Beer and history

7

May 18, 2010 by John Chilson

Photo: (University of Oregon Libraries)

Introducing “before they were famous: breweries, bars and brewpub buildings in former lives.”

I like beer, especially great local Oregon beer. I also like local history. Mix the two and you have…an excuse to drink more beer.

Many, if not most, of our local breweries and drinking establishments are housed in older buildings just by the fact that rarely is a new brewery built from scratch because let’s face it, most older buildings have an existing personality, architectural touches, good location, and good bones. As I’ve sat at many a bar and sipped on a cold one, I’ve often visualized the building in its previous life – Storefont? Office building? House of ill repute? Haunted by a 1920s flapper girl? [Ghosts are always romantic figures like a scorned lover from the 1920s that threw herself out the window. How many junkies that OD’ed on smack in a flophouse stick around to haunt the place?]

Photo courtesy of PDX Pipeline.

Anyhow, one good quick example I’ve always liked is the re-use of the Q-Hut building by Green Dragon on SE 9th [see above photo] – what a great illustration of a wonderfully, simply utilitarian structure such as a Quonset hut. If it works, has structural integrity, then why not?

So, first up in this series is an obvious choice, for me at least: Widmer’s Gasthaus on North Russell Street. That part of town always seems a bit deserted on weekend afternoons and offers an interesting walking opportunity around and under the freeway bridges and surrounding neighborhoods.

Last fall I was attending Widmer’s Oktoberfest, chugging down a pint of [probably] Okto in the warm sun in the blocked off street when I really had the chance to look at the exterior of the building that houses the Gasthaus. I found myself staring at the building for far too long that the building itself was starting to get a bit uncomfortable with the situation. And then the usual questions [other than, “Do I have more beer tickets?”] When was it built? What used to be here?

So, I reached out to Widmer and got some great answers:

•    The building that houses the Gasthaus is the Smithson building, built in 1890, and is adjoined by the McKay building, built in 1887.
•    The two buildings were used originally as businesses on the ground level, and apartments upstairs, where workers who built ships down on Swan Island would stay.
•    The space where the Gasthaus is located was originally an Italian restaurant, then a tavern, then in 1969 the experimental Storefront Theatre [there’s a post all its own], then finally, the Widmer Gasthaus.

What are some of your favorite drinking hole’s and their history? I’ll be doing more of these posts during the summer.

Update: heard from Capital Taps, a blog based out of Salem that focuses on beer…and history. Check it out.

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7 thoughts on “Beer and history

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lost Oregon, Oregon History and Oregon History, #pdxbeer. #pdxbeer said: RT @LostOregon: New post on LO: history and beer: http://lostoregon.org/2010/05/18/beer-and-history/ #pdxbeer [...]

  2. Jeff Alworth says:

    This is a great series! Two obvious choices are the Lucky Lab and the original BridgePort, both of which are fairly easy to research. The McMenamins are a history unto themselves, but perhaps their new Burnside place merits a mention. There’s a few…

    • schlockstar says:

      Thanks, Jeff! I’ve got some restaurant and dining guides from the 1950s through the 1970s – might do a bit of reverse-engineering and look up old addresses to see if some of the older bars morphed into newer ones.

      • Leigh says:

        I love your series. Im currently writing my masters thesis on the reuse of historic brewery buildings in st. louis. if it would be ok if i can use parts of your blog in my paper please let me know.

      • schlockstar says:

        Hi Leigh – go ahead and use parts of the blog – send me your paper when yr done – would love to read it!
        -John

  3. Capital Taps says:

    The King of the McMenamins Empire, at least by antiquity, might be Boon’s in Salem. John Boon served as Territorial and then the first State Treasurer. He built his store in 1860. I’ve been doing the beer history for Salem, and it turns out to be a great lens through which to examine its history and development. Lots of ill-repute, too! I look forward to reading yours!

  4. Sam says:

    McMenamins “new place on Burnside” refers the Crystal Ballroom?

    The New Old Lompac’s funky building on NW 23rd might be curious.

    Henry Weinhard’s to Henry’s isn’t a bright spot.

    I’d echo that McMenamins relays thier buildings’ histories very well. I appreciate the effort.

    I look forward to more in this series.

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