The old Olympia brewhouse was only actively brewing beer for 10 years, from 1906 until state Prohibition around 1916, yet its architecture has inspired awe for over a century.   A towering Italianate structure overlooking the Deschutes River,it was once the headquarters of the Schmidt family west coast beer empire.
     A walk around the property now reveals ivy vines as thick as a forearm creeping up its sides, splitting the bricks as its roots expand.  Roofs have collapsed, windows are broken, and brilliant orange lichen shroud the sandstone arched entrance.
     It has lived most of its life as the unwanted step-brother to the “newer” Olympia brewery up the hill.  Passed along through repeated corporate marriages, each time with promises of a facelift, and a new lease on life.  Pabst Brewing, Miller and then All American Bottling have all neglected this old brewhouse, in spite of its membership on the National Register of Historic Places.
     All around the country, old industrial mills, brewhouses and factories are being converted into multi-family residences and retail space.  A hugely successful project was completed just half an hour to the north in Tacoma, where Grace Pleasants, and her company Heritage Properties, purchased and renovated a derelict cereal mill.  The Albers Mill Lofts now offer dozens of cutting edge apartments plus retail space on the ground floor, an architectural gem that connects Tacoma’s past to its present.
     Could this kind of rebirth be offered to the old Olympia brewhouse?  Stylish riverfront loft apartments with a cafe and shops downstairs, packaged in a vintage brick building? Not likely at this point.  Too many years have passed, and the possibility of an affordable restoration has passed with them.  Investors have looked, and the numbers just wouldn’t pencil out.
     The future of the entire complex, new brewhouse and old brewhouse included, is in limbo.  The most recent acquirers declared bankruptcy, leaving the property in the hands of the lenders, who have had it up for sale for years.  
The three neighboring cities are divvying up the water rights of the property,and all the machinery inside has been sold off.  
     Mostly left alone now, the old brewhouse stands quietly by the river in its own eddy in time, slowly but insistently dismantled by the elements.

4 responses »

  1. kathleen byrd says:

    i run by the brewery complex a couple times a week, but have never gotten a close look. there’s something beautifully mysterious about the view of the old brewery from the I-5 overpass, nestled below the slope of trees, just far enough from anyone’s daily commute to protect the mystery.

    the last photo captures the ephemeral quality of all human enterprises.

    thanks for getting me to pause and get closer to home.

  2. hank brown says:

    very interesting and well written piece.

  3. Karl says:

    I attended Olympia middle school in 1979 through 1980. I regularly went with friends fishing and swimming around the waterfall next to the old factory, jumping into the base of the waterfall from surrounding trees and cliffs. Those were good memories. If they sell it, I hope the area is kept open to the general public for fishing and swimming.

  4. Mark Webster says:

    I grew up in Olympia. I painted the old brewhouse yesterday. It’s about as close as we come to an “old castle” around here.

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