July 13, 2016

A Short History of Crime Bosses in North Omaha in the early 20th Century




In a time of mobland gangsters, illegal booze, dirty gambling halls and open prostitution, several African Americans rose high enough in Omaha's criminal underworld to become the crime lords of North Omaha.

Reading the history, it seems like everyone was involved in Omaha's criminal underworld back in the day, including politicians, judges, police leaders and policemen, and a lot of other people. In 1906, the Omaha World-Herald wrote,
"The policy of our police department is bearing legitimate fruit. A gang of desperadoes has been encouraged to make Omaha it's haven of refuge and it has educated a lot of young men in the ways of crime. The doctrine that 'when permitted to live in Omaha they commit all their misdeeds outside the city' is almost as false as it is immoral."

The mayor during these years, "Cowboy" Jim Dahlman, openly flaunted his connections with the city's bossman, Tom Dennison. Dennison made it look like he was a legit businessman, but everyone knew he ran the show. Dennison bought off judges, politicians, high society leaders, and others throughout Omaha. He also made a point of having co-called lieutenants around the city on his payroll to make sure he controlled all corners. These men ran their respective communities with the power they got from Dennison's political, criminal and social machine, and because of Dennison's power, there were several African American crime bosses in North Omaha in the early 20th century.

Here are the stories of those men.


Tom Dennison


In this 1922 pic, Tom Dennison is sitting next to Billy Nesselhaus


None of the following stories are complete without digging into the Old Grey Wolf himself. You see, Tom Dennison was a North Omaha boy. His father moved the family from rural Iowa to Omaha when he was a kid, and after he'd traveled the West to sow his wild oats, Dennison came back to the city to make his name.

Omaha's most hyped crime boss lived at 1507 Yates Street in a two-story wood house from 1902-1919. The house sat on the edge of a cliff, and surely had a tunnel that routed out to the Belt Line Railway and the road below. During that time, he rigged elections, managed the city's entire crime syndicate, and started Omaha's worst riot ever.

When his fortunes improved, Tom Dennison moved to a swank North Omaha house at 6141 Florence Boulevard. This house gets a lot of press for Dennison's time spent there, but in reality he only lived there for three years. Built in 1915, Dennison and his wife Ada moved in 1919. However, in 1922 she had a stroke and passed away suddenly. Dennison moved out soon after.

Dennison moved on after that, eventually getting to a swanky address in northwest Omaha. However, his most deviant days were spent in North O. And he set up everyone else who follows, too.

Vic Walker


This is the home of Victor B. Walker in Denver at 2839 Lafarette Street in Denver, which he acquired after he left Omaha.


Born in 1864, Victor B. Walker was a soldier, political activist, lawyer, civil rights activist, police officer, saloon owner, journalist, and gangster in Omaha. Before coming to Omaha, he served as a Buffalo soldier, and when he first got to the city, he worked as a police officer. 

In the 1890s, Vic Walker was given a sum of money by Omaha boss Tom Dennison and told to buyout the owner of the Midway. Dennison thought a man this man had "crossed him," and Walker got rid of him. Walker did so and became a trusted lieutenant

For the next period of his life, Walker owned The Midway. Under his ownership, it became a center of gambling and criminal activity downtown. The Midway was a nationally-known joint with free flowing liquor and gambling in the Sporting District at 1124 Capitol Avenue. He became the big man in the Sporting District, and acted as the liaison between Omaha's black community and Dennison.

During the same period, Walker also became a defense lawyer and fought for civil rights in Omaha. He was one of the founders of the Omaha Afro-American League, a civil rights organization.  

However, in 1902, he disagreed with Tom Dennison after the elections of 1901 left African Americans shorthanded in city politics. Over the next few years he was continually harassed, with his business, the Silver Leaf Club, continuously raided through 1905. That year, he testified in a trial against Dennison, and was shortly afterward beaten by on-duty policemen from the Omaha Police Department. Walker's political and economic ambitions in the city were over. 

Walker moved to Denver after that. There, he ran a nightclub, was appointed deputy sheriff, and briefly ran a weekly newspaper. He was heavily involved in criminal activity there, and was known as the "King of the colored underworld" in Denver.

Last arrested in Denver in 1924, the date of Walker's death is unknown. He is buried in the historic Riverside Cemetery in Denver.

Jack Broomfield 


After Walker was ridden out on a rail, Jack Broomfield stepped into the position of the political leader of Omaha's African-Americans.

