Flashback Friday: A Day in the Life of Downtown Omaha


Downtown omaha



Downtown Omaha, 1920s. Looking west on Douglas Street from the intersection of Sixteenth Street. The Brandeis Building, which still stands, is on the left. NSHS RG2341-58



 



For many years, Sixteenth Street was downtown Omaha’s main street. Tenth Street and the riverfront have become more prominent in recent years. (The riverfront used to be an industrial zone, as shown in this 1934 photo.) In Janet R Daly Bednarek article “Creating an ‘Image Center’: Reimagining Omaha’s Downtown and Riverfront, 1986-2003,” (Nebraska History 90, No. 4, Winter 2009), she  explains what happened and why. In July 2001 the city of Omaha officially dedicated a new city park. The twenty-three-acre riverfront site was formerly home to the Asarco lead refinery, an enterprise with roots in the 1870s and a symbol of Omaha’s early industrial development. Initially, the city council approved the name “Union Labor Plaza.” However, after an election in May 2001, which witnessed the ousting of the incumbent mayor and five city council members, the new mayor and council decided to review the earlier choice. After asking for public input, the council decided on “Lewis and Clark Landing.” In many ways the new name was perhaps more fitting given the decided transformation of Omaha’s downtown and riverfront involving not only the new park, but also a host of other developments from the ConAgra headquarters project in the late 1980s to a burst of large-scale corporate, civic, and residential projects in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Omaha’s leaders had first promoted “back to the river” ideas in the late 1960s and early 1970s. By the early twenty-first century, those ideas witnessed a full flowering. Omaha’s return to the river, though, involved not just massive physical transformation, but an extensive reconceptualization of the downtown and riverfront. Omaha’s historic downtown riverfront had been home to commerce, transportation and industry. Omaha’s new downtown riverfront was home to open space, recreation, leisure and cultural amenities. “Union Labor Plaza” evoked the historic, somewhat gritty downtown riverfront. “Lewis and Clark Landing,” on the other hand, hearkened back to a past that pre-dated Omaha itself by a half century and evoked more pristine images of frontier, wilderness and adventure. Though the plaza eventually held a statue dedicated to Omaha’s working people, the choice of name suggested the degree to which Omaha’s civic leadership had re-conceptualized and transformed the downtown and riverfront to serve as a new “image center” for the city. Though certainly no longer functioning as the center of America’s urban areas, downtowns still command a great deal of the attention, energy, and imagination of those concerned with the future of America’s cities. Downtown history has also proved of interest to urban historians. The last decade in particular has witnessed the publication of two major works on the history of this crucial urban area. Robert M. Fogelson’s work is essentially a political history of the downtown, focused, as he said, on power–who held it, how they exercised it, and how that shaped downtowns from the 1880s to the 1950s. Alison Isenberg, on the other hand, has produced a social and cultural history of the nation’s downtowns, taking the story into the 1960s. To read on click here. Details from the photo provide below show vignettes of city life: Across the nation, the role of downtowns changed dramatically in the twentieth century. The above photo shows one big difference: look at all the pedestrian traffic (not to mention the chaotic traffic control). In the 1920s downtown was still the city’s main retail center.

downtown omaha

downtown omaha group of boys

downtown omaha group of girls

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

Making Rain

Making Rain

How pioneer trails shaped Omaha streets

How pioneer trails shaped Omaha streets

Marker Monday: Atlas D Missile Site A

Marker Monday: Atlas D Missile Site A

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

Education Digital Learning Resources

Find games, lists, and more to enhance your history education curriculum.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

History Nebraska Services

Digital Resources

Find all of our digital resources, files, videos, and more, all in one easy-to-search page!

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.