Historic Structures

Minneapolis Brewing Company - Grain Belt Brewery, Minneapolis Minnesota

Date added: October 26, 2018 Categories: Minnesota Brewery Industrial

In 1850, German immigrant John Orth established a brew house near the Mississippi River at the corner of Marshall Street and 13th Avenue NE in the rapidly expanding lumber city of St. Anthony (later Minneapolis). By the time Minnesota achieved statehood in 1858 eleven breweries were conducting business around the state. Two of these were located very close to Orth's company and became his major rivals: Gluek's Brewery had opened just one-half mile north on Marshall Street, and the Krazlein and Mueller Brewery was in business across the river. The establishment of these and other breweries (such as the Sugar Loaf Brewery in Winona, 1860, the August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm, 1860, and Wolf's Brewery in Stillwater, 1872), reflected the industry's regional growth throughout the Upper Midwest. Expansion of the brewing industry was largely due to an influx of German immigrants who brought a strong brewing tradition and the requisite skills to such cities as Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Minneapolis.

An 1862 federal brewing tax, however, adversely impacted the industry, forcing many smaller breweries to close or become absorbed by more successful companies. Between 1880-90, beer production nationwide increased 81 percent, yet the number of breweries decreased 43 percent from 2,191 to 1,248. Consistent with this trend, the Minneapolis Brewing and Malting Company was established in 1890 by the merger of four small Minneapolis breweries: the John Orth Brewing Co., the Heinrich Brewing Association, the Germania Brewing Co., and the F.D. Norenburg Brewing and Malthouse. By 1893, the Minneapolis Brewing and Malting Company adopted the "Grain Belt" beer label in reference to "...the golden fields of Minnesota ...the tall corn of Iowa...the vast reaches of the Dakotas...the green acres of Wisconsin!...America's Grain Belt." Construction of the brewery complex on Orth's property dramatically boosted the firm's production capacity around the state and region. The company was brewing 500,000 barrels annually by 1900, far greater than Gluek's output of 70,000, and quite respectable in comparison with the nation's leading producers - Milwaukee's Pabst and Schlitz - which had surpassed one million barrels a year.

Following Orth's death in the mid-l890s, corporate leadership was assumed by W.W. Eastman, a prominent venture capitalist who guided the company's growth into the early twentieth century. Eastman directed construction of the 1904 malt elevator, 1906 Bottling House, Office addition, and 1910 Warehouse. Expansion was consistent with a nationwide pattern of controlling a regional market which, for the Minneapolis Brewing Company, was centered in the Upper Midwest and northern Great Plains.

With the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919, however, the Minneapolis Brewing Company was forced to drastically curtail its activities. It remained open for several years in the 1920s producing "near beer" and soft drinks, but closed in 1927 until the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. The company resumed brewing beer after investing $300,000 in new equipment, and soon attained its previous production levels, reaching a sales peak in 1957. In an effort to expand its regional market the company acquired the Storz Brewery in Omaha, which pushed Grain Belt beer up to 22nd in national sales. However, Storz closed in 1972, forcing Grain Belt to cease local operations in 1975. The brewery has remained vacant since then, and was purchased in late 1987 by the City of Minneapolis in order to thwart demolition threats by the previous owner.

The Minneapolis Brewing Company Brew House is a major work of the nation's most reputable brewery architects, Frederick W. Wolff and William L. Lehle. Wolff was educated in Germany as an architect and engineer before establishing a business in Chicago in 1867. He introduced the Lind ice machine, which revolutionized the brewing industry by allowing mass production of beer through artificial cooling. Wolff designed at least two other large scale brew houses in Wisconsin, the Schlitz Brewery in Milwaukee (1890), and the Waukesha Imperial Springs Brewery (ca.1895, demolished), which both had German Renaissance Revival domes similar to that of the Minneapolis brew house. In addition, he designed the 1886 Stock House for the Fitger Brewing Company in Duluth. By 1905, Wolff had designed or reconstructed 150 breweries and malt houses in the United States.

Louis Lehle was a German-born architect who also established an architectural practice in Chicago, specializing in industrial buildings. His expertise is noted in both the design of the buildings and in the incorporation of innovative technological advancements for the benefit of the brewing industry. When Wolff began to concentrate on mechanical engineering and manufacturing in 1895, Lehle took over much of his practice. Lehle was responsible for the design of the Blatz Brewery buildings in Milwaukee (1904), and four of the major buildings of the Fitger Brewing Company in Duluth (1904).

The design of the 1904 malt elevator is attributed to H. Peter Henshein, who was a Chicago architect during the first two decades of the twentieth century. His specialty was storage buildings, of which the Twin City Cold Storage Company (300 N. Fifth Street) is an important example.

The architect for the original Office building, Carl F. Struck, was born and educated in Norway. After immigrating to New York in 1865, he worked in several architectural offices in Chicago before moving to Minneapolis in 1881. Struck worked here for twenty years, designing many public and commercial buildings such as North High School (1895, demolished), Normanna Hall (1887, demolished), the Norwegian-Lutheran Seminary (ca.1890, demolished), and the Brown County Courthouse in New Ulm (1887). Other major commissions were for commercial buildings and brick store fronts in Minneapolis including the Pracna Building (1890) and Dania Hall (1885-86); apartment buildings and townhouses (1291 Marquette, 1891); and numerous residences such as the Hobe House (1897) and the Emil Ferrant remodeling (1890). Although the brewery Office is not as grand in scale as some of Struck's other commissions, its attractive masonry construction and detailing distinguish the building from his extant designs.

Charles Boehme was born into a German-American family in Minneapolis and opened his own architectural office in 1896. In 1902, he hired the Polish-born and trained architect Victor Cordelia as a partner. Together they designed the bottling plant and warehouse, as well as cellar enlargements and shop and office additions. The also designed the company's tavern in downtown Minneapolis (1907), although their most notable commission was for Swan Turnblad's Park Avenue mansion (1903-07).