Born in 1865, Jack Broomfield was once a Pullman porter. His career with the railroad ended he was in a train wreck that resulted in the loss of his leg, but left him with some money when he arrived in Omaha in 1887.

Around 1904, Omaha's boss, Tom Dennison, gave Broomfield co-ownership of the Midway. In a report on the city in the early 1910s, suffragette leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton called the Midway the "most notorious dive in Omaha."

We only have to look at the 1912 raid on Broomfield's Midway to see how corrupt Omaha was. Storming the joint in full force, Broomfield and several of his customers were cited and ordered to show up for court. Broomfield's four trials were held in the Douglas County Court, all of them ending in hung juries. At the last one, when a juror didn't show up, a substitute was chosen from the crowd. Coincidentally, he became the only member to vote to acquit Broomfield. After a grand jury ordered the case moved to district court, two more trials ended in deadlock, and the case was dismissed.

By 1916, the Omaha World-Herald was barking again and calling Broomfield's Midway, "the ... most vicious of gambling and liquor joints to be found in this or any other city."

Omaha's African American community wasn't especially proud or congratulatory of Broomfield or his actions. During his more than two decade reign over the Near North Side, newspapers such as The Monitor and The Enterprise complained that Broomfield was more interested in promoting his own interests than promoting the interests of his community. Broomfield was slipping: He said he would wrangle votes to keep Blacks in office, but allowed many positions formerly held by African Americans to be taken by whites.

In early 1919, a Dallas newspaper reported that Broomfield was an advisor to an all-African American owned oil company based in Kansas City.

It was also under his watch that the lynching of Will Brown occurred. While it is difficult to say whether any African-American leader could have prevented such mob terrorism, its not impossible to see Broomfield's role. He apparently did nothing to prevent the subsequent redlining of the Near North Side and other forms of segregation throughout the city, too.

Broomfield is remembered today because he contracted local African-American architect Clarence W. Wigington to build the Broomfield Rowhouse at 2502-2504 Lake Street in 1913.

Broomfield died on September 7, 1927. Upon his death in Lincoln, the local paper there said he was, "supreme dictator of negro politics in Omaha."

Dennison was a pallbearer at Broomfield's funeral, where he said Broomfield was,
"one of the old school of political workers and he could always be depended upon to take care of the colored vote and he never failed... [Jack] was true blue and always loyal."

Billy Crutchfield



This is Omaha crime figure William "Billy" Crutchfield around 1910.
This is Billy Crutchfield around 1910.


Born on May 8, 1875, Billy Crutchfield was a significant leader in Omaha's crime world. 

An Omaha Bee article from 1898 shows that William Crutchfield was involved in crime for a long time. That year, his house was bombarded with gunfire when it was being raided by police. Often called Billy, Crutchfield was Jack Broomfield's partner for a long time. In 1903, when Tom Dennison positioned Broomfield as the owner of The Midway saloon, he made Crutchfield part-owner. When Broomfield commissioned Wigington to design his rowhouse, Crutchfield built an identical one next door. 

Crutchfield was involved in running the Midway until 1914, when he opened his own establishment in the Sporting District. The Midway was known nationwide and apparently catered mostly to African-Americans. They served alcohol and gambling of all sorts, including poker, blackjack and craps, as well as faro, roulette, dice and cards. At one point there was a sign in the Midway that said, "If you have a family that needs your money, don't gamble here."

A visitor to the city in 1915 said Crutchfield was a big time politician.

The Crutchfield Rowhouse, which was immediately west of Broomfield's at 2506-2508 Lake Street, was destroyed in a fire that happened in 1986.

Crutchfield died on November 15, 1917, and was buried in Forest Lawn.


Harry Buford


This 1915 picture of Harry Buford is from The Monitor newspaper.


Harry Buford was born in 1890, and was a much more highly regarded leader in North Omaha than his predecessors - but no less wound up in the shady crime world. He grew up in North Omaha and was a determined man, which led to him becoming a policeman.

After starting with the Omaha Police Department, Buford became an acknowledged lieutenant of Tom Dennison for more than 20 years. While working as a police chauffeur, he routinely carted around Dennison, who deliberately positioned him to become the crime boss of the Near North Side. Referred to as one of four "ward heelers" in the city, Buford was used to control over the Black neighborhood in North Omaha.

While on duty in 1913, Buford hit two children playing in a street along South 10th Street. He faced no charges.

