Monday, August 8, 2016

The Fall of the House of Gambrinus

By 1914, the Oshkosh Brewing Company had settled in its imposing, new brewery. It was a modern facility in every way with an enormous capacity of 90,000 barrels annually. The new brewery was more brewery than the company needed.

The upgrade created a dilemma: what to do with the three breweries that had been the engine of OBC prior to construction of the new brewery?

One of the older breweries was preserved. The Horn & Schwalm brewery near 16th and Doty streets was converted into an office and bottling house. That brewery still stands. The other two didn’t fare as well.

The Glatz brewery at the south end of Doty Street was demolished. At least most of it was. Part of the brewery’s stone foundation and beer cellars were left intact. Some of its pieces are still there today.

The Gambrinus Brewery on Harney Ave. got the worst of it. It was the smallest of the three breweries that merged to form OBC in 1894. After the merger, the east-side brewery saw only sporadic use; sometimes as a bottling plant, other times as a brewhouse for OBC’s Berliner Weiss beer. But by 1906, the once formidable brewery had been abandoned. It rapidly fell into disrepair.

I have a few pictures I want to share of the brewery in its final days. Before I get to those, though, let’s take a look at this brewery in better days. This is what you would have seen, if you were standing in front of what is now 1235-1239 Harney Avenue in 1893.

The imposing stone and brick building at the center of the image was the brewery’s ice house. It was approximately 44-feet tall. At the right you can see a frame building with wooden siding. That was the brewery and malt house. By the way, the man in front with white sleeves was the brewery’s owner, Lorenz Kuenzl.

The next picture was taken from nearly the same vantage point as the previous shot, but about 17 years later. The brewery had been closed for several years by this time.

The next picture is also circa 1910. We’re looking at the brewery’s backside, which faced towards what is now Stevens Park. Just behind the open door would have been the brewery’s mash tun and boil kettle.

Here’s the brewery coming down in pieces. This picture was probably taken in 1914. It shows the dismantling of a secondary icehouse used by the brewery. This was located behind the larger, stone and brick icehouse shown previously.

The next two pictures are lower quality images, but they’re worth a look.

The first of these was taken in 1915. In the picture, you’ll see Mary (Kern) Kuenzl with her sons, Frank and Andrew (in stroller). Mary was the wife of Anton Kuenzl, who was the son of Lorenz Kuenzl, the owner of the Gambrinus Brewery. They’re standing in front of an entrance to a tunnel that led underground to the brewery’s cellars. I’d love to know if those cellars were ever filled in. There could still be beer down there!

This last shot is from 1919. The house you see being built in the background is at 1239 Harney Ave. The rubble you see in the foreground is from that massive icehouse, we saw earlier. It took a while to clear that land.

It’s all gone now, folks. Here’s an interactive view of the neighborhood as it looks today. I walk that neighborhood frequently. I wish I could have walked it back in the day.

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