Built by Trepte and built to last

Posted: March 10th, 2017 | Columns, Feature, News, PastMatters, Top Story | No Comments

By Katherine Hon | Past Matters

Trepte Construction Company has a long history in San Diego extending back more than 120 years.

The company built many San Diego landmarks, including the Park Manor Hotel (Inn at the Park) at 525 Spruce St. in 1927, Ryan Aeronautical’s plant building in 1939, Grossmont Hospital in 1960, and San Diego Sports Arena in 1966.

But did you know that there is a North Park connection to this major construction company? Several Trepte buildings grace Pershing Avenue in the North Park Dryden Historic District. Both buildings are charming homes with very different styles.

The Trepte story in San Diego begins with Moritz Trepte, who was born in Germany in 1864 and immigrated to the United States in 1886. He worked as a carpenter in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for two years, then moved to San Francisco in 1888.

Seven years later, Moritz and his wife Christine came to San Diego with Walter, their first-born son. Moritz became a naturalized citizen one year later, in 1896 in San Diego.

He used his carpentry skills to build the Crown Room ceiling at Hotel del Coronado, and in 1897 he joined with Herman Stroele, who was operating a business that manufactured store fixtures and mantels, to form Stroele & Trepte, a carpentry, cabinetry and remodeling company.

Walter Trepte built this Spanish Colonial Revival house at 3553 Pershing Ave. in the North Park Dryden Historic District in 1922. (Photo by Ed Cronan)

1901. Trepte is listed as an independent building contractor in the City Directory in 1901. He built his family home at 155 20th St. in 1905, an attractive American Foursquare-style house that is still standing in Sherman Heights.

In 1913, Moritz Trepte joined builder Edward Rambo to form Rambo & Trepte, and they built many fine homes together over the next five years. One of their first was 2903 28th St. on the northeast corner of Palm Avenue in the Blair’s Highlands tract of North Park. At this time, 20-year-old Walter Trepte was working as a carpenter with R.P. Shields & Son, but by 1918, Trepte & Son General Contractors had been established. Moritz and Walter Trepte proceeded to build much of Downtown’s skyline over the ensuing decades.

In the early 1920s, Walter built two houses on Pershing Avenue (then Oregon Avenue), both of which contribute to the North Park Dryden Historic District.

In 1920, he built a classic one-story Craftsman home at 3675 Pershing Ave., where he and his wife Margaret and their son Walter B. lived for several years.

In 1922, he built a two-story Spanish Colonial Revival house at 3553 Pershing Ave. The unadorned style of the stucco house creates an interesting contrast with the ornately bracketed and wood shingled Craftsman homes built by David Owen Dryden on either side of it. Dryden briefly owned the vacant lot for 3553 Pershing Ave. in 1917, but sold the lot that year without building anything.

Trepte built the home at 3553 Pershing Ave. for Alice Welstead, secretary-treasurer of Welstead Oil Company, and her son Charles, president of the company. The imposing house featured an innovative triple-zone climate control system for the living room and bed chambers, and a foot-activated servant call button in the floor of the dining room.

Although these systems are no longer active, the warm and bright home retains its original narrow-plank wood floors, lath and plaster walls and coved ceilings, and a partial basement hewn from the unyielding cobble and clay underlying much of North Park.

Walter Trepte’s contractor’s license was just the 13th to be issued by the state of California. (Courtesy of Ed Cronan)

Walter Trepte was president of Trepte Construction Company for more than 40 years, from the mid-1920s to 1966, when he turned over the company to his son Gene. On July 1, 1931, the very first day that contractor’s licenses were issued by state of California, Walter Trepte obtained Contractor’s License Number 13. He was president of the Associated General Contractors of America, San Diego Chapter, in 1939.

Walter died in 1985 at age 92. The impressive and varied list of landmark San Diego buildings constructed by the Trepte company provided in Walter’s obituary in the San Diego Union include the Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant at Fifth Avenue and K Street; the Pacific Square Ballroom, formerly at Pacific Highway and Ash Street; seaplane ramps and hangers at North Island Naval Air Station; and roads, parking lots and grottos at the San Diego Zoo.

His company is credited with saving many buildings of the 1915-16 Exposition in Balboa Park. This is the story told in Walter Trepte’s obituary:

“The old family friend, George Marston, and Dr. Harry Wegeforth, the first director of the San Diego Zoo, were getting ready for the 1935-1936 California Pacific International Exposition in Balboa Park. Mr. Trepte was one of two contractors asked to survey the buildings in the park to see if they should be demolished or refurbished. Partially based on his recommendations, the Museum of Man, House of Hospitality, Casa del Prado and the botanical building are still standing.”

The story of Trepte Construction Company continues to be written, but North Park can be proud to be part of the original chapters.

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