Harry Buford became so successful in Omaha that he broke the race line. In 1929, the location of his family's home on the west side of North 30th Street indicated the status of the Buford family because it was outside the redlined Near North Side neighborhood. It was designated an Omaha landmark in 1983.

Buford died in 1961.


Remembering Criminals

As several of these mens' stories show, the lives of historic criminals weren't always straight lines from birth to crime to death. Instead, they are complicated people who lived in complicated ways. Vic Walker was a policeman before he became a crook; Buford worked for the police while he was a crook, and was lauded by the Black press for being a success. Walker even fought for civil rights in court! 

However, Broomfield and Crutchfield come off as criminals who started badly, and ended that way too. Getting eulogized by Tom Dennison might've been an honor at the time, but today we know it was a signal that these were mob men.

This article isn't meant to be a tribute to these men. Instead, it's a reminder that the forces of crime and capitalism have been tugging at the heart of North O for more than a century. Let's not forget the lessons we need to learn.


Related Articles


Sources

  • "Victor B. Walker" on Wikipedia
  • "Jack Broomfield" on Wikipedia
  • "Harry Buford, Police Chauffeur Making Good," The Monitor. November 6, 1915 (see below).
  • John Kyle Davis, “The Gray Wolf: Tom Dennison of Omaha,” Nebraska History 58 (1977): 25-52. 
  • Special thanks to Wikipedia editor User:Smmurphy for their volunteer labor on behalf of North Omaha.

BONUS PICS


Harry Buford 1915 feature from The Monitor newspaper
A 1915 feature on Harry Buford appeared in the Omaha Monitor. This is that!


The Harry Buford House is at 1804 N. 30th St.


A 1919 Dallas newspaper ad for a Black-owned oil company in Kansas City that Broomfield was an advisor to.


After Prohibition closed Jack Broomfield, he opened The Monarch Billiard Rooms downtown at 111 S. 11th St.


July 9, 2016

A Short History of North Omaha's Elks Hall and Iroquois Lodge 92

Elks Iroquois Lodge 92 Omaha, Nebraska


Starting in 1905, the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World, also called the black Elks, met in North Omaha. They were determined to help foster positive social connections, build community and foster growth within Omaha's African American community.


This is a 1926 pic of the Columbia Building at 2420 Lake Street.


More than a century later, the Iroquois Lodge 92 has continued and expanded on their vision. This is a short history of a once-secret society that history shows has been absolutely vital in the history of North Omaha.


"If this ceiling could talk..." Almost a century old, this ceiling in the entryway to North Omaha's Elks Hall has seen more history walk past than almost any other institution in the community.


In June 2016 I had the privilege of touring North Omaha's Elks Hall at 2420 Lake Street. Special thanks go to the outstanding Linda Williams​ for arranging the tour and Ron Jefferson for showing me around the building and sharing the pictures here. Following is a short history of North Omaha's historic Elks Hall, and the African American fraternal organizations Elks Iroquois Lodge #92, Cherokee Temple #223, and South Terrace Temple #1353. Please share any information in the comments section below!


An Elks Lodge 92 drill team marches during a parade on North 24th Street in 1946.


Getting Started


In 1897, the first group of black Elks met in Cincinnati. Disallowed from joining the Elks because of their race, founders B. F. Howard and Arthur Riggs started their own group modeled after the original. A year later, they copyrighted their ritual, which has remained almost entirely the same since then.


This photo is hanging in the Elks Hall today. I assume these are officers of the club, and I estimate this picture is from the 1920s. 


In the decade before Elks Iroquois Lodge 92 was founded, the African American community in Omaha made strides towards equality in Omaha. In 1895, an African American female journalist named Ella Mahammitt became a weekly writer with a local Black newspaper called The Enterprise, and she became vice-president of the National Federation of Afro-American Women, which was headed by Margaret James Murray, who was the wife of Booker T. Washington. That year, Millard Singleton was named the first-ever African American Justice of the Peace in the Eighth Ward in Omaha.

This is an early photo of Elks Iroquois Lodge 92 members that hangs in the Elks Hall today. I estimate this photo is from the earliest years of the lodge in the early 1920s.


The next year, an African American leader in North Omaha named George Franklin held the positions of Douglas County Assessor and City of Omaha Inspector of Weights and Measures at the same time. An African American leader named Ophelia Clenlans was appointed to the executive board of the National Federation of Afro-American Women, while Ella Mahammitt became a committee member of the National Association of Colored Women in 1897.


This picture shows a women's group (probably the Cherokee Temple 223) in what I estimate are the 1960s.


