Nothing seems to draw more comments from first time visitors to our office than the
“Council Bluffs History Photo wall.”
Here are some of the pictures that draw the most attention.
Historic Photo Wall...
Playland Park was located right along West Broadway on the north side of the street next to the Missouri River.
Playland was formed by brothers Abe and Louis Slusky, who had operated concessions at Krug Park in Omaha, and by Harry Cohen, who owned Iowa Clothes Shop in Council Bluffs. The park opened in 1948, the most prominent feature being the three block long wooden roller coaster that passed over two city streets (North 40th and North 41st Streets). In 1949 the owners developed the old Dodge Park race track, converting it from a dog track to a paved midget auto track. In 1952 the track was adapted for modified stock cars. The new interstate bridge over the Missouri River and the roadways that connected to it claimed two thirds of the park’s land in 1964. The roller coaster was torn down, but the park remained open with twelve rides until Abe Slusky died in 1970. The track, operated at Playland Speedway, closed in 1977.
The Strand Theater occupied the northeast corner of 6th Street and West Broadway. It was built as the New Dohany Opera House in 1882. A colorful ornate facade of clay tiles was added in 1927 as well as an elaborate plush interior. At 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, December 11, 1974 a fire of electrical origin gutted the building causing collapse of the roof. Despite having entertained tens of thousands of people in its 92 years the Strand had closed early the night of the fire-- not a single ticket had been sold for its last show.
The old Pottawattamie County courthouse was completed in 1888. After about 80 years periodic incidents of falling plaster revealed the entire building was sinking at both ends, probably due to an inadequate foundation for the loose creek bed soil on which is was built. Concrete was pumped under the basement floor and scaffolding and timbers erected throughout the building to try and stabilize it, but to no avail. Demolition began in September, 1977. Much of the building’s exterior was purchased by attorney Dudley Grey of Torrance, California. The materials were shipped to California and reassembled there as an office building.
Radio station KOIL started in Council Bluffs in 1925 in a building near Fairmount Park (left photo, below). Nothing was prerecorded; musicians and singers performed live in the studios. Originally the transmitter and antenna towers were near Fairmount Park but they were moved to the South Omaha Bridge Road in 1937. That building still stands, but looks much different (right photo) as a church today!
The old Council Bluffs post office stood at 6th and Broadway on the same site the post office is today. It was built in 1888 with an addition put on in 1933 (the addition is on the right, making the tower appear not centered). The building was found to be structurally unsound in the 1940’s and was abandoned in March of 1951. Construction of the new building began in 1958. In the interim the old Council Bluffs Auditorium on Washington Avenue served as the post office.
Streetcars ended their service in Council Bluffs September 25, 1948. For a time both busses and streetcars ran. The public apparently favored the new, modern busses and streetcar patronage fell. The end of the era was unceremonious. The eighteen passengers of Car 875 that last day thought they were headed for downtown Council Bluffs when it turned instead into the car barn at 28th and Avenue A. Fares were refunded and the passengers told to talk the block to Broadway and catch a bus to complete their journey.
The Pottawattamie County “Squirrel Cage” jail was one of just 18 rotary cell jails ever built. It was also the largest and the only one that contained a three story cell block. The design was intended to provide a maximum security with minimum jailer attention. Instead of walking to a cell, the jailer could bring the cell to him by turning a crank. The tiny pie-shaped cells were part of a central cage that turned inside an outer fixed cage. The outed cage had just one opening on each floor; until a cell was rotated to line up with that spot there was no getting in or out. The cells originally had no heat, ventilation, or lighting. These conditions were of little concern in 1885. Perhaps the most unique thing about this jail was how long it lasted. Most of the rotary jails were condemned and closed within a few years. The Pottawattamie “squirrel cage” was condemned over two dozen times, but voters refused to approve a bond issue for a new jail so it remained the county jail for 84 years, finally closing in 1969. The jail still stands today and is operated as a museum by the Historical Society of Pottawattamie County.
Click on the photo above for a short video about the "Squirrel Cage" jail.
Enjoy over 200 photographs of Council Bluffs throughout the 20th Century in the book Images of America: Council Bluffs. Click here for some sample photos from the book.