By Melissa Madsen, originally published in the October 2000 issue of Nostalgia Magazine. This back issue is available for purchase online on our Back Issues page.
Above, the Schade Bottling Works team gets ready for another day’s delivery of beer around 1906. Like most German immigrants who brewed beer, Bernhardt Schade produced lager. Lager was not brewed in America until 1840, and production seemed to concentrate in areas on the East Coast and Midwest where German immigrants tended to settle. By the 1840s and 1850s, the production of lager spread across the West as immigrants relocated in the new frontier. Photo courtesy of the Schade Family Archives.
Entering the threshold of Schade Towers (pronounced “Shoddy”) at 528 E. Trent, I am greeted by the smell of coffee and Mexican food. Newspaper articles and pictures of B. Schade Brewing Co. hang above a shelf stacked with coffee cups available for sale. A picture of the old brewery decorates each mug, but it doesn’t tell the story as well as the black-and-whites on display, showing men dwarfed by machines while tending brew and bottles. A bright blue barrel label is propped near the counter for visitors to see. The woman behind the counter spreads her arms in emphasis as she describes to me her experience touring the building. Her brown eyes sparkle as she recalls the view from the tower, then she slants her right hand 30 degrees and explains that the slanted basement floors guided spilled beer down the drain. Standing here, it’s easy for me to imagine filling my lungs with the earthy aroma of boiling wort. It’s easy to hear men’s voices and banging and clinking of heavy machinery echoing against brick walls. I can almost feel the sweat dripping off my forehead in this steamfilled room of the past, steam from brewing, bottling and fueling the furnace. This building is so massive. Once inside I feel like a toddler, waiting for a giant to enter and offer me pretzels. Schade’s building of the past belongs in our future, to remind us of generations before us, to remind us of those who helped to build Spokane.
Bernhardt Schade’s story started 131 years ago when he was born in Schwanenhof, Königsberg, a district of Prussia, Germany [this part of Prussia is now known as Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia). Brewing beer was common in Schade’s family, and beer was part of his cultural heritage. One of his brothers was a brewmaster for Rubsam & Horrmann Brewing Co. in Staten Island, New York, and his brother-in-law was an agent for Milwaukee Malt & Grain Company. Bernhardt Schade learned the art of making beer as an apprentice at a brewery in Macon, Georgia. In 1892, Schade moved to Spokane to work as a brewmaster at Rudolph Gorkow’s New York Brewery. He worked there for 10 years brewing “New York Beer.” On February 17, 1896, Schade married Zophia Zelena Lucretia Mraz of Spokane, and by the time he left Gorkow’s brewery, two of his eight children had been born.
Beer distribution was difficult in those early days. It was cheaper for a brewer to distribute beer in bulk kegs to local saloons than in bottles directly to customers. And for a time, federal tax laws required that beer be transported across a public highway to a separate plant for bottling. Local brewers scattered throughout the nation to quench the thirst of farmers, fishermen, factory and mill workers, and businessmen.
Washington brewing history began in Steilacoom in 1854, when Nicholas Delin started making beer. Twenty-five years later M. Peterson & Co. started the Peterson Brewery in Spokane Falls. By the mid-1880s, Washington breweries began to bottle beer, as new techniques were adapted that prevented spoilage and customers demanded the convenience of buying bottled beer. Once started, the brewing industry in Spokane was competitive in the early years, as there were nearly a dozen local breweries. But by 1902, many had either gone out of business or been bought out by the Spokane Brewing and Malting Co, including Gorkow’s New York Brewery.
Bernhardt Schade left the New York Brewery in 1902 to start his own brewing legacy, the B. Schade Brewing Co. Schade’s plan was to brew a fine lager and out-produce Spokane Brewing and Malting Co. As soon as Schade’s plans were printed in the Spokesman-Review, the competition had begun. Harry Mraz, Schade’s brother-in-law, worked as bookkeeper for the business along with Mr. Wolff and_Mr. Aldrich. Wenzel Mraz, Schade’s other brother-in-law, worked as brewmaster, and Mr. Guter was head engineer. The B. Schade Brewery produced beer until 1916.
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The 60,000-square-foot building was designed as a replica of an ancient German Brewery. It included a five-story tower and 14,000 square feet on the ground floor. Commercial brewing in those days demanded a building of enormous size and sturdy construction. The space had to be large enough to hold huge vats, grain bins and tons of ice, and the structure had to be strong enough to stand up to the weight of these requirements. Equipment inside the plant was arranged for gravity to help the process of making beer and for efficiency. Grain storage and milling were located on upper floors in the tower, so as grains were mashed the milled grist (malt} dropped by gravity into the mash tun below. In most old-time breweries, the brew kettle was located on the ground level, directly under the mash tun, and the vats and tanks were under the kettle. Schade’s plant also included a bottling works, a malt house and lagering cellars in the two-story basement. According to Ken Schade, fourfoot logs were used to stoke the furnaces that heated the liquid for beer. Bernhardt Schade’s private offices were on the third and fourth floors of the tower, under the blue, circular stained glass window with Schade’s name in the center. Barrels of pretzels were kept on the second floor of the tower in front of the large windows that allowed light to stream into the building. Schade kept Great Danes and peacocks as well as horses in the stables at the back of the building. An article in the Spokesman-Review stated that construction of the plant “cost approximately $265,000, [the brewery] was one of the largest in the state. It is built of reinforced concrete and brick, with walls three and a half feet thick. The capacity of the plant was 200,000 barrels a year.”
