24th and Binney/Wirt/Spencer Streets

  • How will the North Omaha community honor the past and navigate the impact of redlining as they continue to move forward?


24th and Wirt Mural on Side of Building
  • Neighborhood History

    North 24th Street from Binney to Spencer Street developed in the 1890s after the arrival of a streetcar line in 1889. The neighborhood received a burst of development following the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition, a world’s fair held near present-day Kountze Park to the east. By the 1930s, the North 24th Street corridor between Binney and Spencer Streets was home to a dense mix of commercial and residential buildings, as well as several prominent neighborhood institutions like Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church. Starting in the 1940s, the overall race and ethnicity of the North 24th Street corridor began to transition from white and Jewish occupants to Black residents. This shift was driven by the practice of redlining. Initiated under the New Deal’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) in the 1930s, redlining determined who could live in certain areas of U.S. cities by denying mortgages and loans to purchase homes based on the racial and economic makeup of neighborhoods. Black residents in communities like North Omaha were denied loans by banks and lending institutions while white families with higher incomes could secure loans and gain access to better school facilities, living conditions, and policing in the city’s developing western suburbs.

    While these segregationist practices confined Black residents to areas with under-resourced schools, hazardous living conditions, and unfair policing practices, Black residents of North Omaha nevertheless created vibrant institutions and a cohesive political community. Local public schools produced prominent Black athletes like Bob Gibson, Gale Sayers, Bob Boozer, Johnny Rodgers, Marlin Briscoe, Ron Boone, and Roger Sayers. Facilities like the Carnation Ballroom, Dreamland Ballroom, and Paul Allen’s Showcase hosted famous jazz and blues musicians like Nellie Luther, B.B. King, and Ray Charles. Near Spencer Street, Dan Goodwin, Sr. opened a barbershop in 1955 that became a site of Black political organizing. In 1965, Ernie Chambers launched his political career from Goodwin’s Spencer Street Barbershop, mobilizing Black residents around the persistence of white racism and the injustice of police brutality. Although the Fair Housing Act of 1968 ended formal segregationist practices like redlining, divestment continued to shape cities through the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.

    1968 Civil Rights March near 24th and Miami Streets

    In the late 1960s, residents of North Omaha joined uprisings across the United States to put pressure on city officials to end racist policing, housing, and schooling policies that continued to segregate Black residents to communities like North Omaha.

    City officials, lending institutions, and insurance companies met these demands with more divestment, refusing to extend insurance policies to North 24th Street business and homeowners while increasing the scope and scale of police power in the neighborhood. This legacy of divestment left physical marks in the landscape; for example, when the city tore down buildings along 24th Street, they failed to remove the building foundations, creating new barriers to redevelop empty lots by increasing the cost of development. By the 1970s and 1980s, much of the street between Wirt and Spencer Streets was abandoned as wealthier Black residents left for newly opened suburbs to the northwest.

    Today, the community along North 24th Street is working hard to reverse the impact of decades of divestment by revitalizing and preserving the historic places along North 24th Street. Led by a new generation of North Omaha visionaries, different organizations and community groups all pitch in one by one. Near 24th and Spencer streets, Katrina Adams’ POC Collaborative Community Resource Center is taking shape in the former abandoned Calvin Memorial Presbyterian Church. Adams’ vision for the POC Collaborative is to provide resources to incubate Black-owned businesses in North Omaha. Across the street, LaVonya Goodwin, daughter-in-law of Dan Goodwin, Sr., leads the Global Leadership Community Garden next door to the newly-renovated Spencer Street Barbershop. Just south of the barbershop, Marcey Yates opened Culxr House to provide space for community artists and connect them with economic opportunities. At the former Carnation Ballroom, Ben Swan is working to make the building habitable for new businesses and institutions. The legacy of redlining and divestment continues to challenge access to resources for the street’s revitalization, but these leaders continue to build on the neighborhood’s vibrant and rich history while working to meet present community needs.

    Freedom Sign on a tree on North 24th Street

    This is one of many signs throughout North Omaha made by local artis Patty Talbert. All of them have a key word that Talbert uses to promote positive affirmation in her community. Each one has beautiful patterns on them with unique and vibrant colors to reflect the vibrancy of this community. 

     

    Project Site History

    Adler Bakery 24th and Miami

    1967 Carnation Ballroom

    When built in 1923, two businesses occupied the Carnation Ballroom: the Adler and Forbes Bakery in the north side while Joseph Rosenblum and Jacob Kaplun operated an automotive repair shop on the south side.

