You might not expect it at first glance, but in addition to a debt to a long-dead sycamore tree, the Brewery Artist Colony owes a not-insignificant debt to the lavish, German-style beer gardens of the late 19th century. In the years after the Civil War, waves of new immigrants and the national craze for German-style "beer gardens" created such a demand for malted spirits that beer replaced hard cider as America's most popular alcoholic drink.
In response to that booming demand, the Los Angeles Brewing Co. opened in 1897 on the banks of the Los Angeles River, whose then cool and flowing waters were a key ingredient of the beer. Local property owner Elijah Moulton joined with local businessman P. Max Kuehnrich & brewer Edward Mathie to open the first Brewery & Beer Garden in town.
Within two decades, the immigrant son of a German brew master would purchase the brewery and turn it into a local institution and the country's fifth-largest beer producer. For more than 80 years after, the city's Eastside Brewery percolated with the smell of hops and malt. And for nearly three decades, its 40-foot-high "Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer" sign proclaimed the company's best-known product to commuters on the Golden State Freeway.
Birth of the Beer Gardens
In the 1870s, Eberhard Anheuser and Aldolphus Busch were just starting to build their brewery empire in St. Louis. Other recent immigrants were doing the same thing in other cities -- Frederick Miller, Frederick Pabst and Joseph Schlitz in Milwaukee; Bernhard Stroh in Detroit; and Adolph Coors in Golden, Colo.
When Busch's pasteurization techniques spread, bottled beer - meant to be served cool or cold - became hugely popular in the United States, eventually becoming a staple of Americana.
To the countless German-American immigrants of the late-19th century, lager beer meant something far different. Lager beer was, perhaps more than anything else, a social icon. It represented family, friends, and German camaraderie. And nowhere was this more true than at the local beer garden. A weekend resort laid out amidst shady trees and sprawling lawns, the typical beer garden was manicured to be the perfect setting for that most important of 19th century pastimes: quaffing the amber fluid. And there was barely an American town in the mid- to late-1800s that did not boast one (or two, or three) of these beer drinking utopias.
In Los Angeles, scarcely more than a village with French winery and a Spanish Iglesia, the names of a new wave of German entrepreneurs, Anhauser, Busch, Coors, Strohs, Schlitz, Pabst, and Miller, who were making a light, pilsner-style lager throughout the U.S. in the latter half of the nineteenth century were spoken of whistfully. That style of brew, which fermented at colder temperatures using a different type of yeast, was a relatively new arrival in North America, where beer drinkers were accustomed to ales brewed at room temperature in the British tradition. Greater availability of ice, better transport, and the advent of refrigeration made these new lagers possible, and thirsty European immigrants imported the demand.
In 1867 George Zobelein emigrated to the US. He landed in New York, but quickly took a ship to Panama, crossed over the isthmus by land, then caught another ship to San Francisco. In 1869, 24-year-old George Zobelein arrived in Los Angeles from Bavaria and opened a grocery store at 6th and Spring streets. A year later, he married Brigida Alvarez Graf, a 23-year-old widow with two children who lived on a 350-acre ranch at 38th and Figueroa streets. After trying his hand at various jobs, Zobelein set about learning his father's craft--brewing--by taking a job at the New York Brewery on Main Street.
At the same time, in Los Angeles, a young Bavarian immigrant named Joseph Maier left his job at the New York Brewery, on Third Street between Main and Spring, and purchased the Eintracht Saloon at 163 North Spring St. -- just across the street from the current location of the Los Angeles City Hall.
LA Brewing & Philadelphia Brewing
The Los Angeles Brewing was originally founded in August 1897 by P. Max Kuehnrich and Edward Mathie. They produced a lager beer, a malt extract called Mission Malt Tonic, and a near beer called "Temperance" which had less than 2% alcohol. The plant conjured up the vision of a quaint Bavarian-style brewery, embracing 20 acres between the river and the railroad tracks. Over the years, the tap room known as the Old Mission Room became a landmark for tourists.
A major feature of the facility, built in conjuction with Edison Electic, was the DC-electric power generating station (officially known as "Edison Electic Co. Steam Plant Number 3") financed to facilitate their new venture.
Los Angeles — The Los Angeles Brewing Company is receiving a 250-barrel equipment for the new brewhouse, which is being furnished by the Ooetz & Flodin Manufacturing Company of Chicago. The new plant of the Mathie Brewing Company comprises the birewhouse, three stories high with a tower in the rear, the engine and storage room, two stories high, and the stockhouse, three stories. A feature of the brewery is the extensive use of direct connected electric motors, which does away with all counter-shafts, pulleys & belts, and the power necessary to operate the plant is reduced to a minimum.
