Standing on the corner of North 24th and Binney Streets, a two-door storefront building stood for the long part of a century. From its humble beginnings as a grocery store, it later became a furniture store, print shop, law office, and then a social service agency. Soon after though, it met its fate and was demolished. This is the story of an average commercial storefront in North Omaha that was once located at 2936 North 24th Street.
Building a Neighborhood
Located in the Kountze Place neighborhood, the west side of 24th and Binney Streets was once a little commercial anchor for the area. Residents would shop for groceries, buy meats, get their shoes fixed and buy supplies from a drug store, all located at this intersection. The northeast corner was home to the Sacred Heart Catholic parish, including its rectory, massive church, and for several years, its old church building. The southeast corner was built with fine homes lining Binney, which was a high fashion street in its early years. Established in the 1880s, the Kountze Place neighborhood was originally a neighborhood filled with homes for Omaha’s upper middle class and wealthy. Before the turn of the century, these business owners, plant directors, store managers, doctors and lawyers rode streetcars along 24th Street to their downtown offices, factories and other operations, and looked forward to getting home where they relaxed among towering trees in their opulent homes.
At the turn of the century, Hayden’s Pharmacy, Kountze Place Drug Store and the Binney Street Pharmacy were a few of the businesses that operated north of Binney along 24th Street. By 1930, the Lathrop Drug Store was at this intersection. North 24th Street was the dominate shopping area from Cuming Street north to Fort Street, and it was thick with streetcars, cars and all sorts of stores and services.
The original building on the southwest corner of 24th and Binney was Immanuel Baptist Church. Rev. Frank W. Foster began the congregation in 1888, and dedicated their building there in 1899. In 1894, they refurbished their early church building and claimed an active membership of 250. They moved to North 24th and Pinkney by 1900, and the space was sold for construction of a commercial lot.
Built for Business
Heath and Co. was the first grocery store in the new commercial building on the southwest corner of 24th and Binney Streets. Opening in the 1890s, they operated there until 1905, when C.B. Edquist moved in. Edquist stayed in business until 1920.
In 1920, a Basket Store opened here. Part of a large Nebraska-based chain, this grocery store offered a cash-and-carry service that allowed discounts and other opportunities for customers to feel like they got a deal by shopping there. The store closed in 1928.
That year, Florence Thull, owner of Thull Pharmacy at North 24th and Cuming Streets as well as 24th and Seward, opened a third store in this building. In 1935, J. J. Hoff, a manager at the store for five years, was featured in the Omaha World-Herald when his alma mater, Vedigre High School, called on him to return home to become principal. His parents traveled 175 miles to Omaha to tell him, and off he went.
The Binney Street Furniture Store was located at 2936 North 24th Street by 1950. It was likely there into the early 1960s.
Starting in the 1920s and extending into the 1960s, white flight pummeled the Kountze Place neighborhood. In 1963, the US government banned racial discrimination through redlining and housing covenants, and the city’s African American population began moving north beyond the historic heart of the Black community at N. 24th and Lake Streets. As African Americans moved in, white people moved out; to this day, white people in Omaha simply do not want to live next door to Black people, and Kountze Place demonstrated this grandly.
The businesses in the area were apt to flee, too.
Civil Rights Movement
During the 1950s and 60s, both peaceful and violent events were centered at the intersection of North 24th and Binney Streets. In June 1955, a march in commemoration of slain Civil Rights activists began at North 24th and Binney and went south toNear North Side YMCA at North 22nd and Willis Avenue. The march was organized by the NAACP.
The marches continued. In 1966, just three years after national Civil Rights leader Medgar Evars was murdered, another march was held. 100 people marched went south to the Near North Side YMCA again.
In May 1966, an apparently violent outbreak happened at the intersection of North 24th and Binney that foreshadowed the coming years. According to the Omaha World-Herald, a group of 50 youth gathered at the intersection on May 23rd. Without explaining what happened, “about 25 were picked up [by police] but more than half kicked their way out of a patrol wagon.” The newspaper reported that the people involved threw bricks and bottles at responding police cars.
I haven’t found any riot reports addressing the specific businesses around 24th and Binney Streets yet; however, I’m still looking. What I do know is that the dates between businesses ceasing to be advertised at 2936 North 24th Street and the beginning of nonprofits and other activities there is short.
Social Services Move In
In July 1966, the newspaper ran an announcement for the new Citizens Development and Investment Building located at 2936 North 24th Street. After a $10,000 remodel designed by local African American architect Ambrose Jackson, the building reflected only the shape of its original form. On the outside, windows were blocked in, new doors installed, and stucco covered the front. The brown brick along the Binney Street side was painted, and a canopy was added to the front. The inside was carved into three offices and a print shop. George Thomas’s Investment Company, the A.B. Grice Real Estate Company and the law offices of attorney Frederick Williams were located here, along with Cardinal Printing Company. North Omaha’s popular Nebraska Legislature member Edward Danner presided over the ribbon cutting ceremonies on July 17, 1966.
Greater Omaha Community Action, or GOCA, moved into the building in September 1968. In June of that year, its original office near North 24th and Grant Streets was destroyed during a riot. They moved to the building and spent $15,000 to renovate it. The building was measured at just over 8,500 square feet.
The lots kittycorner to this building on the northeast corner of 24th and Binney Streets were offered to the City of Omaha as a gift in 1970. The city briefly entertained the notion of building a library there, but was dissuaded by neighbors. Alton Goode, an African American member of the Omaha Public Library that year, suggested it was the wrong location though. “White children would not come into a library at 24th and Binney Streets, and I think you would be doing them an injustice.” The North Library branch at North 29th and Ames was replaced instead, and continues today as the Charles B. Washington Branch.
By 1973, a professional organization for builders of color called the United Contractors Association of Nebraska, or UCAN, was housed at this address. UCAN moved offices to Lake Street by 1978, and the building no longer shows up on the record. I assume it was demolished soon afterward.
- A History of North 24th Street
- A History of the Kountze Place Neighborhood in North Omaha
- A History of Binney Street in North Omaha
- A History of Racism in Omaha