The hidden history of Angel City Brewery

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Angel City Brewery‘s massive building in Downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District looks very much of the moment. Colorful graffiti and murals cover its surface, employees grill tacos in the parking lot, alt-rock music fills the cavernous pub space.

But the three-story, 104-year-old brick warehouse contains a few surprises, ones that reveal its history and that of the city that has evolved around it.

“We’re in the Arts District, and there are a lot of buildings that are really old, especially by LA standards,” Keith McEly, Angel City’s marketing and events specialist, told Curbed. “It’s been around for a long time, and there are many things here that are very historic and very old … it’s really important to preserve that history.”

Angel City took over the building in 2010. It does not have landmark designation, nor does it fall under preservation protections, at least not yet. But the building’s stewards recognize its importance and have so far preserved its more important features.

↑ The building began its life in 1913 as the West Coast warehouse and offices of John A. Roebling’s Sons Co., a New Jersey manufacturer of steel cables, “wire rope,” and other products.

The company is notable for having made the cables holding up the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and the Vincent Thomas Bridge, which spans Los Angeles Harbor, as well as the power lines that electrified Los Angeles and the metal used to make Slinky toys, a favorite of baby boomers.

The 69,000-square-foot building at 216 Alameda Street went up at a princely cost of $120,000 (nearly $3 million in 2017 dollars) when the company outgrew its smaller site, according to the Los Angeles Conservancy.

The architects were Hudson and Munsell, who also designed the Natural History Museum in South LA’s Exposition Park.

  Patrick Lee

↑ The building’s original lobby, which can only be viewed with permission of Angel City managers, is lined with handmade custom tiles created by Ernest Batchelder, the legendary Pasadena tilemaker.

“The longer I look at Los Angeles, the more I realize you can’t tell the story of Los Angeles without telling the story of tile. And the engine which is California, this creative engine, which has been churning since about 1920 … was originally fueled by Batchelder tile catalogs,” said Esotouric founder and LA architectural historian Richard Schave.

The tiles at Angel City depict John A. Roebling’s Sons Co. proudest achievements.

“From our understanding, the employees of the company, back when the building opened in 1913, ended up employing Ernest Batchelder to custom-make these lobby tiles as a gift to the owners of the company,” McEly said. “And the tiles chronicle the different achievements of the company and a little bit of the history of the company.”

Schave said the tiles might be the earliest commercial installation of Batchelder tile in Los Angeles, beating the magnificent Dutch Chocolate Shop by one year.

↑ A key feature in the taproom is the original iron spiral slide leading from the second story.

“The huge spiral slide in the middle of the brewery’s Public House was used to send supplies and materials from the upper floors down to the rollup doors, which used to line up with railroad tracks,” according to Discover Los Angeles.

One can only imagine the massive wooden spools of iron cable rolling down the slide to be loaded onto train cars or horse-drawn wagons at the loading docks that remain facing the parking lot.

At the foot of the slide, Angel City has posted a sign advising patrons, especially those who have enjoyed too much of its signature product: “The existence of this slide is not a challenge.”

↑ A few vestiges of the Roebling company adorn the brick facade of the building and can be seen amid the riot of colorful murals. Crane your neck, and you can view terra cotta tiles along the roofline with the initials “J.A.R.”

The company’s name can be seen as a ghost sign on the parking lot side of the building, above loading docks that used to accommodate wagons and trucks.

Just above that sign is a more recent addition: “The Wrinkles of the City,” a mural by artist JR, which depicts a pair of eyes staring right at you, according to Discover Los Angeles:

The Wrinkles of the City is a global project by the famed artist JR, who depicts ‘wrinkles’ — human as well as architectural — in various cities around the world. Following Cartagena (2008) and Shanghai (2010), JR brought his project to Los Angeles in 2011.”

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