The Life of a Builder
Robert Strehlow was born and educated in Germany, immigrating to the US in 1880. He built and contracted in Ohio, South Dakota and Iowa before he came to Omaha in 1891. His first project in the city included building 25 houses and stores at South 13th and Vinton Streets, and he built his own home at North 38th and Charles Streets, too. Strehlow married Anna Rau in 1895, and they had four kids.
In 1898, his career took off after he built the temporary buildings of North Omaha’s Trans-Mississippi Exposition. There, he got the contract for the first building at the Expo. Very satisfied with his work, he was immediately contracted to construct the Manufacturers Building and others.
After that momentous event, he spent twenty years constructing similar buildings. Other expos included:
- The 1901 PanAmerican Exposition in Buffalo, New York
- The 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis
- The 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle
- The 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco
He won awards for his construction in the 1904 and 1915 expositions. He built individual buildings, entire courts, cascading waterfalls and sunken gardens, too. Strehlow built other houses and industrial buildings throughout Omaha, too.
Right after The Majestic was finished in 1905, Strehlow moved in there. He and his family moved into the finished Strehlow House in 1910, and stayed there until the early 1920s. Ten years later, Strehlow moved into his complex and stayed there until he died in 1952 at the age of 90.
Robert Strehlow was active in Republican politics, and was elected to two terms in the Nebraska Legislature from 1917 to 1919 and again from 1923 to 1925.
In 1923, Strehlow introduced the first anti-Klu-Klux-Klan bill in the Legislature. His law would stop private citizens from meeting “in disguise to conceal their identities” and punished people who stopped the government from investigating “the guilt or innocence of any person” or from “inflict[ing] punishment for real or imagined violations of the law.”
Talking with people who supported his bill, Strehlow said, “We will not wait again until the mob is organized. We will… prevent any direct action organization from growing so strong that it overshadows all law and all government.” While he knew the KKK was anti-Catholic, anti-Black, and an anti-Jewish organization, he emphasized that his biggest concern was with the rule of law, not discrimination.
The law didn’t pass.
Strehlow was a member of the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, president of the Saengerfest Association, the president of the Omaha Music Fest, the president of various German societies and the president of the Saengerfest Society of the Northwest.
Like many other businessmen in Omaha at the time, Strehlow belonged to the Ak-Sar-Ben, to the Omaha Club, to the Omaha Commercial Club and to the Carter Lake Club, of which he was the vice president, and was a member of a Building Managers Club.
You Might Like…
- Strehlow Terrace narrative, National Register of Historic Places
- Michael W Schuyler, “The Ku Klux Klan in Nebraska, 1920-1930,” Nebraska History 66 (1985): 234-256.