A speedy ride up North 16th leads you to your fancy North Omaha apartment building, part of the upscale complex you live in. Hopping off the streetcar, you walk to the fish market next door and grab some fresh dinner; walking into your building, you pick up the milk and butter you ordered from the Cole Creamery downtown.
Later, you’ll enjoy some company as you gather with friends in the complex’s rec center, and maybe catch a movie at The Corby afterwards. It’s 1919, and you live at 2024 and 2107 North 16th Street. This is a history of the Strehlow Terrace Garden Apartment Complex.
Building the Terrace
Built by Robert Strehlow between 1905 and 1915, the complex was a fine apartment complex with six buildings around a central court with a decorative fountain in the middle. Working with noted Omaha architect Frederick A. Henninger, Strehlow built one of the most respectable addresses in Omaha. Henniger’s son, F.A. Henniger, Jr. worked on the clubhouse with his father.
This complex was remarkable for combining the Prairie School style with elements of the Craftsman and Classical Revival styles to create bold yet approachable, fashionable yet friendly buildings for modern professionals working in downtown Omaha. Strehlow put different aspects of turn-of-the-century design into his apartments, including an central court arrangement, a sculptured fountain, and landscaped grounds.
Located in the historical Near North Side neighborhood, these buildings were built along a busy, popular street on the edge of a dense residential area. Located right around them were grocery stores, two streetcar stops, gas stations, professional laundries, fish and meat markets, and professional offices including doctors, lawyers and others. The Storz Brewery was walking distance, along with the massively popular intersection of North 24th and Lake Streets.
According to the National Register of Historic Places, tenants of Strehlow Terrace were middle- and upper-middle class professionals. Office workers and retail leaders who lived there included the treasurer of a construction materials company, a physician, the owner of a women’s clothing store and a department manager for an investment company.
Located right across the street and next door to the Strehlow Terrace Garage, The Margaret is the seventh building Robert Strehlow built in this area. However, it wasn’t a part of the complex and was designed in an entirely different fashion.
Starting in the late 1940s, African Americans pushed to break redlining that kept them out of the Strehlow complex. White flight struck the neighborhood where the Strehlow was located in the following era, and white people left the Strehlow quickly thereafter. Coincidentally, Robert Strehlow passed in 1957, right around the beginning of white flight. His family sold the property in 1967.
That year, the Community Housing Foundation bought the complex as a neighborhood revitalization project. However, after unsuccessfully moving their project ahead, the buildings were sold to a slumlord. During the 1970s and into the 1980s, the buildings fell apart and were poorly maintained. The City of Omaha held numerous condemnation proceedings. The City of Omaha bought the complex in 1986.
Restoration and Renovation
After taking ownership in the mid-1980s, the City of Omaha’s Omaha Housing Authority (OHA) used its funding to save Strehlow Terrace. Since the 1990s, the complex has been massively renovated and restored. After receiving funding from the Nebraska Legislature throughout that period, in 2005 it was renamed for its legislative champion and North Omaha lion, Senator Ernie Chambers. With funding from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Omaha Housing Authority, the architectural firm of Reinhardt & Associates designed a historically sensitive restoration plan for the site.
Today, Ernie Chambers Court has 70 units and is regarded as a signature property of OHA.
Understanding the Vision
Builder Robert Strehlow envisioned a constellation of buildings that formed its own miniature community within the larger Near North Side neighborhood it bordered. Along with the six buildings in Strehlow Court, the builder also constructed The Margaret across the street. There were several businesses and other apartments up and down North 16th Street, too, allowing the streetcar commuters to stay close to their homes after moving in.
Spread over three acres, there are six buildings in Ernie Chambers Court:
- The Majestic, built in 1905 as a 22-unit apartment building
- The Strehlow, built in 1907 as a 28-unit apartment building
- Roland, built in 1909 as a 30-unit apartment building
- Recreation Center / Annex, built in 1910
- A house, finished in 1910
- Strehlow Terr
- ace Garage, with an apartment, finished in 1915 on a separate, smaller parcel of land across North 16th Street to the east of the complex
According to the City of Omaha, the complex is Nebraska’s earliest known example of an integrated grouping of architecturally-related apartment buildings. It is arranged around a central courtyard and includes a concrete fountain and benches. There was also a tennis court, a playground, and a garage for the exclusive use of the apartments’ residents.
Following are details on each building.
Building One: The Majestic
The first building at the Strehlow Terrace was built in 1905, and is called The Majestic. A large dark brick, rectangular building with three stories and a basement, it has a distinctive red tile roof. Each of the ten units on each floor has a porch with bay windows spread evenly across the entire building, for a total of 30 units in the whole building. At the entrance, there is a sign across the top with a greek key design that says, “The Majestic.”
