After checking out some of the historic and more recent railroad related buildings, our son continued driving us around Omaha to check out a few more places listed on the National Register of Historic Places…
Our first stop was fairly logical since David II is an attorney and he’s spent a bit time here. The massive and impressive French Renaissance Revival style Douglas County Courthouse was built in 1912.
A couple of notable (actually notorious) events have taken place at this site.
· A lynching occurred outside the 2nd Courthouse in 1891. Angered and believing that a young girl had died after being attacked by a suspect, (the girl had not died, and the allegation was never proven), hundreds of men overwhelmed the small police force. They dragged the suspect from his cell and hung him from streetcar cables at the corner of 17th and Harney.
· In September 1919, following Red Summer and race riots in numerous industrial cities, a mob of thousands of white men from South Omaha surrounded and attacked the Courthouse seeking to lynch an African-American worker named Willy Brown. He was accused of assaulting a white woman. The mob broke windows and climbed the outside of the building. After a few hours, the crowd set the courthouse on fire and they forced the police to hand over the suspect. After lynching Brown, burning his body, and attacking Omaha’s mayor, (who was rescued), the mob swarmed toward the city's black neighborhood. They were stopped from further violence by federal troops from Fort Omaha who had been called in to restore order in the city.
· To learn more about “Red Summer”, a period of racial unrest across the USA in which hundreds of people were killed, you can go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Summer_(1919). Warning…a gruesome photo of Willy Brown’s body and the mob is found at this site.
This theater, which combined both Moorish and Classical styles, was built in 1926. It was originally opened as the Riviera Theater. Now it’s now known as the Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center…or just The Rose.
Noted for lavish stage shows combined with movies, the Riviera was regarded as one of the most elegant entertainment facilities in the Midwest. The interior was designed in the ‘atmospheric’ style which was popular in the 1920s. It simulated romantic outdoor Mediterranean courtyards with a night sky above, including twinkling stars and drifting clouds.
For some time, the theater was owned by Creighton University. Leased out, it passed through several iterations, ending as the Astro Theater. The theater closed in 1980. Closed and facing possible demolition, Creighton University sold the Astro Theater to Rose Blumkin in 1981. She was the founder of the famous Nebraska Furniture Mart. In the early 1990s the old theater was renovated and transformed into the Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center. It’s now the home of the Omaha Theater Company.
This is the Gottlieb Storz House. It was built in 1905 by Omaha beer magnate Gottlieb Storz. This Jacobethan Revival style mansion is included as part of the Gold Coast Historic District in Omaha.
Gottlieb Storz founded the Storz Brewing Company in Omaha in 1876. After two decades of success he constructed this 27-room mansion. The mansion is home to the Adele and Fred Astaire Ballroom on the top floor, which is the only memorial to the Astaire’s Omaha roots.
The mansion's heyday was the mid-20th century when Arthur Storz, Jr., owned it. The mansion was the scene of an opulent party celebrating the movie ‘Strategic Air Command’ in 1955. The movie premiere was held in Omaha and the premiere party was held at the Storz mansion with guests including James Stewart and June Allyson, as well as the Strategic Air Command Commander Curtis LeMay.
· Descendant Todd Storz was raised in this house. He loved radio and he eventually pioneered the Top 40 radio format that grew to popularity around the world.
· The Storz Brewing Company was owned by the Storz family until 1966 and it ceased operations in 1972. In 2013, it was announced the brand would be revived by Tom Markel, a Storz family descendant. That brewery is up and running and its product can be found in many locations in and around Omaha. See http://storzbrewing.com/.
This is the Hupmobile Building. Built in 1917 along the city's historic Auto Row, the building was an early Hupmobile dealership. The structure was built as a dealership, service shop, and factory branch for Hupmobile.
In 1925 the Hupmobile dealership was moved to a larger building. This building was used by several other automobile dealerships until 1940. Brands included Hudson, Willys-Knight, and Terraplane. A flight school was housed here from 1941-1943. The Sterling Manufacturing Company, which produced coffins, ship parts, and water heaters during World War II, operated here until 2003. Unfortunately the building is empty now.
