May 18, 2010 by John Chilson
Photo: (University of Oregon Libraries)
Introducing “before they were famous: breweries, bars and brewpub buildings in former lives.”
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?]
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.