The rivalry between B. Schade Brewing-Co. and Spokane Brewing and Malting Co. was fierce. Stock in Schade’s company rose from $250,000 to $500,000 by 1907. An article in the February 14, 1907, Spokane Daily Chronicle claims that the capital from the stock was to be used to increase the capacity of the brewery, making it “one of the largest and best equipped of any in the Northwest.” Then in 1912, the Spokane Brewing and Malting Co. cut its price by 50 cents per barrel, an act that threatened many breweries in Spokane. Schade’s reaction to the price cut appeared in the March 1, 1912 Spokane Daily Chronicle: “Bernard Schade at the head of the Schade Brewing Company, declared this afternoon that as no conference was held by members of the Spokane Brewing & Malting Company with other brewers prior to making the reduction, he would ‘go them one better and trim $1 per barrel’ from the price of his bottled beer.” But Schade had other things to worry about in 1912. The Milwaukee Railroad was busy expanding their rail lines east of downtown and wanted to purchase the land where Schade’s brewing company was built. Schade set an asking price of nearly $1 million. The railroad decided to tunnel the lines under the brewery instead. Bernhardt Schade regarded Milwaukee’s tunneling act as trespassing, and he sued the company. Schade was awarded $65,000 in damages.
Starting on the East Coast and spreading West, the American Temperance Society, which was founded in Boston in 1826, was gaining momentum. Other groups, such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League continued to promote a dry nation. Unions saw temperance as leverage to improve working conditions and wages, as well as a means of self-promotion for their organizations. Business leaders supported the movement for religious reasons and because they thought sobriety would increase worker production. While in office, President Herbert Hoover also supported the movement. But during this time, brewing was a huge industry.
Ben Jankowski in his article “Part I: The History of Political and Social Forces at Work for Prohibition in America” published in November/December 1994 issue of Brewing Techniques states: “Between 1899 and 1914, the capital invested in brewing rose from $415 million to $793 million while the annual value of its product increased from $237 million to $442 million. This revenue gave brewers place as the fifth largest industry in the United States. Between 1900 and 1911, annual per capita consumption of alcohol increased from 17.73 gal to 22.81 gal; the majority was beer. These figures meant that brewers were generating close to $1 billion in annual net revenue by 1911. But the temperance movement continued as Jankowski explains in his article, “…When Wilson informed Congress that the United States was at war with Germany in 1917, the League [Anti-Saloon League] wasted no time in targeting the brewing industry as un-American and sympathetic to German causes….”
The temperance movement hit Washington and Oregon brewers hard, as these states enacted a state prohibition that began on January 1, 1916, which either forced breweries to bottle “near beer,” soda pop, or lock their doors. On August 30, 1919, the Spokane and Eastern Trust Co., as creditor of the B. Schade Brewing Co., became the owner of Schade’s brewery. Bernhardt Schade, in failing health, died in 1921.
Bernhardt Schade contributed more to Spokane than his historic building and lager beer. During World War I, he gave two racehorses to the Red Cross to show his support for America. In an article published in the Inlander, “Schade was acquainted with a woman who had been recently widowed. The brewmaster entrusted his beer recipe to her, and she, in turn, produced enough Schade “home brew” to support herself and her family through the toughest years of the Depression. Spokane residents continued to enjoy Schade beer, albeit illicitly, in spite of Prohibition.”
Early in the Depression, the great building became known as Hotel De Gink and provided housing for the homeless and transients. Its location near the eastern end of the rail yards and close to downtown made it accessible for travelers hopping trains from town to town. Eventually the city donated food, clothing, and bedding to help those who stayed there.
Prohibition was lifted in 1933, and by 1934, Golden Age Brewery had taken over the Schade’s old brewery. Golden Age Brewery was expected to employ over 150 people, quite a large number during the Depression. In 1948, Bohemian Breweries Inc., who also had a plant in Spokane at Second and Cedar, bought out Golden Age Brewery. At the new plant, Bohemian Breweries Inc. produced their popular “Bohemian Club” and operated the brewery until 1957.
Schade’s building has experienced many owners since its days as a brewery. Inland Metals, who housed their business there; a demolition contractor, who in the late 1970s planned to restore the building; and Louis and Gailya Bonzon, who opened an antique mall and placed the building on the local and national historic registries. Owner, Mark Leonard, purchased the building in 1997 and has since remodeled the entire ground floor.
He has hopes of continuing his restoration project; however, working on a building with 60,000 square feet must be a herculean labor. But now with the development of nearby RiverPoint Boulevard, perhaps the historic B. Schade Brewery will see Spokane through another century.