Burned building holds Kansas City brewery history

The concept of “ice cold beer” may have started here, in the Imperial Brewery at 2825 Southwest Boulevard. A fire last week damaged the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

A fire Thursday extensively damaged the interior of a historic brewery but left its brick walls standing, along with some hope of saving it.

The Imperial Brewery, 2825 Southwest Boulevard, opened in 1902 “at the top of its game” in the “glory days” of brewing in Missouri, say records submitted for its National Historic designation, which was granted last year.

According to the records:

Imperial entered the Kansas City market with the capacity to turn out 50,000 barrels of Mayflower and Imperial Seal lager beer a year. But debts that included the cost of the building led to its sale on the auction block in 1905.

The buyer, a merger of two other brewing companies, used Imperial to produce a brand called Old Fashioned Lager until prohibition forced Imperial’s sale in 1919. It was then converted to a flour mill.

It operated as a mill until the mid 1980s, commonly known as the Boulevard Mill. It has been vacant since but its owner, Dean Reality Company, had recently announced hopes of converting it to offices.

It was a brewery at a heady time for the industry in Kansas City, the records state.

“By 1910, manufacturing jobs in Kansas City had become the top occupational category largely in part to the growth of the brewing industry.”

The industry employed 241 people and furnished beer to 348 saloons with 982 tavern workers.

The Imperial Brewery represents the shift to production of lager beer served cold and marks the beginning of the mass culture phenomena of “Ice Cold Beer,” the records state.

The beer company that bought it for $99,500, Kansas City Breweries Company, was a merger of the Heim and Rochester breweries. After the purchase, it out-produced all the city’s other breweries combined.

But grim forces were at work. Kansas had enacted a prohibition law in 1881 and anti-saloon leagues and prohibitionists were getting stronger.

Brewers fought back with an advertising shift away from beer as a leisure drink toward it being a kind of medicine – “a tonic at all times,” a “Pure-Wholesome-Rich” product “for every member of the family, every day of the year.”

That didn’t work.

The Imperial building is one of only two pre-prohibition brew houses left in the city, the report states, and “represents an important link to Kansas City’s local brewing industry.”

As of Friday, authorities had not determined the cause of the fire. An official with

Update January 3, 2013

Dean Realty’s John Kornhaus said today, “We certainly hope the building can be preserved and redeveloped.” Dean Realty owns the building.

Corrected: Our original post said the brewery was sold at auction in 2005. That date has been corrected to 1905.

Comments are closed.