The Florence Main Street is filled with several important buildings that tell the neighborhood’s history from 1856 until today. One of the most important has been a social hall, gymnasium, public library, and is now a college. This is a history of the original Florence Community Center, also called the Florence Building.
Located at 8702 North 30th Street, an architect named J.J. Davis designed this structure, originally called the Fontanelle Building, on the northwest corner of Main and Clay Streets. It was paid for by local businessmen who wanted to provide Florence with a community building.
The two-story building that opened in 1912 was soon called the Eagles Hall. The first floor had club rooms, restrooms, ticket office, and a kitchen, with a large hall on the second floor. There were plenty of community events, graduations, and lodge meetings there before 1917.
That year, the City of Omaha annexed the City of Florence. A year after annexation, the City of Omaha floated a bond measure to buy the old Eagle Hall for a new fire station to serve the new neighborhood. Assuring residents that the building would remain a community center, a new cornerstone was added to document the gifting of the building back to the residents.
In 1924, the Hummel Hall was added to the building as a gymnasium named after the longtime and powerful City of Omaha parks commissioner and Omaha City Council member Joseph Hummel. The Florence branch of the Omaha Public Library was here for decades. The addition was designed by popular Omaha architect Leo A. Daly, and for more than 60 years it had activities, including community programs by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression, among other things.
In 1976, the library moved to a new building and the community center was eventually sold by the City. Today it’s home to a private institution called the Universal College of Healing Arts. It is included on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Florence Commercial Historic District.
Florence residents and boosters built their own community center in 1912 and it stayed open into the 1980s, leaving a 70-plus year legacy on the community. Still serving the community today as a higher education institution, the community center moved to a new building across the street and keeps going too. Both are a testament to the historic power of the Florence community.
Special thanks to Ed Zimmer for his contribution to this article.
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MY ARTICLES ABOUT THE HISTORY OF FLORENCE
Public Places: Florence Main Street | Florence Ferry | Florence High School | The Mormon Tree | Florence Water Works | Mormon Bridge | Florence Boulevard | River Drive | J.J. Pershing Drive and Monument | Potter’s Field | Florence Community Center
Businesses: Vennelyst Park | Bank of Florence | Florence Mill | Florence Depot
Houses: Parker Mansion | Brandeis Country Home | Lantry-Thompson Mansion | Mitchell House
People: James M. Parker | James Comey Mitchell | Florence Kilborn
Neighborhoods: Winter Quarters | Florence Field | Wyman Heights | High Point
Other: Directory of Florence Historic Places
We spent many happy hours playing basketball in that gym back in the early 50’s.
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Yes, played basketball there in the 60’s myself. Many fond memories.
Loved the library!! Mrs Wills was the best librarian.
I used to go To that building back in the day when I belonged to a square dancing club every Saturday night the square dance club is long gone.
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