Robert Craig Hupp, a former employee of Oldsmobile and Ford, founded the company with his brother Louis Gorham Hupp in 1908. Production began in 1909. Hupp Motor Car Company continued to grow even after its founder left. Hupp competed strongly against Ford and Chevrolet. By 1928 sales had reached over 65,000 units. The Hupp Motor Car Company began to decline even before the Great Depression. It finally closed in 1940. To learn more about this early automobile company, you can go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hupmobile.
The Prague Hotel is located in the heart of the Little Bohemia neighborhood of Omaha, Nebraska. It was built by the aforementioned Gottlieb Storz to provide Nebraska's Czech immigrants with familiar settings in their new country. In addition to a 25-room hotel, the building included a restaurant and a tavern. A sign in the tavern window proclaimed in Czech, "Pražská Pivnice, Dámy Jsou Vítány", which translated to English meant "Prague Hotel, Ladies Are Invited". For more than 40 years it remained the only hotel catering to Bohemians between Chicago and the Pacific Coast.
The building was originally constructed with a restaurant and tavern on the first floor, hotel rooms on the second floor and a dance hall on the third floor, the Prague Hotel was built as a center for the Czech community's social and cultural activities. A native of Bohemia ran the operation from its opening for the Storz Company and in 1915 he purchased the Hotel from the brewery. The tavern closed in 1942. In 1987 the building was rehabilitated and converted into apartments.
Our next objectives were in Omaha’s Freedom Park. Freedom Park is an outdoor park and museum at the Greater Omaha Marina on the bank of the Missouri River. We were frustrated in our efforts to find and view the exhibits we were seeking…the photos are from Wikipedia. I’ll explain shortly.
This is the USS Hazard. USS Hazard was an Admirable-class minesweeper that served in the United States Navy during World War II. It was built in 1944 and it was fitted for both wire and acoustic sweeping and could double as an anti-submarine warfare platform. The Admirable class of minesweepers were also used for patrol and escort duties. This is the last remaining ship of this class left in the USA. The Hazard earned 3 battle stars for her service during World War II.
Our other objective in Freedom Park was the USS Marlin. The Marlin was a T-1-class training submarine in commission from 1953 to 1973. She was the second submarine of the United States Navy to be named for the marlin, a large game fish. The USS Marlin was one of the smallest operational submarines ever built for the U.S. Navy. For about 15 years she performed valuable service as a target and training ship and helped to evaluate submarine and antisubmarine warfare equipment and tactics.
OK…so why did we visit Freedom Park and fail to locate these exhibits? It turns out that the park was badly flooded and damaged in 2011. It was closed, finally reopening in the fall of 2015 after 4 years of restoration and clean-up work. Since we were there in June of 2016, why didn’t we find these vessels? I guess that we weren’t persistent enough! To quote a visitor in the same month, “We had a great visit. The dirt road and poor entrance (to visit the former naval vessels) made it hard to find the place.” We’ll try again another time…
This skyscraper is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places but it is an Omaha landmark. The Woodmen Tower is a 478 foot high-rise building in downtown Omaha. It’s the headquarters of the Woodmen of the World insurance company. The 30-story building was completed in 1969 and it was the tallest building in Omaha for over 30 years.
So what the heck is Woodmen of the World? Woodmen was founded in 1890 is the largest fraternal benefit society with open membership in the United States. In addition to providing life insurance protection to members, it’s founder believed that Woodmen members, through their local lodges, should be an active volunteer force within their communities, helping those in need.
Today, the organization provides disaster relief efforts through the Woodmen/American Red Cross partnership. More than 1,600 Woodmen volunteers belong to 160 disaster action teams nationwide, providing relief efforts in their local communities. The organization has evolved into a modern financial services organization, offering life and health insurance, annuities, investments and home mortgages. Woodmen is one of the largest fraternal benefit societies in the USA with more than 810,000 members who belong to more than 2,000 lodges across the United States. I learn something new almost every day!
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for stopping by to learn a bit about Omaha’s history!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave