In the past of the 24th and Lake Historic District, there are countless people who made things happen. One of them launched a club and a legacy extending to today. This is a biography of Paul B. Allen, Sr. (1910-1997), and the story of Allen’s Showcase.
A Biography of Paul B. Allen
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Allen was 11-years-old when his family moved to Omaha. After attending Howard Kennedy Elementary, he transferred to Kellom and then went to Tech, where he dropped out in 11th grade.
After working as a porter in barbershops downtown and at a number of hotels, Allen began working as a porter on railroad dining cars. Working his way up to steamliners, Allen traveled the country.
Allen joined the Army in 1943, going to bases throughout the Deep South. Moving directly from private to sergeant, then volunteered to go overseas. Landing in France after the Normandy invasion, he earned four Bronze Stars, he finished the war in Germany.
After returning, he went into business with a partner to open the North Side Amvets Club at North 24th and Miami Streets. Staying open for two-and-a-half-years, the club closed because of tax issues. He then opened a small restaurant. Allen married his first wife Dorothy Beck (1912–1989) in 1947.
After he closed the Amvets and opened his restaurant, Allen got into selling and serving jukeboxes. Around 1950, he and Dorothy opened a store at 2508 North 24th Street called A&A Records, which stayed open until 1980. A&A sold used records from the jukeboxes. It was during that job when he found out a rough-and-tumble bar owned by Carl Rabe was for sale.
He and Dorothy had four children, including Paul B. Allen, Jr., Alfred E. Allen (1934–2017), Evelyn Williams and Ora Lee Davis.
Opening the Showcase
In 1951, Paul B. Allen bought the former Rabe’s Tavern at 2229 Lake Street. After renaming it “The Alley,” Allen built a building a performance stage in the corner of the popular bar, the building was soon called Allen’s Bar. There was a U-shaped bar and a jukebox that played music when no musicians were playing. Eventually the iconic “stadium style” seating was installed, which attracted serious music fans from around the city. Soon hiring bands and singers, Preston Love once reported that Allen’s peak as a jazz institution came in 1958, when Love’s orchestra played for a long weekend. The business was called Allen’s Showcase by the 1960s, and during that decade the club started booking a variety of different performers.
All sorts of local musicians played at Allen’s Showcase. They included Buddy Miles, a nationally famous drummer and singer who put a song on one of his albums called “Paul B. Allen.” Other musicians who played at the Showcase included Mike Andre Lewis, who led a Motown band called Mandrake; Ronnie (bass) and Donnie (drums) Beck; Carol Rodgers; keyboardist Keith Rodgers; drummer Curlie Martin, and; guitarist Calvin Keyes. A North Omaha composer named Lester Abrams played there, along with saxophonist and arranger Stymsie Hunter; guitarist Billy Rodgers; saxophonist and bandleader Hank Redd, and; guitarist Jerry Bennett.
Another report by Preston Love, Sr. said that if a national act was in Omaha, chances were that they’d stop by Allen’s. Some of the guests included Redd Foxx, who appeared at the Showcase in 1967. George Kirby, Duke Ellington, Billy Eckstine and Lionell Hampton all came through regularly. Less common were actors like Sidney Portier, comedian Bill Cosby, and singers including Dionne Warwick, Sam Cooke and Nancy Wilson.
It was early in this era that Allen built the beautiful California Ranch style home at 1815 John A. Creighton Bouelvard in the Orchard Hill neighborhood. This iconic home was the star of a 1955 open house featuring guests from across the country and a featurette in the Omaha Star.
Paul B. Allen, Sr. after the Showcase
After running for Omaha City Council in 1965 and 1969 and losing both times, Paul Allen was offered a position in city government as a result of the 24th Street rioting between 1966 and 1969. It was 1967 when he became an employment coordinator in the City of Omaha Human Relations Department. He sold the club to Apollo Faison, who renamed it Faison’s Showcase. In 1971, Paul Allen’s brothers Jess Allen (1913-1996) and Alfred Allen started running the institution. Allen himself took other city government jobs after the first one ended. He was forced to quit in 1975 by a new mayor.
Throughout the decades, Allen was involved in many community activities that included the Bi-Racial Committee for Education and Technical Training; the Metropolitan Air Pollution Advisory Committee; the Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Opportunity; the Mayor’s Committee on Housing for the Elderly; the Opportunities Industrialization Center Board of Directors; the Small Business Development Center Committee; the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Recreation Committee; the United Community Services Citizens’ Assembly; and the Citizens’ Coordinating Committee for Civil Liberties, or 4CL. He led voter registration drives and frequently served as a master of ceremonies for community events, as well as volunteering regularly at the Wesley House and the Hilltop Center.
Despite his community involvement and longtime track record as a successful businessman, Allen got shook down by the Omaha Police Department in 1976 under charges that he ran an illegal gambling establishment. In reality, he was fixing coin operated machines at The Classic Club on North 30th Street when the building was raided. Defending patrons there as preparing for a large scale picnic the next day, Allen and his friends were eventually released on charges.
In 1977, Allen went back to running the Showcase again, determined to make the club prominent again. However, by 1980 he opened the possibility of the club closing permanently when he died. By then, Allen was in the music and entertainment business in Omaha for more than 30 years.
Allen was a longtime member of Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church, the Omaha Urban League, the Omaha chapter of the NAACP, the Omaha Chamber of Commerce, and the Mid-City Business and Professional Association.
Paul B. Allen died in 1997 and buried at Forest Lawn.
The legacy of Paul Allen, Sr. lives on though.
During the 1980s the club was owned by Larry King. In the 1990s, Larry Gills ran a business at the location called Papa G’s Showcase, and today its home to My Place Lounge. It still has the iconic Showcase name on the front though.
Paul B. Allen Jr. owned Allen’s Showcase, and Paul B. Allen III sang with The Platters, as well as continuing as a lyricist and music score writer. In 2017, the Omaha World-Herald featured Paul Allen IV as the program director of a community radio station. Much the same as his great-grandfather, this generation is clearly committed to sharing new music and building North Omaha culture for another generation.
Today, the original location of Allen’s Showcase still operates as a music venue, although its owned outside the family now. It was listed as part of the 24th and Lake Historic District in 2017, and serves as a landmark for Omaha’s African American community, and music history lovers throughout the city and beyond.
You Might Like…
- A History of the 24th and Lake Historic District
- A History of the Off Beat Club in North Omaha
- A History of Businesses Owned by African Americans in Omaha
Thanks to Midge McDaniel of Omaha who published an article called “A Salute to Paul B. Allen and Allen’s Showcase Lounge” on Facebook. Thanks also go to Paul Allen, III and the Allen Showcase