It 1898, African Americans held important roles at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in North Omaha. Various meetings of national black organizations took place during the exposition, including the National Congress of Representatives of White and Colored Americans and the National Colored Press Association. That same year, African Americans in Omaha gathered to call for federal action to stop lynchings and violence in the South. Eula Overall began her five year career as the second ever African American teacher in Omaha Public Schools. Omaha's Edwin Overall was elected General Statistician at the annual meeting of the National Federation of Colored Labor of the United States.


Here's a group photo from the heritage wall in the Elks lodge room at North Omaha's Elks Hall.


In 1901, Omaha's Thomas Mahammitt, publisher of The Enterprise, joins the executive committee of the Western Negro Press Association. The next year, in 1902, Clarence Wigington, Omaha's first African American architect, began his career. He designed at least a dozen buildings in Omaha, including the Broomfield Rowhouse, Zion Baptist Church, and the second St. John's African Methodist Episcopal Church building, among others. In 1905, The Enterprise was so strong that the newspaper rallied against an Omaha City Council candidate who wished to exclude the sale of certain property to blacks in Omaha.

That same year, the black Elks started their lodge in Omaha, and by 1920, The Monitor, another African American newspaper in Omaha, claimed the lodge was the largest in the western U.S.

North Omaha's Elks Hall


The North Omaha Elks Hall at 2420 Lake Street is home to the Elks Iroquois Lodge #92, the Elks Cherokee Temple #223 and the South Terrace Temple #1353. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the 24th and Lake Historic District.


The Elks Hall began as the Columbia Building at 2420 Lake Street, and was built in 1919. Opened as a social hall for North Omaha's African American community. It hosted political rallies and was home to the Omaha Colored Commercial Club, which served an as employment bureau that helped hundreds of African American workers get jobs in their new city. 

The black Elks started meeting there in 1929. They'd been meeting in North Omaha since they started and wanted a permanent home. By 1939, Lodge 92 hosted a major conference in Omaha. More than 6,000 Elks from seven Midwestern states came, and every major venue in North Omaha was filled for a week.

This is a photo of the Cherokee Temple 223 Drill Team. I estimate this is from the 1940s. Photo courtesy of 


The Iroquois Lodge 92 also has an officially recognized female auxiliary, the Daughters of the Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World. Their units are called temples, and there are two at the Elks Hall in North Omaha. The Cherokee Temple 223 has been operating since the beginning of the Iroquois Lodge, and the South Terrace Temple 1353 is much newer.


This is North Omaha's iconic Elks Iroquois Lodge 92 sign, a beacon for the community since the 1920s.


The lodge founded a Civil Liberties department in 1926. There are several other departments too, including an education department that is still active.

This photo is of the Elks Hall lodge room - notice the photos of leaders and others on the wall behind the group. I estimate its from the 1960s, and as its caption says, its the "Thomas (Herb) Richardson Sportsman Club Company 8."


In 1964, Malcolm X spoke at the Elks Hall, with the Omaha World-Herald reporting that he demonstrated "considerable tolerance toward other Negro rights groups." Today, the Elks Hall continues to host rallies, dances, fundraising meals, and other events. Throughout the years, the Elks have been standard bearers in local parades, too, with a marching band, color guard and drum corps active in throughout the decades.


Continuing to honor their fraternal heritage, the Elks Hall keeps this hanging above the doorway.


James Finley Wilson served as Grand Exalted Ruler of the black Elks for thirty years. A lawyer and banker named Charles Davis was a leader of the Elks in the 1950s and 1960s. Currently, Ronald Jefferson has been a leader in the black Elks for at least 25 years.



An Elks Lodge 92 Color Guard marches during a 1946 parade on North 24th Street.

Over the years, the blond-brick building on Lake Street has continued to be a cornerstone of North Omaha's social life. For decades, the Elks hosted rallies, dances and speaking contests. For several decades its one of the main locations to for Native Omahan Days. The club’s band continues to perform at funerals and parades.


Today, the North Omaha Elks Hall hosts regular events, keeps a well-stocked bar and sponsors fundraisers and more to benefit the community.


Today, the Elks sponsor scholarship programs, youth activities, help for families, and community service activities. Every year they touch thousands of lives with social activities, fundraising meals, and community building for North Omaha.

If you're interested, you can learn more about the Elks today by visiting the North Omaha Elks Club Facebook page.

