There were once more than 30 theaters located north of Dodge Street and east of 72nd Street. Among them, one stood out for its longevity and meaning to Omaha’s African American community. This is a history of the Ritz Theater.
Located at 2041 North 24th Street, the Ritz Theater was a neighborhood institution in the Near North Side. A standout among Omaha’s theaters, the Ritz eventually served African Americans as equals to white people. Then white people moved out of the neighborhood and the Ritz became an exclusively “Black theater,” meaning that it was staffed by African Americans and patronized by African Americans. A white person continued owning it though.
The Glendale Realty Company started construction on the theater in August 1929. However, there were legal issues that kept it from opening until 1931, when it opened as the Ritz Theatre. Popular Omaha theater owner and operator Harry L. Taylor, who had owned the Franklin and the Alhambra Theaters before the Ritz, opened it and owned it throughout its entire existence.
Movie listings for the Ritz were never printed in the Omaha World-Herald. Instead, since it was an African American theater, they were listed in the Omaha Star and other Black-owned newspapers throughout its existence.
During the Great Depression, the theater served as a relief to a lot of neighborhood residents. The Omaha Urban League held several events there, as well as the Near North Side YMCA and the Works Progress Administration had regular events there, too.
Seating almost 600 moviegoers, the theater resumed normal service after World War II. With the surrounding neighborhood nearly completely African American, the Ritz was a Black theater, meaning that it operated as a place where white people and Black people were treated equally. This was different than the vast majority of theaters throughout Omaha, which segregated Black people from white people.
Located in a historically packed business district, the theater was next to a grocery store and several apartment buildings. It was across the street from a social hall and other businesses, with regular streetcar service delivering moviegoers there into the 1950s.
In the 1940s, Taylor also ran the Music Box located at 19th and Dodge Streets. Throughout the 1950s, the popular Beau Brummel Club held an annual Christmas party at the theater. Inviting neighborhood kids between the ages of 4 and 10, they came with no admission, recieved free gifts and watched a movie.
Taylor regularly donated the Ritz for charity use that supported local community groups and political movements. In 1951, a midnight event at the theater supported a fair employment act in the Nebraska Unicameral. The bill didn’t pass, but the event was successful at rallying a great deal of support from the community.
In 1957, the doorman at the theater was charged with murder after the death of a 17-year-old. Russell Jordan, the doorman, worked at the Ritz for a long time. In his position, he shot Arthur F. Thomas, killing him. He later claimed the The young man’s father took the theater’s owner, Harry A. Taylor to court to sue for wrongful death, charging that Jordan shot Thomas “negligently, carelessly and recklessly.” Jordan was indicted for manslaughter and sentenced to five years. He served until 1960.
Another longtime worker at the theater was Paul Barnett (1909-1991), who acted as a manager, doorman and usher.
The Champion Bar was a longtime neighbor of the theater, and in later years the Leo Bar was next door. A short-time neighborhood was the ¢.09 Store, a Black-owned five and dime variety store in the 1930s.
The theater was closed in 1967 and demolished in the 1970s. Today the lot still sits empty.
