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This World War II-Era Catwalk Was Once an Overpass for Beer

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From the Curbed inbox:

While walking near the SPCA today, I noticed an enclosed, elevated catwalk connecting the back of Sports Basement on Bryant and the self-storage a block away. The two buildings look incongruous, as far as age, as if one of them was built later but the old catwalk was left in place. What is it? What did/does it connect? Everyone loves the Sports Basement space down at 1580 Bryant. The old warehouse makes for a funky retail space that's perfect for the local store. So what's the connection to the self-storage business down the street? Our reader was spot on—these two buildings were not built at the same time, but were connected by the catwalk many years ago when they were part of the now long-gone Rainier Brewery.

The 1580 Bryant warehouse dates back to 1907, when it was built for Friedman & Co. Furniture following the 1906 earthquake and fire. Back then, the rest of the block was filled with all sorts of businesses you'd never see in SoMa these days—a cement warehouse, a barrel manufacturer, and a mattress factory, to name a few. By the 1930s, however, these couple of blocks completely transformed, thanks to the end of Prohibition.

The Rainier Brewery got its start in downtown Seattle back in 1883 as the Bay View Brewing Co., which soon merged with two others to become Rainier Brewing Company. Created by Andrew Hemrich and his friend John Kopp, the brewery started off making steam beer before switching to lager. When Andrew died in 1910, his brother Louis took over and the company continued to run successfully. Then things hit a screeching halt.

In 1914, Washington State voted Prohibition into effect, outlawing the manufacture and sale of alcohol within the state. Assuming that wild California wouldn't meet the same fate, Louis Hemrich decided to move the operations of Rainier and its subsidiaries down to San Francisco, a town that had a long-established beer culture. The new brewery complex was built on Bryant Street between 15th and Alameda, and opened for production in the spring of 1916. They built a new tall brewery tower building, which held the tank house, and they took over the adjacent John Rapp & Son bottling company at the southwest corner of Alameda and Bryant. They also acquired the Friedman & Co. Furniture warehouse, which became a bottle warehouse. Taking up the entire city block, Rainier was heralded as the largest brewery west of St. Louis at the time.

Success was fleeting, as national Prohibition hit in 1920. The San Francisco brewery continued to produce watered down "near-beer" and soda, while Hemrich moved Rainier beer production to our alcohol-welcoming neighbors to the north—British Columbia. They wrapped up production there in 1927, and when Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the San Francisco brewery got back to work. Only this time it got a major facelift.

The brewery embarked on a major building spree, embracing the end of Prohibition with a fervor that transformed the surrounding blocks. A new massive malt house went up across the street at the northwest corner of Alameda and Bryant, complete with a barley mill and huge steel malting drums. Another bottle warehouse was also constructed on Bryant between 15th and 16th streets, today home to the self-storage warehouse. Sometime between 1938 and 1949, this new warehouse and the existing bottle warehouse (the one that now houses Sports Basement), were connected by a covered passageway on 20-foot posts. The catwalk originally extended all the way to the bottling plant at the north end of the block, but has since been truncated. Any Sports Basement employees out there know whether it's still accessible?

The company continued to expand, opening another factory in Los Angeles in 1942. The timing was off, however. The impact of World War II and increased competition after the war led to the sale of the company in 1953, to Emil G. Sick, who then sold the San Francisco plant to the Theo. Hamm Brewing Company. (The Rainier Brand was moved back to Seattle, where it stayed in production until a corporate buyout by Pabst.) Hamm Brewing entered a second building phase for the brewery site in 1955, adding a new warehouse on the site of the old bottling plant and giving the old 1915 Gothic tower a stucco makeover—complete with the ever-conspicuous beer glass sign.

By 1975, the brewery complex closed down for good. According to historic reports, in the early 1980s the tower building was home to several punk and thrasher-band squatters until it was renovated for office and showrooms in 1984. The renovations gutted the original 1915 tower building and stripped its exterior stucco, so the concrete frame is the only original part of the building left. As for the other brewery complex buildings, the warehouse on the bottling plant site was converted to offices, the 1933 malt house across the street now houses a limo company, one bottle warehouse is a self-storage, and the other is, of course, Sports Basement.

· Rainier Beer [Brewery Gems]
· Trade names for the brewery at 1550 Bryant Avenue [Tavern Trove]