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Elsewhere Online



July 8, 2016

A Short History of North Omaha's 24th and Lake Historic District

These are pictures of the intersection of North 24th and Lake are from 1929.


North Omaha is screaming full of history, and the new 24th and Lake Historic District is a tremendous example of how that's so. After its first developments in the 1870s, this intersection evolved to become a hotbed of the African American community; as well as the heart of the Jewish community; a farm supply area; and much, much more. In 2016, 38 buildings were included in a new listing on the National Register of Historic Places. This article is an introduction to the powerful, poignant past of a large jewel in North Omaha's historical crown.


Streetcar tracks take us north into North Omaha's new 24th and Lake Historic District in 1939. There are cars up and down the street, and we can see the Edholm-Sherman Laundry with the Emerson Laundry across the street, along with the Robbins Drugstore and a cafe. The overhang of the gas station on 24th and Willis is obvious, too.


Following are the buildings included as part of the 24th and Lake Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.


The Jewell Building, home to the Dreamland Ballroom, is at N. 24th and Grant Sts. It was a fixture in North Omaha from the 1920s through the 1940s.


The Jewell Building, including the Dreamland Ballroom, at 2221 North 24th Street was built 1923, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The Dreamland Ballroom ran for more than 40 years, and featured performances by many jazz and blues legends. Some of the performers there included Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, The Nat King Cole Trio and Lionel Hampton.


This is Bertha Calloway standing in front of the Webster Telephone Exchange Building in the 1980s. The building is located at 2213 Lake St.


The Webster Telephone Exchange Building, the former home of the Great Plains Black History Museum at 2213 Lake Street, was built 1907. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in  1989. Omaha architect Thomas Kimball designed the building in 1908, and it survived the 1913 Easter Sunday Tornado. Right after the tornado, the Webster Telephone Exchange became a makeshift hospital and morgue. In the 1930s, the Mid-City Community Center moved into the building and set up a nursery, library, gymnasium, and medical and dental clinics. The community center merged with Omaha's Urban League in 1934, and they stayed there until 1948. That year, the Near North Side YMCA moved into the building, and stayed there until 1951. The building was converted to apartments that year. Bertha Calloway opened the Great Plains Black History Museum there in 1976. The museum moved out of the building in 2001 and has relocated, and White Lotus Development purchased it in 2014.


The Broomfield Rowhouse is located at 2502-2504 Lake St.


The Broomfield Rowhouse at 2502-2504 Lake Street was built 1913, and originally listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. Jack Broomfield was a shady African American lieutenant for Omaha's political boss Tom Dennison. Broomfield and Billy Crutchfield hired ‪North Omaha‬'s architect, "Cap" Clarence Wigington, to design matching duplexes, and Broomfield's is the only one left. After he died, Dennison said of Broomfield, "He never failed a friend, and about the only enemies he had were those who owed him money."


The Omaha Star Building is at 2216 N. 24th St. Photo courtesy of Joe Kenney.


The Omaha Star Building at 2216 North 24th Street was built 1923, and originally listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. Architect George Prinz designed Allen Jones' mortuary in 1923. In 1938, it was bought by Mildred Brown and S. Edward Gilbert, her then-husband. In 1943, they divorced and she became sole owner. Running the paper until she passed in 1989, it continues today. Along the way, the paper has championed positivity and civil rights. Ernie Chambers, Charles Washington, and Cathy Hughes are among its past employees. The Omaha Star is the longest operating Black-owned newspaper run by a woman in the United States.


The Micklin Lumber Company Building is at 2109 N. 24th St.


The Micklin Lumber Company Building at 2109 North 24th Street was built early in the 1910s. The building was originally used as a hay dealer, and moved out to let Micklin moved there in 1921. Offering all services related to wood, including planing and more, they moved their business from North 21st and Clark Streets to North 24th Street and stayed there for two decades. In 1941, Micklin moved to their large home improvement facility at North 19th and Izard Streets. The Micklin Lumber Company building on North 24th was used as a planing factory into the 1960s and as a ceramics manufacturer in the 1980s. Today, it is home to Wilson Custom Design Tile.


Skeet's BBQ Ribs and Chicken is at N 24th and Burdette Sts.


The Skeet’s BBQ Ribs and Chicken at 2201 North 24th Street was built around 1955. Harold Whiteside opened Skeet's that year after becoming a successful businessman. The building has remained the same since then, even with Whiteside's important roles in North Omaha as a member of the NAACP, the Iroquois Lodge No. 92 (Elks Club) and Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church. As a young man, he served in World War II as an Air Force corporal. Skeet's is an institution in North Omaha, and still serves excellent BBQ today.


