Claus Neumann, the Santa Rosa hotelier who opened the iconic Los Robles Lodge on Cleveland Avenue and ran the La Rose in Railroad Square, died Friday after years living with Lewy body dementia. He was 81.
Neumann learned the hotel trade as a young man in Europe and then under Conrad Hilton of the Hilton Hotel chain before opening Los Robles in 1962.
Neumann "brought a sophistication that we hadn't seen around here up to that point," said Gaye LeBaron, local historian and Press Democrat columnist.
The hotel restaurant was a central place for club meetings, wedding receptions, fundraisers and other community events, she said.
"When Claus came to town, there was a certain class that he brought," said his wife of nearly 40 years, Debbie Neumann of Santa Rosa. "He made a big impact on the social scene in Santa Rosa."
Neumann was born Nov. 8, 1929 in Marienburg, Germany, a small East Prussian town that is now part of Poland.
The son of a sugar factory manager, Neumann described his early childhood as idyllic. He joined the Hitler Youth at age 9 when the group's activities were more akin to the Cub Scouts, his family said.
However as Nazi Germany grew more belligerent, Neumann recoiled from what he later called "groupthink," his family said.
Neumann's family wouldn't learn about his experience in the later days of the war until he and his wife took their three children to Poland in 1988.
As many German families fled before a looming invasion by the Russian Army in 1945, Neumann and his father stayed behind to help his father's factory employees escape, his family said. When the pair finally headed toward American-controlled Germany, dead bodies in the snow lined the roads. At one point they stayed with a couple who planned to commit suicide just before the Russians arrived.