A History of the Grand Theater in North Omaha

N. 16th and Locust Streets in North Omaha, Nebraska

Throughout its history, North Omaha was filled with movie theaters. From 1914 to 1931, one of the most beautiful theaters was located at North 16th and Locust Streets. This is a history of the Grand Theater located at 2920 North 16th Street.

Grand Theater, 2920 North 16th Street, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is a then-and-now comparison image of the Grand Theater at 2920 North 16th Street. This building was recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Kountze Place neighborhood was a hoppin, poppin place to live for more than 40 years. One of its main features was the commercial district at North 16th and Locust Streets, which was on the edge of the neighborhood. This same intersection was the place where some East Omahans shopped and commuted, as well as people from the Saratoga neighborhood and the North 16th corridor. These people came to restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries, clothing stores, hardware stores, drug stores, and more that was at the intersection. For 17 years they came for the Grand Theater.

McFarland Moving Picture Theater, North Omaha, Nebraska
These are the blueprints for the McFarland Moving Picture Theater near N. 16th and Wirt Streets in North Omaha. It was later called the Grand Theater.

For a period of time, William R. McFarland (1874-1950) was the most important movie theater owner in Omaha, owning more than six motion picture houses at different times. His only property in North Omaha was built in 1914 near North 24th and Binney Streets. Originally called the McFarland Motion Picture House, it was soon renamed the Grand Theatre.

Designed in the Commercial Vernacular style, Lloyd D. Willis was the architect of the building for the McPherson Theater Company in 1910. Construction started in 1914, and the Grand Theater officially opened in 1916. Showing standard films from major distributors, the Grand Theater was a popular place throughout the 1920s. In 1925, the Grand was managed by J.E. Kirk. He was cited by the City of Omaha building inspector during a citywide inspection for having locked exits and too few lights.

In addition to his theater, McFarland also constructed a retail space to the north of his theater, and the Allas Apartment building was constructed on the parking lot behind the theater by the next owner.

In 1918, a large article in the Omaha Bee announced the sale of the theater by W.R. McFarland and his co-owner Harry Rachman to J. Earle Kirk. The paper said, “The Grand Theater has always been a successful institution and the building is very substantial, comprising the theater and two store rooms.” It bragged saying, “[it] was one of the first fireproof movie houses in Omaha.”

The Grand stayed open until 1931 and was closed because of losses during the Great Depression.

However, it still stands today and is cared for by the Mount Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, which opened there in 1999. Between 1931 and 1999, it was used as a tavern, a bar, a restaurant, and a storage space.

In 2019, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places partly because of research conducted for this website and shared freely across the internet!

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