100 Years Later: Remembering Robert Strehlow
The 100th anniversary of the opening of Neptune Beach is fast approaching. Neptune Beach once occupied the shoreline along Central Avenue between today’s McKay Avenue and Page Street. The resort welcomed its first guests on March 31, 1917.
Robert C. Strehlow was the power behind this enterprise affectionately known as “The Coney Island of the West.” When he backed the idea of building Neptune Beach, Strehlow had just finished a successful run at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. He was responsible for more than 15 buildings there and received an award as the exposition’s most successful builder.
According to architect Jennifer Honebrink, Strehlow was no amateur. His previous exposition experience included the 1889 Trans-Mississippi Exposition in his hometown of Omaha, Neb., where he welcomed future President William McKinley.
Honebrink tells us that Strehlow rubbed shoulders with another president in 1901 at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, where he met President Theodore Roosevelt. Sadly President McKinley was assassinated at this exposition on Sept. 6, 1901.
Strehlow also won prizes for his work at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis — known as “The Louisiana Purchase Exposition” — for his designs of the Festival Hall and Missouri building. Strehlow likely met architect Cass Gilbert and landscape architect George Kessler while at the fair. Gilbert designed the fair’s Palace of Fine Arts, which stands today as the St. Louis Art Museum.
Before coming to San Francisco for the 1915 exposition, Strehlow has also designed buildings at the 1907 Jamestown Exposition in Norfolk, Va., and the 1908 Alaska-Yukon Exposition in Seattle, Wash.
“These experiences gave him a national reputation and a broad view of the construction industry,” Honebrink wrote in Omaha Economic Development Corporation’s successful application to list one of Strehlow’s creations, “The Margaret” apartments on the National Register of Historic Places.
As March 1917 drew to a close Strehlow and his partners August Freese and Peter Peterson teamed up with the Alameda Land Company to welcome fun-seekers to Neptune Beach.