Sunday, March 7, 2021

The Second Death of the Oshkosh Brewing Company

The last gasp of the Oshkosh Brewing Company came on October 18, 1971. It was a Monday. Production stopped and the workers went home. Oshkosh’s best-known brewery had met its end.

The dormant brewery sat there for 15 more years. It was gutted and the carcass was left to rot. It became the moldering eyesore at 1642 Doty Street.


By 1986 a lot of Oshkoshers had forgotten what a magnificent thing that brewery had once been. It was built in 1911 and 1912. At that point, the Oshkosh Brewing Company (OBC) had already been in operation for 17 years. The new brewery would replace the two separate facilities OBC had been using to produce its beer.

There was the old Glatz Brewery on the south end of Doty where OBC made its keg beer.

OBC’s Glatz Brewery.

The higher-end beers were made at the OBC plant on Doty just south of 16th. This was the more modern of the two facilities. It had formerly been Horn and Schwalm's Brooklyn Brewery.

Horn and Schwalm's Brooklyn Brewery.

The Glatz facility was torn down in 1914. The Horn and Schwalm plant, most of which still stands, was converted into a bottling house.

By the summer of 1912, all of OBCs beer was being made in its new brewery.

It was designed by the eminent brewery architect Richard Griesser. The sprawling facility was composed of two wings flanking a seven-story brewhouse. The Doty-facing portion of the complex was done up entirely in red brick. It cost $90,530 to build (well over $2 million in today's money) and was said to be the most modern and best-equipped Wisconsin brewery outside of Milwaukee. The home of Chief Oshkosh Beer would be a south side landmark for decades to come.

In the fall of 1971, that brewery stood empty and idle. But there was a glimmer of hope. Less than three weeks after production had stopped, OBC president Harold Kriz announced that the brewery's brands had been sold to the rival Peoples Brewing Company. Ted Mack, president of Peoples Brewing, opened the door to the possibility that the OBC brewery might eventually go back online.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern; November 5, 1971.

Mack, whose brewery was facing its own set of hardships, was saying a lot of things in those days that didn't add up. A year later, Peoples Brewing closed. Now there were two idle breweries within 500 feet of one another on the south side of Oshkosh.

The south side skyline. Peoples Brewing on the left, OBC on the right.

The defunct Oshkosh Brewing Company began stripping the brewery to capitalize on what value the property still held. Permits were taken out in 1974 and 1976 to open holes in the exterior walls so that conditioning tanks could be removed from the stock house. Over time, the south wall of the brewery became pocked with gaping holes.

Vandalism at the untended property was commonplace. Windows were broken out and the interior was ransacked. In 1975, the brewery suffered extensive damage after two separate fires were started by arsonists.

Inside the brewery.

In 1976, OBC sold the dilapidated property.

Broken windows and a “For Sale” sign. The view from South Main Street in 1975.

The building at 1642 Doty was vacant when Winnebago Northland Inc (WNI) purchased it on May 14, 1976. WNI had been incorporated in 1975 with the intention of acquiring and rehabilitating the property. Leon Luker of WNI said they intended to convert the space into retail shops and offices. It sounded viable, but Luker also mentioned that "The most discouraging note has been the vandalism damage and mess made by young people."

The WNI plan never materialized. A series of small businesses shuffled through, but the old brewery never managed to attract the kind of cornerstone retail establishment that other businesses could grow around. The unabated decay compounded the lack of appeal.

The sign at the lower right reads: Under New Ownership. Occupant Winnebago Northland.

The neighbors began to complain. Each year the brewery looked worse with ever more vandalism and debris scattered about the premises. In 1977, the property was sold again. This time to LSW Enterprises, a group headed by Leon Luker and Robert Stauffer, Sr. During its period of ownership, LSW accomplished nothing in the way of preservation.

