A History of the Hilltop Projects in North Omaha

Hilltop Projects, North 30th and Lake Streets, North Omaha, Nebraska

Built in 1952, the Hilltop Homes were located on the southwest corner of North 30th and Lake Streets. Part of the same construction spree as the Spencer Homes and the Pleasantview Homes, they were demolished in 1995. Today, Salem Baptist Church and Walgreen’s are located on the 14-acre site. This is a history of the Hilltop Projects in North Omaha.

Before the Projects

Before Hilltop was there, the southwest corner of 30th and Lake Streets was originally home to the Ittner Brothers brickyard, a company that made the bricks that built early Omaha. John Ittner was one of the original owners of the land after the area was opened for settlement in 1854. The Ittner Brothers brickyard ran from 1880 to 1909, and after being bought by the J. F. Smith Brick Company, the corner remained a production center until 1918. The 175-foot-tall chimney for the brickyard stood on the corner from 1880 to 1931. Estimated to weigh 600 tons, debris fell 50 feet in every direction when it fell to the southwest. Most of the broken bricks were buried on the site when it fell.

A Construction Spree

Hilltop Projects, North 30th and Lake Streets, North Omaha, Nebraska
These were the Hilltop Projects, which stood for 43 years at North 30th and Lake Streets.

According to several books and papers, the Hilltop Projects were strategically positioned to maintain the adherence of Omaha’s African American population to the redlining that first segregated the city in 1919.

Built as one of three public housing projects on the edges of the Near North Side, Hilltop housed at least 200 families at any given point during most of the 40+ years it existed. There were 225 units in 46 two-story buildings there. It bordered the Pleasantview Projects to the south, as well as Omaha’s most important historical cemetery called Prospect Hill.

Problems in the Projects

Offices for Hilltop were at 3012 Grant Street. In 1969, the important Civil Rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer participated in the dedication of a childrens’ activities center at Hilltop.

Throughout the years, Hilltop was frequently beleaguered by the media and politicians for the problems it faced. Residents were often blamed for these problems, and despite the complex being gone for more than 20 years now, its still blamed. For instance, a 2017 article in Omaha magazine said,

“Before Hilltop Home’s razing in 1995—which had the unfortunate consequence of displacing many lower-income minority residents—the plague of drugs, murders, and gang activity had turned the area’s housing projects into a localized war zone.”

From “A New Day Arisen” by J.D. Avant written for Omaha magazine and published June 7, 2017.

In a 1982 survey of participants by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, nearly 82% of residents said that had no familiarity of the staff serving them at Hilltop.

A New Vision

The Omaha Housing Authority began implementing so-called scattered-site housing in the 1960s. There were public housing units spread into individual houses and not clustered in apartments. Two decades later, OHA became committed to its exclusive usage. This meant the projects had to go.

In 1995, the Hilltop Projects were demolished, and later in the 2000s, Pleasantview was completely demolished. In 1999 Salem Baptist Church built a new church on the corner of North 30th and Lake Streets, taking up all of the site of the former Hilltop. They also were responsible for the development of a Walgreen’s and other commercial storefronts at the intersection.

Within the next decade, the rest of the surrounding was recreated as an “urban village” designed to build on surrounding institutions like the Charles Drew Health Center, the Urban League and the Miami Heights neighborhood. Plans called for mixed-income and mixed-type housing, neighborhood services, and an intergenerational community center, and the Highlander neighborhood was built as a result.

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BONUS!

Warning: The following video of the Hilltop Projects was filmed in 1995. It may contain language or music that some find offensive. Mute the volume.

Historic locations of public housing projects on N. 30th St. in North Omaha, Nebraska
These are the projects along North 30th Street, including the Hilltop Projects. Not included are the Logan Fontenelle Projects and others.

Published by Adam Fletcher

An internationally recognized expert in youth engagement, Adam leads the Freechild Institute and SoundOut. He is also the editor NorthOmahaHistory.com; the author of Student Voice Revolution and twelve other books; and the host of the North Omaha History Podcast.

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