By Trevor Bach
By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
Back in Miami Alfred wed one of Martha's friends, Jane Britt, and continued building a practice as a prominent architect with high-society clients. Insurance-mogul-turned-developer John D. McArthur hired him to design a large clubhouse at the PGA National Country Club, built in 1959 in Palm Beach Gardens. In 1960 he created a 230-foot beaconlike tower with a glass enclosed elevator, part of the ill-fated Bazaar International mall in Riviera Beach. The structure was demolished in 1998 to make way for an overpass. In the early Sixties he teamed up with developer Arthur Vining Davis (who founded Arvida) to erect the first homes in Gables Estates.
Robin returned to the United States in 1966 to attend the University of Florida at Gainesville. He did not involve himself in politics or anti-war demonstrations, but he enjoyed the cultural revolution erupting on college campuses. In addition to studying architecture, he participated in unconventional extracurricular activities such as photographing unclothed students in the library with Scott De Garmo, a buddy from Coconut Grove (and the son of architect Walter De Garmo, who helped build Coral Gables). Scott, who was editor of the student newspaper University Report, conceived of the shoot, which featured nude coeds with serious expressions on their faces. “The idea was that everyone was so busy studying during finals that they didn't even notice that people were naked,” Robin explains. One of the photographs ran in the paper and outraged administrators, he notes with a grin.
“Robin has just been hell on wheels all of his life,” his mother concludes.
He transferred to the University of Toronto in 1969, then to the University of Miami in 1972. While Robin was finishing his architectural training, his father was planting the seeds of SRT.
Robin inherited his father's eye for design, but by the time he joined his dad's firm in 1974, Alfred was preparing to endow his son with something else: a zeal for alternative energy. “I had always had a feeling that we must change our habits,” Alfred asserts, “that we were really not doing good things to the planet, mainly in terms of burning hydrocarbons. Coal, gas, even wood, those are all hydrocarbons. This was the bug that was in my bonnet.”
The insect buzzed his intellect until he met an electrical engineer named Robert Scragg. From 1971 to 1973 Scragg had worked in Reno, Nevada, with Bill Lear (of Learjet fame) to develop a steam turbine engine. After that project Scragg relocated to South Florida and began looking for contributors to finance a new venture: developing a system to use HCl as a fuel. “I found that chlorine could be activated with light to the point at which it would detonate hydrogen,” says Scragg, now age 73 and president of Alpha Engines Corporation in Daytona Beach. “It is fourteen times more powerful than gasoline.”
Scragg believed he could harness the blast and run engine pistons with it. Light from the sun would trigger the reaction. Ultimately he envisioned making small pollution-free power generators the size of twelve-by-twelve-foot cubes. Alfred was intrigued. They agreed to collaborate. Scragg would handle the engineering. The architect would raise money. He first kicked in $50,000. A friend of Scragg matched that amount, and the company was on its way. Scragg and an assistant set up a temporary laboratory in a garage on SW 27th Avenue, across the street from Alfred's offices. They soon decided a more remote location was prudent. “We were afraid we were going to blow up the neighborhood,” Alfred confesses. They moved to a site in the Homestead area owned by Aerojet, a rocket manufacturer.
With the Arab oil embargo and the Seventies energy crisis still fresh on people's minds, Alfred garnered about $900,000 from other investors. The lion's share came from two men: Brian Goldner, a former air force pilot and ballistics expert; and Harold Good, a retired physicist who had once served as chief of the Oldsmobile division of General Motors. Scragg recalls driving Good to the Homestead lab and giving him a demonstration. “I took him down and showed him what kind of pressure and force could be developed with the explosion and he said, “That's it!'” Scragg remembers fondly.
Prominent Miamians also considered the idea a potential blockbuster.
“In the very early days of SRT, we thought the technology was going to be one of the salvations of the world, freeing us from dependence on foreign oil,” Dennis Coyle remembers. He was a young lawyer when he met Alfred through Jack Courshon, an attorney and real estate mogul. “Jack said “You've got to meet this guy. He's got this great technology that's going to solve all our problems,'” recounts Coyle, who also provided free legal counsel to the fledgling company.
Thinking the space industry might take an interest in the company, which they named Solar Reactor Engines, Inc. (the name was later changed), Alfred and Scragg opened another lab near Cape Canaveral. By 1979 Scragg and another engineer, David Norton, had successfully built a ten-horsepower motor fueled with HCl and sunlight. They filmed it and began to show the new invention to scientists across the United States in hope of receiving financial backing to make larger commercial units.