omaha’s park and boulevard system: get to know riverview
June 13, 2012
The City of Omaha Department of Parks, Recreation and Public Property kicked off its new master planning process for Omaha’s boulevard system May 31 with a public meeting at the Elmwood Park Pavilion.
The system was designed by eminent landscape architect Horace William Shaler (H.W.S.) Cleveland. He worked on Omaha projects from 1889 until 1894. In his first report to the Board of Park Commissioners, Cleveland proposed a series of small parks in the northern and southern sections of the city and “a large park on the west at the most central point that is available.” He also urged the integration of open spaces through the construction of “broad ornamental avenues, known as boulevards or parkways” designed “with a tasteful arrangement of trees and shrubbery at (their) sides and in the center.”
In 1992, the City of Omaha Planning Department published “Omaha’s Historic Park and Boulevard System,” a brochure outlining the process behind its creation, which has been called “a significant landmark in landscape design and urban planning in the Midwest.” Below is the first in a series of articles on the system’s components based on the information outlined in the brochure.
Riverview Park and Riverview Boulevard
In 1891, the Board of Park Commissioners allocated bond issue funds to purchase park land in the southern portion of the city. They selected a piece of property on the Missouri River shore in an undeveloped region between Omaha and South Omaha. The city had to use its power of eminent domain to acquire the initial parcel in 1894. Additional tracts were subsequently added to increase the park to more than 100 acres by 1899.
Although Cleveland approved of the site, his health failed, and he could no longer continue his work in Omaha. W.R. Adams, the city’s longtime park superintendent, prepared the park’s designs that featured a lagoon and winding drives.
From its beginnings as a park, the Riverview tract was associated with zoo activities. An 1896 report notes the first addition of animals to the park, including the purchase of a moose for $150, a bear for $25 and an expense of $1 for “moving fish.”
In subsequent years, more of the property was turned over for zoo use. In 1964, the tract was leased to the Omaha Zoological Society as the site for the Henry Doorly Zoo, which was recently named the top zoo in the United States.
After work began on Florence Boulevard, Omaha’s first parkway, the next branch in the system sprouted from the Riverview tract. In 1895, the land for the boulevard was acquired through condemnation and was turned over to the park commissioners for improvement as the Southeast Boulevard.
Renamed “Riverview Boulevard” in 1913, the winding road was originally built to connect the park’s north entrance with Bancroft Street, forming the first leg of the Southeast Boulevard, which later was extended along Bancroft to 11th Street and along 11th to about Mason. These additional stretches became known as Bancroft Boulevard and Bellevue Boulevard, although the brochure notes they received little improvement and remained “boulevards” primarily in name only.
Up next: Deer Park, Deer Park Boulevard and Spring Lake Park.