The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. This month (hosted by Reuben Gray ofTale of the Ale), we’re looking at Local Brewery History, and not just a brewing company but also the actual facility where brewers made (or continue to make) their historical wares.

Location: 2100 North Main Street, Los Angeles, CA 90031. Former home of The Los Angeles Brewing Company (1897-1948) & the Pabst Brewing Company (1948-1979)

Along the 5 Freeway, on the eastern edge of Downtown L.A., there used to be an old, beat-up billboard for the “Los Angeles Brewing Company” on top of a rusted collection of industrial buildings. There is not a brewery here nor is there a brewery by that name in Los Angeles. This patch of earth is now home to a live-work colony for artists, a great, little bar (with a solid selection of local beer) and a new rock climbing gym. Yet, the complex as a whole is referred to as “The Brewery.” So, what’s the story here? What am I missing?

This month’s Session on Local Brewery History seemed like an apt time to get out the Googletron and set the record straight on this local institution.

It’s important to remember that before all these newfangled, hip “craft breweries” swept into town with their fancy IPA’s, Imperial, Barrel-Aged Mega Stouts and whatever else, we did have locally made beer…at one point, anyways. In fact, L.A.’s first beer production company, which opened its doors in 1859, was the ironically named New York Brewery on Third Street in Downtown. There’s hardly any more information available about it other than the three or four references I’ve found that a) it existed and b) I’m assuming they were the New York Brewery that won an award for Best Lager Beer at the 1864 Industrial Exhibition in San Francisco.  Following in NYB’s footsteps, was thealso ironically named Philadelphia Brew House that opened in 1872 near present-day Union Station. Apparently, there was a segment of the Los Angeles population who didn’t realize they lived in Los Angeles. I would think the weather should have been a clue. Maybe they just missed their eastern roots. I can’t read minds.

In 1882, Joseph Maier and George Zobelein, two Bavarian immigrant employees at the New York Brewery formed a partnership and bought the Philadelphia Brew House. Their new venture was creatively re-named, the Maier and Zobelein Brewing Company. Maier would take care of the production side of things and Zobelein would run the books. In 1905, Maier died leaving his half of the company to his two sons, Fred and Edward. Legal squabbles over who had controlling interest in the brewery led Fred and Edward to buy out Zobelein in 1907 for somewhere between $500,000-$800,000 (there were conflicting sources). Zobelein then turned around and used that money to buy out the Los Angeles Brewing Company.

That brings us to our location of interest for today: 2100 North Main Street.

Sometime around the turn of the century, a man by the name of P. Max Kuhnrich purchased the Edison Steam Powered Electric Plant and converted it to the newly-named Los Angeles Brewing Company. I should note: some sources say it was a power plant starting in 1903 and Zobelein bought it out in 1907. However, more than one source (including a 1907 edition of The American Brewers’ Review) states that Kuhnrich had owned the property and operated it as a brewery since 1897; this was what Zobelein purchased with that money burning a hole in his pocket. In short, it’s unclear when the power company was built and when it was converted to a brewing company. Either way, George Zobelein owned the business entity and property known as the Los Angeles Brewing Company beginning in 1907.

Wikipedia lists the architect of the complex as John B. Parkinson. The entry goes onto say that he was the designer of the Paradox Iron Brewery. In the photos, you’re able to see a leftover graphic related to “Paradox Iron: Steel Fabrication and Erection Company, established 1894.” I’d venture a guess that Paradox Iron and The Brewery are being accidentally lumped together, here. Parkinson is notable because, with his son, Donald, he went on to design many landmark buildings in Los Angeles including the Memorial Coliseum, L.A. City Hall (in collaboration with Albert C. Martin and John C. Austin), Los Angeles Union Station, and the Campus Master Plan for the University of Southern California as well as several of its buildings.

LABC went on to become a successful brewer, reportedly the fifth largest in the U.S. at one point. Their best-known brand was Eastside Beer, so named because the brewery was located east of the Los Angeles River. According to TavernTrove.com, they also produced such beers as Eastside Ale, Eastside Bock, Brown Derby Beer, and Angelus Beer among others. Like all U.S. breweries of the time, LABC had to get creative during Prohibition. They managed to stay afloat by producing a near beer (spun off of Eastside Beer), apple cider, pineapple juice, root beer, and denatured alcohol, produced from the fermentation of their near beer and apple cider, for doctors and dentists. The latter was their biggest seller. The transition out of Prohibition was relatively easy for the brewery as they had been producing their main brand all along – they just had to stop removing the alcohol. All the hoopla around the U.S. we read about last month for Little Repeal Day [aka National (Session) Beer Day], when alcoholic beverages up to 4% ABV were once again legalized, also happened at LABC. Trucks were lined up and ready to leave the brewery at exactly 12:01 AM, April 7, 1933. Walter Huston and Jean Harlow, Hollywood stars of the era, were on hand to send them off with the appropriate amount of fanfare.

