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Historic Beer Plant Brews Trouble for Busway

Times Urban Affairs Writer

One of the things that strikes motorists about the Hollywood Freeway in downtown Los Angeles is the sharp turn it makes just east of the Civic Center to swing around a big, bulky building emblazoned with the words Home of Brew 102.

Each day, thousands of motorists in the freeway’s eastbound lanes pass within a few feet of the landmark plant, which was around long before the freeway was built in the mid-1950s.

The old Maier Brewery building, reportedly unused for 13 years, was a formidable obstacle when the freeway was laid out. Now, 30 years later, state highway planners are preparing to bypass it again, as they prepare to build a downtown extension of the San Bernardino Freeway busway along the freeway’s north side, next to Union Station.

Costs prevented the state from buying the property 30 years ago for the freeway, and as far as the California Department of Transportation is concerned, the brewery can stay where it is indefinitely, even though its removal would permit widening and straightening the freeway through the crowded downtown travel corridor.

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“The brewery will remain there for some time,” said Heinz Heckeroth, Caltrans’ district director. “Looking 20 years ahead, it’s not in the cards (for the state) to purchase it.”

The empty plant is said to contain relics of Los Angeles’ first brewery, the Philadelphia Brewery built in 1874, and is considered historically important.

Owned by Beer Magnate

The property includes a group of structures built at various times over the years when the brewery produced different beers. It is part of the extensive holdings of Paul Kalmanovitz, a San Francisco beer magnate. A spokesman said his plants have turned out such well known brews as Falstaff, Pabst and Lucky.

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Repeated attempts to learn his plans for the old brewery here brought only a terse response from his Los Angeles representative: “He’s not saying. The property goes up in value. . . .”

Caltrans considered--and ultimately rejected--a San Bernardino Freeway busway extension route that would have gone through the old brewery. The prospect of a long and costly condemnation fight was a major factor in rejecting that route.

Some Equipment Remains

One official who has visited the brewery said that most of the brewing equipment has been removed, although some old vats, tanks, conveyor belts and ovens remain.

Although details of the brewery’s history are sketchy, several names familiar to the brewing industry and Los Angeles’ early days were associated with it, including the Maier and Zobelein families.

The original brewery--first known as the Philadelphia Brew House--was built on the site of the Aliso vineyard and winery, which embraced much of the land between Union Station and the Los Angeles River. In its heyday, it was said to be the largest on the West Coast. Kalmanovitz acquired it in the late 1950s.


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