money from my Omaha World-Herald newspaper route and went to Phil’s to buy four buckets of ice cream and several 1/2 gallon containers, too.
Some people say that neighborhood pride reached a pinnacle in the late 1970s when neighbors painted a mural on the side of the Baker’s store. Named “Community Unity,” the mural was meant to symbolize interracial harmony, and apparently remained untouched for a decade. By the end of its life in the 1980s, the mural was unkept and then painted over.
After sitting empty for a few years, the Tabernacle of Faith C.O.G.I.C. moved into the building. Converting it into a sanctuary, teaching space and more, the building continues to house the church today. I have fond memories of standing outside the Tabernacle on Sunday mornings in my late teens to listen to the gospel music and preaching that echoed out of the building. Last year, I was happy to visit the neighborhood on a Sunday morning and discover it still does. At more than 25 years on the corner, the Tabernacle of Faith is well on the way to becoming a neighborhood institution, important to many people.
Beauty, Celebration and Hope
The major institution at 24th and Fort was Pearl Church. Originally opened south at 24th and Larimore in 1905. After meeting in a tent just south of 24th and Fort for a year in 1918, they moved into their edifice just north of the intersection later that year.
It was at 24th and Fort that Civil War veterans gathered to march annually for several years. On Memorial Day every year starting in the 1920s, when they went one block from 24th and Fort to Pearl Church for a memorial service. Drums, fife and bugles played, and National Guardsmen accompanied the parade. In 1930, out of the 69 Civil War vets left in Omaha only 19 were able to attend.
From 1978 through 1992, there was an annual Festival of Lights at the intersection at N. 24th and Fort Streets. In addition to lighting the corners of the intersection with Christmas lights and trees, there was a service at Pearl Church, Christmas carol singing around the neighborhood, and an ethnic food potluck buffet in the gym at Pearl. The tree lighting ceremony on the corner was often attended by more than 100 people.
After almost all the businesses on the corner were gone, the congregation at Pearl struggled to keep the Festival of Lights going, and it didn’t continue after 1992.
Things weren’t always blissful though. During the 1909 streetcar strikes, on the evening of October 1st there was a small riot at 24th and Fort. A group of strikebreakers fought with “a bunch of soldiers,” fighting throughout the intersection and smashing car windows in every direction.
In 1913, The Miller Park Mother’s Club protested the establishment of a pool hall at 24th and Fort. The Omaha World-Herald said, “This particular neighborhood is one of the pretty places in Omaha… It is a place where… they are determined that their boys shall not frequent pool halls, if they can prevent it. Going to the police commissioner, they shared a petition. With more than 60 signatures, they also presented the president of the Omaha Suffrage Association and a professor giving a talk on “child culture.” Within a month, the club gathered more than 300 signatures and collected hundreds of dollars. It turned out that originally, the business that wanted to open there was destroyed by the 1913 Easter Sunday Tornado. Located at 24th and Lake, the Kohler Pool Hall needed a new place to open. Rather than allow it in their neighborhood, the Miller Park Mother’s Club collected funds to rebuild the establishment at its original location.
A group of soap salesmen offended neighborhood women in 1920. Using aggressive sales techniques and insulting non-buyers, they were reported to the police who came and arrested them. Accused of a “reign of terror” for their day around 24th and Fort, the men were threatened with being thrown out of town if they came back.
Between the 1950s and today, the streetcars stopped running; in the 1960s rioting and white flight happened; starting in the 1980s, gangs, drugs and violent became ongoing. The surrounding neighborhood has been ripped up and left this once bright intersection a dead stop with no highlights. However, there are still memories and a few people holding out hope that someday this corner could shine bright again.
The City of Omaha Killed the Neighborhood
White flight came to the Miller Park neighborhood late, and was generally courtesy of the City of Omaha.
While the Near North Side and Kountze Park were almost wholly abandoned by white families in the 1960s, the Saratoga and Miller Park neighborhoods still had many white residents into the 1980s. It was during that decade that my family moved into the neighborhood, only to watch many of the remaining white kids on the blocks around me move away. There were a few lower income white families left, along with many African American kids, and some of us were friends.
The intersection at 24th and Fort experienced a similar transformation. However, with the influx of drug gangs and the apparently intentional strategy of the city of Omaha focused on benign neglect, the intersection hit the skids in the 1980s. When construction began on the Storz Expressway immediately south of the intersection in the 1980s, city planners blocked off North 24th Street for more than five years. Whatever few businesses were left at the intersection mostly withered on the vine. During that decade the laundromat on the northeast corner was demolished and Phil’s Foodway closed. Along with Mister L, only a lawyer kept an office on the southwest corner, along with a bar down the way and the Ebony Wheels motorcycle club. That was it. The southeast corner was boarded up, and the buildings on the northeast corner were entirely demolished soon after.
