The battle to save Jobbers Canyon, a six-block collection of warehouses mostly built in the early 20th century, was a hard-fought one. And not unfamiliar to Omaha. This April marks 30 years since the historic district’s demolition began.

Even though other structures, notably the old post office and old city hall buildings, were torn down before the 22 warehouses, Jobbers Canyon was special for a few reasons.

In 1987, the area was listed by the federal government as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places.

When it was demolished a year later to make way for the former ConAgra Foods campus on the riverfront, the Jobbers Canyon district became the first whole district to be demolished since the preservation act was passed in 1966, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It was also the largest demolition of a historic district.

But why? And how?

In Omaha during the late 1980s, ConAgra was considering moving its headquarters out of Omaha. A group of Omaha business leaders worked to attract the company to the riverfront, in an effort to boost the economy downtown. Attention drifted to the six-block area between Farnam and Jackson Streets to the north and south, and 10th and Eighth Streets to the west and east. ConAgra liked the location, The World-Herald reported at the time, but it wanted the old warehouses gone.

The site was attractive, said Charles M. “Mike” Harper, then ConAgra chairman and chief executive, but it was marred by “some big, ugly red brick buildings.”

1987 - Jobbers Canyon area

A couple explore the track area south of Omaha Cold Storage at Eight and Farnam Streets in October 1987. 

Though ConAgra didn’t commit to the area until January 1988, protests over the district’s possible demolition started by the end of ’87. Spearheading the efforts was People for Responsible Omaha Urban Development (PROUD), a preservation group that filed a lawsuit against the city in March 1988, with the National Trust for Historic Preservation joining them.

Activists organized walking tours of the district, called for it to become an extension of the Old Market and showed up at City Council meetings to protest.

1988 - Landmarks commission meeting

Balloons fill a hearing room as the city's Landmarks Heritage Preservation Commission discusses the fate of Jobbers Canyon building in January 1988. Opponents clutched the balloons through the meeting.

According to then-Mayor Bernie Simon, preservation of some of the area wasn’t out of the question.

“Not all of them (the buildings) would be going,” the mayor said in August 1987. “Quite a few would be saved. We’d like to save as many as we can. It would be aesthetically pleasing.”

In the end, it was only the McKesson-Robbins Warehouse, now Greenhouse apartments, on Ninth and Farnam Streets that survived.

1987 - Jobbers Canyon protest

A protester of the proposed warehouse demolition at the south end of Jobbers Canyon, in December 1987. 

The demolition likely had an effect on future preservation efforts. In 1997, the Douglas Building at 19th and Douglas Streets was torn down to make room for other construction projects, and many noted the Canyon’s fate may have put a damper on efforts to save it.

There have been other demolitions, like the Clarinda Page apartments in 2014, but Omaha has seen some demolition plans scrapped as well. In 2016, after public outcry, Omaha Performing Arts leaders dropped a deal to buy three old buildings, including the Christian Specht, built in 1884, which was named a local landmark. And other preservation groups have formed, like Restoration Exchange Omaha, started in 2013.

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nikoel.hytrek@owh.com, 402-444-1304

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