The corporation suffered some setbacks, including at least two which involved board members and shareholders suing Kuehnrich over his bookkeeping (he was acquitted of any significant wrongdoing in court). Other problems with Edison stemmed from their ongoing project to power the homes of Lincoln Heights using the short-range underground DC conduit required by city rules at the time. Eventually the company was put up for sale.
Maier & Zobelein
His saloon business was so successful that, in 1882, the 31-year-old Maier partnered with George Zobelein to purchase the seven-year-old Philadelphia Brew House, located just south of the current site of Union Station, and renamed it the Maier and Zobelein Brewing Co.
At the New York Brewery, Maier was involved in production, and Zobelein was the bookkeeper and manager. They continued in those roles at their new business. (At about the same time, Simon Maier, a butcher, opened a slaughterhouse and meat-packing operation, which eventually became the largest meat-packing business west of Kansas City.)At the start, the Maier and Zobelein Brewing Co. was basically a two-man operation, with the partners doing all the brewing, marketing, delivering and collecting. And, although Maier and Zobelein were equal partners in the operation, when they filed for incorporation, Maier was named president for legal purposes, with Zobelein as vice president and secretary.
A rift began between the partners during their first expansion, and according to some accounts, it was an old tree which ultimately split their partnership. After purchasing the Philadelphia Brewing Company, which had been the Vignes winery only a few years prior, Maier & Zobelein set about building a new facility. They replaced the frame buildings with a huge, multi-storied brick edifice in 1889.
For some years Maier had wanted to remove the tree in order to expand the brewery. Zobelein was very emotional about the old landmark and succeeded at one point in having the brewery built around it. The tree, now severely pruned on three sides, remained at the center, providing shade for the wagon yard. However, in 1892 one of the El Aliso's remaining branches fell and crushed a beer wagon. In a fit of revenge, and over Zobelein's strong objections, Maier had all the branches removed from the tree, leaving only its trunk.
Maier said, “That tree has cost us already about $8,000 all on account of Mr. Zobelein's sentiment.”
By the end of the year El Aliso, which had been growing in LA since Columbus' first voyage, was dead.
El Aliso's lifeless trunk stood in mute reproach until 1895 when local lumberjack William Willoughby was hired to fell it. It was chopped down. Various persons took turns, but Mr. Zobelein felt too mournful over the fate of his old pet to strike any of its death blows. People came from all over to collect wood chips as souvenirs as El Aliso was hacked into firewood, which was then sold. A young boy, Charles Gibbs Adams (1884-1953), later the designer of the Virginia Robinson Gardens in Beverly Hills and co-designer of the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Gardens in Arcadia, counted the 400 rings on the stump.
Joseph and Mary Maier had three children -– Joseph Frederick Maier, born in 1876; Luisa Martha “Lulu” Maier, born in 1878; and Edward Richard Maier, born in 1882.
A few years later, Joseph Maier began to suffer from heart problems and paralysis, and the family took a seven-month trip to Europe in 1903 in the hopes of improving his health. After returning from Europe, Maier remained confined to the family home for the next two years, until his death due to heart failure on July 11, 1905, at the age of 53.
When Maier died, he left an estate worth an estimated $2 million -– more than $50 million today -– and his share of the brewery to his wife and two sons, 29-year-old Joseph and 22-year-old Edward.
Less than a month after Maier’s death, Zobelein filed a lawsuit -- "like a thunderclap out of a clear sky," according to the Times -- charging that stock manipulation and fraud had given the Maier family a controlling interest in the company, and that he should be given management of the business. Zobelein charged that, for several years prior to Maier's death, his partner and the Maier boys -- who were both brewery employees -- were secretly asking other employees to transfer their stock to them, so that they could have a majority control in the company. Zoberlein said that, from the beginning of their partnership, he and Maier always agreed that they would be equal partners in the business.
Zobelein also charged that the elder Maier son "is seldom at the brewery in the afternoons ... neglects the business, and uses the property of the corporation in ministering to his own pleasure." The younger son, Zobelein charged, "is incompetent, inattentive to his duties and frequently absent while keeping persons waiting to settle accounts."
In March 1906, the court sided with Zobelein, both for legal reasons and in weighing his business experience against the youth of the Maier boys. "For though worthy these young men are," said Judge Walter Bordwell, "they are by reason of their youth lacking in the mature judgment and skill which comes only from long years of experience; the plaintiff, by reason of his successful career, covering a period of more than 25 years in connection with this particular business, should, as a matter of business policy, be accorded the management of the business."
