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SPOTLIGHT: History of The Pearl

Join us this week as we take a look at the progress at Pearl, San Antonio’s most iconic mixed used historic redevelopment projects. We will be looking at Pearl’s history, recent progress, and what is in store for 2015.

 

This is a photo of the old Behloradsky Brewery, a forerunner of the Pearl Brewery, in the 1880s. Courtesy photo
This is a photo of the old Behloradsky Brewery, a forerunner of the Pearl Brewery, in the 1880s.
Courtesy photo

 

Beer is again being made at Pearl Brewery. It’s not the legendary Pearl brand beer whose origins date back to late 19th century German. Instead it’s Southerleigh Fine Food and Brewery, which is beginning to produce its own craft beer and will soon serve hungry patrons. The Granary ‘Cue and Brew restaurant already provides craft beer from around San Antonio and the state and brews on site.  Southerleigh and The Granary are just two of dozens of businesses and organizations that have set up shop at what is now Pearl, alongside higher-end apartments. New buildings stand next to old ones, most of which have been restored for modern purposes without compromise in the decades-old architecture.  Together, with the San Antonio Riverwalk Museum Reach, Pearl stands as a symbol of revitalization and reuse in central San Antonio. But let’s go back: How did the Pearl come to be originally?

As far back as 1881, the Pearl Brewing Co. was known as the J. B. Behloradsky Brewery and then the City Brewery. An investment group of local businessmen took over the City Brewery, then shoddily run, in 1883. With experience from the other major local brewery of the time, Lone Star Brewing Co. the investment group members formed the San Antonio Brewing Co. and raised capital to relaunch and improve the City Brewery operations. The San Antonio Brewing Association (SABA) became the parent organization for the brewery.  Following several changes in company name and business partnerships, the owners came to settle on what would become the brewery’s signature beer, Pearl. It was developed and first produced in Bremen, Germany, by the Kaiser–Beck Brewery, which brews Beck’s beer. The brewmaster thought the foamy bubbles in a newly poured glass of the beer resembled sparkling pearls. Hence, the name Pearl Beer. The first bottles and kegs of American Pearl beer came out of the San Antonio brewery in 1886.

In 1902, Otto Koehler left his management position at Lone Star to become president and manager of the SABA. Under his leadership, the brewery expanded and increased output. By the end of World War I, Lone Star and SABA (Pearl) were two of Texas’ largest breweries. After Otto’s death, his widow Emma took over as chief executive.  The SABA brewery managed to circumvent the full effect of Prohibition when it went was in effect from 1920 through 1933. SABA changed its name to Alamo Industries in the early 20s, and launched a variety of businesses, from making commercial ice to auto repair, and producing a near beer called “la Perla.” For the rest of the 20s and to the end of Prohibition, Alamo Industries operated as Alamo Foods Co. mainly manufacturing specialty food. The very minute Prohibition ended at midnight Sept. 15, the brewery dispatched 100 trucks and 25 railroad boxcars of beer.

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In the succeeding decades, SABA experienced only more growth while vying with Lone Star for the attention of local and statewide beer lovers. It wasn’t until 1952 that, due to marketing research, SABA changed its name to Pearl Brewing Co. to more accurately reflect what it was and wasn’t brewing. In 1961, Pearl bought the M.K. Goetz Brewing Co. in Missouri to increase production and strengthen its distribution network. A few years later, Pearl bought a local small candy company, Judson Candies, in what many observers felt was just another salvo fired in the rivalry between Pearl and Lone Star.

But by the late `60s, tastes of even local and regional beer drinkers changed, forcing Pearl to make some hard business decisions. In 1969, Southdown, a conglomerate that began in the sugar industry, bought Pearl. Pearl was then sold in 1977 to General Brewing of San Francisco, owned by Paul Kalmanovitz. Kalmanovitz’s holdings became the Pabst Brewing Co. Over the 1980s and 1990s, Pabst tried to keep pace nationally with the likes of Anheuser-Busch and Miller, but eventually closed all of its breweries and concluding its own beer production. With dropping sales, a lack of capital and aging equipment, Pabst decided to close Pearl in January 2001. Through agreements, Pabst’s products ended up with other brewers, primarily Miller, which now produces the Pearl brand.

The Pearl Brewery seen in 2008, undergoing restoration and rehabilitation.  Courtesy photo
The Pearl Brewery seen in 2008, undergoing restoration and rehabilitation.
Courtesy photo

In 2002, local investment firm Silver Ventures bought the 23-acre former brewery site and even then envisioned it as a place for redevelopment, where many of the century-old buildings could be preserved and reused for mixed use. Gradually over the last decade, rehabilitation and restoration took place across the former brewery site. As new apartments and businesses have arisen, many of them came to reflect the Pearl Brewery’s history in various ways, from preserved architecture to signs and facades. A new hotel, Hotel Emma, is being built on the site of the old brew house, bearing the name of one of the dominant figures vital to the early development of Pearl Brewery.

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