Figure 1: Building for the Ages, pg. 160
On any given weekend from the 1930s to the 1960s, you could find James “Jimmy” Jewell, Jr. near the bandstand, watching jazz bands while tapping his feet to the tempo of live music at the Dreamland Ballroom. Located at 2221 N. 24th St., “the historic heart” of the African-American community, the Dreamland Ballroom was on the second floor of the Jewell Building. Patrons “ran up the stairs to the second-floor” to enjoy a night of dancing.
A barbershop and billiard shop were located on the first floor. An African American, Jimmy found success as an illustrious promoter that brought some of the greatest acts to Omaha, Nebraska, like Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Dizzy Gillespie to the Dreamland Ballroom stage. Jewell, a musician himself, played piano at North Omaha silent movies theatres before taking ownership of the Jewell Building.
James C. Jewell, Sr. built the Jewell Building in 1923. He was one of Omaha’s richest African Americans. Prior to that, Jewell had a billiard parlor on 14th and Dodge. After he died of complications from diabetes, he left the Dreamland Ballroom to his son Jimmy Jewell. The younger Jewell refused to apply for a liquor license because he wanted minors to attend shows. He often offered advice to jazz musicians like Nat King Cole on how to get the audience’s attention. “Nat had nobody then. Jimmy was giving him instructions. Nat King Cole begged him to manage him and be his booking agent.”
In 1945, the US government used Dreamland Ballroom as a USO hall for African-American soldiers. Jewell re-opened the ballroom, and acts continued until Jewell closed the Dreamland Ballroom in 1965. After Jewell’s death from a heart attack in 1975, the barbershop and billiards parlor closed. The Jewell Building was converted into apartments and rental space and eventually was boarded up in 1974.
The Jewell Building began another era when it was designated an Omaha Landmark in 1980. In November 1983, it reopened after being renovated by the Omaha Economic Development Corporation for office space. The Great Plains Black History Museum relocated to the building in 2017.
Few places have left their mark on the community the way the Dreamland Ballroom has. The best jazz bands from the 1920s to 1965 came to Omaha for the opportunity to play at the well-known establishment. The Jewell building has risen again with renovations and housing the Great Plains Black History Museum. This ensures that Jewell’s legacy survives.
Blackwood, K. (1997, January 16). Jimmy Jewell Dies; Owned Dreamland. Omaha World Herald, p. 1. Retrieved from Omaha World Herald.
Finding history a home – Jazz center to capture magical age along North 24th Street – Legendary visitors and venues. (2005, February 6). Retrieved from Omaha World Herald.
James G. Jewell. (1930, January 21). Retrieved from Omaha World Herald
Spencer, K. G. (2002). Building for the Ages. Omaha: Landmarks, Inc. p. 160.
Cummins, H. (1985, October 9). Jewell Building, Dreamland Ballroom – Boarded – Up Building Is Making a Return Engagement. Retrieved from Omaha World Herald: Jewell Building, Dreamland Ballroom – Boarded – Up Building Is Making a Return Engagement
BLACK HISTORY MUSEUM — A Fitting Home. (2017, October 17). Retrieved from Omaha World Herald.