In 1907, the Maier brothers bought out Zobelein for $500,000, and the business was renamed the Maier Brewing Co. Zobelein used the money to purchase the troubled, 10-year-old beer garden called the Los Angeles Brewing Company, located on the banks of the Los Angeles River. Since his brewery was on the east side of the river, Zobelein called his new beer Eastside, and produced a range of beers sold under his Eastside brand.
Angelenos began guzzling Eastside in 1907, after Zobelein introduced a new line of beers based on his Barvarian recipes. With his brewery located on the east bank of the Los Angeles River (the present-day site of the Brewery Art Colony), Zobelein named his brews—ranging from a light pilsener to a heartier bock—Eastside. It soon became one of the town’s bestselling brands.
It was an attractive environment for other reasons, as well. In an era when Los Angeles was characterized by bad relations between workers and management, the Eastside Brewery was a happy exception. Brewery workers--unionized from the day the plant opened--always were among the city's best-paid and had excellent working conditions. Until Zobelein's death in 1936, most of the union meetings were conducted in German. As the years went on, the workers' benefits mounted. Lunch periods at Eastside were paid--a rarity at the time--and vacation benefits were among the most liberal available, ranging to eight weeks annually after 20 years. But to some, the most important perks were the guaranteed seven-minute beer breaks every hour (beer was free and unlimited) and employee rights to buy take-home beer at 40% to 50% off retail.
Zobelein remained in control of the brewery for 26 years, until illness forced his retirement in 1933. He died three years later, at the age of 90. Zobelein is also buried at Angelus Rosedale, not far from the Maier family mausoleum.
When Prohibition started in California in 1920, Zobelein continued business making apple cider, pineapple juice, a root beer and Eastside, which was now a near beer. They had trouble keeping the cider from fermenting too much, making it too "hard" to legally sell so they dropped that part of the business as well as the pineapple juice, which simply wasn't selling. They also gave up selling the root beer in bottles and distributed it solely in barrels.
Maier and Eastside both struggled during Prohibition. Like many American breweries, they survived the dry spell by producing soft drinks and "near beer"—beer that squeaked under the 0.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) limit imposed by the Volstead Act. The big sell for the brewery, besides Eastside near beer, was denatured alcohol. The brewery brewed Eastside as a regular beer, then removed the alcohol.
The alcohol was then sold to industrial companies, such as those that made paint as well as for companies making vanilla extract. It was also sold to doctors and dentists. Doctors were allowed to buy 5 gallons a year with special permits. Dentists were allowed 2 gallons a year. Hospitals and drug stores could also buy it, the amount depending on their needs. Los Angeles Brewing made a good business of selling alcohol to the medical market under the brand name "Tru-Grain."
When Prohibition ended in 1933 Zobelein was ready to restart his old business. Because they were brewing real beer already, all the brewery had to do was skip the denaturing process.
Numerous trucks were parked at the brewery loaded and ready to go as the day when legal beer could be shipped approached. The brewery had seven acres of land so each truck was filled with bottles and barrels of beer, and then, accompanied by two treasury agents, moved to its parking spot to await 12:01 am April 7, 1933.
At 12:01 am, actor Walter Huston said a few words and Jean Harlow broke a bottle over the first truck in line christening the brewery's rebirth. The trucks started rolling out the gates, most with one or two armed guards riding along. When the night was done one executive for the brewery reported they had a stack of money 18 inches high and when they counted all the night's receipts they found they had taken in over one quarter of a million dollars for their beer. Things were so chaotic that they got payments for beer they didn't even remember selling. Of course, the fact that Jean Harlow stuck around partying with the brewery employees probably didn't help!
But even Zobelein couldn't make this first batch of beer--with its anemic 3.2% alcohol--palatable. One local columnist compared the brew's introduction to "getting a pass to a new amusement park and ending up in the tunnel of love with a maiden aunt."
Eastside Brewing Company
The brewery did well in the 1930s and 1940s. It was a regional beer judging from where their cans have been dumped, mostly southern California and Arizona. Zobelein died in 1936 and his son took over the brewery. They introduced cans in 1937 choosing flat tops. They sold Eastside Beer, Eastside Ale, and in 1939 introduced a premium beer called Luxury Extra Dry Pilsner. Eastside Beer remained their big seller however. They also canned Brown Derby Beer for Safeway stores in the 1930s.