Robert Strehlow moved into The Majestic immediately after it was finished in 1905.
In December 2019, a fire in the building caused $250,000 in damage, wrecking the roof and destroying several units. Nobody was harmed, but 33 occupants were displaced by the fire.
Building Two: Roland
The largest apartment building at Strehlow Terrace is called The Roland. Located just west of The Majestic, its long, rectangular and has four floors including the basement and a partial attic. The building is designed as three cubes, with the center having a column of stacked porches.
With a tan brick exterior, there are a variety of windows across the building, from square, single-sash, triple-paned to double-hung, sliding-sash with 6-over-1 lights. The central pavilion also contain entrances on the south and north, with six doorways open to entry halls and stairways to provide vertical circulation. Four other indoor stairways give apartments both a front and rear means of letting air out. The building is renowned for most strictly adhering to the rules of Prairie School style architecture, with a few Craftsman elements involved.
Building Three: The Strelow
Sitting across the courtyard, The Strehlow is almost identical to The Majestic. There has been extensive interior remodeling at The Strehlow though. The Strehlow had approximately three more apartments along with several additional two-bedroom units, for a total of 34.
The apartments in this building, similar to The Majestic, have three indoor stairways along with stairs between the porches on the backs of the buildings. There’s more decoration in the Strehlow though, including stonework, exposed wood, and other interior flares, along with fancy inscribed tablets on the outdoors with the letter “S” on them.
In 1931, Robert Strehlow moved into this building and stayed there until he died in 1952 at the age of 90.
Building Four: Strehlow Annex
In 1916, Strehlow built a recreation center for his complex. The building had a reading room, billiard room, dance hall and other facilities. However, it mustn’t have been popular though, because during the 1920s Strehlow converted the annex into four studio and two one-bedroom units. The rec center was designed in a completely different style, with Henninger committing to the Spanish Mission Renaissance style popular throughout Omaha during this period.
With a single main entrance sticking out above the building, the building’s large, arched windows stand boldly in faux-adobe stucco covering the outside. There’s a tall brick foundation with regular-sized windows in the basement, which is the only unifying feature of this building with the others, aside from the signature red tile roofs on all five of the main buildings.
Building Five: The Strehlow House
Robert Strehlow built his family house at the Strehlow Terrace in 1910, facing the Roland in all its splendor. A two-story tan brick building designed in an eclectic style, it has a finished attic and a full basement, too. After the Strehlow family moved by the 1930s, the house was split into two apartments.
Floors and trim throughout the house are maple, and there is a trestle pagoda above the porch, which wraps around two sides of the house. There are a lot of Arts and Crafts elements in the house. However, the steep roof and the patterned brickwork above the windows is anti-Craftsman, and its red clay tiled roof is distinctive.
Strehlow’s family stayed in the house from 1910 until the early 1920s, after which he moved his family to California for a decade.
Building Six: The Strehlow Terrace Garage
Across the street from the complex was the Strehlow Terrace Garage, designed similarly to the rest of the buildings. Two floors and a basement, the building houses two apartments on the second floor in addition to the garage on the first floor.
The front of the building includes two boarded up, large windows with a central garage door and a regular front door to the north. There are also six windows between two larger rectangular windows. All of this reflects Henninger’s commitment to the Prairie School style throughout the complex.
Modern Times at Chambers Court
Starting in 1996, each of the buildings was renovated by the Omaha Housing Authority and is in good condition now. Today, there are a few additional features acknowledged for their surviving to contribute to the property’s historical significance, including the base of the original fountain, cement benches and winding sidewalks. In 2005, the complex was renamed the Ernie Chambers Court in honor of Senator Ernie Chambers, whose advocacy in the Nebraska Legislature led to the redevelopment of Strehlow Court.
Since their restoration, the Ernie Chambers Court apartments have served as low-income housing. They are kept in great condition by the Omaha Housing Authority, and serve as a “premier” property for the agency. They were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.
You Might Like…
- A Biography of Robert Strehlow
- A History of North 16th Street In North Omaha
- A History of Apartments In North Omaha
- “Historic Chambers Court damaged in Friday night fire; 33 people displaced” Sierra Karst Omaha World-Herald (December 21, 2019)
- Chambers Court – Omaha Housing Authority
- Ernie Chambers Court – Reinhardt and Associates
- Strehlow Terrace – Omaha Landmarks Heritage Preservation Commission
- Strehlow Terrace application to the National Register of Historic Places