Downtown Omaha Walking Tour
This walking tour includes historic buildings and other landmarks near Douglas and Dodge Streets in downtown Omaha. The tour concludes at the Joslyn Art Museum.
The Joslyn Art Museum is the leading fine arts museum in Nebraska. It was opened in 1931 at the initiative of Sarah H. Joslyn in memory of her husband, businessman George A. Joslyn
The Scoular Building was originally built in the late 1920s to function as a headquarters for the Knights of Columbus. For almost a century this building has served the Omaha community in many ways. The Knight of Columbus used it to perform charity work for the homeless and needy families. During World War II the building was drafted into service by the American Legion to assist returning veterans. The Scoular Company bought the building in 1987 to use for its Omaha headquarters. They have restored and improved the old architecture and still use it for community functions to this day.
This marker commemorates the ten year period during which Omaha was the Nebraska territory's capital. At this location stood the second capitol building, which was built in 1857 (the first one was located on 9th street between Douglas and Farnam and was used between 1855-1857). On the first floor of the capitol was the Supreme Court, library, government offices, and on the second was the legislature and governor's office. Central High School now occupies the property.
The oldest high school in the city, Omaha Central began in 1859, operating courses as Omaha High School within the capitol building in the era when Nebraska was a territory and Omaha was its capitol. This building was constructed in 1900. Several additions were planned and completed in the school's first twelve years, mirroring the rapid growth of the city and the trend towards high school completion that began in the late 19th century. Like many high schools, Omaha High added a gymnasium to its building in 1930 to support its growing athletic program. In 1968, a controversy related to the school's basketball program became a source of racial tension that reflected the state of the nation in the latter years of the Civil Rights Movement.
Constructed in 1954, Omaha Civic Auditorium was the largest in the city prior to the completion of CenturyLink Center Omaha in 2003. After the completion of a second large auditorium, Ralston Arena, in 2012, the auditorium no longer had any regular tenants and the city began demolition in the spring of 2016. The auditorium was the home of several college and minor league teams, and also hosted one of Elvis's final concerts. The auditorium was also the part-time home of the Omaha-Kansas City Kings, a NBA franchise that split its games between the two Midwestern cities for a few yeas in the early 1970s before its move to Sacramento in 1985. The auditorium was also the scene of a small riot in 1968, when supporters of the segregationist governor George Wallace attacked white and black protesters who supported integration.
These two urban parks feature several bronze sculptures, most notably, a wagon train heading west and statues of bison and geese. The wagon appears to have caused a number of environmental changes to the area, as bison flee from the wagon. The stampeded also leads a flock of geese to take flight. The park includes more than 100 individual bronze pieces throughout several city blocks. The ingenious feature of the statues are the way they actually connect several city park spaces from 14th and Capitol to 16th and Dodge together with one another.
The Orpheum Theater is a large 2,600 seat venue in downtown Omaha, Nebraska that presents local and national acts. The theater was founded in 1895 as the Creighton Theater and featured traveling vaudeville acts. In 1927, it was incorporated into the City National Bank building, which was constructed in 1910 and is now an apartment building, and given its current name. As the interest in vaudeville shows decreased, the theater became a movie theater between 1940 and 1975. It was remodeled in the mid 1970s and reopened once again as a performing arts theater. The Omaha Performing Arts organization took over management in 2002.
Between 1867-1869, renowned American photographer William Henry Jackson (1843-1942) operated his first studio at this location. His photographs of Western landscapes, along with paintings by Thomas Moran, helped convince the federal government to establish Yellowstone National Park, the first national park created in the country (he and Moran were part of an expedition of an 1870 U.S. Geological Survey to the West which explored Wyoming's portion of the park). His career took him to Mexico, Asia and the Pacific. He continued to photograph until the very end of his life in 1942.
The J. L. Brandeis and Sons Store Building was completed in 1906 and served as the flagship department store for the of Brandeis retail chain, founded by Jonas L. Brandeis. Brandeis came to Omaha in 1881 and opened his first retail store in 1888. Though he died in 1903, the business he built grew substantially, eventually becoming one of the largest department store operations in the region. Built in 1906 as an eight story building (eventually ten in 1921), this department store was as grand as the flagship stores of Macy's, Marshall Field's, and other leading department stores.
Completed in 1929, mere months before the stock market crash and beginning of the Great Depression, it was the third building on the site -- the first two burnt to the ground. The Barkers grew to prominence in the late 19th and early 20th century, mirroring Omaha's growth. The first two buildings -- 1886 and 1889 -- arose far from downtown Omaha. By the 1920s, the town had grown; the third Barker Building emerged withing the heart of Omaha's business and political center.
The Hill Hotel was built in 1919 and first opened for business on Sept. 2nd, 1920. With fourteen stories and around 140 rooms, the Hill Hotel was one of the tallest buildings in Omaha at the time and was built where the former Iler Grand used to stand. This hotel is one of the last remaining examples of Neo-Classical Revival architecture in Omaha, and it was considered one of John and Alan McDonald’s greatest designs of their career. The original hotel also had one of the most popular nightclubs in Omaha named “The Cave Under the Hill” located under the hotel. It remained open until the early 1980s. In the late 1980s, the building was remodeled and is currently being used as an apartment building under the name of Kensington Tower Apartments and has a coffee shop, art studio, and nutritional store on the first floor of the building.
Built in 1923, the Aquila Court Building (Magnolia Hotel) resembled early twentieth-century U.S. urban life. Omaha's population had expanded substantially from 1900-1920, both from immigrants and domestic migrants. The U-Shaped building and its Italian-style courtyard plays on both its European and Chicago influence, and it functionally served to provide respite from the urban ills found outside the building's walls. The building was designed by the Chicago architectural team of Holabird and Roach, who were significant in the entire Chicago-school movement that dominated the early part of the 20th century.
The Douglas County Courthouse has been one of Omaha’s most significant locations since its construction in 1909. The building was constructed in the French Renaissance Revival style with a granite foundation and walls of Bedford limestone. An abundance of classical details are noticeable on the building’s symmetrical exterior including an arcaded front entrance, engaged Corinthian columnns and piers on the upper floors, and ornamental pediments in the projecting wings flanking the primary entry. The top story, which originally housed a jail facility, is of a simpler design than the floors below. The courthouse was the centerpiece in Omaha’s expansion and development into a modern city.
On September 28, 1919, a mob of several thousand men, women, and children surrounded and stormed the Douglas County Courthouse in order to lynch Will Brown, an African American man who had been accused but not convicted of raping a white woman. The incident was the culmination of a summer filled with economic tension that often led to attacks against African American families who had arrived in the city during World War I. After months of investigation, the only arrests were related to the destruction of the courthouse even though thousands witnessed the slow and tortuous murder of Will Brown at the hands of dozens of the city's white residents.
The Rose Theater has brought entertainment to the Omaha area since 1927. It has served as a venue for a variety of forms of entertainment, including a performing arts theater, a movie theater, and even an auditorium for the Omaha Packers, a professional bowling team in the 1960s. The Rose Theater is stunning with lavish decorations that enhance the experience making the audience feel as though they have stepped into another place in time. It is truly a spectacular piece of Omaha's history.
Near the location of this historical marker was the first permanent Jewish synagogue in Nebraska. Built in 1884 and known as Temple Israel, this small synagogue served a growing Jewish community that started to form in the mid-19th century. In 1908, the congregation moved to a new location at Park Avenue and Jackson Street and built a new temple with large dome. The community worshiped at that location for several decades before selling their sanctuary to St. John's Greek Orthodox Church in 1951. Temple Israel is currently located at 7023 Cass Street.