Founded in 1854, Omaha is old enough of a city that some neighborhoods in North Omaha have been bulldozed and replaced by new buildings, new institutions and new names. More common is the reality that some neighborhoods lost their original identities and assumed new names without being bulldozed or otherwise disappearing. This is the a history of the Omaha View neighborhood.
The Original North Omaha
In the decades after Omaha was established, neighborhoods grew from the Missouri River to the north, south and west. There was a large, mostly flat, mostly open area that rolled west for two miles, and then the hills began emerging around 25th Street. That’s where the Kellom Heights neighborhood emerged, and in succession, the Long School neighborhood and the Montclair neighborhood, all in the 1870s and 1880s. As an important intersection for farmers in those hills, the Prospect Hill neighborhood predated all of these with its blacksmith, stoneworkers, taverns, drug store and cemetery; it was settled in the 1860s.
In 1873, the area comprising Omaha View was annexed within the Omaha city limits. It was during the 1880s that the Omaha View neighborhood began to boom.
The streets of the Omaha View neighborhood were graded in 1885, and lots began to be sold quickly throughout the neighborhood that year. This area was exclusively referred to as North Omaha for a decade from 1880 to 1890.
In 1885, Dr. James C. Whinnery, a South Omaha dentist, created a large estate extending from his home at North 30th and Miami to Bedford, and west to the Belt Line Railway. While he stayed there until the 1910s, Dr. Whinnery sold land to the Omaha Public Schools for the new Omaha View School; more on that later. Part of his estate later became a public park; more on that later, too.
By the late 1890s, the neighborhood was mostly filled in. Small, working class homes made the majority of the blocks with a few larger, middle class houses standing on the corners and along North 30th Street. Starting in 1891, the Omaha View Improvement Association was formed to advocate for the neighborhood’s improvements, including street paving, curbs, sidewalks and streetlights, which were gas lamps. The original boundaries of the association in 1893 were North 24th on the east and North 40th on the west; Burdette on the south and Bristol on the north. Meeting every Saturday night throughout the year, there were regularly 50-75 due paying members.
The association called for Lake Street to be paved from North 24th to North 30th, and to be graded from North 30th to Military Road. They also agitated for a new school to be built then. The residents rallied together to demand streetlights from the Omaha City Council in 1894. In 1898, residents held a mass meeting to demand the Omaha Street Railway improve service to their neighborhood. At that point, streetcar service ended at 24th and Lake, and the activists wanted service along North 30th Street.
In 1902, neighborhood activists reformed the Omaha View Improvement and Political Club, more determined than ever to force the Omaha Street Railway to extend service from the Prospect Hill Cemetery along North 33rd Street to their neighborhood. Their advocacy didn’t get that extension.
However, in 1903 the city granted them the possibility of extending a boulevard through their neighborhood to improve traffic and access. The idea of establishing a large park from Parker north to Lake Street, from North 30th to North 33rd Streets was floated too, but never enacted. They won the installation of five electrical lights in 1903, and again raised the issue of getting a new school building because of the poor condition of the old one. They also built a clubhouse opposite of the Omaha View School at North 32nd and Corby Streets.
Throughout 1905, frustrations with the Omaha View Improvement Club led to them becoming great advocates for city ownership of the utility services in Omaha, including streetcars, water, gas, electricity and the telephone system. In November of that year, the club formally approved proposals to send to the Omaha City Council that called for municipal ownership.
The ASARCO smelter in downtown Omaha played into the club’s business, and in 1907 the newspaper reported that smoke from the smelter was poisoning their homes.
The club partnered with other associations from surrounding neighborhoods including the Prospect Hill Improvement Club. They collaborated on calls for a boulevard to extend through the neighborhood, as well as the creation of new parks, installation of new curbs, and more. In this era, North 30th Street did not extend all the way from Cuming to Ames, and the Omaha View club joined with others to advocate for its opening, including leveling and paving the street.
After winning a new school in 1908, the club continued advocating for other improvements in the neighborhood, including better streetcar service and lower fares. In August 1913, there was a fight in the club over the gas company. The newspaper made a long report about the fight, which was filled with yelling and insults and ugly behavior. The longtime president, A. N. Yost, couldn’t maintain order and accused a group of members of being socialists, while others supporting the president yelled and screamed at their opponents. After the dust settled, the newspaper reported that,
When the Omaha View Improvement Club was mentioned again in 1914, the club was removing politics from its activities entirely and focusing solely on civic improvement.
An ice cream shop tried to open in the neighborhood in 1920, only to face opposition from the club. “Several years ago this place was a chicken house,” said a letter to the City of Omaha health commissioner. I couldn’t find word on whether the shop stayed open.