This is the USPS Station A at 2205 N. 24th St.


The United States Post Office Station “A” at 2205 North 24th Street was built 1948. Since 1894, there has been a post office near North 24th and Lake Streets. Located on the corner in 1901, it was at North 24th and Erskine during the 1913 Easter Sunday tornado​. In the 1940s, the “expanding business in the community” in North Omaha required a new building, and it opened in 1948 at 2205 North 24th Street. It was opened into the early 2000s. Today, Salem Baptist Church​ uses it for a food pantry.


The former White Rose Gas Station, part of the National Refining Company, is at 2323 N. 24th St. 


The White Rose Gas Station at 2323 North 24th Street was built around 1920. Part of the National Refining Company, also called EN-AR-CO, this was one of at least three White Rose stations in North Omaha. Its classical features include study columns and clear signage areas, and its easy to picture where the pumps were. The building was home to the United Cab Company for a few decades, and has been an automotive garage for a long time since.


The F. J. Carey Block is at 2401 N. 24th St.


The F.J. Carey Block at 2401 North 24th Street was built in 1914. A neighboring building to the massive Edhlom and Sherman Laundry plant, the F.J. Carey Block was originally home to the Carey Cleaners.  Edholm and Sherman Laundry moved into the space in the 1940s, staying there until they forced out of business in the 1950s for their racist hiring practices. Automotive body shops operated in it during the 1960s, and Esquire Shining Parlor and Swift Shine Parlor were there in the 1970s. Today it is home to Simple Simon Day Care.


An artist's conception of what the Lion Products Building at 2423 N 24th St. will look like when Union for Contemporary Arts' renovations on the space are complete.


The Lion Products Building at 2423 North 24th Street was built in 1918. That year, the building began its life as an automotive garage. The Crosby and Smith Garage, Pep Service Station and New L Garage all occupied the space until 1945. The next year, Lion Products Inc. began selling farm machinery there. Lion left the building in the late 1960s. In the early 1980s, it became part of the renovated The Blue Lion Center.


This is the current Blue Lion Building at 2425 N 24th St. At this point in the 1930s, it was home to McGill's Blue Room and other businesses on the first floor. There were professional services on the second floor, including a real estate agent.


The Blue Lion Building at 2425 North 24th Street was built in 1913. Its a two-story brick building that has been occupied by dozens of businesses over the last century, including restaurants and a club, professional offices and medical services. The most famous business may have been McGill's Blue Room, a jazz club from 1939 to 1960. Magrum’s Cafe and the Loyal Diner CafĂ© were located on the first floor, too, until the 1960s. For the next few decades, it served as the Waiters and Porters Headquarters. Many of the professionals who kept offices in the building were African Americans, including dentist Dr. Craig Morris; Dr. J. H. Hutten; lawyer John Guilford Pegg; and Dr. William Solomon, who had an office in the building from 1936 to 1977. Many of these professionals were dedicated to African American empowerment in the community, and volunteered much of their lives to struggle for Civil Rights and against racism. Other businesses in the building included a confectionary, Gate City Printing, a clothing store, a variety store, and a soda jerk shop.

In early 1980s, the building was renovated with its neighbor to become the Blue Lion Building. Designed by an African American-owned architectural firm called Ambrose Jackson Associates, the building opened in 1983. Today, it is being redeveloped to become home to The Union for Contemporary Art.


Paul B. Allen's Showcase Lounge at 2229 Lake Street.


Paul B. Allan's Showcase Lounge at 2229 Lake Street was built in the late 1930s. A tavern owned by Carl Rabes opened here in 1941. In the in the 1950s and 1960s, Paul B. Allan and his son ran the Showcase lounge here. Fats Domino, Red Foxx, Dionne Warwick, Sam Cooke, T-Bone Walker and James Brown all performed there, along with new musicians including local great Buddy Miles. It has been home to several other clubs and restaurants since then.


This is a 1916 picture of the Omaha & Council Bluffs Railway Streetcar Barn at N. 26th and Lake Streets. It looks mostly unchanged today.


The Streetcar Barn at 2606 North 26th Street was built in 1905. The Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway Company was a huge company that employed hundreds of people in North Omaha. They also had more than 100 streetcars that serviced the area, and needed a facility just for them. In 1905, they constructed a facility at North 26th and Lake Streets to do just that. In 1957, when the streetcar company went out of business, the City of Omaha took over the facility. Eventually, it became the Fleet Management Facility where City vehicles were stored and repaired. In 2016, the City began moving out of the facility and its future is unknown.