The Festival of Lights couldn’t keep going, and neither could Pearl Church, which closed its doors in 2012. By the time I moved away in 1995, the corner was radically different than just a decade earlier, and even then, it was radically different than it was a decade before that.
Today, the Apostolic Assembly of the Faith in Jesus Christ operates the 110-year-old building a block south of the intersection. The Tabernacle of Faith C.O.G.I.C. continues successfully, also. Kirk’s Lounge has been opened on the southwest corner for more than 30 years now. Easy Drive Package has been at 24th and Camden since 2014.
What will become of the intersection of 24th and Fort? Only time will tell.
N 24th and Fort Streets Business Directory
- Taylor-Made Haircut Shop, 5313 N. 24th St. (1940s)
- Rodstrom’s Plumbing, 5315 N. 24th St. (1940s)
- A. S. Uhlich’s Clothing Store, 5309 N. 24th St. (1930s)
- Macks Coffee Shop, 5309 N. 24 St. (1940s)
- Carlson Stapler and Supply Business, 5309 N. 24th St. (1950s)
- LuCon Upholstery Company, 5309 N. 24th St. (1950s-1960s)
- Sasco Inc, 5309 N. 24th St. (1970s)
- Patty-Young Drug Company, 2402 Fort St. (1910s-1930s)
- Alamo Theater, 5303 N. 24th St. (1910-1914)
- Victoria International Theater, 5303 N. 24th St. (1931-1939)
- Fort Theater, 5303 N. 24th St. (1939-1945)
- Construction company, 5315 N. 24th St. (1930s)
- Plumbing company, 5315 N. 24th St. (1940s-1950s)
- Office of Dr. Paul Reed, Fort St.
- Penny’s Bar, 5216 N. 24th St. (1948-1970s)
- Kirk’s Lounge, 5216 N. 24th St. (1980s-present)
- O. E. Erwin Grocery Store, 5301 N. 24th St. (1913-1922)
- Piggly Wiggly, 5301 N. 24th St. (1922-1935)
- Safeway, 5301 N. 24th St. (1933-1935)
- Owl Grocery, 5301 N. 24th St. (1935)
- Star Manufacturing Company, 5301 N. 24th St. (1945-1949)
- City Wide Appliance, 5301 N. 24th St. (1949-1958)
- Around the Clock Laundromat, 5301 N. 24th St. (1959-1971)
- Pearl Memorial United Methodist Church, 2419 Odgen Ave. (1918-2012)
- Roduziner Grocery, 2404 Fort St. (1913-1918)
- Saratoga Market, 2404 Fort St. (1918-1957)
- Hinky Dinky, 2404 Fort St. (1957-1966)
- Baker’s, 2404 Fort St. (1966 to 1981)
- Phil’s Foodway, 2404 Fort St. (1982-1989)
- Tabernacle of Faith Church of God in Christ, or C.O.G.I.C. (1991 to present)
- Adams and Haight Drug Company, 5224 N. 24th St. (1912-1920)
- Nebraska Store, 5224 N. 24th St. (1920-1931)
- Burkerd Drug Store, 5224 N. 24th St. (1930s-1953)
- Steier Pharmacy, 5224 N. 24th St. (1953-1962)
- Mike’s Pharmacy, 5224 N. 24th St. (1962-1974)
- Ed’s Barbershop, 5201 N. 24th St. (1945-1950s)
- Dr. F. G. Albertson, dentist, 5223 N. 24th St. (1935-est. 1955)
- House of Shoes Self-Service Store, 5229 N. 24th (1961-1975)
- Phil Edman Company, 5229 N. 24th St. (1945-est. 1960)
- Levi Anderson Popcorn Booth, 5302 N. 24th St. (1910s-1923)
- P. K. Young, 5216 N. 24th St. (1919-?)
- Country Charm Dairy Bar, 5124 N. 24th St. (?-1968)
- Stelk Oil Company station, 24th and Fort (1920-?)
- Blue Bird Store, 24th and Fort St. (1921-?)
- Basket Store, 24th and Fort St. (1910s-?)
- Peterson Bakery, 24th and Fort St. (1950s)
- A History of the Miller Park Neighborhood
- A History of Pearl Memorial United Methodist Church
- A History of Fort Omaha