From the founding of the city in 1854 into the 1960s, African Americans weren’t allowed to stay in Omaha’s white-owned hotels. Jim Crow forced Black entrepreneurs to open hotels for Black travelers. One of the fanciest was the Warden Hotel, located at 917 North 16th Street from 1917 to 1920.
In February 1917, Charles Harry Warden and his wife opened the Warden Hotel with 35 rooms as a “really first class hostelry.” The Omaha Monitor compared it to a popular expensive hotel in downtown Omaha, saying it was “the Colored Fontenelle.” It was located in a three-story brick building with three storefronts, located near North 16th and Izard Streets. There were other Black-owned hotels and restaurants along Cuming Street during this era, as the intersection of North 16th and Cuming was on the edge of the original Near North Side neighborhood.
Each room was said to be “thoroughly furnished in complete detail,” and the hotel was said to be “a really large hotel” that would “compare favorably with any west of Chicago.” The Monitor said, “Nothing is missing and every Colored Omahan should make a special effort to visit the Warden. As a business proposition there is no possibility for failure.”
The Waiters Protective Association, a union of local waiters to Omaha, met there regularly.
Later in 1917, Mr. Warden was charged with illegal possession of intoxicating liquor. He was found guilty and fined $100, and appealed the outcome.
Early in the US’s involvement in World War I, in 1918 the Warden Hotel became a site for Black people to buy war bonds. The Monitor said, “Now is the time for every Colored person, young or old, to start saving… Buy your thrift stamps at the Warden Hotel… Charles H. Warden has been appointed an agent by the government to sell these stamps, so buy them from one of the race and making a showing.”
Warden was arrested again for illegal possession of intoxicating liquor in late 1918. He was released on a $480 bond.
That year, the hotel’s advertisements said, “Billiard parlor in connection for gentlemen who care. Easy walking distance to the heart of the city.”
The Omaha Police Department arrested Mr. Warden again in early 1919, again for possession of alcohol. The police claimed to have two cases of liquor from the hotel; however, the judge dismissed the charges when the prosecution’s witnesses didn’t show.
The hotel was closed in 1920. That year, Warden opened a business called The Fashion Cabaret at 1314 North 24th Street.