The Blue Lion Center, located at 2423 North 24th Street, is actually comprised of three separate buildings, which were connected in the early 1980s. Over the past 100 years, the buildings have played an invaluable role in the history of north Omaha -- housing a jazz club, candy shops + offices for a number of prominent African-American physicians. Here is a brief overview of how the buildings have served the community over the past century.
The Southern Building
Prior to the 1913 tornado, the site was occupied by a two-story wood-framed commercial block. When the tornado struck, it destroyed the wood framed building. A new brick masonry building was constructed shortly after. It has been occupied by a number of different tenants since. Evidence of a building at this location first shows up in 1918. At that time it was occupied by the Crosby and Smith garage. For the next twenty-seven years, it was used as a garage by a number of different companies with some of the longer occupants being Pep Service Station and New L Garage. In 1946, Lion Products, a farm machinery distributor, began occupying the building and did so for more than twenty years.
The Northern Building
The first floor was home to a number of restaurants, including Lawrence Magrum’s and the Loyal Diner Café until the 1960s, when the space served as the Waiters and Porters Headquarters. The second floor was occupied by a number of professionals, including
African-Americans dentist Craig Morris, D.D.S., Dr. J. H. Hutten, and lawyer John Guilford Pegg.
Morris was born in Omaha and graduated from the Creighton University Dental College in 1915. He applied for service during World War I, but was denied by the surgeon general due to the color of his skin. After the war he practiced in Omaha and became the president of the Nebraska Negro Medical Society. In 1945 he moved to California and passed away in San Diego in 1977. Dr. Hutten came to Omaha in 1899 after graduating from Biddle College in Charlotte, N.C. and Howard University in Washington, D.C. He was instrumental in a number of African-American organizations in Omaha including the Presbyterian Church, the Urban League, the Colored Old Folks Home and the Community Chest. When he passed away in 1939, he was the oldest practicing African-American physician in Nebraska. Pegg graduated from Omaha University’s department of law and passed the Nebraska bar in 1928. He was extremely active in the NAACP and the Urban League, providing legal assistance to fight racial prejudice throughout the city.
The center and north commercial bays might be best known as the home to McGill’s Blue Room, a nightclub which opened at 2423 North 24th Street (center bay) in 1939 and eventually also occupied 2425 North 24th Street (north bay). The venue attracted many nationally known black musicians. McGill’s Blue Room was owned and operated by Eugene McGill until his death in 1960. Born in Dallas, Texas, McGill moved to Omaha in his mid-thirties and opened McGill’s Bar.
Before 2423 North 24th Street was occupied by McGill’s, it was home to a number of different tenants including Louis Henricksen’s Confectionary, Gate City Printing, Morris Skolnik Clothing and Aaron Perlmeter’s, a variety store. 2425 North 24th Street was also home to a number of different businesses before McGill’s, including soft drink establishments owned by Chris Nielson, Harry Anderson and Carle Rabes. In the early 1940s, African-American physician, Dr. William Solomon was also an occupant. Dr. Solomon attended Creighton University and the University of Iowa earning his medical degree from Howard University in Washington D.C. He opened his practice in North Omaha in 1936 and remained in private practice until 1977, working throughout his career to “improve the health care of Omaha’s black community and to interest other black physicians in practicing” in Omaha. He was also active throughout the community as a board member of the Urban League, the American Lung Association and the Nebraska Heart Association.
In early 1980s North Omaha Community Development Inc. and the City of Omaha undertook the renovation of the 2425 and 2423 North 24th Street buildings into the Blue Lion Center. Named for McGill’s Blue Room and the Lion Products building, the center was designed to house retail shops, a financial service area, office space and a community assembly area. Designed by Ambrose Jackson Associates, an African American-owned architectural firm, the building opened in 1983. Since its opening, it has housed various shops and business intermittently.