2314 N. 24th St. is the Jones and Chiles Building.


The Jones and Chiles Building at 2314 North 24th Street was built in 1914. In 1916, an African American undertaker named Allen Jones moved into this building. Jones and Reed were morticians here afterwards Chiles left. Herman Friedlander opened a grocery store here by 1926. For the next thirty years either a grocery store or restaurant occupied the first floor. For a short time in the early 1960s, a family doctor named Dr. George B. Lennox had an office on the second floor. Today, the barber shop on the main floor is called Unique Cuts; they are cited across the internet for handing out free condoms.


The J. D. Lewis Mortuary was at 2310 N. 24th St. for two decades.


The Joseph D. Lewis Mortuary at 2310 North 24th Street was built around 1926. An African-American, Lewis stayed there until the middle of the 1940s. In the late 1940s, Webster Young and beauty shop owner William King moved in, and by the late 1950s the building was converted to apartments. It has been home to many North Omaha residents since then.


The former Terrell Drug was just up the street from the Omaha Star at 2306 N. 24th St.


Terrell Drugs at 2306 North 24th Street was built in 1914. It was first home to Terrell Drugs, and was used as a drug store from the 1910s into the 1960s. African-American pharmacists E. A. Williamson and Dr. Price Terrell were the first operators, followed by Thomas Ross, Joseph Owen and then Milton Johnson.

Sig N Archur's at 2302 North 24th Street was built circa 1959.

Harry Frazen's Confectionary at 2218 North 24th Street was built in 1915.

The McDonald House at 2225 Lake Street was built in 1898.

The Paulsen House at 2206 Lake Street was built in 1880.

The former Safeway Store at 2505 North 24th Street was built in 1965.


The Ideal Hotel building is at 2522 N. 24th St.


The Ideal Hotel at 2522 North 24th Street was built in 1914. One of the early homes of the USPS Station A, the building has been home to several professionals, including Drs. Paul Rasmussen and Bill Peebles, who were dentists, as well as Dr. Charles Lieber and J. A. Henske. The Ideal Hotel was located here in the 1950s and 1960s. The rest of the building was also home to Ideal Furniture and Hardware, a barber, a billiards hall, and paint stores. Today, its the home of Style of Evolution and several professional offices.

Murray the Tinner's Building at 2520 North 24th Street was built in 1914.

The Basket Grocery Store at 2518 North 24th Street was built in 1916.

Nesselson’s Grocery at 2514 North 24th Street was built circa 1910.

Tomasso's Restaurant at 2510 North 24th Street was built circa 1916.

The Huba Meat Market at 2506 North 24th Street was built circa 1910.

The Carver Savings and Loan Association at 2412 Lake Street was built in 1913.


This is 2414 Lake St., current home to Big Mama's Sandwich Shop.


The Boston West Wash Laundry Building at 2414 Lake Street was built around 1913. Today it is home to Big Mama's Sandwich Shop owned by Patricia “Big Mama” Barron. The longest businesses to stay in the building included Boston West Wash Laundry and the Metz Mansion Cigar Shop. The A&A Music Shop, owned by Paul B. Allan, was there from the 1950s through the 1960s, until they moved to 2508 North 24th Street. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Muhammad's Mosque was located there, and then the Family Housing Advisory Services, which became Comprehensive Housing Counseling Agency. Big Mama's moved in almost a decade ago.

The Elks Hall is at 2420 Lake St.


The Elks Hall in the Columbia Building at 2420 Lake Street was built in 1919. Opened as a social hall for North Omaha's African American community. It hosted political rallies and was home to the Omaha Colored Commercial Club, which served an as employment bureau that helped hundreds of African American workers get jobs in their new city. The Iroquois Lodge 92 of the black Elks started meeting there in 1929. They'd been meeting in North Omaha since 1905, and by 1939 they were helping lead the national organization by hosting a major conference. In 1964, Malcolm X spoke at the Elks Hall, with the Omaha World-Herald reporting that he demonstrated "considerable tolerance toward other Negro rights groups." Today, the Elks Hall continues to host rallies, dances, fundraising meals, and other events. Throughout the years, the Elks have been standard bearers in local parades, too, with a marching band, color guard and drum corps active in throughout the decades.


This is the garage at 2526 Lake St.


