A History of Joslyn Hall in North Omaha

Joslyn Hall, Omaha University, North 24th and Evans Streets.

North Omaha has been home to several higher education institutions. One of them was called Omaha University. Founded in 1908, eight years later a new structure was constructed to be a multipurpose building on the growing campus. This is a history of the former Joslyn Hall in North Omaha.

Benefactors

After launching in the former Redick Mansion, in 1908 Omaha University planned its first purpose-built building to be constructed at 3620 North 24th Street in the Kountze Place neighborhood.

In 1909, the board of regents were made a generous offer by Omaha philanthropist George A. Joslyn (1846-1916). He would provide $50,000 for the construction of their first purpose-built facility on the campus if they could pony up the remaining $250,000. The board accepted the challenge but failed, and his offered lapsed.

Recommitting to the North Omaha campus six years later, in 1915 the university went ahead with building the structure. After Joslyn gave the university $25,000 for the building, Omaha architects John and Alan McDonald designed it, and when it was opened in December 1916 it was named Joslyn Hall in honor of the university’s first major benefactor. He died a few months before the building was finished.

Purpose and Activities

Located on the southwest corner of 24th and Emmett, Omaha University's Joslyn Hall stood from 1916 to 1967.
Located on the southwest corner of 24th and Emmett Streets, Omaha University’s Joslyn Hall stood from 1916 to 1967.

In December 1916, the university officially named the new building for Joslyn, and students had a farewell party for Redick Hall and moved into their new building. It was officially opened after Christmas break in 1916.

Built with three stories and a basement, the building had a total of thirty classrooms, as well as laboratories for chemistry and physics, and the music department. Almost all of the academic courses for the college were taught in the building.

Joslyn Hall was home to the university’s Domestic Science classes, where students could earn a degree in home economics that included studies in household accounts, sewing, interior decoration, cooking, home management, food and dietetics.

For the entirety of its existence, Joslyn Hall was home to the Omaha University Conservatory of Music. They used three practice studios and had a 150-seat auditorium for performances for the music program, which included band, orchestra, choir and glee club.

There were more than 60 art classes held in Joslyn Hall, including Saturday classes for school teachers.

The Omaha University library was home to 5,000 books. Since it wasn’t a large library, there weren’t enough books to suffice for the students’ needs. They reportedly relied on the Omaha Public Library to supplement their studies.

A cafeteria was opened in the basement of Joslyn Hall in 1928. It served breakfast, snacks and lunch everyday. Since there were no dorms, there was no need for dinner service.

There was also a bookstore in Joslyn Hall that stocked books, pens and ink, pencils, paper, erasers, math equipment, and other supplies.

Socialization on the campus was facilitated by religious organizations, including the YMCA, Knights of Columbus and the Jewish Welfare Board. The YWCA provided activities too, including stag parties, mixers and other events. There were several clubs at home in Joslyn Hall, including drama, history clubs, and other extracurriculars.

Growing in Value

This July 28, 1919 headline from the Omaha Daily Bee screams, "University of Omaha Launches Drive to Raise $500,000 for Endowment Fund," and features Joslyn Hall in North Omaha, Nebraska
This July 28, 1919 headline from the Omaha Daily Bee screams, “University of Omaha Launches Drive to Raise $500,000 for Endowment Fund,” and features Joslyn Hall.

In 1919, the building was valued at $75,000.

Over the years, the building became a beloved feature of the campus. Along with classes, music and drama performances, open houses, and graduations were held in the building.

The public was invited to attend special events, including plays, operas, concertos and science demonstrations, as well as open houses to promote the university, its students, and their accomplishments. Fashion shows, cooking demonstrations, and other public activities were held there, and the school newspaper was printed in the building. The university administration operated there for years.

The basement was divided into small, scantly decorated study rooms that were sometimes used for crammed classes, and the hallways were popular for socializing. Class meetings led by student leaders, social clubs and academic competitions were held in the basement, and fancy formal teas, social activities, and other student activities were there, too.

After he died, George Joslyn’s wife Sarah H. Joslyn (1851–1940) donated one of the family’s business buildings downtown to the university, which used it for the College of Commerce and College of Law. She went onto donate an additional $100,000 to the university, join the board of trustees, and became a major fundraiser for the institution. She received an honorary doctorate for her dedication to the university.

In 1919, an extension division was started at the university in order to serve non-degree seeking students, including nighttime and weekend courses.

The university grew slowly, staying around 900 students by 1920. However, as they started growing again in 1922, the university leadership began grumbling about overcrowding in Joslyn Hall. In 1924, a campus growth plan suggested building a structure identical to Joslyn Hall next to it. Agitators began suggesting the university move though, as they wanted a consolidated campus and the site in North Omaha couldn’t grow because of the neighborhood infilling around it.

In 1927, the university moved the science department out of Joslyn Hall to the repurposed former third Saratoga School building at North 24th and Ames. This created more room for other coursework at Joslyn, and the Art Department took over the entire third floor at this point. However, it spelled a foreboding future for the North Omaha campus.

Gave It Away, then Sold It Off

These were the University Apartments in the former Joslyn Hall at 3620 North 24th Street, circa 1940.
These were the University Apartments in the former Joslyn Hall at 3620 North 24th Street, circa 1940.

In 1930, the board of trustees of Omaha University offered ownership of the institution to the City of Omaha to serve as a municipal university. The City accepted the gift in 1931, and it was operated that way until 1966.

In 1937, Joslyn Hall was sold to a private owner and became known as the University Apartments. There were several 2-room apartments in the building, along with a laundry room and parking. During World War II they were marketed heavily to defense workers. In the 1950s, rent in the building averaged $32 monthly.

The apartments became available to Black renters in 1953. That year, the color line segregating Kountze Place fell; before that, Black residents weren’t allowed in the neighborhood.

Wrecking and Remembering

In 1960, the building was sold to new owners for $85,000.

By 1964, Joslyn Hall was one of the last two original OU buildings left. In May, reusable fixtures and metal parts throughout the building were sold off in preparation for demolition. In June, it was demolished and over the next two years, the Evans Tower was built on the site. It continues to stand there today.

According to the university, in 1917 a brick from the building was painted and presented by the Alumni Association to various alumni and employees. The bricks were painted gold on all sides and the words “Joslyn Hall 1917” were written on the side in blue. Today, one of the bricks is located in a special collection of Criss Library.

There is no historical marker for Joslyn Hall, an educational icon for the entire city that was located at North 24th and Evans from 1916 to 1964.


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BONUS!

This is a c. 1915 image of Jacobs Gymnasium on the left. On the right is Redick Hall, which was demolished to make room for Joslyn Hall.
This is a c. 1915 image of Jacobs Gymnasium on the left. On the right is Redick Hall, which was demolished to make room for Joslyn Hall.
This 1930 pic shows Omaha University students on the lawn in front of Joslyn Hall.
This 1930 pic shows Omaha University students on the lawn in front of Joslyn Hall.
This is the Omaha University Office of the President located in Joslyn Hall from 1916 to 1937.
This is the Omaha University Office of the President located in Joslyn Hall from 1916 to 1937.

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