Segregated Housing and White Flight
After the lynching of Will Brown in 1919, African Americans continued moving north and west of the Near North Side neighborhood, where whites forced segregation in the past. Realizing their desire for bigger homes in further west and north neighborhoods, some of the earliest white flight beyond the Near North Side happened in Omaha View. This left the neighborhood west of North 30th welcoming African Americans, and was supposedly the only one to allow this until the 1950s.
In the 1930s, the Omaha View neighborhood was officially segregated by the United States government. Working with local banks, insurance companies, real estate agents and local officials, the Federal Home Owners Lending Corporation developed a map for Omaha that designated a large section of the Near North Side as “dangerous” for investment, primarily because African Americans lived there. The Omaha View neighborhood served as a flag on an otherwise rectangular box from North 30th to North 20th Street, Cuming to Binney Street. In Omaha View, the “flag” went from Lake Street north to Maple, from North 30th to North 33rd Street. This meant that the neighborhood was already predominantly African American by the 1930s.
Architecture in Omaha View
There are countless historic homes and architecturally significant homes in the Omaha View neighborhood. One of the oldest is the 1885 home built at 3336 Miami Street. A worker cottage, it only has about 775 square feet within, but maintains its historical outline on the outside.
As of January 2020, the following homes in the Omaha View neighborhood are more than 125 years old:
- 3309 Maple, built in 1895
- 3336 Maple, built in 1885
- 3337 Maple, built in 1895
- 3220 Maple, built in 1885
- 3202 Maple, built in 1886
- 2802 North 30th, built in 1885
- 2808 North 30th, built in 1883
- 3340 Corby, built in 1890
- 3333 Corby, built in 1890
- 3123 Corby, built in 1885
- 3009 Corby, built in 1885
- 2722 North 30th, built in 1885
- 3014 Miami, built in 1885
- 3015 Miami, built in 1885
- 3018 Miami, built in 1885
- 3122 Miami, built in 1880
- 3319 Miami, built in 1895
- 3461 Miami, built in 1885
- 2620 North 34th Avenue, built in 1885
- 3725 Ohio, built in 1895
- 3236 Lake, built in 1895
These homes are each eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places under the rationale that they are a collection of moderate income residences in the most popular house forms of the late 19th century, including local interpretations of the Gothic Revival and Queen Anne forms. There are also vernacular styles, including gable-front, gabled-ell, and gabled-tee examples throughout the neighborhood.
To be sure, there have been a LOT of demolitions in the Omaha View neighborhood, and there are a lot of empty lots there. However, until many North Omaha neighborhoods, construction has continued in the neighborhood throughout the decades to varying amounts. My scan of the neighborhood’s built history showed every other decade showed at least one home built, including the 1930s, 1970s and 1980s when little other development happened in North Omaha.
In the early 2000s, the Omaha View neighborhood was the site of a well-intended but poorly executed architectural abomination. In the first decade, more than an entire block of the neighborhood was leveled to make room for the construction of a single cul-de-sac filled with McMansions and mid-sized homes. Its the most bizarre thing, and can be seen at North 33rd and Miami Streets. Here’s a deeply historical neighborhood with a lot of intact century-plus old homes, scared with the over-ambitious development of a terrible group of modern homes in the middle of it. Shameful. Next time spend the money on rehabilitating, restoring and otherwise protecting North Omaha’s built history. There’s been other ugly modern housing built in the neighborhood too, but this is the worst example.
Churches in Omaha View
Early churches in the neighborhood included Pella Lutheran Church, which was built by Scandinavians and became Hope Lutheran Church, an African American congregation, in 1942. Located on the corner of North 30th and Ohio, Hillside Congregational Church was a popular congregation in the neighborhood. When racism sent waves of white flight through the neighborhood after the lynching of Will Brown, the church closed. It was sold to another denomination to become a Black church that was the Hillside Presbyterian Church. It was started in 1926 and survived until the church was burned down in 1937.
Salem Baptist Church moved to the neighborhood in 1971. Their longtime edifice is located at 3336 Lake Street. They moved from that location in 2000 to a beautiful new facility located across the street on the site of the former Hilltop Projects. Today, the old church is the location for the Sharon Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Businesses in the Neighborhood
There have been many businesses in the Omaha View neighborhood throughout the years. Dr. Whinnery might have had the first business in the area, with a dental office he opened at North 30th and Miami Street where Howard Kennedy School is today.
Perhaps the most vivacious was Mary’s Chicken Hut, located at Dr. Whinnery’s former home at 2722 North 30th Street for almost 20 years. While seemingly it was an innocuous restaurant, the establishment was raided several times by the Omaha Police Department Morals Squad. This troop was regarded as a racket used by police officers to shake down businesses, particularly in low-income communities, immigrant neighborhoods and in communities of color. Charges against the owner, Charles Jones, included “keeping a common, ill-guarded house” and “keeping a disorderly house,” as well as dice, gambling, and prostitution. Jones closed the business in the 1950s.