(source: ebeercans.com)

Side note: There was another brewery in Downtown L.A. to play fifth wheel (really, it was the third wheel but you get my meaning) during the rivalry between Maier and Zobelein. The Acme Brewing Company, a division of the San Francisco-based company then formerly known as the California Brewing Association, operated a production facility from 1935-1954, in association with Bohemian Distributors.

(source: brewerygems.com)

As the post-war nation turned its collective eye to the west, so, too, the Big Boys began planning their cross country expansions. In 1948, Pabst Brewing Company purchased LABC, although it was allowed to continue operating as a separate company. After 5 years, Pabst took over the brewery completely and continued producing the LABC portfolio, albeit in a back seat role. 1954 brought Anheuser-Busch’s new plant to Van Nuys (20-30 minutes northwest). Schlitz followed suit in 1974 (also in Van Nuys, about 10 minutes away from AB). And Miller, not wanting to miss out on the party, came to Irwindale in 1980 (30 minutes east of LABC/Pabst). Eventually, Pabst quit brewing all but Eastside Beer and re-branded it as Eastside Old Tap, a low-price discount beer. Those out there who believe major league baseball to be synonymous with cold beer might be interested to know that when Dodger Stadium opened on April 10, 1962, it was Eastside Old Tap that filled the glasses of the very first fans to sit in those shiny, new bleachers. In the wake of the Anheuser Busch-Miller wars, Pabst’s business started slowing throughout the 1970s. Sadly, they shuttered the North Main Street brewery in 1979 and, along with it, the last traces of the Los Angeles Brewing Company.

In 1980, Carlson Industries, a hotel, restaurant, and travel company purchased the property and began removing the brewing infrastructure with the intention of making it available to other industrial businesses. Eventually, they decided to develop it as a live-work complex for artists and craftspeople, as it still exists today.

Another brewery would not open within the Los Angeles city limits until father/son Steve and Jeremy Raub with Jeremy’s wife, Ting Su, established the Eagle Rock Brewing Company in 2009. From what I hear, L.A.’s bureaucracy continues to be difficult to navigate for the aspiring brewery owner. This is one of the more compelling reasons why the surrounding areas/cities, specifically in the South Bay and San Fernando Valley where we find a growing amount of interest for development, are more attractive. That and cheaper rent. There are now over 40 brewing companies and brew pubs in the greater Los Angeles area.

Pabst Brewing Company relocated their headquarters from Illinois to Los Angeles in 2011. The company, featuring a portfolio of 23 brands (including Schlitz), is now owned by food magnate C. Dean Metropoulos. Their offices can be found on sunny Santa Monica Boulevard.

(source: rustycans.com. In the center is a large neon sign for Eastside Old Tap and on the right, a smaller display for Pabst)

(Comparison of the loading dock area from the opposite side)

(Comparison of the loading dock area from the opposite side)

(Barbara’s at the Brewery. Excellent spot. Check it out if you get the chance. They get Pliny the Elder on tap, if that’s your thing)

 

I did get to walk around inside the buildings but, in general, it was too dark to take any decent photos. There isn’t much left to suggest this place used to be a brewery since almost 35 years of natural evolution have passed since it shut down. Now, it simply looks like a rehabbed industrial building complex. I would be heartless, though, to say that it doesn’t have its own set of charms.

Admittedly, when I first started researching this topic, I didn’t think it would be all that interesting. I was wrong. Los Angeles is a huge city and lots of important and fascinating things have happened here. It stands to reason that historical events related to beer would also have a story worth seeking out.

Finally, If you couldn’t tell, I found there to be some fuzziness in many of the historical details. Often times, accounts conflicted and/or sources didn’t connect all the dots. I only breezed past Maier and Acme and I didn’t even come close to many other aspects that I would have liked to.

It’s clear that this is only the beginning of the story.

Sources:

  1. http://www.kcet.org/updaily/socal_focus/history/la-as-subject/from-eastside-lager-to-maiers-select-malt-tonic-a-short-history-of-la-beer-35419.html
  2. http://www.rustycans.com/COM/month0305.html
  3. http://www.taverntrove.com/brewery.php?BreweryId=873
  4. http://brewerygems.com/acme.htm
  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_B._Parkinson
  6. http://articles.latimes.com/1997/sep/07/local/me-29791
  7. http://articles.latimes.com/1985-04-29/local/me-12906_1_beer-plant-brews
  8. http://www.cemeteryguide.com/gotw-maier.html
  9. American Brewers’ Review, Volume 21, 1907 (found on Google Books)
  10. Report on the Fourth Industrial Exhibition of the Mechanics’ Institute of the City of San Francisco, 1864 (found on Google Books)
  11. There were more but since I haven’t had to write school papers for several years, I forgot how to do things like keep track of all of my sources
  12. Unless otherwise stated, all photos were taken by me.
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