Arts/Literature

The story of an old building

by Dawn Farmer

There are red brick buildings visible from the Interstate just south of Seattle in an area called Georgetown. I have wished to explore them for several months – so today I did. I had no idea the background of the buildings or that I was about to stumble on a major piece of Seattle’s history. What caught my eye were the bright red bricks exposed by recent demolition and a tall still intact brick smoke stack.

When we got up close my husband realized it was the original brewery for Rainier beer.

The Seattle Brewing and Malting Company

The Seattle Brewing and Malting Company

The company began in the early 1880s and grew through mergers and collaborations to become The Seattle Brewing and Malting Company in 1893. That same year the firm was brewing a million gallons of beer a year. It was the world’s sixth largest brewery. The world’s three largest breweries in 1890 were Pabst Brewing (formerly called Best Brewing), Anheuser-Busch, and Schlitz. The Seattle Brewing and Malting Company was famous for its Rainier Beer.

In 1916 Washington State went “dry” two years before the rest of the nation. The Rainier brand was sold to a California company. When the Volstead Act was repealed in 1933 a Canadian brewer named Fritz Sick bought the idle brewery. In 1935 they acquired the rights to the Rainier brand. They returned production to the Georgetown brewery.

In 1977 the brewery was sold, changing hands until Pabst closed it in 1999. They sold the Rainier brand to General Brewing Company which moved production to Olympia Brewing Company which closed in 2003. Rainier Beer is now brewed under contract in California.

The buildings comprising The Seattle Brewing and Malting Company stretched across five city blocks. It was a massive operation. In October 2006 Sabey Corporation bought the 5.5 acre site for just under $10 million. The property comprised 310,000 square feet in the former brewery buildings: the Brew House, the Malt House, the Bottling Plant, Freezer Building, Machine House, Stock House and general office. It is to be developed into a mix of stores, industry, homes, and office space.

Now back to the beginning of this story – the exposed brick that first caught my eye was the result of some very interesting history. Engineers hired by the Sabey Corporation discovered that the Stock House portion of the property posed an enormous structural danger. This danger was set in motion in 1916 when Washington State went dry. Prior to prohibition the building was used as a beer cellar chilled to 37 degrees F. From 1937 until 2002 the building was used as a cold freezer cooled to minus 12 degrees F.

It was never designed to be a cold freezer. The ground on west side of the building was frozen under the foundation 24 feet down to bedrock. An ice ball was form that heaved the building up in places 12 inches. The power to the building was turned off in 2002 and the resulting thawing caused uneven settling. The building was also used to produce ice on the third floor – a process using caustic heavy salts. The building was corroding.

In January 2008 the Stock House portion of the brewery was finally demolished – and that’s what I unknowingly stumbled upon today!

Categories: Arts/Literature, History

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5 replies »

  1. My wife, Terri, and I took a vacation in Seattle in September. We had never been. We had a great time walking the streets downtown towards the wharf and then the opposite direction towards the Needle. Something about the way the city is laid out made us feel really comfortable. It’s a small town sort of big city. Your pictures are good for our memories. Thanks.

  2. My pleasure rhbee. You capture Seattle well with the small town/big city comment. I’m glad you enjoyed your visit. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  3. What a great piece! Thanks for all of this. Will post link to it at my blog (as many of my readers are into beer — and history.)

    In their 19th century heyday, many breweries some of the largest complexes in their towns and cities, and architecturally, many were stunning. (The 1894 brewhouse at A-B in St. Louis is on the National Register.)

    First time I saw what’s left of the Pabst complex in Milwaukee, I burst into tears.

  4. Maureen – thanks. I found the research yesterday fascinating. The brewery really was the major employer for the local community. It was a company town based around beer. There is a common historical thread as well in the fact Fritz Sick, the owner after prohibition, also owned the local baseball team and pre-Kingdome stadium. How often are beer and local baseball tied together?!

    What started out yesterday as a picture taking opportunity ended up being a wonderful learning experience for me. There are sites with interior photographs of the brewery as well. http://www.vintageseattle.org has some terrific stuff.

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