The Aframerican Bookstore is located at 3226 Lake Street. Founded in 1990, its a wholly independent African American enterprise selling works by emerging authors as well as older favorites. They specialize on books written from African centered perspectives.
In 2008, the Urban League of Nebraska opened their offices near the intersection of North 30th and Lake Streets on the corner of the Omaha View neighborhood.
There are several other businesses in the neighborhood, too.
A History of Howard Kennedy School
Before it was renamed, the Howard Kennedy Elementary School was called the Omaha View School. Opened in 1885, the first school was a ten-room brick building on the corner of North 32nd and Corby Streets. For the first decade of its existence, it was the smallest school in the school district with only 142 students in 1886; other schools averaged from 300 to 900 students. After parents and community members complained extensively, in 1891 the school district spent $1,000 repairing the school for its continued usage. The next year though, the school was closed in the middle of winter because, according to the superintendent, it couldn’t be heated because the windows were too loose. In 1902, the boundaries for students to be sent to Omaha View School were approximately North 26th on the east to North 36th Street on the west, from Blondo on the south to Pinkney on the north.
Calling the old school “dangerous and dilapidated,” in 1908 the city voted to rebuild the Omaha View School with a 16-room building that was identical to the Lothrop School. That year, prolific Omaha architects Fisher and Lawrie were contracted to design the plans for the 16-room school building, and W. H. Parrish won a contract from the district to build the school for $94,000. The building was built at 2906 North 30th Street between Binney and Maple, immediately east of a large open space with a boulevard winding through it. This land would become Adams Park.
The school was opened in January 1910, and the old school was demolished soon afterward. That year, the Omaha Public Schools board of education renamed the building for the first superintendent of the district, Howard Kennedy. In addition to that role, he sat on the school board for a decade, and was well-regarded throughout the city. His son was a retired judge and popular figure in Omaha when the school was built.
A 1911 Omaha World-Herald article said the bricks from the original Omaha View School at North 32nd and Corby were used to build the Board of Education Warehouse at 2024 Nicholas Street, which still stands today.
By the 1920s, Howard Kennedy School taught predominantly African American students, and it was one of Omaha Public Schools segregated Black schools.
The school served grades one through eight for several years, and added kindergarten around 1910. In 1956, a junior high program was established at the school for the seventh and eighth grades.
In 1957, the school district built an addition onto Howard Kennedy School to house increasing numbers of students attending. The new addition doubled the number of classrooms in the school and added a new gymnasium/cafeteria. For the first time in several years, each class had its own room. The school underwent several renovations over the next several decades, but was rededicated after a major renovation in 2004.
Despite rallying for their own park there starting in the 1890s, the land immediately south of the Omaha View neighborhood was not made into a city park. Instead, in the 1940s and 1950s it became the site of the Pleasantview Housing Projects and the Hilltop Projects. Despite being home to thousands of families, over the next 70 years these facilities brought down the historical and economic value of the surrounding area, including the Omaha View neighborhood.
Although it wasn’t in the lifetimes of the original activists who called for it, the neighborhood did gain a park right after World War II though. Adams Park was opened just north of Omaha View in 1948 on the remainder of the Whinnery estate. A large swath of undeveloped property, the land was cut through with the winding John A. Creighton Boulevard. Today, the park abuts the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation.
Another post-World War II development in the area was the construction of the Spencer Street Public Housing Projects east of North 30th Street. These projects originally spanned four blocks and included many buildings. They were divided and many units were demolished in the early 1970s when the blocks between North 27th and North 28th were obliterated to make room for the North Freeway. In 2019, plans were announced to demolish these projects to make way for a new mixed use development.
Over the years, several other things happened in and around the neighborhood, including the integration of the nearby Coca Cola Bottling plant and its eventual closure; the expansion and ending of the streetcars; the development of the nearby Charles Drew Health Center, and; the establishment and development of the Highlander by SeventyFive North.
Omaha View Today
The Omaha View neighborhood has grown and changed throughout the years. In addition to the active community center in Adams Park and the growing Malcolm X Memorial Foundation, there have been several housing developments built within and around the neighborhood.
There are no historical acknowledgements of the neighborhood or its assets. Despite homes that are more than 120 years old and notable locations that affected the history of the entire city, Omaha View is regularly excluded from the City of Omaha’s Landmark Heritage Preservation Commission scans, surveys and reports. Nothing in the neighborhood has been designated an official Omaha Landmark or listed on the National Register of Historic Places, either.
You Might Like…
- Historic Neighborhoods in North Omaha
- A History of North Omaha’s Plum Nelly Area
- A History of the Hilltop Projects
- A History of the Pleasantview Projects
- A History of the Spencer Project
- A History of Schools in North Omaha
- A History of Adams Park