In 1979, the Oshkosh Jaycees took advantage of the horror-show atmosphere by holding their haunted house at the empty brewery. It would become an annual event. But that ended after the Halloween of 1982. It was decided that the building had become too unsafe to allow people inside.

October 18, 1979; Oshkosh Advance-Titan.

Earlier in 1982, the brewery had been nominated for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The designation would have made the property eligible for tax incentives and grants for rehabilitation and preservation. But LSW Enterprises objected to the designation killing any chance of it being listed.

Instead, LSW offered to sell the building to the City of Oshkosh for $375,000. The proposal followed closely on the heels of similar offers made to the city by the owners of the Paine Lumber Co. property and the Deltox warehouse complex. None of the proposals fit within the city's budget constraints.

The last substantial effort to save the brewery came in 1984 when Vintage Investment, a Lansing, Michigan development company, made an option-to-purchase agreement with LSW. The agreement was contingent upon Vintage Investment obtaining $2.5 million in financing to convert the brewery into apartments.

Oshkosh City Manager William Frueh advocated for the deal and sought a federal grant to facilitate the transfer. But in the end, Vintage Investment was unable to raise the money required for the project. The option-to-purchase agreement lapsed. It was over.

In 1984, a raze or repair order had been issued by the city for the badly deteriorated building. Now, there was no question as to which option would prevail.

At city hall, Frueh had grown frustrated with the LSW group and Robert E. Stauffer, Sr. in particular. "We’re still hoping the owners can come up with something concrete and that the building can be saved," Frueh said. "But we haven’t heard anything. We’ve given him ample opportunities to develop something so the building could be used. But so far nothing has happened."

William Frueh (left) and Robert E. Stauffer Sr.

Demolition was set to begin during the week of October 12, 1986. Former OBC employees gathered at the brewery in the days leading up to the teardown.

At the brewery in early October 1986.
On the left is Merritt Safford, an OBC salesman. He worked at the brewery for 38 years beginning in 1931.
Audrey Ackerman was OBC's corporate secretary. She was with the company from 1950 until it closed in 1971.
On the right is George Ratchman who worked in the bottling department for 15 years. He was hired in 1954.

"Razing the brewery is like dying a second death," Ackerman said. "But this time the death is going to be more final. No one is ever going to see it again.”

As the building was coming down, the owners of the property extracted its last bit of value. The iconic Chief Oshkosh emblem above the entranceway to the brewery was put up for auction. It sold for $9,240 to Paul Winter, a collector of brewery memorabilia. Winter later sold the emblem to the City of Oshkosh. It now resides near the entrance to the Oshkosh Public Museum.

An auction amid the rubble.

The obliteration resumed. It took months to bring the brewery down.

There’s nothing left of the towering brewery that loomed over Doty Street for 75 years. Where there once was an architectural work of art there now squats a drab, metal warehouse.

The brewery has been gone now for almost 35 years. Even after all this time, it still seems like something there is missing.


Well if that wasn’t painful enough... A few years ago, I made a three-minute video showing the brewery’s demolition. You can see that here.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Correen Redlin and Chuck Kunz of Oshkosh for supplying some of the pictures used in this post. Thanks, I appreciate your time and help!


  1. Another great read. Always a pleasure

  2. The roof sign from 1975 would look nice on my roof. Thanks again Lee.

  3. In doing research for the Schiffman family, I came across a notice in the Chicago Evening Post Thur, Feb 8, 1872 that names the man scalded at Schalm's brewery as Leonard Schiffman, an employee of Schalm's. It says, "On Friday, Leonard Schiffman, employed in Schalm's brewery, Oskosh, attempted to walk a slippery plank across a vat of boiling beer. He may live, but it is not certain." Leonhard Schiffmann Sr. was born 1817. Leonhard Schiffman Jr. was born 1849.

  4. Very sad how Oshkosh continues to destroy historically significant building and architecture. Once these foundational places are destroyed and gone, part of Oshkosh is lost. Merrill School is a current example. Heartbreaking.