For about a century, one of Thurston County’s most iconic buildings has been crumbling, falling into disrepair.
The six-story brick tower that was Olympia beer’s first home, the “Old Brewhouse,” was constructed in 1906, but fell victim to the state’s prohibition laws about a decade later. For years, the structure has sat nearly empty.
It has changed hands more than once, and was eventually gifted to the city of Tumwater in 2016.
And finally, a plan is underway to preserve the historic building.
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“It’s a very iconic building,” said John Doan, Tumwater’s city administrator. “There’s a lot of public support for restoring it.”
One of the most notable problems with the Old Brewhouse is its lack of a roof, Doan said. The original copper roof is still present — and in great shape — atop the central tower of the building. But over the course of 100 years, the rest of the roof rotted away, leaving the building’s insides exposed to the elements.
A groups of volunteers is working to solve that problem, erecting temporary support walls, on top of which they’ll place a temporary roof.
“The whole point is just to stop any more damage,” said Ann Cook, a city spokeswoman. “We need to stop the damage before we can start with restoration.”
Interstate 5 drivers passing the Old Brewhouse on Tuesday may have seen a crane lifting support walls into place. A temporary roof will be installed next week, and the empty windows will be covered with plywood.
Cook said the project is made possible through donated services and materials. Forma Construction, MC Squared, Snell Crane Service, the Olympia Tumwater Foundation, the Old Brewhouse Foundation, Lincoln Creek Lumber, and The Truss Company have all contributed to the project.
Volunteers have been working at the site for about four weeks.
One of the volunteers, Paul Knight, is a member of the Old Brewhouse Foundation and a former Olympia Brewing Company brewer who worked at the more modern site. He said that during his time with the company, the bottom floor of the Old Brewhouse was used for storage. The rest of the building sat empty.
Jeff Campeau, another Old Brewhouse Foundation volunteer, said the building is an important part of local history.
“We don’t have many of these treasures, so I wanted to save it,” Campeau said.
The temporary roof is a precursor to a multi-phase project to save the Old Brewhouse, Doan said. The first real phase of the project would include building a permanent roof and improving the building’s walls. That phase is expected to cost $1.5 million, with about $500,000 coming from the state’s Heritage Capital Project program.
However, those plans were put on hold when the Legislature failed to pass a capital budget during the 2017 session.
The second phase of the project would cost an additional $5 million, and would consist of work to make the building structurally sound.
Funding hasn’t yet been put into place for the second phase of the project. But Doan said the city expects a lot of public support.
The Olympia Brewing Company has actually owned the building twice. The company, then owned by Leopold Schmidt, built the Old Brewhouse. They shut down operations after Washington’s voters and legislators enacted a series of prohibition laws in 1916 and 1917.
Washington voters repealed the state prohibition laws in 1932, and and the nation prohibition ended in 1933.
By the time beer production resumed, the Olympia Brewing Company needed a larger space to brew more beer. So they moved their operations to the more modern site up the hill, Doan said.
The company sold the building to a paper company, and most of the brewing equipment was removed. The Olympia Brewing Company re-purchased the site sometime during the following decades.
The efforts to preserve and restore the Old Brewhouse coincide with other beer-related efforts in the city — including a craft brewing and distilling district, and a brewing and distilling program at South Puget Sound Community College.