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MY ARTICLES ON THE HISTORY OF THEATERS IN NORTH OMAHA
LOCATIONS: Grand Theater | Beacon Theater | Ritz Theater | Minne Lusa Theatre | North Star Theater aka Ames Theater | Corby Theater | Alhambra Theater | Suburban Theater | Military Theater | Diamond Theaters
PEOPLE: Frank E. Goff | George P. Johnson
MY ARTICLES ABOUT THE HISTORY OF OMAHA’S NEAR NORTH SIDE
GROUPS: Black People | Jews and African Americans | Jews | Hungarians | Scandinavians | Chinese | Italians
EVENTS: Redlining | North Omaha Riots | Stone Soul Picnic | Native Omaha Days Festival
BUSINESSES: Club Harlem | Dreamland Ballroom | Omaha Star Office | 2621 North 16th Street | Calhoun Hotel | Warden Hotel | Willis Hotel | Broadview Hotel | Carter’s Cafe | Live Wire Cafe | Fair Deal Cafe | Metoyer’s BBQ | Skeet’s | Storz Brewery | 24th Street Dairy Queen | 1324 N. 24th St. | Ritz Theater | Alhambra Theater | 2410 Lake Street | Carver Savings and Loan Association | Blue Lion Center | 9 Center Variety Store
CHURCHES: St. John’s AME Church | Zion Baptist Church | Mt. Moriah Baptist Church | St. Philip Episcopal Church | St. Benedict Catholic Parish | Holy Family Catholic Church | Bethel AME Church | Cleaves Temple CME Church
HOMES: A History of | Logan Fontenelle Housing Projects | The Sherman | The Climmie | Ernie Chambers Court aka Strelow Apartments | Hillcrest Mansion | Governor Saunders Mansion | Memmen Apartments
SCHOOLS: Kellom | Lake | Long | Cass Street | Izard Street | Dodge Street
ORGANIZATIONS: Red Dot Athletic Club | Omaha Colored Baseball League | Omaha Rockets | YMCA | Midwest Athletic Club | Charles Street Bicycle Park | DePorres Club | NWCA | Elks Hall and Iroquois Lodge 92 | American Legion Post #30 | Bryant Resource Center | People’s Hospital | Bryant Center
NEIGHBORHOODS: Long School | Logan Fontenelle Projects | Kellom Heights | Conestoga | 24th and Lake | 20th and Lake | Charles Street Projects
INDIVIDUALS: Edwin Overall | Rev. Russel Taylor | Rev. Anna R. Woodbey | Rev. Dr. John Albert Williams | Rev. John Adams, Sr. | Dr. William W. Peebles | Dr. Craig Morris | Dr. John A. Singleton, DDS | Dr. Aaron M. McMillan | Mildred Brown | Dr. Marguerita Washington | Eugene Skinner | Dr. Matthew O. Ricketts | Helen Mahammitt | Cathy Hughes | Florentine Pinkston | Amos P. Scruggs | Nathaniel Hunter | Bertha Calloway
OTHER: 26th and Lake Streetcar Shop | Webster Telephone Exchange Building | Kellom Pool | Circus Grounds | Ak-Sar-Ben Den
MY ARTICLES ABOUT THE HISTORY OF N. 24TH ST.
NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES: 24th and Lake Historic District | Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church | Carnation Ballroom | Jewell Building | Minne Lusa Historic District | The Omaha Star
NEIGHBORHOODS: Near North Side | Long School | Kellom Heights | Logan Fontenelle Housing Projects | Kountze Place | Saratoga | Miller Park | Minne Lusa
BUSINESSES: 1324 North 24th Street | 24th Street Dairy Queen | 2936 North 24th Street | Jewell Building and Dreamland Ballroom | 3006 Building | Forbes Bakery, Ak-Sar-Ben Bakery, and Royal Bakery | Blue Lion Center | Omaha Star | Hash House | Live Wire Cafe | Metoyer’s BBQ | Fair Deal Cafe | Carter’s Cafe | Carnation Ballroom | Alhambra Theater | Ritz Theater | Suburban Theater | Skeet’s BBQ | Safeway
CHURCHES: Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church | Pearl Memorial United Methodist Church | Immanuel Baptist Church | Mt Moriah Baptist Church | Bethel AME Church
HOUSES: McCreary Mansion | Gruenig Mansion
INTERSECTIONS: 24th and Fort | Recent History of 24th and Lake | Tour of 24th and Lake
EVENTS: 1898 Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition | 1899 Greater America Exposition | 1913 Easter Sunday Tornado | 1919 Lynching and Riot | 1960s Riots
OTHER: Omaha Driving Park | JFK Rec Center | Salvation Army Hospital | Omaha University | Creighton University | Bryant Center
RELATED: A Street of Dreams | Redlining | Black History in Omaha | North Omaha’s Jewish Community | Binney Street | Wirt Street
- Original 1929 architectural drawing of the Ritz Theater, courtesy of the City of Omaha Landmarks Heritage Preservation Commission
Why did it close?
Mark, that’s a great question. I can’t find word of the theater’s owner after 1971, anywhere. No death date, nadda. That year he got in trouble with the city for selling alcohol at the Music Box, and then he vanishes from record, as did the Ritz. Nadda. Do you know more?
White People Wanted North 24th Businesses To Fail. None Of Them Wanted To Invest. “None Of Them”!..
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