    As North Omaha and the North 24th Street corridor transitioned from a predominantly white and Jewish neighborhood to a Black and African American neighborhood in the first decades of the twentieth century, the building’s use changed to accommodate this new community. By the 1940s, African American organizations like the Railroad Men’s Benevolent Social Club and the American Veterans of World War II renovated the building into a club, ballroom, and lounge. In 1948, Mildred Brown purchased the building and reopened it as the Carnation Ballroom. The longtime publisher for the Omaha Star, the preeminent Black newspaper for the city of Omaha, Brown sought to create a fun, family-friendly place where people of all ages could come relax, socialize, organize, and vibe to jazz and blues.

    Brown attracted famous musicians to play at the Carnation, including James Brown, Nellie Luther, Otis Williams and the Charms, Lulu Reed, B.B. King, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, and many other local and national acts. The Carnation, like the nearby Dreamland Ballroom and Paul Allen’s Showcase, was on the “Chitlin’ Circuit,” a series of venues across the United States known to Black artists as safe spaces that provided secure employment and performance opportunities. In addition to jazz and blues performances, the Carnation Ballroom hosted community-building events like charities, beauty contests, concerts, and talents shows. The Carnation also operated as a site of civil rights organizing when Brown offered the space to the DePorres Club, a local civil rights organization that challenged discrimination, to meet there. However, there were also some incidents inside and outside the facility that challenged Brown’s attempts to cultivate a safe space, including sneaking in whiskey, arrests, stabbings, or car thefts. Ultimately, Brown shut down the Carnation in 1959.

    Omaha Star Newspaper founded by Mildred Brown and her husband. Still in business today.

    The Omaha Star has operated for more than 65 years. It is an African American-run business and was where Mildred Brown, the original owner of the Carnation Ballroom, worked as the lead editor and publisher. It is still open to this day.

    Today, after sitting vacant for many years, local business owner Ben Swan is remodeling former Carnation Ballroom. While Swan works hard to preserve this important piece of history, we hope that in the future it will bring joy to the community just like it did all those years ago.

    Project Site Plan

    Students work on their revitalization plans for the 24th and Miami building at BVH Architecture.

    Our group’s vision for the future of the Carnation Ballroom centered around ways to honor the building’s past while providing resources for the nearby community. After interviewing both neighborhood elders and a new generation of community leaders while researching the assets of the community, we all agreed that the building’s future should be connected to the food industry. Because the Carnation Ballroom is large and divided into two separate spaces, we decided that two businesses could comfortably occupy the building. In the south bay, there would be a restaurant that served delicious and healthy food; in the north bay there would be a food education program to teach community members how to grow and cook their own healthy meals. The north bay’s food education program would also give local high school students credit to take classes. Outside the building, a large vacant lot would be transformed into a patio where people could sit and listen to live music performed by local musicians. The patio would also have a grilling area or fire pit where summer dishes could be served. Finally, a small parking lot would share space with this patio.

    We hope that in the future it will bring the joy and entertainment that the Carnation Ballroom once brought to North Omaha by drawing from the building’s legacy as a performance venue and community-building space.

     

Student Reflections

  • Joel S. Project Member

     I think the best part was eating at local restaurants and hearing people’s stores/perspectives. -Joel S.

     Keiry R. project member

    I feel like now whenever I pass by North Omaha I don’t see a broken down neighborhood, instead I see a part of the city with infinite possibilities. -Keiry R.

    Desi S. project member

    I would be lying if I didn’t say that trying the local restaurants wasn’t one of my favorite parts. Besides all the delicious food, seeing all the neighborhoods the first day was very exciting. –Desiree S.

    Patrick W. Project Member

    I’ve learned so much through my time here. At first I assumed Omaha was a naturally boring town but I learned that even some of the biggest Civil Rights leaders visited Omaha, like MLK Jr. I struggled to stay focused in the beginning but to stay on track, I thought of the people I’m doing this for, to help the people of North Omaha to be seen for their work. -Patrick W.

     

     

Resources

  • Interviews – July 2021:

    Katrina Adams, POC Collective

    Eric Ewing, Great Plains Black History Museum

    LaVonya Goodwin, Global Leadership Group

    Rod Mullin, Community Elder and Educator

    Jade Rogers, Afros, Capes, Curls

    Ben Swan, Developer

    Marcey Yates, Culxr House

    Archives:

    Omaha World-Herald Photo Archives

    CulxrHouse Facebook Page

    Afros, Capes & Curls Facebook Page

    Publications:

    Carnation Ballroom, 2701 North 24th Street, Local Landmark Designation, Aug. 28, 2018

    Chatelain, Dirk. 24th and Glory: The Intersection of Civil Rights and Omaha’s Greatest Generation of Athletes. Omaha World-Herald Publisher, 2019. Print

    Orr, Richard. O&CB Streetcars of Omaha and Council Bluffs. 1996. Print 

    Omaha Historic Streetcar System an Intensive Level Survey of Preservation Resources. 2017

    Omaha World-Herald (online), 20 Mar 1994 Page 4. Preston Love, 'Carnation Ballroom Blossomed in 1950s'