The garage at 2526 Lake Street was built in 1946. Car repair shops have been there on and off since it opened, including Bob’s Cleanup Service and Charlie’s Services. Before the 1940s, there was a two story building on this site that had a number of different Black-owned businesses, including barbers, second-hand stores, restaurants and tailors.


Other Important Buildings

The 24th and Lake Historic District was a bustling commercial district for almost 50 years before becoming the African American cultural and economic hub in Omaha. Waves of new residents started building there in the 1870s, long before the city of Omaha had good economic footing. Several wealthy people built country estates in the area around the intersection. Afterward, the area filled in with homes, businesses, churches, synagogues and more.

There are currently other buildings within and right on the perimeters of the 24th and Lake Historic District that are important, too, but didn't get included on the National Register of Historic Places. Some of them are listed here, and all of the ones included are still standing.


Originally St. John's A.M.E. Church, this building at North 25th and Grant Streets became home to the St. Benedict the Moor parish in 1923.


In 1921, St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church was opened as the St. Benedict Community House. Two years later, it was opened as a Black parish at 2423 Grant Street. Since then, the parish has provided a variety of services for the community and held a strong congregation the entire time. Their grade school operated for several decades starting in 1929, and the parish got a new church in the 1950s. Despite suffering the closure of their school, the forced retirement of longtime activist priest Rev. Ken Vavrina, they continue boldly into the future. Today, St. Benedict's is the only Black Catholic parish in Nebraska.


The former Carnation Ballroom is located at 2700 N. 24th St.


The Carnation Ballroom at 2700 North 24th Street was built in the 1910s. Originally home to the Forbes Bakery, it became the AmVets Club in the 1930s and The Savoy nightclub in the 1940s. In the 1950s, Omaha Star publisher Mildred Brown opened the Carnation Ballroom there. As an alcohol-free all ages venue, the Carnation booked a lot of blues and R&B stars who were little-known artists who later became household names.


This is the one-time Obee Funeral Home, still standing as a residence at 2518 Lake St.


2518 Lake Street has an illustrious history in the neighborhood. North Omaha's architect "Cap" Clarence Wigington designed this house for African American mortician G. Wade Obee as a funeral home in before March 1913. In the picture above, mourners pour in for a funeral after the Easter Day Tornado that year. The Western Undertaking Company moved into the building in 1917, when Obee moved his business to Cuming Street. The first Myers Funeral Home opened there in 1922. Around 1927, Myers moved to 2416 North 22nd Street. After that, the house was then used as a family home, and remains that way today.


Buildings Long Gone

A comparison between 1963 and 2013 shows dozens and dozens of houses, churches, and commercial buildings gone from the 24th and Lake Historic District.


There have been many buildings demolished within the 24th and Lake Historic District. As the comparison aerial photos show above, the area is sliver of what it was just 50 years ago. Following is a listing of some of the predominant buildings that have been destroyed.


This is looking north along the northwest corner of North 24th and Lake Streets in the 1950s. The Sell-Rite Super Market is at 2402 Lake St.


2402 Lake Street was on the northwest corner of the intersection, and today is home to the beautiful Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Cornerstone Memorial Plaza, which was finished in 2000. The building there before that was a three story building that housed the Super-Rite Market and professional services on the floors above that.


This is looking west along the southwest corner of 24th and Lake Streets in the 1950s. Duffy Drugs is located on the corner at 2401 Lake St.

2401 Lake Street on the southwest corner of the 24th and Lake currently is home to Family Housing Advisory Services, which was only built in 2004. The long-standing business there was Duffy Drugs. There were several other businesses around Duffy Drugs, too.

This is looking north along the northeast corner of 24th and Lake in the 1950s. 24th Street Liquor is the business on the corner.


2505 Lake Street was on the northeast corner of the intersection of 24th and Lake. While today its home to the Omaha Small Business Network, it was originally a Safeway store that was only built in 1964, and only stayed open for five years. Before that, there was a large two-story building on that corner that is pictured above. There were also at least five other, smaller buildings on the block that were demolished to make room for the Safeway.

One of the major employers in the area was once the Ash Grove Lime and Portland Cement Company, which was at North 26th and Lake Streets.

The North 24th and Lake intersection, now the site of the 24th and Lake Historic District, has been home to many important enterprises that helped shape Omaha's African American community and all of North Omaha for more than a century. This article is a tribute to all hard work of the women and men who worked to make 24th and Lake a positive, powerful reality for all these years. 

Thank you!