With the dry years behind it, not even the rubber tire shortage during World War II could keep Eastside from reaching its customers; in 1942, the brewery brought back giant Belgian draft horses to pull its beer wagons around town.
The tradition of labor-management harmony that helped make Eastside "the workingman's beer" also continued. At the time, few companies would hire young men with a 1-A draft status because they would soon be off fighting. As a patriotic gesture, Eastside hired local youths regardless of their draft status.
After World War II, Los Angeles Brewing Co. changed their cans to a blue label. They also added a conetop line to their flat top canning line and produced both cones and flats. They also made a bock beer in a flat top. However, the brewery could not break out from its regional status.
Soon, the Zobelein family found itself fighting another kind of war. Brewery personnel were in something of a froth when a new painting company opened across the street. "Beer is just like milk, in the way it absorbs odors," said a beer spokesman. No one, not even city officials, wanted a beer that tasted like paint. The paint company was sent away fuming after the city refused to issue the painters a variance.
The Zobeleins had clout, and elected officials knew that 90% of the brewery's workers also were voters, many of whom lived in the Italian American and German American communities surrounding the plant and in company housing next to the site.
But the housing gave way to plant expansion and the brewery lost its Old World ambience when Milwaukee-based Pabst purchased the Los Angeles Brewing Co. in 1948. Five years and $15 million later, the Eastside plant--still run by the Zobelein family--began producing Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, making Pabst the first company with breweries located coast to coast.
Pabst Brewing Company
Eventually, intense postwar competition with Anheuser-Busch and other national brewers led to the L.A. brewers' decline.
Zobelein's family sold the Los Angeles Brewing Company and its Eastside brand to Wisconsin-based Pabst in 1948. Pabst, in a race with other national brewers to expand first to the West Coast, opened a new plant next door to the old Eastside brewery and began making its Pabst Blue Ribbon lager in 1953. Rival brewers Anheuser-Busch and Schlitz both followed in 1954 by opening large industrial breweries in Van Nuys.
In 1948 it was purchased by Pabst Brewing in Milwaukee but continued operating as a separate company. However, Pabst, one of the 3 biggest brewers in the US, wanted to expand to the West Coast. In 1953 they took over management of Los Angeles Brewing and added new brewing facilities next to the old buildings. They continued making Eastside Beer but it took a back seat to Pabst's own Blue Ribbon brand. Eastside, now called Eastside Old Tap, became a low-priced discount beer. Eastside lost market share to Pabst’s Blue Ribbon and other nationally distributed beers.
When the Dodgers arrived from Brooklyn in 1958, owner Walter O'Malley tried to promote sales of Eastside's suds at games in a plea before the Coliseum Commission: "It's not the money," he said. "Its just that baseball isn't baseball without a hot dog and a beer." Even though he was turned down, Eastside Old Tap Lager sponsored Dodger games on radio and television and finally made its triumphal entrance at Dodger Stadium in 1962.
At the Pabst facility, production continued on both the Eastside Old Tap brand and PBR until 1979. Pabst relaunched the brand as Eastside Old Tap—the beer sold at Dodger Stadium’s opening day in 1962—but by the time Pabst closed its Los Angeles operations in 1979, the company had retired the Eastside brand. That year, after losing the national beer wars of the 1970s to the well-capitalized Anheuser-Busch and Miller (owned then by tobacco giant Philip Morris), Pabst shut down its Los Angeles operations.
While Anheuser-Busch and Miller today continue to make beer in their Southland breweries, the closure of the Pabst plant marked the end of an era and the death of the 72-year-old Eastside brand. For brewery workers, it also marked the end of an even longer tradition, dating back to the nineteenth-century Maier & Zobelein Brewery: guaranteed seven-minute beer breaks every hour.
In 1976 a $400,000 fire destroyed the storage building. Pabst continued operating its Los Angeles plant until 1979. Then the brewery was put on the market for $6.6 million
The Brewery Artist Lofts
"Whitey" Carlson bought the old brewery in 1979 and immediately set about his trade - scrapping - cleaning out the old buildings, and removing those damaged beyond repair. The original Eastside brewery building, which was formerly in the space between the 1984 Main St. and 620 Moulton Buildings, was torn down first, having been badly damaged in the '76 fire.
In 1982 the City of Los Angeles issued the Artist-In-Residence covenants, which allows artists to do work either not typically allowed in or not well-suited to residential areas in specially renovated industrial properties, where they may also reside. The rules call for certain percentages of the studio's square footage to be dedicated to creating art, and prohibit certain types of businesses from being operated in such residences as well.